Brooklyn Spotlight

The Harbor:a novel book jacketThe Harbor
by Ernest Poole
Published 1915
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The best-known novel by the winner of the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Ernest Poole's The Harbor is the story of Billy, an aspiring writer who struggles to reconcile his sympathy for workers with his middle-class allegiance to capitalist progress. As Billy comes of age on the New York waterfront, an eyewitness to explosive tensions between labor and capital that culminate in a violent strike, he learns to embrace socialism as the solution to the harbor's seething injustices.
 

The Haunted Bookshop : a novel book jacketThe Haunted Bookshop
by Christopher Morley
Published 1919
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Long for the days of tiny second-hand bookshops, indoor pipe smoking, and Kindle-free reading? Christopher Morley’s delightful book, recently republished by Meville House, will transport you to an early 20th century Brooklyn bookshop chock full of beloved bibliophile trappings. The story  revolves around shopkeepers Roger and Helen Mifflin and their new young shop assistant, Titania Chapman. However, all is not quiet contemplation, for when something mysterious begins happening at the shop, it’s up to Aubrey Gilbert, a young advertising man who has fallen for Titania, to come to the rescue.

Amboy Dukes book jacket The Amboy Dukes
by Irving Shulman
Published 1947
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For a glimpse into Brooklyn's postwar teenage streetlife you could do a lot worse than to turn to Shulman's pulpy gut punch about the Brownsville gangs haunting Pitkin Avenue. Published in 1947, it was later turned into the film "City Across the River" starring Tony Curtis.

 

 

The Assistant book jacket The Assistant
by Bernard Malamud
Published 1957
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Bernard Malamud's second novel is the story of Morris Bober, a grocer in postwar Brooklyn, who "wants better" for himself and his family. First two robbers appear and hold him up; then things take a turn for the better when broken-nosed Frank Alpine becomes his assistant. But there are complications: Frank, whose reaction to Jews is ambivalent, falls in love with Helen Bober; at the same time he begins to steal from the store. Providing a finely-drawn portrait of the immigrant experience in mid-century Brooklyn, The Assistant is proving to be a timeless classic.

Desperate Characters: a novel book jacketDesperate Characters
by Paula Fox
Published 1970
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Heaped with praise by writers such as David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen, Paula Fox's Desperate Characters tells the story of two so-called Brownstone pioneers, Otto and Sophie Bentwood, living just outside of Brooklyn Heights in the yet-to-be super gentrified Cobble/Boerum Hill area. When a potentially rabid cat bites Sophie on the hand one night, the bonds of the couple's marriage begin to fray, echoing the tense times and factious Brooklyn world around them. 

 

A Meaningful l : a novel book jacket A Meaningful Life
by L.J. Davis
Published 1971
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L.J. Davis's 1971 novel, A Meaningful Life, is a blistering black comedy about the American quest for redemption through real estate and a gritty picture of New York City in collapse. Just out of college, Lowell Lake, the Western-born hero of the novel, heads to New York, where he plans to make it big as a writer. Instead he finds a job as a technical editor, at which he toils away while passion leaks out of his marriage to a nice Jewish girl. Then Lowell discovers a beautiful crumbling mansion in a crime-ridden section of Brooklyn, and against all advice, sinks ever penny into buying it. He quits his job, moves in, and spends day and night on demolition and construction. At last he has a mission: he will dig up the lost history of his house; he will restore it to its past grandeur. He will make good on everything that's gone wrong with his life, and he will even murder to do it. 

Last Tango in Brooklyn book jacket Last Tango in Brooklyn
by Kirk Douglas
Published 1994
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Was Kirk Douglas the James Franco of the pre-Instagram age? Who knows (or, well, cares). But long before that Spiderman star was writing short stories and poetry, Kirk Douglas was cranking out best-selling fiction. Though his publisher calls him a "Master novelist" you may have to judge for yourself by jumping into this story of an aged (but robust!) widowed fitness instructor named Ben and the much younger Brooklyn librarian (natch) he falls in love with named Ellen. And if the dust jacket copy can be believed, our actor-cum-author's powerful finale will "haunt the reader long after he or she has closed the book."