The Ultimate Book Day and Why You Should Do This Too

I have lived on Long Island almost my entire life and as of right now, I have no plans to ever move away. Aside from this past years’ brutal winter, not much has ever made me want to leave it either. This island has beautiful beaches, adorable tree-filled neighborhoods, wineries, great shopping spots, and it’s close to New York City. But for a place that is home to over seven and a half million people, our independent book store number is a little low. Sure, we have the mecca of all independent bookstores on this island—Huntington’s Book Revue—and a few other gems, like Book Hampton in Mattituck and Dolphin Bookstore in Port Washington, but I wanted to see something new.

With the desire to expand my bookstore horizons, I did a search for the best bookstores near me and a fantastic list popped up. The list was filled with independent bookstores all located within Brooklyn and NYC, so with that, this past Saturday I decided to make a day of it.

My first stop was to the East Village, where I finally got to experience the amazing food of Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones, and Butter (one of the first NSBCBC reads from November of 2013).

It was such an amazing feeling, seeing the actual restaurant that she wrote about creating in her book. Just as she described, the miniature bistro was filled to the brim with her essence. The style of her writing mirrored the style of the decor—whimsical, exciting, and lovely. And the food…. oh man… the food. Comforting yet experimental. Beautiful yet approachable. Fresh and crisp and everything I knew it would be because it was just as she described it in her book. It was a delicious dining experience and a great way to continue my love affair with this book. I truly cannot wait to go back.

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Top Left: I was not above bringing my book in for a picture. Top Right: My husband Andrew trying out our bizzare Bloody Mary choices (mine included beef bullion!) Bottom Right: Posing with the signage. Not touristy whatsoever. Bottom Left: Our incredible meals. Spicy chic peas for me, fried Monte Cristo for Andrew. Happy diners all around.

From there, my hubby and I parted ways and I went on a solo mission to Prince Street’s McNally Jackson Bookstore and Cafe. This is the kind of store that has a very cool vibe, yet it didn’t feel too cool for me to be there. With its very own working printing press, and a cafe that serves everything from fresh scones to sparkling rose water, McNally Jackson has enough to keep even a browser occupied for hours. I decided to spend my time in the graphic novel corner, with my drink from the cafe and the latest volume of Saga. For a half hour, I sat uninterrupted by staff or fellow patrons and read. It was the kind of place where nobody cared that I didn’t buy the book or occupied the seat. They were just happy to have people in there, reading and enjoying their space.

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Top Left: The store front. Spot any NSBCBC reads? Top Right: The cafe, with its awesome hanging book fixtures. Bottom Right: Saga, Vol. 3. Oh, The Will! He’s just so tortured! Bottom Left: The impressive printing press.

Next up, I was joined by fellow NSBCBCer Daryl, and together we went to Housing Works Bookstore located on Crosby Street. Here is where I think I found my favorite bookstore in the world. This beautiful store is completely stocked with donated books and run almost entirely by volunteers. Not to mention, 100% of their proceeds go towards Housing Works—an advocacy group whose mission is to help end the “duel crisis of AIDS and homelessness” by providing lifesaving services to those in need. I mean REALLY… do I need to say anymore? No… but I will.

The store was easily the most aesthetically pleasing space of all the stores I visited throughout the day, and the selection was surprisingly vast. Even when the book we wanted wasn’t on the shelf, the shop keepers happily went out of their way to help us find what we were looking for. And the icing on the cake—right when I walked in there was a table completely filled with David Sedaris books. When I grabbed a copy of Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls (an NSBCBC April 2014 read) I was delighted to find the entire stack was signed by David himself. Apparently he had been there earlier in the week and stayed until midnight chatting with each and every person that came to see him. I happily bought two copies and made a vow to visit that store whenever I’m nearby.

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I’d live here if it weren’t weird to live in a public store.

