10 reasons – there could be a hundred….
1: The Strand Bookstore – 828 Broadway, on the corner of 12th.
Arguably the biggest bookshop in the world, and certainly one of the best have ever set foot into, The Strand has been in the family since it opened its doors in 1927, and houses some two and a half million new and used books covering a colossal 18 miles of space. Just like the rest of New York, a visit here involves a lot of neck-craning, for the bookshelves go higher and higher the deeper into the shop you go. It’s a joyous place for book lovers. Tome upon tome piled upon tables, piled on shelves, infinite quantities of old and new books – could have set up camp here all day quite happily. We were on the lookout for a copy of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie”, and had to enlist the aid of a cheery chappy who meandered his way through to the very back, us following like lap dogs out on a trek. We are now the proud owners of a well-loved second hand and now out of print copy from 1964 with wavily trimmed pages. Heavenly.
Oh, and went mad on the fridge magnet front. Anything you could imagine and think you always needed and never previously possessed. I know, I know.
2: The Bean coffee shop – 834 Broadway, between 13th St and 11th St.
How perfect for stumbling into to rest the weary bones and set down the bag-loads of books post Strand shop. To sit and sip a steaming latte a few strides away from Union Square. Great coffee, especially of the iced latté variety, worth hovering for a seat and pontificating over just how great it would be to be a student or a writer in New York. Have laptop will travel.
3: The Literary Walk
Slap bang in Central Park, en route for the Frick Collection. We meandered along Poets’ Walk on that glorious Sunday June morning, coinciding with the Puerto Rican annual parade, which flaunted its feathers all the way up 5th Avenue.
The mall was indeed a haven of tranquility, particularly so when contrasted with the effervescent celebration on the avenue flanking the park on that day.
Slightly crestfallen to discover that there are only a handful of statues on show. Robbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott muse for all eternity among the elms, but who the heck was Fitz-Greene Halleck? Am going to have to redress this lacuna, as have since learned that he was a notable American poet born in Guildford, but the Connecticut one, who wrote satirical works and belonged to the fabulously named Knickerbocker Group. Note to self to read some of his poetry next to his statue next time am in Central Park.
Came away feeling very illiterate, but we were sporting very wide grins on our faces – amongst all those erudite people strolling about in their Sunday best, we came upon David Parise showing prints of his vintage Barbie and Ken work. Be a great cover for that unwritten novel, I reckon.
Leaving Central Park, we shimmied our way, parade style, straight into another sanctuary of times gone by.
4: The Frick Collection, 1 E 70th St.
Blasphemously renamed “the frickin’ Frick” after managing to miss it on the last trip, this place is up there on the list of Top Five Favourite Places in my world. I knew “The Goldfinch” wouldn’t be on display any more, but wanted to experience the notion, albeit vicariously, of following in Theo and his mother’s footsteps. Bit of a push, as they see it in the Met anyway, but just knowing that hordes of people had snaked in queues all around Henry Clay Frick’s old home to see the “direct and matter-of-fact little creature…with its alert watchful expression” when the painting was on loan from The Hague last year was more than enough compensation. Good preparation too for that revisiting of “Wolf Hall”…
Stood in awe anyway before the Holbeins, the Ingres, Rembrandt and Renoir. Gawped at the Vermeer, the Bellini, and had to be forcibly dragged out of the Fragonard room. Made a fervent promise to return to sit with a book, any book, in the converted inner courtyard, and to scout out the adjoining Frick library. By hook or by crook…
Will also plan that much-desired return trip to coincide with a performance of Shakespeare in the (Central) Park over the summer months. A tradition that has been set in stone for the last 53 years, it will no doubt involve a bit of queuing to secure a free ticket or two, but after standing in line for Alan Rickman this time round, it will be a good tradition to follow. Coincidentally, K and I did enjoy a stunning open-air version of “King Lear” on a Literary Trail much closer to home earlier in the summer this year, no less. Following a similar premise, the Tower Theatre Company follow their own trail from London to Paris every June to perform a Shakespeare play in the verdant Théâtre de Verdure in the Pré-Catalan garden of the Bois de Boulogne. Post to follow shortly on a very bloody rendition of “out, vile jelly“.
5: Barnes and Noble, 86th and Lexington Avenue.
Fell upon what felt like the equivalent of Waterstones Piccadilly while on our way to swoon at the “Lady in Gold” at the Neue Galerie and google at the Guggenheim, and found the location of my dream place to work. This is the bookstore where the musical stars drop in to sing of an afternoon, the store manager Jody Allen apprised me, to D’s mortification; “why do you always chatter on like that? …” Am working on my CV as we speak.
We came out armed with two copies of Millie Marotta’s “Animal Kingdom”. Will clearly be ever mindful and never stressed from this moment forward.
6 : The High Line.
