The Literary Bar Crawl: NYC Edition

New York has a great literary heritage and there are so many places you can go to soak up some of the liquid inspiration of great writers. In this list you can find places where poets drank, famous bar settings and places where you can just curl up with a manhattan cocktail in front of a crackling fire surrounded by library shelves. Perfect for warming up on a cold and soggy February weekend.

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The White Horse Tavern

White Horse Tavern

567 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

This is best described as an ‘old man pub’ – or as close to one as you’re going to get in NYC. It’s been around since the 1880s, is a certified Poetry Landmark and is famed as the bar where Dylan Thomas sank 18 shots of whisky before collapsing outside then dying of alcohol poisoning several days later. But it’s not just Thomas who has been a regular here – Bob Dylan, Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac all spent plenty of time propping up the bar. Kerouac was such firm fixture that legend has it ‘Go home Kerouac’ was written over the urinals.

The Shakespeare (inside the William Hotel)

24 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016

What was formerly The Peacock and is now The Shakespeare is a British restaurant / gastropub that sits inside the William Hotel and has a great library bar modelled on a Stratford pub called The White Swan. The hotel also houses speakeasy style joint The Raines Law Room where you can quaff beautifully made cocktails surrounded by opulent, cosy bookshelves.

Housing Works Bookstore Café

126 Crosby St, New York, NY 10012

This NYC book institution has a lovely cafe inside it where you can sip a wine or one of their monthly themed cocktails whilst also browsing the shelves. The whole place is staffed by volunteers and the stock is donated so 100% of the profits go to Housing Works’ projects. And if you’re looking for a quirky venue, you can even get married here…

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Bookmarks Bar (photo womeninetfs.com)

Bookmarks Bar at the Library Hotel

This upmarket cocktail lounge will float your boat if you decide you don’t want to slum it with the Beat Poets anymore. The romantic rooftop setting plays the perfect host to  the literary themed cocktails on the menu. Why not try The Pulitzer (Nolet’s Gin, Elderflower, Fernet Branca and agave nectar) or F.Scotch Fitzgerald (Brown buttered Glenmorangie, Campari and Carpano Antica).

Cafe Wah?

115 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012

Cafe Wah is still a thriving music venue nearly 70 years after it first opened. Allen Ginsberg could often be found here and the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendricks and Bruce Springsteen all played here whilst launching their careers. This is definitely the place to go if you want to liven things up at the end of your night and with a really eclectic mix of performers there is something for everyone on offer here.

Pete’s Tavern

129 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

This couldn’t be a literary list of NYC drinking holes without mentioning Pete’s Tavern. In continuous operation since 1864, Pete’s is synonymous with NYC’s writer crowd. The most famous of Pete’s customers was William Sydney Porter – aka O. Henry, the short story writer and in his honour, Pete’s have even kept his booth, where he supposedly wrote The Gift Of The Magi. Legend also has it that Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the first of his wildly popular children’s books – Madeline, on the back of one of the menus…

Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
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Photo revelinnewyork.com

If you need some food to line your stomach after all those delicious cocktails, then hop over to the newly revived Minetta Tavern. A mainstay of the 1930s Greenwich Village writer crowd including Ernest Hemingway, this wonderful restaurant has been taken over by Keith McNally and is now serving perfectly cooked côte de boeuf and french inspired food in sumptuous surroundings. People rave about this steakhouse – why not pop in before heading next door to Cafe Wah?

Rose Club Bar at the Plaza Hotel

768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019

The Plaza Hotel should be on a literary tour of NYC for any bibliophile – just make sure you don’t dance in the fountain like F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald! The Rose Club Bar is the hotel’s in-house jazz club and the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for a spot of luxury. Craft cocktails with their own mixologist mean that drinking here is a totally unique (and wallet punching) experience. On a side note – if you’re a fan of Home Alone 2  and want to live like Kevin, The Plaza are offering experiences based on the movie and they look AWESOME.

 

 

Where would you recommend people go to get a literary drink in NYC? The next edition will be London so get your suggestions in for places for bibliophiles to get a swift one…

Feature photo: goodlifereport.com

The Power of a Fresh Start: Books That Require No Eating, Praying or Loving…

January is always such a weird month. On one hand it is full of eager optimism and well meaning resolutions to not wear active wear. every. day. and follow a grown up skincare regime and to make this year OUR YEAR and yet it is also so bleak, so dreich, so… well frankly depressing.

There is a reason it’s home to Blue Monday, that hideous slump post Christmas where you don’t fit into any of your clothes, summer is too far away to make holiday planning motivating and you’ve stuck the first couple of weeks back at work and realised that you still have the mother of all hangovers and are totally broke.