Up next was the biggest of the 4 (Perhaps the biggest in the world? At least it felt like that) The Strand, located right by Union Square. This store, boasting its 18 miles of books, can be summed up in one word—overwhelming. Packed with hundreds of patrons, this maze of a place will surely have any book you’ve ever wanted; just be prepared to search for miles and miles to find it. In all honesty, my fragile self couldn’t take the mayhem for too long. I like my bookstores to be calming and although this place was impressive, it was anything but relaxing. We probably spent a total of 10 minutes there before deciding we didn’t need to see any more. We got the gist, and the gist was hectic.

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Daryl’s face in the top picture perfectly depicts just how overwhelming the store really is.

The last stop on our great bookstore tour was 192 books, located on 10th and 21st. Talk about the complete polar opposite of The Strand. This shop was about the size of my living room and was so quiet that it felt almost inappropriate for my friend and I to discuss our love of the children’s classic, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (even in a volume that was just above a whisper). Although it was adorable, it wasn’t necessarily welcoming, but that was probably due to its overly calming setting.

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Teeny Tiny, absolutely adorable, and a little awkward.

My overall verdict of the stores:  If this were a Goldilocks situation, The Strand was too much, and 192 books was too little, but McNally Jackson and Housing Works were juuuuuuuust right. And was it worth all the walking? You bet your buns it was.

So Why Do I Think You Should Go On a Bookstore Journey Too? 

At the end of the day, I was so happy I got to visit these places, not just because I got to be surrounded by things I love, but because I was surrounded by hundreds of readers just like me. So often I hear on the news that bookstores are going out of style, and that e-readers and Amazon are wiping away the need for traditional bookstores. But my experience shows otherwise. People still love these brick and mortars and it’s not because they must physically see the book before they buy it. It’s so they can be surrounded by the vibe of the bookstore. Here, you can chat with other people about the books and stumble upon books you may not ever find otherwise. You can sit and enjoy a coffee and flip through a book without pressure. And the best part—you’d be supporting the world of books and the activity of reading just by being present. Who doesn’t love that?

So be present. Visit your local bookstores, venture to new bookstores, and help keep the bookstore alive. Happy reading everyone!

– Nina Sclafani

Bookstore Junkie, Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

 P.S. – Episode 3  of The Not So Book Club Podcast has been posted! Check it out at NSBCBC.PODBEAN.COM, and listen to the gang discuss comics, children’s books, and more!  

Is This Cheating? (…Cause This Feels Like Cheating)

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Audiobooks Vs. Actual Books. Does it still count as reading the book if you never actually read the book?

Back when I was in high school, I worked at my town’s local library. Looking back at the job, it was probably one of the best (if not the best) jobs I’ve ever had. I say that because retrospectively, no other job allowed me to flip through interesting books all day (even though I suppose I did that on the sly). I would spend my afternoons organizing shelves, checking out what books patrons were taking out, and covering (or re-covering) books with plastic so that they always looked and felt fresh (but that’s where it ended, because no matter how many times you cover a book in new plastic, you could never cover up that old-book stink).

Of all the things I did at the library, my favorite days were the ones I’d spend in the back room, creating art for the windows. I don’t remember how I earned that job, or how often I was tasked with a new window, but I do remember spending hours in that back room—piecing together construction paper, lining my work with thick black sharpie, and blowing through glue stick after glue stick as I organized the shapes like a puzzle in order to create different scenes. And for all the time I spent alone working on these murals, the time felt like it flew by. This could have been because of amount of fun I had creating these pieces, but I also think it was what I listened to while I worked, that made it fly. Because this was a library, I had complete access to the CDs and DVDs that were in stock, and I used that unlimited access to monopolize the Harry Potter audiobooks.

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The only remaining picture of my brief career as an 18 year old construction paper artist.

Every shift, I would place one of the disks into the little boom box we kept in the back and get completely wrapped up in the wizarding world. In his slightly-Americanized English accent, the melodic voice of Harry Potter narrator Jim Dale would quietly guide me through the books, chapter after chapter, shift after shift.

