New York for Booklovers
Dallas Morning News
When I arrive in a new destination, it’s rarely more than a few hours before I find myself nosing around a creaky-floored bookstore or three. Despite the digitally-driven demise of print, navigating a labyrinth of towering stacks and chatting with fellow bookworms is one of my favorite ways to meet the locals. But some places have more to offer than others. On my recent visit to New York, I discovered a city so crammed with page-turning delights – from great bookshops to literary haunts – that it may well be the booklovers’ capital of North America.
Opened in 1927, this beloved Manhattan institution – “18 miles of books” is the slogan – is a perfect foraging spot for book nuts. The store’s outdoor bargain racks are impossible to pass by, with thousands of used tomes starting at 48c. Inside, the lofty stacks cover everything from poetry to the occult and there’s a lively reader series in the rare books room: check the board outside to see what’s on. Also a good spot for literary-minded souvenirs, I bought a cool T-shirt adorned with a vintage cover design of Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four.
McNally Jackson Books
Belying the cliché of darkened bookshops with shadowy corners, this Nolita favorite is bright and lively. Its cheery upstairs café – complete with books artfully hanging from the ceiling – is worth a pit stop: you’ll rub shoulders with local literati as you peruse a menu adorned with foody quotes. Don’t even try to resist the Robert Louis Stevenson’s “I dreamed of cheese” toasted sandwich. Book-wise, the fiction section is organized by region based on author nationality, which makes for some adventurous perusing.
Possibly the city’s friendliest bookstore, this little Greenwich Village fixture is ideal for some leisurely browsing. And that starts right outside on the extensive sale table where I almost blew my airline baggage allowance in a matter of minutes. Inside, there’s a general interest approach with all the main subject areas covered, from cookbooks to an excellent children’s literature selection. This is also the place to pick up that new Moleskine notebook for your next On the Road-style travel journal: they’re on permanent 20 percent discount here.
St. Mark’s Bookshop
If you’re the kind of reader that likes rubbing their chin and pretending you’ve read Ulysses a dozen times (or maybe that’s just me), this serious-minded, carefully-curated indie bookstore is the one for you. Jam-packed with difficult-to-find-elsewhere tomes in genres from cultural theory to film studies, it’s the ideal place to recall the intellectual books you used to read before your bedside table was overtaken by celebrity biographies. Art fans salivate over the gorgeously-illustrated design and architecture books here but there’s also a rich array of zines, literary journals and poetry publications to broaden your horizons.
Aside form general interest stores, New York has a bulging bookcase of niche options. The second-floor Idlewild Books (www.idlewildbooks.com) lures travel fans with its excellent array of guidebooks, travel-related fiction and imported titles (including Asterix the Gaul magazines). In contrast, Tribeca’s Mysterious Bookshop (www.mysteriousbookshop.com) attracts amateur sleuths with its comprehensive range of new and vintage crime and detective novels. Sherlock Holmes fans should expect to spend several hours here: there’s a serious collection to explore, magnifying glass in-hand.
New York Public Library
The daily free tours at the grand, 1911-built New York Public Library are Midtown’s best book bargain. Weaving along marble-lined corridors into wood-paneled rooms crowned with cathedral-like ceilings, I peered at a Gutenberg Bible and learned that the collection includes 35,000 New York restaurant menus stretching back 200 years. I took the 11 a.m. tour then hotfooted it to nearby Grand Central Station – a century old this year – for the $20 12.30 p.m. architecture walk. Aside from starring in many movies, the handsome terminal is a setting in several well-known New York books, including Catcher in the Rye.
McSorley’s Old Ale House
Dylan Thomas drank to excess in the city’s White Horse Tavern, but my favorite bookish watering hole here is McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village. Built in the 1850s and reputedly New York’s most elderly Irish pub, everyone from E.E. Cummings to Woody Guthrie has supped here (presumably not on the same night). With dinged wood-paneling and sticky tables, it’s comfortable dive bar ambiance hasn’t changed much in decades. Attempting to channel writer’s past, I sipped a frothy dark ale and failed to write an epic poem. Instead, I had another beer: great art takes time.
Festivals & Events
I missed out on New York’s biggest book happenings on my slightly ill-timed visit. Which means I have several good reasons to return. There are day-long Lit Crawls (www.litcrawl.org) with readings, panels and bookish shenanigans coming up in Manhattan (September 14) and Brooklyn (May 18), with the latter also hosting September’s ever-growing Brooklyn Book Festival (www.brooklynbookfestival.org). In addition, the New York Public Library is staging an exhibition on children’s literature from June 21. To ensure you don’t miss anything on your visit, peruse the events, readings and book launch listings at www.bookboroughing.com.
Madison Avenue’s boutique Library Hotel is perfect for visiting bibliophiles. I’ve stayed here a couple of times over the years and enjoy its nerdy approach of dividing the 10 floors into Dewey Decimal System categories, from philosophy to technology. Each room – including the eighth-floor erotic literature room – has a bookcase of tomes (there are more than 6,000 volumes in the hotel) related to the floor’s category. Aside from its bookcase-lined second floor reading room, on my latest visit I also hit the hotel’s rooftop garden lounge. Engrossed in a history book on the New York Public Library, I sipped a rum-based Hemingway cocktail and planned my next book-based visit to the city.