Manhattan Book Shopping

Zhiv commented recently that I should try to get over the guilt I feel about buying books, and when fellow bloggers, particularly ones as kind and encouraging as Zhiv, offer good advice, I generally try to follow it. So yesterday Hobgoblin and I headed to Manhattan to look at some bookstores. I figured an excellent way to keep from feeling guilty about buying more books is to buy them from great independent bookstores that could probably use the support, so I remembered that I saw a walking tour of bookstores in New York City posted at The Millions and decided we would follow part of it.

We skipped the first two stores on the route, The Strand and St. Mark’s, as we have been to both of them frequently. We visited the next five stores, though, and each one was entirely new to us. I’ve been kicking myself since yesterday for not having visited these stores earlier, but at least I’ve found them now.

Three Lives was up first; it was probably the smallest store we visited, but it was the one I liked best because its selection was outstanding. If you take a typical bookstore, pull out all the crappy books you find everywhere, and then add in a bunch of really smart books and books from small presses and books you normally have trouble finding, you’ll have Three Lives. Hobgoblin and I kept excitedly showing each other books we thought the other would find interesting. I bought two books here, although I could have found dozens more: The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous monk in the 14th century, which I bought to feed my interest in spiritual writing, and the 2008 version of The Best American Essays. I’ve been wavering about buying that one for a while, but the other day I got a strong urge to read some contemporary essays, so I decided to go ahead.

Next up was Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers, just a couple blocks away from Three Lives. I love that Manhattan has two bookstores devoted exclusively to mysteries (two that I know of!). I’ve been to the other one, The Mysterious Bookshop, and this was one perhaps a bit smaller, but equally interesting. They had sections devoted to mysteries in exotic locales, to mysteries with lurid covers, to out-of-print mysteries, to hard-boiled and soft-boiled mysteries, and probably to other categories too. From their 100 best mysteries ever shelves, I found Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes to take along with me. It occurred to me while we were there that my mystery book group might want to take a field trip to these two shops.

Then we walked across town to McNally Jackson, which I’ll remember chiefly as the place where they had their fiction divided up by country or region. I think this is a little odd and would cause categorization problems; for instance, I’m reading Christina Stead right now, who was born in Australia but who lived in England and America and other places, and whose novel that I’m reading now, The Man Who Loved Children, is set in the U.S. But still, if I ever decide I want to read a bunch of, say, African fiction or fiction from southeast Asia, I know where to go. The store was a pretty good size, with a good, smart selection. From the Russian section, I picked out Victor Pelevin’s Buddha’s Little Finger to take home.

Then it was on to Housing Works Used Book Cafe, just a block or two from Mcnally Jackson. Their website appears to be down, but you can read about the store here. It’s a non-profit bookstore and cafe, and the money it makes goes to help people with HIV/AIDS. They had an amusing sign up at the cafe saying that all their workers are volunteers, which is why nobody can find the cream. It was a fun store, a good size with an interesting selection of books. Hobgoblin and I were getting tired by this point, but after some coffee and a chance to sit for a little while, we found some more energy and I found these books: Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees, Anna Gavalda’s Someone I Loved, Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring, and Jane Gardam’s Old Filth. Again, I could easily have found more.

By the time we got to the last shop, maybe half a mile from Housing Works, we were getting seriously tired, so we only took a quick look and didn’t buy anything, but it’s a shop that’s worth another visit: Bluestockings, a bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center, as its website says. I love the store’s name. The walking tour guide describes the store this way:

Of New York’s many bibliophile haunts, this one boasts perhaps the most pronounced curatorial sensibility. Punk, feminist, progressive, culture-theoretical, and environmental sensibilities predominate, without domineering.

Sounds like fun, right? Once we’d looked around a bit, Hobgoblin and I hobbled off to get some dinner and make our way back to Grand Central and back home.

We didn’t even make it to the four stores on the tour in Brooklyn. Those are for another day, I suppose.

Update: You can find out what Hobgoblin bought here.


