HALLIE EPHRON: I love to travel, and on every trip I bring books along. This summer we're going to Iceland, and I'll probably bring along a novel by one of my favorite Icelandic authors like Arnaldur Indriðason or Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Books by Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, and Ruth Rendell went with me to London. I took Denise Mina and Ian Rankin to Scotland.
But I never do the same thing when I'm traveling in this country. I should have been re-reading Pat Conroy's The Great Santini when I was in Beaufort, SC, and one of James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux novels when I was in New Orleans. Missed opportunities.
Here are the most visited cities by tourists in the US. What books would you recommend as a take-along for any of them? Fiction, nonfiction, what book would give someone to read for special insight into the place.
#1 New York City
#4 Las Vegas
#6 San Francisco
#7 Washington, DC
#8 New Orleans
LUCY BURDETTE: for New York, I'd recommend SJ Rozan's Lydia Chin series. For Washington, anything George Pelecanos. You didn't mention Australia, but I read Bill Bryson's IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY before we went last year. I had to stop halfway through because of all the poisonous creatures he was describing--although he's a fabulous writer and very, very funny. Also, western Australia, ML Stedman's THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. A disturbing but lovely novel taking place on a small island across from Perth. I'm sure I'll think of more as soon as I hit save.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As a former DC resident, I love books that show Washington for the dynamic, diverse urban center it is. So of course, I'd recommend almost anything by George Pelecanos, who has been chronicling life and crime in the non-touristy parts of town for two decades. DC is an African-American city, And no two books capture the breadth of that experience like LOST IN THE CITY, a collection of neighborhood stories by Edward P. Jones, and Stephen Carter's THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK, spotlighting the members of the city's black elite.
To explore the other Washington - white, powerful, political - I suggest the very funny NO WAY TO TREAT A FIRST LADY by Christopher Buckley, wherein the first lady clubs the president on the head with a Paul Revere spittoon and is put on trial for murder. And finally, for a jaundiced look at DC's movers and shakers, HEARTBURN, by Nora Ephron. It's a wickedly sharp portrayal of one couple's marriage falling apart in the leafy, cobblestoned confines of Georgetown.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Ah, New York! For fantastical New York, I'd recommend Mark Halprin's A Winter's Tale, for historical New York, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. For Brooklyn, anything by Paul Auster, Betty Smith's a Tree Growns in Brooklyn, and for snark about (fictional) Brooklyn mommies, Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West.
For Boston, I like this author — maybe you've heard of her?— Hank Phillippi Ryan.
RHYS BOWEN: Exactly what I was about to say, Susan. You actually have a group of writers here at Jungle Reds who bring places to life for us. Hank's Boston, Lucy's Key West, Debs' London, Julia's upstate New York. My Molly Murphy can take you on a good tour of New York a century ago. Susan gives a great feel for London during WW2. And Hallie--you absolutely nailed Hollywood in the sixties!
I'd also agree on S.J. Rozan for contemporary New York. Kelli Stanley brings 1940s San Francisco to life beautifully. Janet Dawson's Jeri Howard series evokes the contemporary Bay Area. But when I think about sense of place it's always Pat Conroy who comes to mind first.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Aw, Susan, thank you! And so funny--do you know A Winters Tale is my favorite book of all time? I've never read "cold" like the Lake of the Coheeries in that book, and never read beauty like his magical New York. (Edith Wharton is my other favorite, especially House of Mirth and Wharton's Custom of the Country. Also for turn of the century New York, Caleb Carr's The Alienist. What an amazing book. For the 1980's New York? Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, completely amazing, brave and rule-breaking.
For Boston, Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. And Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves. (The movie of which, The Town, had an entirely different ending.)
Now I'll be thinking about his for the rest of the day.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: So many books I've loved already mentioned! And so many I would like to read... For another fascinating look at New York, I'd recommend City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (although I have to admit I haven't finished it.. Good but a bit daunting.) For Chicago, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels. You'll never think of Chicago quite the same way again. And for Charleston, how about Kathy Reichs? And one more for Seattle--a new series by Glen Erik Hamilton, featuring ex-Army Ranger and former thief Van Shaw. The first book, Past Crimes, is nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel. The second, Hard Cold Winter, is out in March and is definitely one to watch for.
HALLIE: Please, weigh in! What books would you pack for a trip to a great US city?