Inside and Far from the Madding Crowd
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Whether it is the infamous New York of the beatniks or New York Times book critic Dwight Garner's nostalgic tour of lettered night life in Manhattan, there is much to romanticize about creative life in New York. But not all of us can relate to Kerouac's masculinized rebellions today, and the reality is, many writers and artists simply can't afford to hang out in the literary bars of yesteryear, or the swank lobbies of book-themed boutique hotels. "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling," warned Patti Smith recently. And David Byrne laments how New York has become starkly unequal, putting a damper on the city's creative energy and emerging talents. 

So where do writers and journalists in their twenties living in New York go to get inspired and productive these days? Past and present Nation interns share their favorite places to read or write in New York.

"My current favorite place to read, write, and keep talking to a minimum is The West cafe in Williamsburg. Predictably, this spot is usually flooded with hipsters who like to smoke on their charming back patio, but sometimes the atmosphere is decidedly less chill. A few weeks ago they blasted metal, their normal clientele replaced with Hell's Angels, people in Harley Davidson jackets, and cops. I got my best work done that day!" —Hannah Gold (Fall intern). Hannah is a native of NYC and a recent graduate of UChicago.

"Richol Bakery, Crown Heights. Albert is the Haitian-born, Paris-trained pastry chef who makes Richol Bakery an unlikely gem. Feng-shui'd like a laundromat, staffed with baristas who actually know how to smile, it's my favorite place to drink an (affordable) coffee, eat a croissant and read, free of the oppressive hipness that pervades most Brooklyn coffee joints." Owen Davis (Fall intern). Owen graduated from the University of Texas. He writes about education and social inequality.

"I hate going to cafés in New York City. I used to enjoy it when I lived in a place where human beings weren't crawling all over each other like rats in a cage, but here, the experience usually entails a time-sucking excursion around the city, following my glitchy navigation app from one café to another until I finally find one with an open seat. Then when I get there I must forfeit a significant sum of money for an overpriced cup of coffee — forget buying food — and engage in silent, passive aggressive confrontation with other patrons over a power outlet for my laptop. No, I'd much rather be writing in my room, with my door closed, window open, a trapper hat on my head, and my mind clear of environmental clutter. (Excuse the bitterness but I just went through this so the feelings are still raw)." —Aaron Cantú (Fall intern). Aaron is a graduate of Tufts University and was a teacher in Texas.

"When I first moved to New York City, I imagined myself reading books in the park and magazines on the train but soon realized that I actually don't enjoy reading in communal spaces — I like to be alone. My favorite reading spots are all confined to my Bushwick apartment and dependent on the time of day: in the mornings, I enjoy magazines at the kitchen table with coffee; in the evenings, I like to read books on the couch. But my favorite place to read, especially novels, is in my bedroom on a weekend afternoon — in bed, under the covers, and wearing soft clothes. My dog and two cats are always happy to join. It's not quite a cabin in the woods, but it has a warm, isolated feel. In the summer, though, all bets are off. I can't stand staying inside during beach weather so I grab my book and head to the Rockaways instead." —Roz Hunter (Summer intern, 2010). Roz is the web editor at The Nation Institute.

"My favorite place to write in New York would probably be Mominette in Bushwick, in part because it's around the block from my apartment. People there have a special capacity for striking up conversations with each other, which can be a happy coincidence when you're at a brick wall and so-and-so wants to know what you're writing about. It gets the gears turning." —Abbie Nehring (Fall intern). Abbie graduated from Simon's Rock in 2012 and was grafted to New York, like most people here, a few years ago.

"My favorite place to read in New York is on the C train. It's the longest line in the city—one day I plan to spend morning to night riding the line, from the heights of Manhattan to the Rockaways and back again, until I finish a book. My favorite place to write in New York is the Arts and Architecture room in the big Public Library on Fifth Ave. It's an awesome space—a gateway, of sorts, to the aesthetic firmament—and lends an epic quality to one's work." —Nicolas Niarchos (Fall intern). Wannabe Greek / Brit / Yank journalist: "Few are his words, but keen his eye and hand."

"My favorite place to read in New York is Fort Greene Park. I like to bring a blanket and sit on the grass by the tennis courts when it's nice outside. It's also dangerously close to the wonderful coffee shop Bittersweet, so I have a constant supply of iced coffee while reading." —Kate Murphy (Spring intern, 2010). Kate is the internship director at The Nation Institute and assistant editor and research director at The Nation.

"After work, errands, seeing friends or just walking around, my favorite spot to read is my crummy little apartment. The lighting is bad, and occasional blasts reggae and R&B from the cars going down the road break my concentration, but in that small space I can truly lose myself. Plutarch once said he loved studying the great figures of history because it was as close as he could get to sharing their company. Reading great literature is as close as I can get to having someone like Voltaire over for coffee." —Andrés Pertierra (Fall intern). Andrés is a native of Washington, DC, and achieved his Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Havana, Cuba, in 2013.

"Like most natives of the Pacific Northwest, I prefer to do my reading, writing, and brooding out of the rain in a warmly-lit coffeehouse. My favorite here in DC is Chinatown Coffee Co., which serves coffee roasted by Intelligentsia and carries a selection of premium absinthe." —Dylan Tokar (Fall intern)

"My favorite place to read in New York might just be my futon mattress on the floor, tucked under an east-facing window. If it gets too cozy, as it happens with reading on a surface intended for sleep, I will freshen up with a cup of tea brewed with minced ginger, a squeeze of lemon or an orange peel, and honey." —Elaine Yu (Fall intern). Elaine is originally from Hong Kong and recently graduated from Pomona College.

"My favorite place to read in Manhattan is 71 Irving Coffee. It's just a few blocks from my office and I feel comfortable hanging out there for hours. They usually play albums all the way through, which is nice. My favorite place to read in Brooklyn is Cafe Madeline, which is a short walk from my apartment. There is usually a bunch of people sitting at a table doing work and rotating their cigarette breaks - writers, poets, artists. It is a great place to get work done and the food is great. I can't bring myself to get work/reading done in my apartment. I don't like being alone when I'm reading, but I don't enjoy noisey spaces either. Which is why I always bring ear plugs. I'm not proud of this curmudgeonly habit." —Dan LoPreto (Summer intern, 2012). Dan is the Assistant Editor at Nation Books.

Here is a list of 10 Great Places to Read in NYC.

Tags: cafes, new york, reading, writing

    • Elaine Yu
    • Elaine Yu was a Fall 2013 intern at Nation Books. She received her B.A. in Gender & Women's Studies from Pomona College.


    • Elaine Yu's full bio »

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