NYC Reads: The Best New York City Bookstores
The city that never sleeps always reads.
To those who say Americans don't read anymore, I say, hop on the New York City subway and see if that's the case. In the city that brought the world the Harlem Renaissance and the Algonquin Roundtable, it seems that not only will every swipe through MTA turnstiles lead to a glimpse of commuting readers but also to another bookstore. For book (yes, physical book) nerds like myself, New York is a city of literary candy stores.
Bookstores, as opposed to online book purveyors, can provide a forum for the literary community, as the original Shakespeare & Company did for Lost Generation writers. Brooklyn, especially, houses many such spots as the borough's more prominent writers such as Jonathan Lethem and Tao Lin continue to traipse their way through literary fame.
Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene garnered the funds necessary to open through individual loans given by members of the community dying for a bookstore in their neighborhood. Owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo has an excellent blog, writtennerd.blogspot.com, and she was one of my favorite panelists at last year's CLMP Literary Writers Conference.
Over in Greenpoint there's Word Bookstore, where not only can you meet a fellow reader through their personal ads bulletin board but also join a booklovers' running group—before heading down the street for a ludicrously ornate sugar cookie at Cookie Road.
At BookCourt you're liable to rub shoulders with a (l)it-girl like Emma Straub, whose bookselling career was chronicled in The New York Times. And if, somehow, you don't know why it would be great running into Straub, read our interview with the author of Other People We Married and be charmed.
Across the bridge in Manhattan, readings at McNally Jackson can remind fanboys and fangirls that their favorite authors are real live people. The store also houses a café, and let's just be honest, coffee and books are conjoined twins as far as I'm concerned.
L.E.S. artistes can head across town to find a host of amazing coffee-table toppers at 192 Books in Chelsea. The avant-garde art books will make you feel like you've conned your way into opening a museum inside your apartment—or anywhere with decent lighting.
Farther uptown, students and non-students alike will find syllabus-worthy selections at Harlem's Book Culture. For those who "don't go above 14th Street," though, the East Village's St. Mark's Bookshop also stocks countless literary and critical theory texts. After a recent hunt for Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic, I was reminded of exactly why the city needs to keep this place.
To breathe in that heady old book smell, readers can check out the Strand Bookstore, which fully lives up to its slogan, "18 miles of books," and where one floor is dedicated exclusively to rare books. You've seen the Strand tote bags on the subway, and let's be clear: it's not because these are extremely attractive accessories; it's because book addicts can get their fix without shelling out full retail prices.
But if this monster of a used bookstore becomes overwhelming, you can always head back to Brooklyn for the smaller but well-edited assortment at Williamsburg's Book Thug Nation. Even those who happily brave the 18-mile book-cluster may find it worth the three subway stops for Book Thug's assortment of zines.
I could go on but I've got places—bookstores—to be.