Saturday, May 5, 2012

NYC through the eyes of a book-shopper

This past Thursday, Tara (of Booksexyreview) and I found ourselves in NYC for the PEN Festival. With plenty of time to kill before the first panel, Tara took me on a tour of New York City's most popular bookshops. (Yes, yes, I know... I've been to the city more times than I can count, but I've never popped into a New York City bookshop before. Go on and gasp, I know you want to!)

McNally Jackson

The first threshold we crossed was McNally Jackson's. Can I just tell you how lovely the window displays were? There was one designed for PEN, with books suspended from the ceiling, dangling precariously every which way...

Once inside, I was drawn immediately to the tables at the front of the store. *oooh lookit all the pretty new books* They shone like lovely little jewels. I wanted to grab every single one of them and shove them into my pockets. Instead, I whipped out my Droid and added a ton of them to my Goodreads to-buy list.

With some effort, I pulled myself away from the front of the store and headed toward the back. Now, McNally's looks deceivingly like every other bookshop in my neck of the woods with one major exception - their quirky way of shelving their novels. I was in the mood for a little Saramago or Duncan and struggled to find them initially, only to discover that they shelve their books by the location of the story. So Saramago, since most of his novels take place in Portugal, can be found on the Italy, Spain, Portugal shelf.

Though extremely tricky, it's actually a pretty clever way of shelving books, dontcha think? It certainly forces the hardcore author-fan to use their brain, doesn't it? *what country was that darn novel set in again? c'mon brain, think! think!*  While fun for browsing, I suppose the store must hire some of the most patient and helpful associates in all of Manhattan; I can only imagine how many times a day confused customers must approach the desk questioning the whereabouts of a specific novel!

**** 4 stars for creative shelving and cool titles on their main tables!!

St. Mark's

Second on the must-hit list was St. Mark's. The second I walked in the door, I was struck by two things. The silence. And the floor layout. You could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. It felt so strange. But I quickly got over the lack of noise when I started to browse their side-facing front shelves. 

Of all the bookstores I've ever been to (in NYC or otherwise), St. Mark's appears to carry more of "my kind" of books. On their hardcover fiction shelf, I oooh'd and aaah'd over almost ever novel I saw. No fluffy stuff showing their spines on those shelves, no sirree. 

In search of the paperback fiction, I followed the back wall and stumbled across the shelf you see pictured here. It's a rack containing self published novels and chapbooks, held under consignment. *hello sweetheart.* The moment I saw that rack, this bookshop won my heart. Sadly, as I browsed the rack, I found that most of what was there was not to my taste and, those that were, were waaaay overpriced. But that doesn't lessen the coolness factor one bit! 

Also, compared to the other book stores we visited, it felt a heck of a lot more modern and indie. Perhaps the uneasy silence I noticed when I first walked in was more of an revered awe? This is a bookshop I plan on visiting again.. and again.. and again.

***** 5 stars for awesome indie vibes and that incredible self-publishing rack!

Housing Works 

Onto the Housing Works we go... non-profit bookshop and cafe that offers supportive care to the homeless and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. 

This bookshop definitely has that warehouse feel to it - from its super high ceilings right down to the exposed structural columns and that wonderfully unmistakable old book smell.  Everything you see here has been donated, so the collections are quite eclectic. Like any other used book store, they have great sales (there was one for 30% off everything this weekend) and you never know what gems you might find. 

I hung out on the lower level, where all the fiction was, while Tara browsed the non-fiction upstairs. As I wandered around, I found a small bookshelf off near a door to the back room where they stock the arcs and galleys. Though I didn't find anything I would read, I thought it was cool that they had a special spot for those. 

The overall atmosphere was a welcoming one. There's plenty of room to wander and browsing is highly encouraged. This is the type of bookstore you want to take your time in, since you never know what you'll stumble upon, and you can feel good making a purchase, knowing that your money will be put towards a good cause. 

*** 3 Stars for the welcoming, book sale / warehouse feel and wonderful old book smell.

The Strand

Our last bookstore, and for good reason, was The Strand. 18 miles of books, and they ain't kidding! Probably my least favorite when it comes to design and layout, this beast of a bookstore has some amazing deals on some pretty cool fiction. 

I saw an old Two Dollar Radio title that I'm currently experiencing some guilt over - I restrained myself and didn't buy it when every ounce of my being was screaming that I should. Downstairs, in their audiobook displays, I tossed and turned over copies of Lamb and Threats (and ended up getting neither, but I did purchase a print copy of Threats, so....). Man it sucks when you try to be careful with your cash! 

Floor upon floor and row upon row and shelves upon shelves, The Strand felt extremely maze-like and claustrophobic. Tara warned me about the sensory overload, but I didn't really know what to expect until we got there. It's like the anti-Housing Works - where the Housing Works makes you feel ok about browsing and lingering, The Strand makes you feel anxious and rushed. So many people and so little space, but so many floors and such incredibly tall bookshelves. *i'm feeling a little panicky just thinking about it.* I totally get why, I mean, it's the best known bookshop in the city! 

*** 3 Stars for the great selections and prices that counteract the anxious crowded feeling.

By the time Tara and I left The Strand, we were bookshopped out. We each had our little bag of books because no matter how good we want to be, we just don't know how to say no to ALL of the books. 

God, there is nothing better than walking the city streets with an ex-resident when she's as much into books as you are! Some people like to bar-hop... We love to get our bookshop-hop on! So what about you? Have you been to one, or more, of these bookshops? Which are your favorites? Did I miss one that you absolutely adore? 


  1. I love Housing Works - you can really browse there! Looks like you enjoyed your visit!

  2. That's quite a tour-- glad you enjoyed! Next visit you should tour Brooklyn's!

  3. This sounds like so much fun! I've been to The Strand but none of the others. But I love Rizzoli and even was lucky enough to go to Gotham Books before it closed. It was fantastic!

    Glad you guys had such a good day!

  4. It's nice to have the tour of bookstores in NYC. I hope I can go there one day.

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