Randy Cohen proposes an idea that appeals to me: “a literary map of Manhattan—not of its authors’ haunts but those of their characters.”

I began thinking about this map years ago while reading Don DeLillo’s ”Great Jones Street.” Bucky Wunderlick gazes out the window of his ”small crowded room” at the firehouse across the street. I realized: there’s only one firehouse on that street and few buildings that contain tiny apartments rather than commercial lofts. I know where Bucky Wunderlick lives. Or would live if he existed. He’s got to be at No. 35. Knowing this made walking around the neighborhood like walking through the novel. But I walked without a map. Shouldn’t there be a map of imaginary New Yorkers?
It would be a lush literary landscape—the house on Washington Square where Catherine Sloper waited and yearned, the coffee shops where the characters of Ralph Ellison and Isaac Bashevis Singer quarreled and kibbitzed, the offices where John Cheever’s people spent their days, the clubs where Jay McInerney’s creatures wasted their nights, the East 70’s and Upper West Side avenues where the Glass family bickered (Salinger gives several addresses), downtown where Ishmael wandered the docks.

He gives a number of examples of fictional locations, both exact and vague, and “can imagine maps of Brooklyn, Chicago, London and more.” (There is a certain amount of this in The Atlas of Literature by Malcolm Bradbury, but it covers too many areas and centuries to have much detail on any one place.) He says “Since nobody is widely enough read—I’m not widely enough read—to know the haunts and houses, the offices and bars and subway stops of so diverse a population, I appeal to Book Review readers to send in their favorites”; the address is
Update. The website is up.


  1. Aargh, I got excited about the idea, then clicked over to read the rest of the piece and was promptly put off by Cohen’s precious prose style. I had not noticed this is the same guy who writes The Ethicist. Reckon I will participate but less enthusiastically.

  2. Yeah, I have that problem too — I’ve never liked his Ethicist column. But Manhattan is bigger than all of us.

  3. aldiboronti says

    Not specifically literary, but the following site is a nice one, a Virtual Walking Tour of Manhattan.
    “………. New York has its own giants, heroes and monsters who left their marks and their names on the land around us. If we learn their stories which are written on our streets and avenues, we’ll have a much better chance of knowing where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
    To this end I offer these as the New York Songlines. An oral culture uses song as the most efficient way to remember and transmit large amounts of information; the Web is our technological society’s closest equivalent. Each Songline will follow a single pathway, whether it goes by one name or several; the streets I plan to follow from river to river, while the avenues will at least at first be read only in part, focusing on the upper Downtown/lower Midtown part of the island I know best. As I continue to expand, I’ll be mapping areas with which I have less personal acquaintance; any info on these areas shared by readers will be especially appreciated.

  4. I applaud Hat’s noble self-sacrifice. Far, far better, etc.

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