87° Good Morning
87° Good Morning
Things to Do

First Lady Chirlane McCray walks us through this season’s Gracie Book Club picks

The city’s book club is back in session.

The Gracie Book Club, which first lady Chirlane McCray and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy launched last year, returns for a second season this month.

The first season’s selection focused on the city’s immigrant experience.

This time around, the four fiction and nonfiction books convey NYC during the 1940s, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Gracie Mansion.

“These books have a different perspective on the times,” McCray said. “The nonfiction gives people a sense of the history, the framework, that the stories are set in.”

The club kicks off with the 1946 novel “The Street,” followed by the 2014 nonfiction book “City of Ambition,” the 1952 novel “Invisible Man” and the 2010 nonfiction book “Helluva Town.” A book will be read each season, about every three months, with in-person discussions that are livestreamed, starting with “The Street” on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Blvd.). Free tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis now through Oct. 12 at or by calling 311.

In its first year, the book club had 1,300 members, nearly 900 discussion participants and more than 9,000 online viewers. 

McCray walked us through this year’s picks.

‘The Street’ by Ann Petry

The Street: A Novel by Ann Petry. Published
Photo Credit: Mariner Books

McCray first read this novel, published in 1946 and about a single black mother in World War II-era Harlem, in high school. “It tells you about Harlem, about New York City, but also about single motherhood, something we don’t think about a lot — and how difficult it must have been in the 40s,” McCray said. “This was a huge success back in the day. [Petry] was the first African-American author to sell more than a million copies.”

‘City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York’ by Mason B. Williams

"City of Ambition" by Mason B. Williams. Published
Photo Credit: W. W. Norton & Company

“I haven’t read ‘City of Ambition’ but I’ve always wanted to,” McCray said. “ ‘City of Ambition’ has been recommended to me literally for years by other people, what a great book it is.” Published in 2014, historian Mason B. Williams’ nonfiction tome recounts the collaboration between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia during the New Deal and how it helped shape the city.

‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison

"Invisible Man" by RALPH ELLISON. Published by Penguin
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

McCray also first read Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel, published in 1952 and set in 1945 Harlem, in high school. “I remember it was very long,” she said with a laugh. “And there were so many metaphors and symbols that it was not an easy read. I also thought it was brilliantly written.” McCray said she looks forward to revisiting the novel, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953. ”I’m sure I’ll take away a lot more than I did when I first read it,” she said.

'Helluva Town: The Story of New York City During World War II’ by Richard Goldstein

"Helluva Town: The Story of New York City
Photo Credit: Free Press

“ ‘Helluva Town’ I haven’t read. I only heard about it recently, but it has fantastic reviews,” McCray said. “This is giving me an opportunity to read some new books, which I’m very excited about.” The 2010 history book by former New York Times journalist Richard Goldstein surveys the economic, social and cultural changes in New York City during the 1940s, and the role the city played during the war effort.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Things to Do Photos & Videos