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A New York Literary History…From Washington Irving to Jonathan Lethem.

For writers, New York City has always been a magnet with two poles, one that attracts, another that repels. Visiting from England, Anthony Trollope was drawn to the place; he thought it “intensely American.” Alexis de Tocqueville, on the other hand, found the city “bizarre and disagreeable.” Decades later, Henry James seconded that assessment: “New York is appalling, fantastically charmless and elaborately dire.” Decades after that, F. Scott Fitzgerald romantically disagreed: “The city seen for the first time” had the “wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” No other urban area, not even London or Paris, has provoked such strong opinions or inspired so many novels, short stories, and nonfiction narratives.

Washington Irving started the flood. He was the first professional author to make New York (or Gotham, as he dubbed it) his centerpiece. Elsewhere, he’s best remembered for countryside legends like Rip Van Winkle. But in New York, his pseudonym has even greater staying power: his satirical history of New York under Dutch rule was written by one Dietrich Knickerbocker. The Knicks of the NBA salute Irving every time they take to the boards.

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