I’m slightly (only slightly) embarrassed to admit this, but one of my favorite movies of all time is Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s classic, You’ve Got Mail. What keeps me engaged goes far beyond their witty banter — it’s that it’s about what one of my favorite things: bookstores.
The plot showcases the two main characters who run diverse types of bookstores: one a mega-Disneyworld type (such as a Barnes & Noble), and the other a quaint bookstore — aptly named The Shop Around the Corner — with a focus on children’s books. While the experiences at each were night and day, what remained the same was the thoughtful and fulfilling time one can have while strolling through a bookstore.
New York City might be the best place in the world for said bookstore strolling; each neighborhood has bookstores that are unique to them. We do have large chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble, but even the behemoths of the industry provide thoughtful content and literary programming that every book lover can appreciate. The Barnes & Noble in Union Square, for example, always has a stellar line-up of authors who come to speak. Even the fast-tongued culinary bad boy Anthony Bourdain has signed a few books there in his day, among many others.
Then there are the specialty bookstores like Albertine – an Upper East Side French bookstore that’s goal is to foster the French-American intellectual exchange — or Three Lives & Company in Greenwich Village, where the staff has the patiences of saints and will gladly talk for hours about their favorite authors, tomes, or literary topics.
While it is certainly a personal preference, I always prefer to buy a book in the flesh as opposed to a “quick fix” download on a Kindle or iPad. While I will acknowledge the sheer ease and accessibility of reading that way, personally, I still prefer kicking it old school, hence my many trips to bookstores.
No matter which type of bookstore you prefer, the point is, and always shall be, keep on reading and exploring. While the iPad and Kindle might be a supplement to purchasing a book in-person, the concept of the bookstore is not dead; not even close.
My Budget Pick:
Strand Book Store
Price Range: $1-$3, used books cart
One of the best things about a bookstore is the way it smells. It should have that faint mustiness (which otherwise would drive me crazy) that in a bookstore setting, is forgiven. The Strand is just that place. No matter if you have a few singles in your pocket or have a limitless spend on your credit card, you can walk out the door with a book in hand, ready to read, perhaps in nearby Union Square Park. There are always carts lining the entrance of the store with discounted used books ranging from $1-$3.
I find great pleasure in paging through cookbooks from around the world. I often think of the book’s provenance — where it was before me, who else had cooked one of those dishes, who else contemplated purchasing it. And it is that very romantic notion that often leads to me to purchase several (or as many as my arms can hold). The Strand also has a table display gently pointing out that all of the new novels in its specific section just so happen to be cheaper than the Kindle prices for the same. Just sayin’.
My Bougie Pick:
Price Range: Roughly $15.00-$100+
When I think of luxury, I think of Marc Jacobs. In true bougie retail form, Mr. Jacobs opened his chic West Village bookstore on Bleeker Street back in 2010, as a compliment to his clothing store across the street. (The space was the former Biography Book Store). He sells a variety of books: everything from novels to guidebooks to lavish portrait books.
On a recent visit, I was captivated by Alice Springs: Portraits, which goes for a cool $100. While checking out some of their stunning coffee table tomes (like the Fire Island portraits), I suddenly wished I was the fictitious Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & The City, who could easily afford this book to place on the gorgeous coffee table in my nearby brownstone. Alas, it was a fleeting thought, but a girl can dream. Additionally, check out the reading accessories at Bookmarc, where you can pick up a set of Marc Jacobs branded colored pencils or a beautiful flower page holder to make you the most chic reader in town.