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Top 8 Peaceful Outdoor Reading Places in NYC

Top 8 Peaceful Outdoor Reading Places in NYC

Picture of Michael McGrath
Updated: 12 December 2015
For some, summer is all about sitting outside on a perfect day and tackling that big summer book. It’s tough to read just anywhere, though. Reading requires relative silence, yet the problem with silence in New York City is that it’s next to impossible to find. However, achieving something close is feasible. Here is a list of the eight best places around town to read, along with some suggested books.

Fort Tilden Beach, Queens: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Over the past couple of years, Fort Tilden has grown into a hipster oasis. This decommissioned military station now serves as a park and has a lot to offer. There are sports fields and a nature walk that leads right down to a sparsely populated beach, a great place to read Danielewski’s House of Leaves. This postmodern thriller is a head scratcher. The story unfolds with a man who stumbles upon a book manuscript about a filmmaker making a documentary about a guy whose house keeps expanding inside. It is an intensely creepy and wonderfully weird page-turner, which is a rarity in this genre.

Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, Roosevelt Island: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

This four-acre oddity, located on the southern tip of the Roosevelt Island, looks as though it were the starboard bow of a well-manicured concrete ship. Visitors are scarce here making it the prefect place to get away. It is also a splendid setting to roll up your sleeves and delve into David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece on America’s obsession with having to be perpetually entertained. You will have the chance to hunker down and concentrate on Wallace’s wonderful work.

Governor’s Island Park: JR by William Gaddis

Upon arrival to Governor’s Island, the first thing you notice is the overpowering view of Lower Manhattan. With this view, it’s a perfect place to read William Gaddis’ National Book Award winner, JR, which tells the tale of an eleven-year-old boy who amasses a fortune by trading penny stocks. This 700-plus page book is written almost entirely in dialogue and can take its toll on the reader. The island can counteract that. Patronage during the workday is minimal, so you can lounge away with little or no distraction. Curl up on one of the several hammocks here, lie on a big blanket in a sprawling green field, or sit on a park bench alongside the water.

The Green Belt, Staten Island: Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

For many who grew up before the age of the Internet, there was Thomas Pynchon. His books are packed with everything and anything. His 1997 classic, Mason and Dixon, is a treatise on friendship, the expansion of America, and the importance of wildlife conservation. It’s a pitch perfect companion piece for the Green Belt. The Belt covers over 2,800 acres of interconnected parks, forestry, and nature trails. There are ponds to ponder, fields to run through, and quite a diverse range of animal species and plant life to contemplate in these indigenous woods.

Image Courtesy of Wave Hill
Image Courtesy of Wave Hill

Wave Hill, The Bronx: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Hugging the edges of the elegant neighborhood of Riverdale, The Wave Hill Estate is the crown jewel of The Bronx. Situated along the Hudson River, it is 28 acres of well manicured greenery, stately houses, and massive mansions. This gorgeous outdoor setting is surprisingly limited in patronage. It is the ideal place to sit in a big lawn chair overseeing the mighty Hudson and read David Mitchell’s genre-bending and time-jumping masterwork, Cloud Atlas. Six interconnected tales with a story structure reminiscent of Russian nesting dolls, Mitchell’s novel is funny, compelling, and a perfect choice for Wave Hill.

Belvedere Castle, Central Park: The Castle by Franz Kafka

Belvedere Castle was the finishing touch to Fredrick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s crown achievement, Central Park. Completed in 1919, the castle has been a tourist draw ever since. Even though it is essentially faux, the castle has been used in several different capacities. It can be easily seen from the lounging vantage point of nearby Great Lawn. Belvedere Castle is the perfect inspiration to tackle Kafka’s final, dark, and surreal masterpiece, The Castle. This book tells the tale of the protagonist, K, who tries to gain access to a castle only to be constantly rebuffed. Critics have seen this as a metaphor for trying to obtain the unobtainable. In your case, with Belvedere, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Fort Tyron, Manhattan: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This big, bold passionate novel is considered one of the greatest novels ever written. It is profound, funny, and spiritual. To channel some of its kinetic energy, head up to Fort Tyron Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a perfect pairing. This gorgeous park is perched high above the Hudson River, giving way to wondrous views of the Palisades across the way. The park encompasses over 66 acres and yet it still feels intimate. You can’t find a bad vantage point to open this classic tome and spend a wonderful day in the great outdoors.

Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn and Queens: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The Jamaica Bay Wild Life Refuge is a massive undertaking. Run by The National Park Service in conjunction with the City of New York, it amasses over 9,155 acres of salt marshes, fields, woods, and fresh water ponds. It is also home to over 330 species of birds, 60 types of butterflies, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and crabs. Melville’s classic about Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal hunt for a white whale has long been lauded as a literary classic. Crack open Moby Dick at the JB Wild Life Center Refuge and search for your unattainable white whale.

By Michael McGrath