Big Apple Book Ballot: Rank Your Reads
We asked you to choose up to five favorite titles from our Big Apple Book Ballot using a version of the new Ranked Choice Voting system that is, starting 2021, in use in NYC in primary and special elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council. The 13 books on the ballot reflect and celebrate the diversity of NYC and have been loved by readers since the day they hit the shelves—but only one emerged victorious.
Now that the Big Apple Book Ballot has come to a close, we can officially announce that The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger reigns supreme over the Big Apple. After 3,423 votes, and 12 rounds of ranked-choice elimination, Salinger’s 1951 novel won with 1389 votes, or 58.7% of the final round votes, beating Just Kids by Patti Smith, which received 976 votes, or 41.3%, of the final round. Check out the full ballot below and read analysis from Gothamist to see how your favorite titles fared.
Whether you’re delighted or disappointed by our winner, the Library can help make sure your voice is heard in this year's elections. Participating in federal, state, and local elections is the best way to make sure your community's issues and needs are represented in our government. 2021 is a major electoral year for the city with primary elections on Tuesday, June 22, and the general election on Tuesday, November 2. Check out The New York Public Library's Voter Information page to help you find all of the resources you need to be an informed voter.
Winner! The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger, 1951)
1389 votes (58.7%) in the 12th round
Holden Caulfield wouldn’t want you to choose this book. He would think this whole darn election is phony. Outside of political circles, he wouldn’t participate in debates. He wouldn’t advocate for your votes. But ironically, it doesn’t matter, because this darkly funny, classic novel will surely have strong grassroots support. J.D. Salinger’s most famous story follows the reluctantly iconic Holden as he spends three days on his own in NYC, struggling with his past, growing older, and finding himself and his place in a world he finds pretty bogus. Who can’t relate?
First Runner Up: Just Kids (Patti Smith, 2010)
976 votes (41.3%) in the 12th round
This memoir perfectly captures a moment in the life of musician Patti Smith, as well as an important time in the cultural history of New York City. Smith writes about meeting artist Robert Mapplethorpe at an innocent moment when both were still unknown and embracing the Bohemian lifestyle in the Village and elsewhere. But through the telling of this love story, we get a glimpse of the New York that welcomed and inspired not just Smith and Mapplethorpe, but legendary artists like Bob Dylan and others. The Village is described often, but the couple also visited many museums and spent time in Coney Island, for example. For the nonfiction lovers, this is the candidate for you.
Second Runner Up: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon, 2000)
745 votes (27.7%) in the 11th round
This super novel follows two creative cousins in WWII-era Brooklyn as they successfully break into the comics industry with their (surprisingly relevant) anti-fascist character The Escapist, among others. Their personal lives—hopes, dreams, magic, curiosities—wind up on the pages of their Golden Era comics as they maneuver various relatable and not-so-relatable realities. Accessible to varying demographics, this universally renowned book already has an impressive history of landing on top, winning the Pulitzer in 2001.
Another Brooklyn (Jacqueline Woodson, 2016)
Told as a series of flashbacks, this short but powerful novel showcases the resilience, grit, and beauty of NYC as it portrays four friends growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the 1970s. This lyrical mural of vignettes is a coming-of-age story that brilliantly and quietly touches on so many weighty issues: class, race, sexuality, history, hopes, dreams, the passing of time, and how individual stories create a collective experience. In a world that needs to understand varying perspectives, this story is timely.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe, 1987)
This book is quintessential New York, from its pace to its wit to its charactery characters. A timeless tale of class, ambition, politics, and the press, Bonfire—a terrible movie but fantastic read—follows investment banker Sherman McCoy as he maneuvers the (often cringeworthy) fallout of a freak accident in the Bronx. Written at a newsprint pace with plenty of light moments despite the heavy social commentary, the vivid, self-serving characters create a perfect satire of the, well, sometimes bonkers nature of NYC day-to-day life.
The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton, 1905)
A devastatingly satirical snapshot of New York City’s high society at the turn of the 20th century, Edith Wharton’s tale of the rise and fall of Lily Bart skewers the shallowness of an upper class saddled with issues of jealousy, greed, and a basic lack of morals. Following the revelation that she was financially destitute, Lily needs to use her beauty as a ticket to social events... and once that’s gone, she becomes an outsider. A tragic look at the tale-of-two-cities concept, this well-written novel still rings true, and provides some potentially cathartic reading on the one percent.
