It was in my hands. Its soft cover pressed firm against the pages between. Its title and author matching one of the many listed on the two index cards in my wallet.
Then, there was the other one. Another soft cover. It was not listed on my index card. I had come across the Detroit-area author’s book in the used section of the store.
Neither were from the author or classics I collect.
Neither authors were present for a book reading/signing event.
I was not in New York City.
About six weeks ago, I took a vow; one in which I would not purchase any new books until I have read 3,000 pages of books I already own. On Saturday, I was tempted to break it.
The compulsion and desire to add to my library had waned while focused on reading three thousand pages. Then it was the last week of July when I vacationed in New York City. That was one of the exceptions of the vow. I knew myself too well. There was no way that I was going to enjoy a vacation in the Big Apple, trolling the miles of aisles of book stores, and come home empty handed. And in New York City, book stores are a plenty.
The first visit was to The Strand.
We found it on Friday – our first day in the City. Earlier in the day we took a 2 1/2 hour boat cruise around Manhattan Island. From there we walked to the New York Public Library and viewed the Literary Walk. On 41st Street between Madison and Fifth, leading to the library, plaques are embedded into the sidewalk – both sides of the streets – with literary quotes.
We then hiked Fifth Avenue down towards Union Square Park, finding the store at the corner of Broadway and 12th. Needless to say, the legs and feet were tired. And though The Strand boasts eighteen miles of books, chairs are not among the furnishings of the three floors and basement level of the store.
And, of course, I added to my personal library. They carry new titles and a great amount of used titles. The third floor is reserved for their old and rare books. Despite the fatigue and soreness, we spent a good amount of time, and a little bit of change on some titles I had on my ‘to get’ list that I have not found anywhere else. Of course, there were a couple surprise additions, as well.
Other events and attractions took up our Saturday and Sunday, so Monday we toured the City by going from book store to book store, starting from Zuccotti Park where Occupy Wall Street took place.
First stop: McNally Jackson.
Located at 52 Prince Street off Lafayette in Soho, this independent book seller had two floors. It was interesting how they arranged their fiction. Not alphabetical by author, but rather by country of origin, then alphabetical by author within that. An interesting and diverse way of doing it, providing awareness of the national origin of the authors. I bought two books here, both craft related, both of the Gray Wolf Press The Art Of series books I hadn’t seen around here. The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young and The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber. Just being here in New York was charging my writing battery. I had been working on a short story on the train back and forth between Trenton, New Jersey, where we were staying, and NYC, but it was difficult because the movement made my already bad penmanship worse. I was also reading on the train One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher. New York was not only feeding the book addiction, but fueling the writer.
Not far away was Housing Works.
Located at 125 Crosby Street, just a couple blocks east of McNally Jackson, this two-storied book store and bar is a fund-raising center to combat AIDS and homelessness. Books are donated and sold here, and the store is run by volunteers. Really a cool place that I could have spent some quality time in, especially if I had brought my laptop. But we were getting hungry, and so my shopping had to be decisive. Of course I purchased a couple of novels for the cause.
We then made our way up to 14th Street, took the L across to the West Village, and made our way down to Left Bank Books.
Located at 17 Eighth Avenue, Left Bank Books was a small rare and fine book seller. A lot of first editions in a rather small space, I spent more time walking to it from the subway than I did inside of it. We then pushed onto Three Lives and Company.
This is a quaint little book store at 15 West Tenth Avenue in the West Village. Heavy with fiction, I was impressed with the selection despite the square footage. No fiction was purchased, but a book on the care of old books and a sale on some older literary journals ($2 for a 2012 copy of The Paris Review – what a deal!) left their shelves and made my book bag a little heavier. A nice cozy place tucked away in a cool little neighborhood.
The final stop of the day was Barnes & Noble.
NYC is the birthplace of the book chain, and this store was four floors of books. If you’ve been in a B&N store, this one is just like them. Just a larger selection of titles. I found a copy of Finn by Jon Clinch that was recommended to me by Karen Dionne at the Detroit Working Writer’s conference a few months ago, which, again, I had not seen anywhere else. So, yeah, the book bag got a little heavier.
I should state that yes, I do carry a list on index cards in my wallet. Of course, I could order the titles I’m looking for online. But the fun of growing a library of material to both collect and to read is in the hunt, and to reward the book store that already has it on their shelves. (To the best of my knowledge, if you want to reward a book seller carrying The Y in Life, visit Paperback Writer in Mount Clemens, Purple Tree Books in Cheboygan, and Brilliant Books in Traverse City.)
That covers book stores carrying new/used books. On Tuesday, after walking through a portion of Central Park, we visited three rare and fine book stores.
Here’s a good distinction between rare and fine books.
Fine books, that is books well printed on high quality paper and handsomely bound so that the mechanical components of the book work well together, are different from rare books since fine books may be rare, but rare books are not always fine. Rare books might be printed on newsprint, which contains damaging chemicals and has a short life expectancy (paperbacks and comic books, for example). Such books are rare because of their fragility and therefore scarcity.
