I’ve spent my first month in New York getting to know the city, and what better way than by visiting every bookstore in every Manhattan neighborhood? Here’s a quick list of my top three, with directions in case you want to visit, too!
1. The Strand
Not just a tourist attraction (Though be warned, they’re there. In droves. Dawdling in the middle of the aisles, blocking you in…), The Strand is probably my favorite New York bookstore. The Strand boasts “18 miles of books,” and features tall, maze-like shelving filling four large floors. They sell both new and used fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s books, and rare books, plus there are carts of $1 – $3 books outside. In fact, there are so many shelves, that after three visits, I’m still not sure where everything is located. It’s the kind of bookstore you can get lost in for hours.
My favorite part of The Strand is their huge rare book room located on the third floor (and accessible only by the elevator). Unlike most collections of rare books, most of theirs are out in the open, letting curious browsers like me actually pick the books up and flip through them. Though there are books in there that can run into the thousands, there are also a lot of great finds under $50.
The Strand also has a really nice website, where you can reserve books, or order them and have them shipped to you.
The Strand is located in East Village, right by Union Square, at the corner of E. 12th Street and Broadway.
2. Argosy Books
Argosy claims to be New York’s oldest independent bookstore, and they’re the kind of cozy, cluttered, refined bookstore that old book lovers dream of, the kind with lots of dark wood and tall shelves and desks piled high with books to rebind. The kind that smells like old paper and leather. Argosy specializes in old and rare books, maps, and prints, though they have a basement of cheap, modern used books as well. The first floor is a warren of old and unusual (but mostly affordable) fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and prints, while an ancient elevator (the kind that actually has an operator!) will bring you up to the print and map floor or the rare book room. While their rare book room is truly amazing, be warned that you’ll have to take up a curmudgeonly employee with you, and there is nothing you can afford up there. Nothing. Not a thing.
Argosy is located in Midtown, on E. 59th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington.
3. Books of Wonder
Yeah, it’s a children’s bookstore. And yeah, I got some weird looks in there. But this is probably the single most magical bookstore in all of New York, so who cares? Books of Wonder sells new, used, and rare children’s and teen’s fiction (along with some things I’d consider adult fiction, like The Lord of the Rings and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust), as well as original and print copies of children’s book illustrations.
The decorations and displays are beautiful and magical, there are two walls of gorgeous, framed original illustrations for books such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Maurice Sendak classics, there’s a full wall of rare books both affordable and not (I bought a copy of the original Stardust signed by both Gaiman and Vess for only $100), and the staff is helpful and friendly. Plus, there’s cupcakes.
My only gripe with Books of Wonder is that all their rare books (even the affordable ones) are locked up, and they’re the kind of books which I could spend hours flipping through and looking at the illustrations.
Books of Wonder is located in the Flatiron District, on W. 18th Street, between The Avenue of the Americas and 5th Avenue.