Books on the Table in New York

Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.
Nora Ephron (from You’ve Got Mail, the best bookstore movie ever)

If I ever get rich, I’m going to come here and buy all the books I want.
Overheard at the Strand Bookstore

3782319053_344f405b95_bMy husband and I just spent a gorgeous fall weekend in New York with our son, and actually did buy some school supplies — at the famous Strand Bookstore, which claims to have 18 miles of books. That’s the length of the New Hampshire coastline. The books (new and used) at the Strand are not only crammed into hundreds of shelves, but piled on table after table.

The Strand has more tables than I’ve ever seen in a bookstore, and they aren’t your usual “new fiction” and “new nonfiction”.  Here are just a few of the Strand’s tables:

IMG_1787Award-winning books
My favorite: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (also on the Read the Book First table of books adapted into movies)

Culinary literature
My favorite: Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Must-own short stories (What a pleasure to see a whole table devoted to short stories!)
My favorite: The Collected Stories by Grace Paley

Books everybody loves
My favorite: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
Most curious selection: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

IMG_1794Expand your horizons
I must really need to expand my horizons, because I hadn’t read much of anything on this table. Maybe I’ll start with Oliver Sacks, whose books are currently featured?

YA bestsellers
My favorite: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

One table in particular attracted a large crowd — the “erotica” table, which surprisingly is located right next to the children’s section. Maybe the staff has found that parents of young children are the store’s biggest erotica customers? I quickly moved away from that table, imagining how embarrassing it would be if my son found me browsing there. I couldn’t even say I was doing “research”, because Lake Forest Book Store definitely does not carry erotica. We don’t even have a romance section.

Just to prove that no bookstore can stock everything, the Strand didn’t have a book I wanted to take a look at — Symphony for City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. I always feel a little bad, even though I shouldn’t, when customers come into our store with a book review ripped out of a magazine or newspaper and we don’t have the book — even though I know we can’t have everything in our little store, and that we do a really good job stocking the books that appeal to our customer base. So I felt better when a huge bookstore like the Strand didn’t have a book that had received a great review in that day’s New York Times.

9781857593280_p0_v1_s192x300I took a lot of photos in the Strand, although I was a little worried someone would confront me, thinking I was one of those awful people who take photos and then order the book elsewhere. Actually, I became one of those people later that day when we were in the gift shop at the Frick Collection. We bought a copy of the Frick’s Handbook of Paintings, along with Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America by Les Standiford, and then on the way out Jeff saw something that intrigued him called The Curious Map Book, which was large and heavy. So I snapped a photo (sorry, Frick Collection gift shop) and e-mailed an order to Lake Forest Book Store.

It’s nearly impossible to leave the Strand without buying something. Jeff and I each bought a blank book (our “school supplies”) and I bought a journal called Literary Listography: My Reading Life in Lists. I can’t resist that kind of thing, and this one is filled with hand-drawn illustrations. I successfully resisted buying more reading material to lug home, but Jeff and Charlie filled a  couple of shopping bags with books. (None of their selections came from the erotica section.)

9781400031702I tossed in a copy of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for Charlie’s roommate. At brunch, he had asked me whether I thought The Goldfinch was worth reading. I said it absolutely was, but recommended that he read The Secret History first. “If it involves a bitchy female protagonist, I’m in,” he said. I said that it did, which isn’t exactly true, but I’m pretty sure he’ll love the book anyway.

We had brunch at Pete’s Tavern, which says it’s the oldest bar in New York and bills itself as “the tavern O. Henry made famous.” Supposedly, O. Henry wrote “The Gift of the Magi” there. Of greater interest to me is the fact that Ludwig Bemelmans created Madeline in a booth at Pete’s. According to a 1999 article in the New York Times:

Petes-tavern-2007_crop-1Madeline must be the only famous French orphan born in a tavern near Gramercy Park. It was there, 60 years ago, that Ludwig Bemelmans, her creator, jotted on the back of a menu the famous phrases, ”In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived 12 little girls in two straight lines.”

A plaque honoring Bemelmans, who died in 1962, was dedicated at that bar, Pete’s Tavern, in late September. The small crowd that gathered for the occasion included his widow, Madeleine (known as Mimi), and his daughter, Barbara, who were inspirations for Madeline.

9781101911617Because it’s a requirement to go to the theater during a New York weekend, we saw this year’s Tony Award winner —  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The performances and the staging in the play, adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel, were superb. You don’t so much watch the play as become immersed in the mind of the main character, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. To the critic who sniffed,  “I’m sorry to tell you a winsome puppy figures in (the play’s) denouement”, I’d like to say that we really liked the puppy. Haddon published a fascinating piece in the Guardian about the process of adapting his novel into a play, noting that “Just as the novel was a novel about novels and how we read them, so the play is a play about plays and how we watch them.”

