I’ve been to New York City a number of times with family, friends, and groups. These trips have always been a lot of fun and memorable, but there is so much to do in New York and the only way I could make an itinerary around the things that I wanted to do, without compromise, was to go alone. With plans to meet my family over the weekend, I flew up a couple days prior and embarked on a very bookish tour of the city.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts about solo travel, I like to explore a place on foot. I clocked about 20 miles on this trip. Armed with google maps, I set out to find as many bookstores and libraries as I could. Here are the highlights from my adventure:
This was the most beautiful bookstore I went to with the most interesting arrangement of genres. Tall mahogany shelves line the store against a black and white chevron checkered floor. On the walls, above the bookcases, runs a mural that makes the store feel more like nineteenth century Paris, than modern day New York. The mural casts fairy-tale scenes of castles, a smiling moon peeking through the clouds, and centaur cherubs upon customers. Architecture, Design, Fashion, and New Nonfiction are among the featured, boldly displayed sections along with significant Literature and Children’s sections.
My first experience at a brick and mortar Amazon bookstore, it was near my hotel at the edge of Chelsea, and I walked there the first evening of my trip. The layout of the books caters to the modern Amazon shopper. The store is not crammed with books, instead all books along the shelves face out with a little card underneath giving the title and a description of the book, most are bestsellers or trending. There are tables with signs for high-star reviews, new releases, etc. I actually appreciate the simplified, methodical layout, but it’s a store for going in and finding a book that you know is a sure thing because it’s popular or well-reviewed, not a store for perusing shelves in hopes of finding a rare gem. There’s a place and time for both.
Famous among comic book fans, toy collectors, and nerds in general (like myself), Forbidden Planet has a reputation that it well lives up to. As a graphic novel reader and figurine enthusiast, I love this store. There are so many unique items for fans of various properties. You’ll know you’ve reached Forbidden Planet when you see the Terminator in the storefront window.
If you go to one bookstore in Manhattan, you go to the Strand. The tagline pretty much says it all, “18 miles of books.” Here, you’ll find multiple stories of new and rare books as well as unique gifts and a heck of a lot of tote bags. Everytime I visit the Strand I leave feeling that I could have spent another hour sifting through the shelves. The rare book collection is especially remarkable with many vintage editions of classic favorites.
A branch of the New York Public Library located in Greenwich Village and the former Jefferson Market Courthouse, this library is a dream for bibliophilic nostalgia-heads. The Gothic Revival architecture casts a unique atmosphere, drawing you into the building with its overlooking clock tower and pointed arches. Walk inside and find yourself climbing a winding staircase that leads to different levels of the brick structure. Hunker down in the basement with a book under the arches. Built in the 1870s, it’s hard to believe the building once served as a civil court with prisoners held in the basement, awaiting their trials.
This cozy little bookshop has held its place as a cultural stamp in Greenwich Village since 1968. The books are methodically chosen and placed, owning up to its reputation of bringing the most important literary works to shoppers. New Yorkers have a special passion for this store, protecting it as a sanctuary for the mind. This store appeals to the childlike, curious corner of our highest mental stimulus.
The main branch of New York City’s public library system, located on 5th Avenue at the edge of Bryant Park, is the standard I wish all libraries were held to. Architecturally, this library is mesmerizing, from the iconic lions guarding the front steps to the ornate ceiling and chandeliers that look down on the Rose Main Reading Room. I also love gift shop, which carries NYPL merchandise and totes as well as unique editions of classic literature.
Popular in the north-east and along the west coast, Japanese book and novelty store Kinokuniya is not local to New York, but this was my first time shopping at the chain. It is a gold mine for Japanophiles, anime and manga lovers, or anyone looking for books written in Japanese. This shop has three levels. The first floor houses books written in Japanese as well as traditional items and clothing, the second holds books on Japanese culture and popular contemporary fiction and on the top floor you’ll find manga, anime, toys and figures along with a cafe.
An established gem in a city rooted in culture and the arts, this library was once the personal rare books and artifacts collection of financier Pierpont Morgan. It is exactly the library and office we would expect from one of the richest bankers at the turn of the twentieth century. The highlight of this establishment is the floor to ceiling multi-story massive library holding Morgan’s book collection. The building also houses a few rotating art galleries and various unique exhibits come through. During my visit, the main exhibition was a celebration of 200 years of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was a treat to behold. This exhibition included original portraits of Mary Shelley and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as early editions of the novel and notable works of art, like Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare.
What are your favorite bookish spots in NYC? Leave a comment!