JWell, we’re still around – people who love books. Whereby “books” do not mean blocks of letters on any electronic equipment whose names we neither can nor want to remember. No, books – these are wonderful structures, printed on paper, glued between two book covers, hard covers or paperbacks. Word universes that belong to none other than ourselves.
Book lovers have a thoroughly erotic relationship with books. You stroke their backs; they sniff their sides; They suck the smell of paper glue into their nostrils with lust.
Real book lovers can also be recognized by the fact that they answer the question “Are you looking for something specific?” With an embarrassed smile: “No, I’m just looking around.” Then they disappear between the shelves and only reappear hours later from the semi-darkness .
The trip through New York’s bookstores begins in the “Strand”
Fortunately, there are still bookshops in many cities on the planet. But nowhere else can you find them in such diversity, individuality and magnificence as in New York. There are said to be travelers who come here just for the wonderful bookshops. And you are right!
In New York, every trip for a book lover begins at The Strand on Broadway, near Union Square. The store advertises with the slogan that you can look at books 18 miles (29 kilometers) here. Creaky wooden floors, high ceilings and bookcases, arranged by subject and alphabetically, three meters high, packed tightly together.
In the middle there are tables with paper pyramids. Lots of young audiences. It’s tight, you push past many, sometimes too many people. And you have to read while standing, on the ground floor there is not a single chair in sight to sit down.
But in the “beach” there are definitely a few seats. All you have to do is climb the stairs to the first floor (which is called the second floor in America). There you will find the best art books, comics and books for young people. And between these books for young people, even the grizzled book lover can finally settle down and put down the pile that he has collected in his arms along the way.
What you should definitely not omit in the “beach”: to go down to the basement. There are not only kilos of books on science and philosophy, the inclined bookworm will also find one or the other German print product – and new publications at half price. It’s a bit like a land of milk and honey.
Readings in “Three Lives” – for example with Zadie Smith
However, the “Strand” bookstore does not give the impression of being elegant or dignified. Rather, it is cheerful and student-friendly; the New York University buildings are around the corner. Those who like it quieter and want to feel the bohemian spirit can stroll over to the West Village, to “Three Lives”, in a good ten minutes.
The corner store with dark shelves and creaky floorboards is as tiny (60 square meters) as it is fantastic, the staff advises competently and unobtrusively, knows every book and has recommendations for every type of person and every situation. There are regular readings and book signings, most recently with Zadie Smith.
Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham can also be seen more often at “Three Lives”: “I go there when I’m feeling limp and depressed – and come out inspired every time.” Most recently, there were fears that the bookshop would close due to a change of ownership , but it was agreed that “Three Lives” can stay.
Argosy Bookstore is the city’s oldest second-hand bookshop
Another institution is the “Argosy Bookstore” in Midtown, the city’s oldest second-hand bookshop, founded in 1925 by Louis Cohen. The name means nothing. It should only start with “A” so that it is as close to the front of the phone book as possible.
Today the “Argosy Bookstore” is run by the founder’s daughters, three fun-loving women around seventy: Judith Lowrie, Naomie Hample and Adina Cohen. Judith is responsible for first editions, and wealthy book lovers can buy a first edition of “Moby Dick” for $ 40,000 from her. Naomi’s specialty is handwriting; historical maps can be purchased from Adina.
There is an important reason why the shop – whose customers included Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy – is still there: the three sisters own the entire house and don’t pay a dollar in rent. And the book stores reach up to the sixth floor!
Whoever enters this second-hand bookshop is immediately immersed in timelessness. Everything is noble: the book spines, the shelves, the carpets, the subdued lighting. You could be in Vienna at the turn of the century. Or in the London of the gas lamp era.
And don’t worry: even those book lovers who cannot afford first editions will get their money’s worth in the “Argosy Bookstore”. There is still a basement with shelves with thrillers by obscure authors whose names no one knows anymore; hardbacks of modern classics (John Updike, Philip Roth); thick rinds on music and philosophy. Everything in the best condition – the price (hardly a book costs more than ten dollars) is noted in pencil on the flyleaf.
Every book donated to the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Now have some tea, please! To do this, take subway line 6 to SoHo. Get off on Bleecker Street, stroll along Crosby Street, once across Broadway, and there we are: in front of the doors of the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.
With a little luck the reader will see Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, the author of the wonderful autobiographical book “Eating Ice Cream with Che”. Or Garth Risk Hallberg, the creator of the no less great novel “City on Fire”. Both occasionally use the Housing Works Bookstore as a room for reflection and writing.
Let’s take a look around: a bright room, stairs swing up on the sides to book shelves higher up. Further back there are hot drinks and sandwiches and a few tables where you can sit down comfortably.
Every book in this store has been donated. Every dollar that the book lover hands over the counter ultimately benefits homeless people and AIDS sufferers. But apart from all charity, this is one of the most pleasant places to be in Manhattan. For hours. Drinking tea, leafing through the pages and reading.
You can browse undisturbed in the “Community Bookstore”
But New York is not just made up of Manhattan. There is still Brooklyn, for example. If you take subway line 2 or 3 to Grand Army Plaza, stroll along the edge of Prospect Park and turn left on Carroll Street, you will find yourself on Seventh Avenue in front of an institution: the “Community Bookstore”.
Ancient New York was dangerous; and Brooklyn was very dangerous, in fact. Drug gangs set their territorial boundaries here by shooting. There is no longer any trace of this. The city has become downright cozy, and Park Slope – this is the name of this part of Brooklyn – has become a place for intellectuals and writers.
Paul Auster lives here. Jonathan Lethem lives here. Jhumpa Lahiri lives here. Half the editorial staff of the “New York Times” lives here. And the “Community Bookstore” is an oasis where nobody complains when you waste a long day of test browsing and at the end just buy a book or nothing at all.
Tiny, the bookstore cat, is wiping between the customers’ legs. And the employees – their names are Jon and Stephanie, Dan and Ezra – are ready to talk to any customer about God, the universe, or at least William Shakespeare.
The most beautiful thing about the “Community Bookstore”, however, is the quiet garden that is hidden behind it. From spring to autumn, guests can sit there on a folding chair in the sun, read and forget the world around them.
Terrorist attacks, new leaders, racist roars, threats of war: none of these can be felt in New York’s bookstores. For a few hours, the book lover can indulge in the illusion that the world is on a solid foundation of education and kindness and that it will not go under.
New York’s most beautiful bookstores:
- Strand Bookstore: 828 Broadway, on the corner of 12th Street, open 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
- Three Lives: 154 West 10th Street, opening hours change daily
- Argosy, Old & Rare Books, Prints & Maps: 116 East 59th Street, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Housing Works Bookstore Cafe: 126 Crosby Street, open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends
- Community Bookstore: 143 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.