After a welcome drink at the very cool and trendy Gansevoort Market, we started along the elevated line from the Whitney Museum end (and no, am unable to resist the temptation to mention, as I did at every given opportunity while we were there, that my 16 year-old was in the same class as Signor Piano’s son all last year, dubious claim to fame indeed…).
The line stretches little more than a couple of kilometers end to end, but what a way to spend an afternoon. Teeming with wildlife, which you can identify on the constantly updated blog, and awash with visitors from near and far, there is something different to spot at every turn. We joined in the Collectivity Project and added a few portcullises and walls to the Lego skyline, and couldn’t believe it when we chanced upon a typewriter plonked upon a little round trestle table part way along the route, being earnestly tapped upon by a bearded gentleman, with an orderly queue waiting patiently in line to add their individual pearls of wisdom. Needless to say, can no longer remember what the independent creative project was called, but if ever you come across it at any point please stop and join the queue to continue the story for the minute allocated to you for this ‘literature in motion’. Only in New York…
7 : The Housing Works Bookstore Café at 126 Crosby Street in SoHo.
The shop’s dual mission is to ‘end the dual crises of homelessness and HIV/Aids’, with all proceeds from the café going to providing support services. Time Out calls it “an extraordinarily unusual and endearing place, a peaceful spot for solo relaxation or for meeting friends over coffee or wine”. Would be more than happy to imbibe a glass of vino collapso there next time; for our début visit we were in our element supping coffee and pottering round this wondrous treasure trove of new and second hand books.
Daisy came out with some (more) graphic comics and some music (we were most impressed when we were given one CD for free at the cash till because the case was cracked), as well as Volumes 2 and 3 of “The Game of Thrones”, while Yours Truly managed to find an Anne Tyler on her Wish List and, gadzooks, the heftiest volume imaginable of “80 Years of the Oscar”… seriously? Possibly the biggest used book I have ever purchased, and added aching arms to the heavily-bandaged feet, but now that I have got it home without having to spend a penny in excess luggage, is also possibly the best $8 have ever spent. The only frustration about finding this great venue? Our trip not coinciding with any of the many literary events that take place here. Next time….
8 : Lincoln Centre free Film Society talks, 144 W. 65th St, south side.
Okay, not specifically literary in the book sense, but included because how often do films and books not fuse perfectly, and also how often do the planets converge in bringing Alan Rickman and our little duo together in the same city to coincide with a Q&A session on the latest film he is both directing and starring in?
We found out this felicitous occurrence was happening thanks to the marvellous website The Skint, which lists all the free-of-charge events taking place in New York right there and then every day. It was so well worth queuing for an hour and a tense half waiting to see if we would be two of the lucky few admitted into the newly opened Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center auditorium, and also rather fantastic to spend some of that time enjoying yet another latte beforehand in the lovely Indie coffee shop. Another great spot to take a book to, while idly casting your eyes down the list of independent films showing just next door.
The A.R. talk was great. Was dying to stick my arm up, though, and ask Snape why he had seen fit to alter history in his fictional drama, “A Little Chaos”, based around a feminist who never existed and who fell in love with a married man whose actually rather nice wife is represented as the Vixen from Hell, while choosing to himself portray a foppish Louis XIV with an even more clichéd Duc D’Orléans, but that did seem very harsh on my side. Besides, it would have been unnecessarily snippy, as the room was full of young, optimistic, enthusiastic film students dying to ask him what they should do to succeed in their chosen métier, so ended up taking a chill pill and just enjoying the thrill of being in the same room as the man who brought us Juliet Stevenson’s deeply loved hubby in “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, Emma Thompson’s pillock of a husband in “Love Actually”, and the man who likewise shall not be named but who was on everyone’s lips in the auditorium.
9 : Midtown Comics bookstore, 200 W. 40th St, corner of 7th Ave.
We will be reading “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel later in the year at the book group, and “Persepolis” is one of the books on my Reading Challenge. The graphic novel a whole new departure for Yours Truly, which am guessing may be a generational thing, as both Offspring have been regular readers of various titles for a very long time. Quite a revelation to see just how varied the genres are in this bookstore. A whole new Brave New World. We came out not only proudly sporting graphic work, but more bobble heads to cavort on the mantelpiece. Très chic.
10 / 11 / 12 ad infinitum : Edith Wharton, Donna Tartt, Nicole Krauss….
All good things must come to an end, and so we left New York foot-sore and weary, but so exhilarated from dipping our toes, as it were, into this utterly fantastic city. The list of literary gems are completely inexhaustible, but we didn’t do so badly in just over a week. Physically decamping there is sadly not really on the horizon, so thank the Lord for so many authors penning works about this unique city, to be able to continue the adventure on paper. More to follow posthaste on Top Books based in and on the Big Apple, with thanks to Shoshi’s Book Blog and our shared NYC book-list conniving …