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

And despite this, or because of it, every year there is something about opening that new journal, throwing out those old clothes, picking up a new book that draws us in. Literature itself is obsessed with this trope of newness, of uprooting characters and dumping them somewhere else, exploring what happens when one is forced to alter, to start again, to survive elsewhere or as someone else.

It’s not just the classics,  Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde spring to mind and although they are brilliant and deal very literally with transformation and the creation of self, there is an abundance of modern novels that explore this same intoxicating idea in a new, subtle, global way.

From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to Elizabeth Spencer’s Starting Over, there are so many wonderful novels to dive into if you want inspiration or consolation through the stories of those making another go of it and starting again, without reaching for the self help books…

  • Heroes Of The Frontier – Dave Eggers
  • Cascade – Maryanne O’Hara
  • A Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
  • Maya’s Notebook – Isabelle Allende
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
  • The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F*ck – Sarah Knight

Read some of these already? Let me know your thoughts… Got something that should be on the list? Share it!

The Madness Of Setting A GoodReads Reading Goal

Right off the bat – I’ve got a nine month old daughter. This is reason enough to steer clear of the GoodReads Challenge 2018, but like a weary glutton for punishment I stumble onto the website on January 3rd in a fog of wine, chocolate orange and stuffing and before I know what’s happening…. 100 books by the end of the year. This is complete insanity.

I have, however, bought myself a lovely new notebook with which to record my efforts (that was part of the problem last year, I stopped updating my profile for a few months and then, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered catching up). I have also purchased a Passion Planner, within whose gorgeous folds I shall be planning my passions and scheduling my reading time.

It’s like school all over again. I can’t decide if this is good or a bad thing.

Even my mother comments on this.

I like the idea of completing the challenge – it’s the literary equivalent of doing a half marathon, only no one will sponsor you, tough, as books are expensive, but you also have zero chance of developing shin splints…

The issue is that I am a very competitive but essentially very lazy person. I will start with great gusto and then peter out as I realise that these ‘other people’ (you know who you are Tweeps) who are constantly crowing  about demolishing their yearly total by March (URGH) have left me for dust, by which point I just sort of slow down gradually until I grind to a complete halt.

But this year will be different! I have a notebook!

And I’m four books down already…

 

The Month In Books: August 2017

It’s great to be finally back in the swing of things (sort of) post baby and I actually managed to read enough books to justify a Month In Books post! I realise that most of these are fairly dark in nature, often with a bit of death and paranormal goings on thrown in for luck, which means that this list is probably more appropriate to an October pickings, but ho hum… And whilst they might not be summer beach reads, most of these books are good for being curled up under a blanket with whilst it’s gloomy outside – perfect if you’re looking for something for the next couple of months yourself.

 

The Shadowy Horses – Susanna Kearsley      ****

15715406I’d read Kearsley’s first paranormal time slip novel “The Winter Sea” back in February and enjoyed it. This is better. The novel follows archaeologist Verity Grey as she gets drawn into investigating the vanishing of the Ninth Legion in the Scottish Borders, guided by the mysterious appearances of a ghostly Roman sentinel. Kearsley manages to create a really engaging plot, which for all the spooky elements, is more plausible than that of “The Winter Sea”. The characters are interesting, there’s a dash of romance and plenty of wild landscapes to keep the locationists happy. A really enjoyable read – especially if you’ve binged out on “Outlander” and need something else to whet your appetite before Season 3 starts later this month.

 

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward     *****

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I received a copy of this book as my very first ARC (blogging milestone, made me very excited!) and I didn’t even realise until last week when I checked into Netgalley to have a look around. I’m gutted that I left it sat there for so long as it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. The novel is a beautifully poetic Southern Gothic that grabs you right from the opening with a very strong sense of voice and character. The descriptions are visceral, the magic realism flawlessly woven in and the changes in character narration never jar. Everyone should read this novel. Read my full review here.

 

The Edinburgh Dead – Brian Ruckley     ***

9737151I came across this novel in Waterstone’s on Princes Street in Edinburgh this summer whilst I was looking for something to complement Kaite Walsh’s “Wages of Sin” (another cracking read btw). What sets out as a Victorian style murder mystery quickly escalates into something more sinister. Plenty of famous Edinburgh scoundrels make their appearances in this ghostly, grave robbing tale – Burke and Hare, Robert Knox and Major Thomas Weir all seek to confound our intrepid investigator. This is an enjoyable novel but not anything particularly special. It would be a good pick for a long train journey or a quick filler between more heavy literary fiction tomes.

