guest blogger on NYC bookstores

The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.

Saint Augustine

from guest blogger Matt Pennington

Say the words.  Two simple words and I am ready.  INDEPENDENT.  BOOKSTORE.  While you are longing for your next mountain hike or day at the beach, my perfect day is built around the moment I stroll into that enchanted setting where books are piled on top of library tables, classical music floods the atmosphere and an overworked bulletin board is tacked with notices for every possible cultural event in the surrounding region.  Above and beyond all these charms the bookstore holds within its walls the possibility of a treasure . . . the most elusive and prize catch . . . a story. By an author. In a book I never knew existed.  This rare and desirable find is only to be found here where the salespeople read everything and listen attentively to your preferences.  They lead you down a crowded corridor smelling of books, reach up, remove a volume and place it into your outstretched hand like a diamond.  The bookstore is a place of romance.  And even if you depart without a date you can be sure that adventure, intrigue, and mistaken identity are within your grasp and can be had as quickly as your fingers can turn the page.

Almost as much fun as going to an Independent Bookstore is seeing a movie featuring one.  I cannot count the number of times I have watched the movie You’ve Got Mail.  Do you remember it?  A most ridiculous premise but a great fantasy if you’ve ever had a hankering for living in New York City.  Meg Ryan owns a small children’s bookstore and the entire romantic comedy revolves around her attempts to save the store and its identity as a support for children’s literacy.  Another New York bookstore movie is Falling In Love, with Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro.  The two lovers meet cute in a Christmas crush at Rizzoli’s in Manhattan and accidentally switch books.  A dreadful, shambling movie where the viewer is waiting for the story to congeal, or move forward, to take shape…something…..”do something” the audience shouts!  However, who cares when there is New York and the beautiful bookstore to gaze upon when your attention wanders from the plotless plot.  Perhaps because films like this present New York City bookstores as a setting for drama and romance, I am always excited about visiting these sites when in the city.  Consequently, here are a few of my favorites that have become an essential part of any expedition into Gotham City.

Lets begin with the ultimate bookstore experience — Rizzoli’s.  Not an independent but undoubtedly one of the most stunning book emporiums in the world — and I should know, I make a pilgrimage there every year and it never fails to stun me.   Off of bustling 57th Street you enter under a dignified fan shaped wall of glass with requisite front window displays of a variety of current titles and subjects.  Heave the groaning, heavy glass front door as the city falls away and you enter a sanctuary.  Gaze up into the two story gallery and sigh over the vaulted molded plaster ceilings and metal chandeliers.  But don’t linger on the architecture too long for three breathtaking floors await you filled with everything your fancy desires.  Are you fascinated by the history of Ferrari’s grill work?  Charleston garden design?  Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House wardrobe?  Politics?  Portuguese language pronunciation?  Tango dance music CD’s?   The latest Parisian fashion magazines?  And miraculously, there are actual, living, breathing salespeople who are unobtrusive, knowledgeable and delighted for you to spend a sizzling or rainy summer afternoon drooling over one section after another.

rizzolifront   rizzolistairs  rizzoliceiling

Have you ever walked into a Barnes and Noble and felt a tad overwhelmed?  I have a NYC antidote in the tiniest Independent Bookstore on Madison Avenue called Crawford Doyle BooksellersCrushed underneath architectural behemoths the little store that could is a perfect square inside.  There are almost no superfluous adornments, a few glass cases with pristine first editions, a central wooden tower displaying a variety of specialty books, a roaring, ancient air conditioner, a balcony and books, books, books.  Dividing their inventory into traditional sections, if you walk a small circle you have quickly got the extent of their offerings.  Everything you would want is cleverly and economically arranged for easy access and on the central table are the staff selections with handwritten index cards describing the merits of this particular author or story.  Crawford Doyle Booksellers thoughtfully provides sliver benches so the shopper can sit and jump into a coveted text. I once visited this store on a broiling day and found the staff scattered around reading as in a library.  No pressure to buy.  Just browse at your leisure, ask a question, take all the time you desire for you have entered a land where the inhabitants are clearly delighted to breathe deeply in the rarefied air of literacy.

crawfordstorefront    Crawford Doyle Booksellers

My newest find is practically a small flat furnished entirely with books.  Three Lives & Company is on the corner of a jumble of Greenwich Village streets.  So subtle is the exterior that if you were not looking you might trudge past, the summer heat creating a more urgent quest for an iced tea lemonade.  Tug on one of the red glass paneled doors and walk into your fantasy living room.  Creaking levels of wooden floors, walls of books and tables of carefully chosen selections.  I suspect because the space is at a premium the staff is judicious in their stocking and yet the offerings are remarkable, for example, everything by David Foster Wallace including his paperback five-pounder Infinite Jest.  A beautifully organized travel section sits alongside a full display of New York writers and stories.  On each visit I eavesdrop on discussions between customers and the knowledgeable staff — this time the clerk was describing the various available translations of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past!  (When is the last time you heard THAT discussion outside of a classroom?)  And if you have your dog on a leash they even offer Rover a special treat from a silver bowl on the front table.  In short, the setting for a perfect afternoon.

One of the many wonderful things about NYC is that there will always be more.  On my next visit I hope to see Books of Wonder, the original inspiration for Meg Ryan’s children’s store in You’ve Got MailPartners & Crime in the Village is a mystery bookshop, and then, of course, it is imperative that I somehow find the time to read all the books I buy in these rather extraordinary places where books are still considered a thing of great value and a safe portal into new and wondrous places.  Tell us your stories of Bookstores great and small.  The one you love . . . just say the words and we are ready to go!

3livesbooks

 

 

 

When not traveling or reading, Pennington blogs at journalofacountrypriest.com

 

 

Are you someone who likes to pop into bookstores during your travels?  Have you got an especially sacred independent bookstore tucked away in your hometown?  Two or Three Little Birds welcomes readers to submit their reviews via the contact form available on this website.  Happy reading!

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Comments

  1. I’m sharing this with my granddaughter, a sophomore at Fordham U. who loves EVERYTHING about New York City and especially anything that has to do with books. Thank you for a well-written piece that inspires me to book a trip to NYC, grab my granddaughter and visit the places mentioned (as well as a Broadway show or two.)

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