Friday, September 26, 2014


When I was little I didn't know what a bookstore was, being only familiar with libraries. When my family was on vacation in Door County, a good six hour drive from my home, we went to a bookstore and my parents bought me a Babar book. We were getting ready to go home and we were taking the book with us. I was so confused. I was so worried about how we'd get it back to the "library" on time, being convinced that no one could own a book outright. The revelation that you could have books that you kept obviously changed my life. So therefore I will now present to you "libraries" where you get to keep the books!

If you're anything like me you can't be content just looking at sights when visiting a new city, you need to add to your bookshelf. Not only is it a new world to explore locked between a front and back cover, but it is a souvenir of your time away from home. I know this need to own more books is a condition that is almost worthy of professional help, but I've decided to embrace it, because it's not like I have any other vices! New York has one of the most famous bookstores in the world, The Strand. Located a few blocks northeast of Washington Square Park at 828 Broadway, on the corner of Broadway and East 12th Street is this hallowed bookstore.

The Strand literally boasts miles and miles of books.While I personally have no way to confirm or deny the exact mileage of the books being eighteen, I can guess it is pretty accurate. The first time I saw The Strand I was down at Union Square Park and my friend Orelia and I were hungry and we wandered into a restaurant that happened to be right across the street from the bookstore. I don't know what reason prevented me from going in, but it wasn't until later that year when I returned to New York that I finally made the pilgrimage.

What I remember most about The Strand is that on entering there was this lovely pillar and around it was where they displayed their more reasonably priced collector's edition. Needless to say I kind of hovered there and this is where most of my purchases were made. Signed editions of books, like Alistair Cooke's autobiography, which was actually a present for my father, made their way into my shopping cart. And yes, I do remember where I bought books almost a decade ago, don't you?

The thing you have to realize on going into The Strand is that you are going into a maze. Plan ahead, bring provisions (aka lists of books you're looking for) or you might easily be overwhelmed. I am very lucky in that Madison is a veritable book haven, with amazing used stores such as Frugal Muse. This means that I have very high standards in my bookstores. Aside from the collector's section I was actually a little underwhelmed by the store. Perhaps this is more because I didn't find any of the rare books I often hunt for. One hopes upon going to the mecca of bookstores that you will find that one book you can never find anywhere else, but alas it wasn't to be. Yet a used bookstore isn't entirely to blame for this. They are at the mercy of what people bring in to sell. So I blame the New Yorkers who hold onto all their cool books and don't let bookish tourists like me get them for their own collections!

The most interesting thing I found at The Strand was their rare book room. Having the room isn't strange, this is one of the biggest bookstores in the world, what I found strange was the rules. I had to check all my belongings, sign a waiver that if I did anything to any book I would pay for it. I was so scared at this point that I basically walked around the upper room with my hands tightly behind my back for fear of damaging something. The room felt too much like a library where you knew the librarian would never let you check out a book no matter how sweetly you asked, and yes, I had one such librarian at my grade school growing up, and yes, she was a nun, a very scary nun. As for the books on display on various tables? Traps to lure you into staying! Seeing as at this time I was applying for grad school I couldn't afford anything there, in fact even if I won the lottery I probably couldn't afford anything there, so I calmly backed out, made my more reasonable purchases and moved a few doors down to the comic shop, and yes, they do have a Forbidden Planet in New York!

If you think that the store itself might be too tempting or overwhelming, or dare I say, too Downtown (note to self, stop typing Downton), there's a stall for you! The Strand operates a book kiosk on 5th Avenue on the Central Park side across from The Pierre Hotel (which has an awesome afternoon tea FYI, get their house blend and don't be afraid to ask for more sandwiches). So for those feint of heart or those easily tempted, make your way to 5th Avenue and East 60th Street, open 10AM to Dusk, weather permitting of course. But don't forget, that The Strand is just one of many bookstores, and I mean many. I had planned on checking out a great many of these, but, alas, it wasn't to be. But the joy of New York is just stumbling on a store and walking in, you can find the best places this way, places you never knew existed. Of course if you are more organized, as I obviously am to a psychotic degree, just google New York Bookstores and you will get an amazing array of places throughout the city, places that I hope you and me will one day visit.


Newer Post Older Post Home