 

Plantation – Dorothea Benton Frank     **

65401I am afraid I didn’t manage to finish this novel – it just really wasn’t my thing at all. With the arrival of bubs and a massive TBR I just can’t spend time wading through books that I’m not enjoying. This appeared to be a fairly classic style beach read – light and frothy, dealing with family drama and plenty of slightly awkwardly written romance thrown in. I was hoping for something that would give me a good sense of place for a Great Reads in Great Places post in South Carolina and regrettably this is not it.

 

 

The House Between Tides – Sarah Maine    ****

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This was a ‘cover love’ pick – I just adored the moody and atmospheric artwork. From the blurb and the isolated misty house on the front, I thought that this was going to be creepier than it turned out to be. I had an idea in my head that it was going to be more of a “The Woman In Black” style Gothic novel, and whilst it wasn’t that at all, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very well written story that really captures the landscapes and characters of the Outer Hebrides. Read my full review here.

 

 

The Witchfinder’s Sister  – Beth Underdown     ****

31377300This book follows the witch hunts of East Anglia from the point of view of Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins’ widowed sister Alice. There is very little historical fact known about the man, although detailed records of his interrogations and the resulting executions do exist. Underdown succeeds in bringing to life a dark period in British history and creates a good sense of creeping fear as we realise what Hopkins is up to and see how his sister is gradually dragged further and further into his madness. Read my full review here.

 

 

Sealskin – Su Bristow     *****

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I loved, loved, loved this book. I’ve been on a bit of a magical realism bent of late and this was perfect. Bristow brings to life the traditional Scots / Norse legends of the Selkie women – seals who shed their skins and transform into women, and explores the impact of a stranger on a small island community. This was the first Orenda published book I’d read and if it’s an indicator of the quality and style of their authors I’ll be picking up more. Read my full review here.

10 Best Books in a Blizzard

With the last blast of March winter upon those of us on the US east coast – need something to curl up with whilst you’re snowed in? Why not try some of these classic books with wintery settings…

11250053 “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

Set in Alaska in 1920, this wonderful novel follows Jack and Mabel as they struggle to survive in the harsh environment they find themselves in. After building a child out of snow who mysteriously vanishes, they are drawn into the life of Faina – a young girl who appears to have stepped from the pages of a fairytale book. But is everything what it seems to be…

This book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and has won numerous awards.

 

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“The Cider House Rules” by John Irving

Homer Wells has been brought up in an orphanage in Maine under the tutelage of Dr. Wilbur Larch. Isolated at St Cloud, he assists the doctor with caring for troubled mothers, delivering illegitimate children and taking them into the orphanage. When Homer meets a young couple who arrive seeking an illegal abortion, he finds himself wanting to explore the world beyond his upbringing.

This is a book full of heartbreak that encompasses the morality of abortion, war, love, disability and legacy.

 

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“The Tenderness of Wolves” by Stef Penney

This book is full of suspense and adventure – part historical epic, part murder mystery, it follows a disparate band of wilderness residents as they seek to follow a mysterious set of tracks in the snow that they hope will lead them to the answers to a brutal crime that has been committed. The setting brings an eerie cruelty to the novel as the characters seek missing people, fugitives and the past before the snow covers the tracks left behind for good.

The novel won the Costa Book of the Year prize.

 

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“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

There’s no winter harsher than a Russian winter and this classic novel is considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced. Following the doomed and tragic love affair between Anna and Count Vronsky, this epic story reveals the hypocrisies of nineteenth century Russian society through a sweeping look at familial and romantic relationships.

Often cited as the ‘greatest book ever written,’ it explores jealousy, faith, fidelity, family, progress and passion.

 

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“Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin

When Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar decides to rob a house on the Upper West Side, little does he know that it will lead to love. The relationship between Lake and Beverly Penn, a free-spirited but ultimately doomed young girl is the perfect foil to that of Lake and local gang leader Pearly Soames, who sets his sights on destroying Lake. Set in a mythical, semi-Edwardian New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this novel has a mystical quality that will totally absorb you.

Heavy on the language – you need to set time aside for this one.

 

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“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier

If epic sweeping historical fiction is your thing, you’ll love Cold Mountain. The novel follows the arduous journey of a civil war veteran, Inman, as he struggles to get home to his betrothed, Ada, who has been left behind to try and survive on her father’s farm with the help of a practical young drifter named Ruby. As their stories begin to weave back together, Inman and Ada have to confront how much has changed since Inman left – with the physical and political landscape, but also themselves.

This won the National Book Award for Fiction.