I’m already looking forward to planning our next trip, which I’m hoping will include tickets to the hit play Hamilton (inspired by Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton). And how about staying at the Library Hotel, in which “each of the 10 guestroom floors honor one of the 10 categories of the Dewey Decimal System and each of our 60 rooms are uniquely adorned with books and art exploring a distinctive topic within the category it belongs to.)?

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Fall Reading, Part 2 — Top 10 Lists

Last week I attended the Heartland Fall Forum,  a conference for independent booksellers. Book nerds from all over the Midwest gathered to “meet, network, promote new titles, place orders, and learn crucial skills”. (That’s from the official literature.) It was, as promised, very informative, and loads of fun as well.  Sue Boucher was asked to present her favorite books for fall at the Buzz Panel session; unfortunately,  I couldn’t attend because I was at the social media session,  creatively titled “Tweak Your Tweets”.  I learned a lot about Twitter at that session,  and have actually started tweeting. Right away, I attracted some followers — including someone whose name I can’t reproduce here because it’s in a foreign alphabet, and another person who seems to be running an escort service.

Another thing I learned at the social media session was that people like to read lists. This made sense to me because I like to read lists, but then I realized I like to read almost anything, including cereal boxes and church bulletins. Anyway, I thought Sue put together a great list of 10 new books to read this fall:

  • The Daughters of Mars (Thomas Keneally) — Australian author Keneally won the Booker Prize for Schindler’s List; his new novel tells the story of two sisters, both nurses, who leave their home in Australia to join a hospital ship at the beginning of World War I.
  • Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.) —  Dedman (who won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism) is a cousin of Huguette Clark, the heiress who grew up in the largest house in New York City yet lived the last 20 years of her life in a single room.
  • A Guide for the Perplexed (Dara Horn)– Three interconnected narratives (from the Book of Genesis, medieval philosophy, and modern technology) explore the meaning of memory.
  • The Last First Day (Carrie Brown) — A quiet and beautiful love story about a couple facing their retirement from a private boys’ school.cover
  • Longbourn (Jo Baker) — For fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey — Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants.
  • The Lowland (Jhumpa Lahiri) — Two brothers grow up together in India; one becomes involved in radical politics and one travels to the United States to pursue an academic career . . . and they both end up marrying the same woman.
  • The Outcasts (Katherine Kent) — A great romp! A woman escapes from a Texas brothel and finds herself on the run from the law.
  • The Rosie Project (Graeme C. Simsion) — Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this is an absolutely delightful story about a brilliant yet socially challenged professor on the hunt for a wife.
  • The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert) — Yes, the same Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat Pray Love and Committed. But this novel is a total departure from Gilbert’s two memoirs — it’s about a 19th century female botanist.
  • Someone (Alice McDermott) — Like The Last First Day, this is a quiet book — the simple, beautifully written story of an ordinary woman, her life, and family.

My book club met last week and we came up with our own list of books. We hadn’t met all summer, and the purpose of our meeting was for us to share our favorite books we had read over the past few months. Here are 10 books our members suggested:

  • Sharp Objects  (Gillian Flynn) — Flynn’s debut novel is just as dark and disturbing as Gone Girl.
  • Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton DiSclafani) — A coming of age story set in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930s.
  • The Burgess Boys  (Elizabeth Strout) — The author of Pulitzer-Prize winner Olive Kitteridge returns with the story of three siblings leading very different lives.
  • Rules of Civility (Amor Towles) — One of those rare books everyone loves. In Depression-era New York, a young secretary catapults into high society.1-dbda025b04
  • The Other Wes Moore (Wes Moore) — Nonfiction account of two men named Wes Moore — one a Rhodes Scholar, decorated war veteran, and White House Fellow and one a convicted murderer serving a life term in prison.
  • Flat Water Tuesday (Ron Irwin) — One reviewer called it “A Separate Peace with rowing”.
  • The Perfume Collector (Kathleen Tessaro) — A young woman in London receives a mysterious inheritance that takes her to an old Parisian perfume shop. Packed with information about how perfume is made.
  • Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter) — The New York Times loved this book just as much as Madonna Merritt, our book group recommender, calling it a “high-wire feat of bravura storytelling”.
  • Stations of the Heart: Parting With a Son (Richard Lischer) — Lischer, a professor of theology at Duke, has written a beautiful tribute to his son, who died at age 33 of melanoma.
  • Sutton (J.R. Moehringer) — Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar (a book group favorite), succeeds admirably at his first foray into fiction. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was a complicated and brilliant man, full of contradictions.
Thank you, Diane Grumhaus — who served as book club hostess and scribe!