But for all the hours I spent listening to these books over and over, I never felt as though I were reading the stories. When I talk about the series with friends (and yes, I roll with a crowd where this conversation comes up at least once a year), I never count the times I’ve listened to the stories when someone asks how many times I’ve read the books. I mean, why would I? My eyes never saw a single word of Rowling’s writing, my mind never gave voice to the words of the characters, and I never exhausted my eyes to the point where I’d fall asleep mid chapter.

But with that said, it never felt right to not include my listening sessions because so much of my listening experience was the same as my reading experience. Just as if I were reading the books myself, I experienced every word of Rowling’s writing and I watched every scene play out in my mind. Just like reading, I felt emotional during the exciting parts and nervous during the finale scenes. Essentially, I felt all the same things I would have, had I been reading the book.

So should it count as reading the book? Or am I cheating the book? 

A few years ago, this question came up when I tried to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Trying to read that book was an epic failure. With too much time spent on only three chapters worth of progress, I turned to the audiobook—and it helped… significantly. Although I experienced her language through my earbuds instead of on the page, it was fulfilling. For a while there, I even felt influenced by her writing style, as I found myself mimicking a certain type of grace in my work emails that had not been there prior (which was… awkward, but only because I was emailing people that clearly had no time for grace or beauty in their writing. They were NYS Medicare employees and they refused to read anything over 5 sentences long). I got all the positive side effects of reading a beautiful classic book, without having to actually read it.

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This popped up in my Google search for “Jane Austen writing” and I can’t help but wish this were a real line from Pride and Prejudice.

This month, under the insistence of NSBCBC podcast panelist Amanda, I dipped my foot in the audiobook pool yet again, in order to “read” David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. (Side note: I tried to illegally download it because I didn’t want to wait for the library copy to arrive, and I didn’t want to pay the $20 it cost on i tunes. However, my foray into small time crime didn’t pay because I immediately downloaded a virus that took days to get out of my computer. Oy… never again.) Anyway, the experience thus far has been pretty great (aside from that virus business) and it has me thinking—perhaps this is the way some authors need to be absorbed. For example, a friend of mine tried to read this book and didn’t love it, but now that I’ve heard the audiobook, maybe she would have enjoyed it had she heard the author’s delivery of the text instead. His voice, his pauses, his pronunciation—it all adds so much to the stories that I’m not sure they’d be as rewarding without him.

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Here is David Sedaris, cracking up John Stewart on The Daily Show. See, John knows what I mean about David’s delivery. Amanda was so right about this.

But it this reading? Technically, no. But am I experiencing the story? Absolutely! I’m absorbing every word, learning new things, and experiencing feelings with every page that passes. And isn’t that what reading is all about? Whichever way you decide to take in a story, it is still a rewarding experience.

So the next time someone asks how many times I’ve read the Harry Potter stories, I’ll include the times I’ve listened, because really, shouldn’t the question actually be, “how many times have you experienced the story?”

– Nina Sclafani

May’s Reads—Why These Books?

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Hello Not So Book Clubbers!

Are you seeing what I’m seeing right now? Sunshine, people! Real, beautiful, Spring sunshine! I’m so excited my eyes are welling up with tears (sure, this may be 100% due to allergies but I will pretend otherwise).  So excuse me if this post seems hastily written. I’m dying to go sit outside and bask in it before Mother Nature tries to take another dump on my head. Oh Spring!

This month I kept my eyes and ears open, waiting for the books to present themselves to me. I didn’t want to force this selection, so I stayed away from my usual “must read” lists  and decided to go based on those magical moments when people sell you on a book through natural conversation. Although I was sweating about this until I finally found my third on Easter, I’m glad the list came to be this way, and I can honestly say I am really excited for all three books this month!

1. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris

My good friend (and NSBCBC Podcast contributor, Amanda) told me about this one. Actually, she’s been trying to make a Sedaris book an NSBCBC Read for months! She truly loves David Sedaris and I can absolutely see why. This girl has got so many hilarious stories about growing up that I think she and David could be kindred spirits.

