Manhattan used to be a book-shopping mecca for me, with independent and used bookstores every other block. Alas, that is no longer the case, as I learned to my regret a few years ago when my husband and I tried to track down a few beloved stores. Said husband had printed out a list of Manhattan bookstores from the Internet, failing to note that the list was published ten years earlier. We walked from the West Side to the East Side and back again, discovering either that stores no longer existed or were mere shadows of their former selves. All that walking! And it was sleeting on top of it. As you might imagine, I suggested gently (!) that my husband check the date on any list next time.
One great Manhattan bookstore that survives is Strand Book Store. Like Powell’s (which we visited in a previous Great Bookstores column), it sells new and used books together — though not on the same shelf, side by side, as Powell’s does. My favorite part of “The Strand” is its section of review copies: new books intended for the eyes of reviewers that somehow became “extra.” The markdown in price is substantial for these new books. It isn’t unusual for me to find a book I’ve only read about and never seen in a store. I push a shopping cart up and down these narrow, somewhat disorganized aisles in the basement, happily picking up book after book. The Strand isn’t as inviting as Powell’s, with no café, out-of-reach shelves, unhelpful staff and tons of books seemingly shelved at random, but it’s nonetheless a booklover’s paradise.
If you want to get lost in a bookstore, The Strand and Powell’s are among the few really great bookstores remaining in the United States. I may be enamored of Portland’s geography and New York’s culture, but even without those side benefits, these stores are worth the trip all by themselves.
Readers, please let us know about your favorite bookstores! Send Kat a photo of the SFF section, the name and address of the bookstore, and a short explanation about why you love that store.