Filed under Books

18 responses to “Manhattan Book Shopping

  1. Wow. Five bookstores in one afternoon–now that’s what I call productive! 🙂 And think of it as a way of helping out the little guy in this poor economy. They all sound great (epsecially the mystery bookstore–it would be great fun to visit those shops with your bookgroup!). And I wouldn’t feel guilty about buying books, it sounds like you have a great stack that you will enjoy when you get to them–think of them as a long term investment. Enjoy!


  2. Cosworth

    “Hobgoblin and I kept excitedly showing each other books we thought the other would find interesting”


    Books, trips to bookshops, and showing young people the pleasure and fun and value of books.

    Lovely blog.


  3. Mmmm bookstores. Three Lives is perhaps my favorite bookshop in Manhattan, though I love Bluestockings, too, in part because of the zine section. And McNally Jackson is great too, and not just ’cause I often walk past it if I’m taking a leisurely stroll from my office to the train. Another favorite: 192 books, which is a perfect stop when gallerying in Chelsea or getting coffee at Chelsea Market. My favorite new-to-me discovery, which I walked past randomly a few weeks ago then actually went into last weekend, is Idlewild Books, which is travel-focused but not just guidebooks, also travel literature/international literature.


  4. What a marvellous field trip. I think I’m overdue for a trip to New York myself. Must plan one that involves lots of art galleries and bookstores!


  5. Oh, I am green with envy! What a terrific book crawl!!!

    SOC and I must plan a trip with you and Hobgoblin during The Season We Don’t Mention. Having a day like that to look forward to will make it easier to bear, especially those mystery bookshops. I’ve never been to The Strand. Swoon!


  6. Cam

    Oh how I miss NYC! If I were to go to 5 book stores in one day where I live, I’d have to go to 2 Borders, 2 half price books, and one B&N. I’d have to drive, although 4 are within 2.5 miles, because it just isn’t safe to walk along the interstate.

    Doesn’t that just sound really depressing?

    It sounds like a lovely trip to NY. I’ll have to go some day soon as I haven’t been there since our blogger meetup last November.


  7. Sounds like a fabulous day – books, walking, New York. Hope you had some good food too.


  8. Bookshops and cafes as well, my idea of total bliss. Unfortunately our local independent bookshop has just closed. The owner had reached retirement age and couldn’t find anyone who was willing (or able, I’d have been willing!) to take it on as a going concern. I suppose it’s not surprising in the current economic climate, but it’s very sad.


  9. verbivore

    Sounds like a truly blissful day. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to visit a city. And I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the Gavalda novel, I enjoyed it when I read it last year.


  10. I used to write NYC off, but it is amazing what can grow in a multi-cultural press of millions on an island. The tour sounds interesting. In a city of 50,000 it would probably be impossible for two bookstores dedicated to mysteries to survive.

    I’m really enjoying my internet connection. I was able to post to my blog, read many others, and get to sleep at a reasonable hour; and all without reeking of stale internet cafe tobacco odor. Here’s to more chances to interact.


  11. An orgy of book-buying! I’m so jealous. It’s funny; coming from Portland, I find it only natural that Manhattan would have so many bookstores – I mean, we’ve got one shop dedicated to mysteries, so it only makes sense that such a bigger city would have two! Forgetting to take into account, of course, that most cities of a similar size have none. 🙂


  12. Oh what a marvelously fantastic day! I got tired just reading about it, but tired in a good way. I fantasize about visiting NY someday, splurging and staying in the Library Hotel, visiting museuems and raiding bookstores. But until then, I can do it vicariously through you so keep up the bookstore tours! 🙂


  13. That sounds amazing! Oh bring on the day when someone invents a teleporter and I can beam myself into Manhatten….


  14. That sounds so cool – I want a British version of this to appear now!


  15. I also recommend Idlewild Books, which sits not too far away from The Strand. I haven’t hit all of the ones on this tour, but I’ve been meaning too. Thanks for the reminder!


  16. Jim

    I’ve lived in NYC for 16 years now and never been to any of these bookstores. (Silently berating myself in shame.) It sounds like a great little trip and one I think I’ll do myself once the oppressive August heat leaves us. Thanks for the post.


  17. ted

    I didn’t know about Bluestocking. In my own city! There is something seriously wrong with that. Thanks for remedying that.


  18. Pingback: Another Disappeared Indie Bookshop (Series #3) « Smithereens

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