5 years, 10 months ago
I was reading an interview a few weeks ago with a young British folk singer transplanted to LA and living the kind of bohemian life you can if you’ve got aristocratic parents and Kew passes for ‘slumming it’. But it wasn’t the weekly delivery of Time’s Crosswords or her glamorous artisan cottage or even the nauseatingly winsome photography that stuck with me. It was a brief description of a Sunday morning spent at a favourite local LA bookshop where, ‘the books are arranged by colour.’ I’m a committed bibliophile and I’ll pretty much give any bookseller a go, but books arranged by colour? Stop me if I’m wrong here but that doesn’t say enthusiasm for the printed word, that says ‘Interior Design Decision’.
This got me thinking about what I love best about bookshops. Which naturally led me to muse on some tried and tested favourites and quite a few on my ‘to do’ list. Strangely LA didn’t come out tops for great places to browse and buy. New York on the other hand, now that’s a totally different shelf of well-thumbed paperbacks.
The city where everyone’s either writing a novel, thinking about writing a novel or planning to play a part in a novel someone else is writing, has the best bookshops in the world. With a few notable exceptions, most of them are independent. And no one arranges books by colour (at least as far as I know, and if they do, they should stop right now).
The closest any New York bookshop seems to get to a gimmick is printing and publishing their customers’ own books. And since the provider of this fine service is the sensationally good and hugely respected ‘McNally Jackson’, is it really a gimmick?
McNally Jackson (McJ Books)
52 Prince Street, Manhattan
Apart from their self-publishing ‘Espresso Book Machine’ – from a slim-volume of your kid’s poetry to a place on their shelves for a first novel – McNally Jackson is open late and serves excellent coffee. Here books are arranged by nation which gives you an idea of the size and diversity of their stock and if they don’t have it, they have some of New York’s best bookshop staff to find it for you. Great for quirky, exquisite and irresistible stationery too. www.mcnallyjackson.com
193 Court Street, Brooklyn
If you like your sofas squashy, your book choice vast and your staff passionate and insanely well-read, you might want to consider decamping permanently to BookCourt in Brooklyn – not least of all for the ridiculously cute building. BookCourt also has one of the US’s most exciting and starry literary event calendars and if some of the other customers look vaguely familiar it’s probably because you recognise them from their book jacket photo. There’s a fantastic children’s range for budding bibliophiles and plenty of space for them to spread out and enjoy. www.bookcourt.com
828 Broadway, Manhattan
When The Strand first opened in 1927 it had 48 bookselling neighbours, today it’s the last man standing and I don’t think it’s going too far to describe it as a ‘venerable New York institution’. Strand Tote Bags are the city’s only acceptable souvenirs but with over 18 miles of new, used and rare books to browse, you might want to save your cash for something a bit more interesting here. Have a look at the Rare Book Room, it feels positively hallowed as it should, considering its literary events past and present read like a hall of fame. Trawl for bargains in the book bins (some previous owners are quite surprising). And completely ignore anyone who tells you The Strand’s ‘too touristy’. So is The Statue of Liberty, but does that make it any less amazing? www.strandbooks.com
686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
The mark of a true book lover is enthusiasm: get one of them fired up on a recent read and they’ll go for hours. That kind of passion is what makes Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn such a delight. It’s a real community effort (local residents helped fund its start-up) and in just four years has become one of the most exciting and innovative independent booksellers in the city. Loved by indie authors and Pulitzer prize winners, Greenlight’s great for just plunging in and getting lost in print for hours but it’s supremely well organised too, so if you know what you want you can find it fast. Justifiably famous for its children’s events, take young booklovers along to Greenlight for inspiration and a closer look at where all that legendary New York confidence gets started. www.greenlightbookstore.com
126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn
How could you not love a bookseller for appropriating ‘WORD’ as their name? This is a tiny gem (just 1000 sq ft) but packed with books (lots of paperback fiction, classics, cookbooks and kid’s books) and it’s another New York bookseller that believes in getting them young. If you’re a local and you’ve got children, chances are you’ll have hosted or been invited to at least one WORD Birthday Party. And the children’s events are always jammed full of small, excited and excitable readers. But the adult browse factor is high at WORD too and the undecided can fall back on ‘Staff Picks’ and book matchmaking or take some tips from one of the shop’s many and varied Book Groups. www.wordbookstores.com
A FEW WORKS OF NEW YORK INSPIRATION
credit: Drew Shannon
Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
Never to be confused with the great if a bit cheesy, happy ended movie, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ the book is poignant and funny and a little bit tragic. The real Holly Golightly was a lot more ruthless and tough than the Audrey Hepburn version. But for iconic New York glamour this is a must read.
Stuart Little, E. B. White
Cute mouse, cute house, cuter than cute family, Stuart Little is quite simply a classic. But it’s from the pen of E. B. White who also wrote the no-holds barred Charlotte’s Web, so Stuart Little’s cute is cut with some seriously harsh realities.
The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
Funny and undemanding, The Devil Wears Prada lifts the lid on the expensively coiffed and immaculately cut-throat world of fashion and the magazine editors who can make or break you in the most competitive city in the world. Once you know how long it takes a New York socialite to get party-prepped you’ll never slap on lippy in the back of a cab again.
The Catcher In The Rye, J. D. Salinger
The original New York ‘coming of age’ novel.
The Age Of Innocence
Edith Wharton’s exposé of New York Society’s black and unforgiving heart in the late 19th century.
Eloise, Kay Thompson
Eloise lives alone at The Plaza Hotel with her nanny. Naughty, resourceful and hilarious, this tiny illustrated style icon has inspired everyone from Sofia Coppola to American Vogue. This classic is definitely not just for children.
And on a final note: if you happen to come across any New York booksellers arranging volumes by colour or anything equally inappropriate in the pursuit of sales, I’d love to hear about it.