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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!