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Reading in New York; Reading of London

April 20, 2012 | by

My apartment is infested with evil roommates and sad vibes. Being unemployed, I have no refuge. But I refuse to be depressed! Mornings I pack a small bag of books, take to the streets, wander around. But one can only sit on so many benches. Am curious about comfy food places where the management smiles kindly (or just not unkindly) on quiet, unassuming customers who occupy space for many hours, ordering only coffee, or perhaps (eventually) some delicious pie ... Suggestions?

Sincerely, Ex Libris

(oh and Manhattan only please)

Dear Ex, We have one of the world’s great reading rooms–at least for now–at the Forty-second Street Library. Having spent years in tiny, often overcrowded apartments, I promise that you will sit longer and read more there than in any café. If you get hungry, there’s a Pret à Manger across the street, not to mention the restaurant and sandwich kiosks in Bryant Park. Enjoy it while you can. Other good reading places—on weekdays especially—are the side room at Cafe Pick Me Up on Avenue A, the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights, and Tarralucci e Vino, either the one off Union Square or the one on East Tenth Street. For weekends, I highly recommend the bar at Vandaag on Second Avenue. No pies, but excellent coffee, strupwafels, and poached eggs.

Hi, Paris Review,

I’m intending to have a reading group over the summer. If I selected War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Middlemarch by George Eliot, JR by William Gaddis, and Ulysses by James Joyce, would their heads explode? If not, what order do you recommend?

Heads may not actually explode, but mine is starting to ache! (JR … oof.) Any one of those could take your group all summer. If you want a challenge, I suggest the first two—with something short and sweet in between, by way of a palate cleanser. Maybe Uncle Vanya, with a screening of Vanya on 42nd Street?

Dear Paris Review,

I am moving to London in a few months and am hoping to prep myself through literature. Can you recommend any good London books, written by Londoners or filled with characters romping through the city with love or hate or an unclear mix of the two? (Note: I’m a fan of life’s seedy underbellies, so something along those lines would be well-received.)



You have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. What John Lanchester calls the “big fat London novel” is a constant in English fiction. Where to begin? Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square or The Slaves of Solitude? White Teeth? Brick Lane? London Fields? Lanchester just published one of his own, Capital, if you want up-to-the-minute. Then of course there is Dickens …

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  1. Sadie Stein | April 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    As to places to read, I also love the garden at St. Luke’s, weather permitting. Hotel lobbies can be nice, too, at off hours: the Bowery and the Greenwich are both pleasant.

    And I still have a soft spot, London-wise, for “84, Charing Cross Road.”

  2. Neddy Lord | April 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    New York Society Library!! 79th between Park and Mad

  3. Sadie Stein | April 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    @Neddy, oh good one! I’d add the Center for Fiction (née Mercantile Library) too!

  4. Nagihan | April 20, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Bookshops mainly. Reading unpurchased books in the Strand or Book Culture

  5. Yojimbo | April 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Or the slim, brilliant novel about London – Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, Szalay’s Spring…really, just avoid Brick Lane like the plague (or eating on Brick Lane), an utterly bog standard book, especially compared to the cracking On Brick Lane by Rachel Lichtenstein. Another non-fiction pick: Londoners by Craig Taylor.

  6. Elaine | April 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    McNally Jackson in Nolita on Prince St. Is also a wonderful place. The cafe is great.

  7. N | April 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Le bergamote on 9th ave and 20th street in the early afternoon is lovely. Wonderful pastries and no wifi. You can sit at the Old Town on 18th between Park and Broadway nursing a beer or a fresh squeezed lemonade before the crowds descend for happy hour any day of the week.

  8. Lorin Stein | April 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks to all for the excellent suggestions. If we open the discussion to bars, then I recommend the pew under the back window at DBA, on First Avenue at First Street.

  9. GZ | April 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    My favored reading spot is anyplace quiet were there is light and oxygen. This talk of hallowed grounds makes me wonder if you readers are enacting some mysterious (fertility?) rite.

  10. Sadie Stein | April 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Well, GZ, “quiet” (to say nothing of oxygen) is in very short supply hereabouts: hence the need for specifics!

  11. Aaron Kerner | April 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Any potential Londoner should go out of her way to blag, borrow or nick the manic and bilious novels and essays of Iain Sinclair–particularly Downriver (1991) and Lights Out for the Territory (1997). Sinclair’s early shtick (“psychogeography,” so-called: itinerant, quasi-mystic urban underbellying) has since been co-opted by a gaggle of manifestly lesser writers; but the original’s portraits of London–reeking, tumbled, paratactic, alternately vatic and wised-up, enamored of marginal writers and failing trades–are inimitable verbal performances, as extreme and solitary as anything in English. Good luck finding them Stateside.

  12. James Scott Linville | April 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

    … re: London novels, Patrick Hamilton’s semi-autobiographical trilogy of novels from the 1930s published as “Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky” gets highest marks. Beautiful books but with a grittiness and social realism rarely encountered in London-set books that become popular in the US.

  13. A Reader | April 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Hey – how and where is a reader to submit a question to this? How do I ask the Paris Review?

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