Postcard From New York # 1: The Travelling Bookseller

18 Mar

So here I am; New York City. The land of yellow taxis, 5th Avenues and 14th Streets, Central Parks and 24hr Subways. As I sit in a deli, typing away on my laptop and sipping my coffee, I feel like one of the many hundreds of Carrie Bradshaws of the world that have come to New York before me. Having been here before, the sense of urgency that I first felt is somewhat missing now; that force that implelled me to walk all the way from 125th street to the Guggenheim and then to Chelsea (that’s about a hundred blocks, if you’re interested). This time, I’ve got a metrocard and I’ve sussed the subway system, pretty much: watch out for those express trains and unexpected journeys to Queens! Whilst the city is now more familiar, and the spell of New York may have lost some of its power over me, I have not managed to escape its commercial charms. The big obvious one for booklovers anyway, is The Strand Bookshop on Broadway.  Its appeal is undeniable : $1 dollar books line the sidewalks in thier distinctive greens trolleys, and there are more bargains to be found in store. As a holidaying bookseller, bookshopping is tricky. For any traveller, there’s the issue of luggage. If you’re me, you’re already carrying three paperbacks in your already overstuffed bag, so buying more books seems like folly. But buy I did.  There is also the issue of availbility. I know what I can get back home, but since all the covers are different over here, everything looks shiney and new. Much ooing and oohing did occur over the slightly exotic formats and matt covers, of which I am a fan, I must admit. It therefore proved difficult to spot the gems I wouldn’t find in the UK.

In the end, I gave up on trying to stay ahead of the curve and just settled for the downright awesome. I found for a great book of photography of CBGBs from its heyday in the 70s and 80s. Whilst its name originally stood for Country, Bluegrass and Blues, it became famous as the birthplace of an altogether different kind of music: Punk. Published in ’05 by Abrams, its neither new nor exlcusive, but full of great pics of bands and performers from Lou Reed to Talking Heads, Debbie Harry to The Ramones. Not to mention their celebrity entourages and fans (Ginsberg, Warhol and Jarmusch). Good stuff. I was also lured by the $1 trolleys, where I found the unusually titled A Girl Named Hank by Amelia Elizabeth Walden, with a great cover to boot. Turns out its a story about a girl who becomes the star of her high school’s basketball team; as a former player at school (although the term star player would not have applied to my career), this seemed like a most happy coincidence. My most treasured acquisition so far however, is a lovely hardback selection of works by the American poet John Ashbery. How these books will travel back to the UK, I’m not yet sure, but they were great finds all the same.

The Strand is certainly not the only bookstore in NYC, nor is its mix of new and second hand a unique combination. Another excellent one to visit is the lovely Spoonbill and Sugartown Books in hipster heaven, Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. They had a great selection of art books and some interesting looking rare and vintage books too. Well worth investigating. So long for now!

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