Thursday, August 21, 2008

Home Sweet Favorites: NYC Bookstores

So I was away last weekend...if you must know, I was in California (*gasp*). Yes, my former home, whose Redwood mountains and breezy beaches still tug at my soft little heart. But this time, having only gone for three days, my return to the city was not so difficult. Funny enough, the weather is actually much nicer here than it was in northern CA, where if not for my wool sweater and Wolford tights, I would have frozen my fanny in that 50-degree early morning/nighttime weather.

But I digress. What I really want to write about is bookstores in NYC. One thing you gotta love about this city is how literate people are. People miss their subway stops, they're so engrossed in their reading. They stand in lines that snake around the block to get some indie writer to scribble his/her name in their books . Proust and Joyce and their ilk outnumber bodice rippers and thrillers in the used book bins lining Washington Square. In a country where reading is on the decline, it's easy to believe the written word still matters when you live in NYC.

Still, I'm concerned. Next week, one of my favorite neighborhood bookstores, the Strand Annex on Fulton, is closing. Now, the only bookstore I have in walking distance is a Borders on Broadway and Wall. It's a fine bookstore, but the selection is not as deep and varied as I would like it to be. Last year, the Barnes & Noble on Astor Place closed. No more creaking around their fiction stacks on hardwood floors. The gigantic B&N in Chelsea--also closed.

Our beloved bookstores are being priced out. The rents are high, and too many people are "Amazoning" - myself included. It's like global warming - I know I'm contributing to the problem, but sometimes, it's hard to make the responsible choices.

But if you are going to wean yourself off Amazon, here are some bookstores we should fight to keep around. Maybe the way to think of it is, you end up paying a few dollars more for a book, but you're paying for the privilege of walking into a bookstore, smelling the fresh paper and ink, sitting in the corner and reading the first chapter of a new book, knowing that a dozen or more people are sharing that space with you, reading some words on a page and letting their minds be carried away for one quiet, perfect moment. Bookstores are like zen spaces. I hope we keep them around.

"Home"-girl's favorite bookstores:
  • The Strand - I can never walk out of this store without wanting to buy an armload of books
  • McNally Jackson (former McNally Robinson)--the perfect place to go when you're sick of reading the same 10 authors over and over
  • St. Marks Bookshop--remember how smart you were when you were in college? feel that way again with books on feminist theory and philosophy
  • Left Bank Books -- a recent find, but what a gem. THE place to get first editions of your favorite novels.
  • Kitchen Arts & Letters -- if you love cooking, this UES bookstore has nothing but cookbooks. Tell them what you feel like cooking. They'll have a recommendation.
  • Barnes & Noble Union Square --it's a monolith, but that cafe area is a lodestone for the community. I can't tell you how many times I've met friends in that cafe. Or how much time I've killed before a movie browsing its four floors.
That's my short list, but if you need more, Books in New York is even more book-obsessed than I am. They've got an entire blog devoted to this topic.

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