 

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“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

Granted, the snow is mainly contained to the start and end of this classic Gothic tale, but it is still one of the most evocative pieces of Victorian science fiction in print. Victor Frankenstein, exhausted and found ranting in the Arctic wilderness, retells the tale of the creation of the monster that now stalks him through the wasteland. Originally developed from a ghost story told by Mary Shelley to her friends in Geneva when she was just 18 years old.

Don’t let the fact this is a school book classic put you off.

 

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“A Breath of Snow and Ashes” by Diana Gabaldon

As the sixth book in the wildly popular Outlander series, I wouldn’t suggest diving in here without taking a look at the others. Set in 1772, Highland exile Jamie Fraser and his time travelling 20th Century wife, Clare, are commissioned to quell a growing rebellion in the American Colonies – but knowing the ultimate direction of the War of Independence, Clare and Jamie find themselves caught between knowing the future and living in the past.

This is a great romp through the 18th Century – dashing heroes, gutsy heroines and action and adventure galore.

 

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“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Is there truly a more perfect snow bound book than this children’s classic? I re-read the whole Narnia series every year and I am always in awe of how such simple, beautiful prose can evoke such a complex, magical world. Four children are swept into a magical adventure when they find a mysterious portal into a world trapped in permanent winter. Will they be able to break the spell and release Narnia from the grip of the White Witch?

Please, please, please read the book and don’t watch the movie.

 

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“Fargo” by Joel and Ethan Coen

Alright – it’s not technically a novel, it’s a screenplay – but it still ticks my boxes for a read that perfectly balances tension and humour. Pregnant policewoman Marge Gunderson finds herself investigating a murder in snowy Minnesota. Trying to maintain her professional dignity in the face of numerous quirky personalities, Marge needs to solve this quickly if she’s to get out alive…

For this one you can watch the movie!

 

So whilst the wind is blowing and the snow is snowing – try some of these, wrap up warm and put the kettle on. It’ll be over before you know it.

 

 

Top 5: Women Writers

Where to start…..

When I sat down to think about how I would choose my five favourite female authors, in honour of International Women’s Day, I felt completely overwhelmed. Most of my books seem to be written by women… It’s like my hands instinctively reach for female writers in the bookstore; perhaps it’s because the genres of novels I particularly like, historical fiction for example, seem to also attract a higher proportion of writers of the female persuasion? Maybe I feel a deeper connection to characters written from the female gaze? Perhaps I just like the covers more…

What I realised though was moving over the Atlantic forced me to dramatically scale down the size and scope of my bookshelves. I had already subconsciously done my editing – what had I chosen to take with me in the one box of books I had agreed with my husband I would ship?

 

  1. JK Rowling – who doesn’t love this woman?! She’s smart, empathetic and whip crack funny in that slightly brutal way that makes you wince and laugh at the same time. I adore her writing, not just Harry Potter (obviously), but also the Robert Galbraith crime books. You don’t even notice that you’re reading half the time, you’re just swept along. Plus she’s an Exeter University alumni (same as moi) and lived in Edinburgh near where I grew up – so I’m basically half a step away from being her…. right…?!
  2. Emily Brontë – I have always been obsessed with “Wuthering Heights”. I love how wonderful and awful Heathcliff and Cathy are. The characters and settings are harsh and complex, nothing here is glossed over or sugarcoated and it’s marvellous. The copy I brought wth me is a gorgeous leather bound edition bought for me by my husband for my birthday when we first started dating – the boy knows me well!
  3. Philippa Gregory – This woman is prolific and it’s a good job because I tend to whizz through her books in one sitting. The Queen of Historical Fiction, she brings far off settings and time periods to life with great description and really well drawn characters. There’s always plenty of action, mystery and romance to keep you entertained and she nearly always has a strong female protagonist you can get behind.
  4. Nora Ephron – It’s like talking to your best friend – but wiser and funnier. She’s so impressive partly because she’s also so multi-talented: writer, journalist, screenwriter and film director rolled into one. I adore the way she writes about so many things that are pertinent to women’s lives in a way that is both devastatingly, heartbreakingly astute and also so lightly worn that you can find humour in even the darkest of topics.
  5. Lian Hearn aka Gillian Rubinstein – I blame my sister for getting me into the “Tales of the Otori” YA fiction series; I was obsessed. Set in feudal Japan, these books are choc full of heroes, villains, escapes, magic and slightly dubious morality… which adds up to a pretty potent mixture. In fact, this and the Harry Potter books are the only ones I have actually set out to purposefully buy, first day out, in hardback. Just brilliant.

 

Who are your favourite female writers??