Jazz (Toni Morrison, 1992)
Written by the incomparable, accomplished, Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize–winning Toni Morrison (a New York Public Library trustee), this acclaimed historical novel set mostly in 1920s Harlem mirrors jazz music, featuring several pace changes and a call-and-response device that allows different narrators (some unreliable) to share their perspectives on the same story. All of the characters’ individual stories come together, as in jazz music, to create a masterpiece, this one of love, jealousy, and the Black experience during the jazz age.
A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara, 2015)
Don’t mistake this beautifully written novel for a typical “college graduates struggle to make it in New York City” ensemble story. While this is indeed a tale of chosen family coping with varying degrees of difficulty as they look to establish themselves in New York City, the story is much more complex, taking several unexpected turns and diving into dark places, particularly in its exploration of one of the characters and his disturbing childhood. The novel examines what makes people who they are, and in a city as crowded as New York, that’s important to remember.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Oscar Hijuelos, 1989)
A Pulitzer Prize winner (notable because it was the first book by a US-born Hispanic writer to win), this novel about two brothers and musicians from Cuba who make their way to the United States and conquer the NYC nightclub scene at the height of the Mambo craze in the 1950s explores various themes, including nostalgia, passion, and youth. The main characters, despite their brush with fame and how they embraced American culture, work to hang on to their heritage—a common and relatable experience for many immigrants. Classic New York story.
Motherless Brooklyn (Jonathan Lethem, 1999)
Hardboiled fiction at its best, this thrilling, original homage to the typical crime-noir story follows would-be detective Lionel Essrog—an orphan with Tourette’s Syndrome who calls himself “The Human Freakshow”—as he works with a fascinating cast of characters to unravel the mysterious murder of a mob boss. This darkly humorous tale, which takes place in Brooklyn, isn’t resolved until the very last page, but it doesn’t feel like much of a wait, because this super readable book speeds by as fast as an express train.
Native Speaker (Chang-rae Lee, 1995)
A mysterious and moody novel set against the turbulent background of NYC politics and growing ethnic tensions, Native Speaker follows Korean American spy Henry Park as he infiltrates the campaign of a fellow Korean American running for New York City mayor. The secrets Henry uncovers launch a series of internal struggles: he wants to assimilate into American society, something that often eludes him, but he doesn’t want to ruin the career of a fellow Korean American and seemingly positive role model. While Park’s story is very specific, it also illuminates complicated facets of the immigrant experience in general, and the Korean immigrant experience in particular.
Open City (Teju Cole, 2011)
This beautifully written story—which boasts a long résumé of “best book” list mentions—allows you to take a long, soul-searching, poignant stroll through New York CIty without leaving your couch. As we follow an unreliable narrator, a Nigerian psychiatric resident who just broke up with his girlfriend, on his walks through post-9/11 New York City, he learns a lot about himself, but we learn so much about a city that had just been through a devastating trauma. As the protagonist interacts with different people and places, we can feel the energy of the city; this book gets it. In his debut novel, Cole makes a strong case to win this election, as he depicts the grit and beauty of New York City so well you feel transported there. This is particularly cathartic today, as NYC is dealing with another set of challenges, and so many haven’t been able to take long, leisurely walks.
The Price of Salt (Patricia Highsmith, 1952)
Written in 1952, this ahead-of-its-time novel beautifully portrays the sweetness and intensity of new love and romance, following two women who meet in the toy section of a NYC department store, have an immediate connection, launch a relationship, and eventually fall in love. The love story is relatable to anyone but also full of high drama, as the two women understand the complexities of being in a romantic relationship together in the 1950s. Highsmith, spoiler alert, gives her characters a mostly happy ending, providing one of the first positive, hopeful stories for the LGBTQ+ community. Highsmith had to fight to get this story published (and did so under an alias at first). A sleeper pick, this one deserves consideration.
Get informed and make sure your voice is heard! 2021 is a big election year for NYC and we’re using a new voting system. Check out the Library’s resources and virtual events to make sure you’re prepared for the primaries on June 22 and the general election on November 2.
Find out everything you need to know about Ranked Choice Voting, now in use for local primary and special elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council in New York City.
NYPL's Voter Engagement Initiative is made possible by the GoVoteNYC Fund in The New York Community Trust, Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge, Antoinette Delruelle and Joshua L. Steiner, and the Rattner Family Foundation.