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!  

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March’s Reads- Why These Books?

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The March 2014 NSBCBC Reads!

This month, I decided to turn to more best-of lists to find our latest reads. All 3 of these books were selected from a mix of Goodreads reviews, Amazon best-of 2013 lists, and NPR recommendations. I’m really excited to read all 3 of these, and hope these help make the final days of winter a little easier! (I have my fingers crossed that by the time I’m on the 3rd read of the month, I’ll be able to read outside and bask in the spring sunshine.)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Original concept by Siobhan Dowd)

For the first book, I decided to mirror the month of March and charge in like a lion—a really sad, disturbing lion. Although you will find this book in the YA section of your library, it is a complex, graphic-filled novel that is filled to the brim with emotionally heavy themes. From the reviews I saw, apparently this book will leave us devastated. Now, I know you’re thinking “devastated, huh? Sounds REALLY fun!” But I urge you to take the journey with me. The synopsis is too interesting to pass up!

The story explores the fears of loss and the unknown, and tackles “monsters both real and imagined.” The novel (originally conceptualized by writer Siobhan Dowd—whose premature death from cancer prevented her from finishing the story), follows a young boy named Connor, who is haunted by a monster that visits him every night starting at the beginning of his mother’s cancer treatments. Paired with hauntingly beautiful ink drawings, this novel brings a deeply moving experience that will help us understand how to overcome our own monsters.

And if that doesn’t sell you, read this excerpt from the New York Times:

“There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it’s also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place – an imperfect one, of course – where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous story­teller and a potent piece of art.

—The New York Times

2. The Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I’ve always loved magical realism. The idea that mystical creatures could live among us regular folk has always made me smile, and in a way I have always hoped for it to be a real possibility. For example, although I’m 27, I am still holding out hope for an invitation to Hogwarts. (By the way…To the Admissions Office of Hogwarts, Seriously guys. I’m not getting any younger here.) So when I saw the synopsis of Wecker’s debut novel, I was very interested.

The story is about two mystical creatures (a golem and a jinni—and no, not Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Genie from Aladdin, although that would make for a really fun pairing) who go on a magical journey. Together, they experience the many different cultures of New York City during the turn of the century, and create a bond that defies their own cultural boundaries.

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Unfortunately the story does not follow these two, but if someone ever wanted to write that, I’d almost certainly HAVE to read it. I mean, what a dynamic duo!

3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Shamefully, the bright colors of the cover were the initial reason I checked this book out (Props to the cover artist!). Then the synopsis drew me in a bit further.

The story follows a group of friends who meet at a creative arts camp in the summer of 1974. Throughout life, each of these people pursue their own creative passion, yet only some become successful, while others don’t. The story explores the dynamics between the group as they struggle to incorporate creativity in their lives as they grow and face life’s many challenges.

I also chose this story for my own selfish reasons. I always felt like my group of friends were particularly creative and talented (too much horn tooting?). Now that we’re in our late twenties, we are still exploring our creative sides—just some more than others. I felt like this story would be relatable, and I kinda wanted to see what happened to this creative group, perhaps out of curiosity for my own life’s path.

So there we have it! The March Reads for 2014. Make sure to post your thoughts, art work, poetry, and more to the NSBCBC Facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc); tweet us at @notsobookclub; Instagram your reading experience with the #nsbcbc hashtag; and share The Not So Book Club Book Club with your friends! The more readers, the merrier!

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

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