It is common knowledge that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I am 100% okay with judging a city by its bookstores. In an attempt to get to know my new home better, I decided to go on a little book-fueled adventure. I did some research (and by research I mean googling), and I found four promising bookstores all within a short walk of each other in and around the hip neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village is a place I’ve heard a lot about from TV shows, friends, and people in New York in general. I’d never been, but this seemed like a great way to acquaint myself with the area.
Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books
The first stop on my tour was the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bookstore. Despite its substantial name, the shop itself is only two aisles. One side sells books, the other comics. The book side is a compact space filled with a unique and seemingly random selection of titles. You can go straight from old-school sci-fi on one table to a shelf of political theory and theater books.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the shop felt exactly like an Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bookstore should. As soon as I walked in the door, I was greeted by the sounds of a customer and the cashier animatedly discussing politics and religion. It was fun to visit, but I don’t know if I will find myself becoming a regular. It was pretty niche in terms of titles. That being said, it is definitely worth popping in every now and again for something a little different. Perhaps if I begin reading more graphic novels, or am in need of a healthy political debate, I’d find myself there more.
My pick: The Stars My Destination
I have recently found myself drawn to early or defining books in certain genres like Sci-Fi. It’s interesting to see how genres have evolved over time. This story follows Gully Foyle, a man with no skills, no education, and no merits. Shipwrecked in deep space, he manages to survive and escape back to Earth with only one goal: revenge. This seemed like the epic Sci-Fi throw-down my bookshelf was missing.
I set out from Bookstore 1 relishing the springtime sun. I turned onto Bleecker Street to continue my biblio-venture when I came across Rocco’s. A sign in the window said they had the best cannoli, so I had to go try one out. I don’t want to be haunted by the regret that comes with turning an opportunity like that down. It was a very cute Italian bakery filled to the brim with adorable desserts and cute little cakes. Sadly, I could not try them all, but the cannolis were pretty good.
Energized by my snack, I made my way down scenic Bleecker Street to Idlewild books. This bookstore really piqued my interest because it specializes in travel books. They even offer a variety of language classes as well. The whole store is organized by country, but they have more than just travel guides. There are also fiction and non-fiction titles from each country as well.
I loved the bright sunny feel of the store, and the selection was incredible. It isn’t a discount store like the others I visited, but the sheer volume of translated titles makes it a must-see. The tables are filled with interesting recommendations you don’t necessarily see on bestseller lists.
On the way I passed by several well-known landmarks such as the famous Stonewall Inn. It was a lovely day, and all the trees lining the streets in front of the brownstones were fully embracing the spring-time atmosphere. There were bright green leaves and even a few flowers poking their way into the sunlight.
My pick: H is for Hawk
I had seen this book on a bestseller list at some point in the recent past, so I was curious about it. Basically the story follows a woman as she works through grief by training a hawk. It sounded almost like an adult My Side of the Mountain, minus the part where he lives in a tree. Even though it isn’t a ‘travel book’ per se, I was drawn to it.
The third stop on my booksploration was the famous Strand Bookstore. If you have existed in New York City for longer than a week and not heard about this place, then I am impressed. The Strand is basically book Mecca. There are so many books. I don’t think I have ever seen this many books at one time, and I work in a book store. You could spend hours on a single floor, and there are four of them.
Unless you have a specific book or author in mind, the shelves can be a bit intimidating. I would recommend sticking to the various tables with staff picks and popular choices from different sections. If you’re feeling brave, then go have a wander through the stacks. It is incredible. It always makes me slightly sad knowing there is no possible way I can read all of those books in one lifetime.
My pick: Ayoade on Ayoade
Throwback to my UK days! I was caught off guard when I saw this book on the table in the film section. I couldn’t help but read the blurb on the back cover in his voice. Richard Ayoade is one of my favorite British comedians/actors. His dry sense of humor is weird and sometimes confusing, but he never fails to make me laugh. I had to grab this one.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
The final, spur-of-the-moment destination on my grand book tour was Housing Works. I actually only discovered this place when I was trolling Google Maps on the train over from Brooklyn. By this time in the evening, I was getting tired and my feet were hurting, so I planned on making my stop a short one. Hah. A short stop in a bookstore. Rookie mistake.
Housing Works is actually a bookstore/café, so you can grab a cuppa after selecting a book or two from the shelves. The books are all donations, but the selection is impressive. The overall vibe was very cozy and not pretentious at all (which you sometimes get with small bookshops). My favorite part was the two spiral staircases that lead up to the mezzanine level. I am definitely planning on returning to Housing Works, and it was definitely my favorite out of the whole day.
My pick: Beka Cooper
I can’t say no to my girl Tamora Pierce (sobs – I wish she were my girl). This standalone fantasy novel takes place well before her other Tortall books, but it still has her hallmark strong female characters, interesting magic system, and detailed world-building. Unlike her other books, this one is written in a journal format, so I’m curious to see how it reads.
And with that, my pilgrimage came to an end. Well, it came to an end after I walked 10 blocks to find a subway station only to discover it wasn’t the right subway station. But, I mean, I made it home eventually, and I had some top quality books to keep me company on the ride home.
I am officially impressed, New York City. Keep them coming.