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One of Amanda’s stories includes this terrifying ventriloquist dummy named Charlie McCarthy. Recently he appeared at one of our hangouts and naturally we used him to scare the dogs. Today, when I texted her asking for the name of her “puppet,” she didn’t know who I was talking about because she refers to him as “her friend.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with David Sedaris, he is a writer who typically pens comedic memoirs. Now I know last week I went a little crazy bashing books of this genre, but it’s important to remember—Sedaris is a writer before anything. He’s no celebrity taking a crack at writing because… you know, someone said “I’ll pay you lots of money to yammer on about your life!” He does this because this is true talent.

Anyway, where were we? Right! David and Amanda are kindred spirits, and here is why. With Amanda’s stories, it’s all about the delivery. When listening to her stories, she adds so much of her personality to the tale, it’s no longer just about the words— it’s the word emphasis, the dramatic pauses, and the character voices. These are what truly bring her stories to life. And upon her request, this is how we should consume our Sedaris books because (as her kindred spirit) he delivers his stories in the same fashion that she does.  

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Self explanatory.

Ask anyone who listens to NPR around the holidays and they’ll agree. (The reading of his Crumpet the Elf  story from The Santaland Diaries is the perfect example of David’s delivery. His dry tone tells all.) So, for this collection of hopefully-hilarious Sedaris essays, I will do my best to consume majority of it via audio book, and apparently you should as well.

 

2. The Forgiven – Lawrence Osborne

Last weekend, while strolling around NY’s lower west side (killing time before heading to a brunch where I dove into a pit of bottomless mimosas), I stumbled upon a tiny shop that emphasized everything I love about bookstores. The warm mahogany bookshelves were filled with copies of literature from past and present, my fellow patrons appeared to have deep interest in the books they were sifting through, and the staff was genuinely enthusiastic to talk books with me. While I was checking out, one employee noticed me glancing at a new release from an author I had never heard of. When I asked about the book he said that it was good, however the author’s previous book was adored by the entire staff and that it was their favorite book of that year.

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And here is said bookstore!—Three Lives and Company. Find more information about this perfect little shop here, at threelives.com

He brought me over to Lawrence Osbornes’ The Forgiven and said if I was looking for something thrilling, dark, and exciting this was the book for me. He apparently read it in just a few days (as did the rest of the staff), and he insisted that if I were to start this book, I too would tear through it in no time.

The story, described as “haunting,” takes place in Moroccan desert, and shows how a seemingly random accident can either tear apart or bring together people from vastly different cultures.

To learn more about it, or to pick up a copy (in cause your local library doesn’t have it available), you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Forgiven-Novel-Lawrence-Osborne/dp/0307889041

3. The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman

My aunt Rhonda has impeccable taste. Her house looks like it should be in Martha Stewart Living, her clothes are always fabulously unique items from little boutiques, and everything she ever recommended to me (from bronzers to books) have been real winners. So, when she told me about Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, I listened.

First thing I will say, ignore the cover because from what I heard, it’s so much more interesting than what that cover depicts. (I’ve said this before, but I do think covers play into my desire to read a book. I would have never picked this up off the shelf unless I had someone tell me I should.)

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Always a sucker for a good pun…

The story’s synopsis is so much more powerful than that image. Hoffman’s story takes place “nearly two thousand years ago” when “nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.” (Amazon.com)

My aunt emphasized that this book is “truly beautiful,” so I’m excited to jump into this one. I’ll just have to make sure I have a box of tissues handy because typically when someone describes something as “truly beautiful,” all I hear is “you gonna cry, girl.”

 

And those my friends are your May NSBCBC Reads! Hope you’ve enjoyed April’s and hope you’re ready for May!

And get ready for a new NSBCBC Podcast (which can be found at NSBCBC.podbean.com)! We are recording this Sunday, so if you have any book-related topics you’d like to hear discussed, shoot them our way! Post your suggestions on the facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), tweet us @notsobookclub, or post them right here on the wordpress!

 

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

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Haven’t heard last months’ podcast yet? Check it out here at NSBCBC.PODBEAN.COM!