A book critic's literary tour of Manhattan
New York Times critic Dwight Garner stopped at book-centered destinations throughout the Big Apple. 'I was smitten all over again,' Garner wrote after his excursion.
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And while Garner finds the Algonquin, where “Do Not Disturb” signs read, “Quiet Please: Writing the Great American Novel,” “a bit chilly and corporate,” literary visitors to New York have other options. There’s the “sleek and geeky” Madison Ave. Library Hotel, not far from the New York Public Library, where the floors are categorized according to the Dewey Decimal System and each of the 60 rooms contains a set of books “devoted to a topic within that category.”Skip to next paragraph
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(Those with deeper pockets shelve their luggage at the new NoMad Hotel, housed in a turn-of-the-century Beaux-Arts building where the cocktail lounge-cum-library features “two vaulting stories of lighted bookcases connected by a spiral staircase imported from the South of France.”)
And though the city has far fewer bookstores than it once did (Book Row, along Fourth Ave., housed some three-dozen used bookstores before the last one closed in 1988), “the city’s survivors are beautiful to behold,” says Garner.
The highlights: Bauman Rare Books in Midtown, a temple to rare volumes, dearly priced; the small and expertly curated 192 Books in Chelsea; the brilliantly-named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books in the West Village; and the charitable Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo. Garner’s favorites? St. Mark’s Bookshop on the Lower East Side, where you go “when you need a reminder that the world’s literary culture is still big and weird and vibrant,” and The Strand, where “It’s worth flying in from London simply to browse the stacks.”
By the end of his literary tour, writes Garner, “I was smitten all over again.”
So are we. We reveled in Garner’s word-fueled romp through Manhattan, even more so after discovering that not only is literary Manhattan is alive and well, but that we can play a role in enriching literary cultures of cities across the nation if we engage in literary tours in our own cities. Visiting precious used bookshops, quirky indies, prized historic sites, famous scenes and settings with literary associations, and beloved literary hangouts, from trendy cafes to sober libraries to underground dives – what a wonderful way to discover a city and to encourage vibrant literary cultures in cities and towns across the country. We can’t wait to plan our own literary tour.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.