Fine books stand a much better chance of survival than fragile, rare ones, but in both cases deterioration can be slowed (it can never be stopped completely) with proper housing and handling…
The Care of Fine Books, Second Edition by Jane Greenfield.
Our first stop: Bauman Rare Books.
This was a different kind of book store experience. More a museum than a book store. After standing there in awe for a moment, the host of the store – and I hate calling it a store, because it seems to cheapen the experience -asked me if I needed any assistance. I asked him, “can I take a photo?” He said yes.
If you’ve ever watched Pawn Stars on The History Channel, you know that when a rare book comes into the shop, Rick calls on Rebecca Romney to give an appraisal. She is an employee of Bauman Rare Books at their Las Vegas location.
The New York City location is at 535 Madison Avenue, between 54th and 55th Streets – in the Midtown East or Diamond District. They had three showcases; children’s books, fiction, and nonfiction. Below is a photo of the fiction display.
I asked the gentleman at the gallery (a better description of it) about the satire of Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale – Gin and Butters by A. Riposte. He couldn’t locate it. I asked about Maugham, and he said that they may have editions of his books in Philadelphia or Las Vegas, but I didn’t want him to explore. He guided me to a shelf of fiction that could have Maugham novels. There was no order to it – not alphabetical by title or author. I picked up a Jack London novel. Carefully opening the book, its cover in protective wrapping, the first thing I noticed was the price: $5,500. I didn’t need to go any further and gently put the book back.
I did walk out of Bauman with something; it’s free book catalog.
It was just another world. Garbed in a Detroit City FC jersey and shorts, I felt extremely inappropriately dressed as well. Felt like I needed to be in a suit.
We walked up the block to visit another rare and fine book store that I had on my list. It was called Ursus up at 699 Madison Ave., between 62nd and 63rd. But my wife found another on her GPS called Argosy at 116 59th Street between Park and Lexington. We decided to stop there, first.
A very cool place with used interesting books, as well as fine and rare books. We only accessed the street level and basement, where there were a plethora of old books. The basement, specifically, had shelves of newer used books of quality. We ended up coming back here Wednesday to pick up a signed edition of Book Collecting 2000 by Allen and Patricia Ahearn, especially after what happened next.
We walked back to Madison and 62nd where the Ursus Books and Prints were. It was a business on the third floor of a building. As we rode the elevator, we saw that another rare and fine bookseller had an office on the 7th floor. Ursus, to me, was a waste of time, as its few rare books had a focus on art, and the prints were more prevalent. We decided to ascend to the 7th floor to check out the other bookseller. A woman entered the elevator with us and said she was going up, and so were we. We happened to be riding with the photographer for both booksellers. She keyed us in.
James Cummins had quite the selection of Somerset Maugham books. The studio was heavy with shelves and Mr. Cummins was helpful to these two tourists from Detroit. The Maugham books were all on a top shelf that he had to climb a ladder to retrieve, but before I knew it, there were a good dozen or so works of the English author’s works before me. As I looked at prices, some were beyond my budget. However there were a couple that fell in a range that I could justify – an amount less than what I get paid for a single felony court-appointment out of Macomb County. Torn between two of them, I ended up buying Liza of Lambeth, a Jubilee Edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of Maugham’s first novel, signed and numbered, #991 out of 1,000.
Before heading out to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, there was a final stop to make: The Center for Fiction.
The Center for Fiction is at 17 East 47th Street on the Upper East Side. Novels sold at up to 50% off, used books in the back, and a library for members. There is also a writer’s studio that can be rented. I can imagine it; you’re a young writer, living in a small studio apartment, needing a place to write, but there’s not enough space at your place. The Center for Fiction would be quite helpful. Cool place, indeed.
It’s almost trite to claim that my first visit to New York City was life changing. It fed my total literary life – enhancing my reading of novels set in New York; deepening my understanding on how to strengthen my writing skill; and fine tuning the development of my personal library – with a consciousness to maintain a balance among the three so that I’m well nourished in the joy of the written word.
So on Saturday, as I held the book in my hand while at a local B&N, my memory returned to NYC. Since I took the vow, I’ve read 800 pages. Having to start over would be difficult. It took me six weeks to get to this point. I was even writing more.
I placed the book back on the shelf and walked away. It would be there another day – 2,200 pages from now.
Book-collecting. It’s a great game. Anybody with ordinary intelligence can play it; there are, indeed, people who think that it takes no brains at all; their opinion may be ignored. No great amount of money is required, unless one becomes very ambitious. It can be played at home or abroad, alone or in company. It can even be played by correspondence. Everyone playing it can make his own rules – and change them during the progress of the game. It is not considered “cricket” to do this in other games.
A. Edward Newton, The Book-Collecting Game