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
My 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:
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
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.
I 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.)
I 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:
Madeline 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.
Because 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.)?