A good bookstore is a sanctuary – it’s the smell of paper, crowds around tables of bestsellers and staff recommendations, the feeling of being surrounded by stories and like-minded bookworms. There’s just something so special about a tiny spot (or a big one!), where the staff knows their stuff and the walls are lined with beautiful books, and maybe you find a quiet corner or a comfy chair to tuck in to and curl up with a new story. There’s nothing like a good bookstore, and certainly nothing like going home with a bag full of new things to read.
New York City – and Manhattan especially – is delightfully filled with bookstores, and considering how hard it is for indie bookstores to stay open against the corporate competition these days, Manhattan has done surprisingly well at keeping the culture thriving. I set out with Phoebe Lett of the New York Times and Olivia from RainyDaysCoffeeandBooks to tour the best of Manhattans indie bookshops, all the way from the upper east side to Chelsea on the west side.
Eight stops. One Day. Here we go!
Our first stop was Rizzoli on the East side. Rizzoli was quiet at 10am, and so beautiful that black and white floor spoke to my minimalist heart, and the store was just so elegant all around. It has a great selection of fiction and non, but I think the strength here was the Art and Architecture sections. There were so many beautiful books to look at! Plus, the staff was so sweet and helpful. This is a great stop for your lunch break!
Books of Wonder is a specialty children’s bookstore and a hotspot for the YA crowd – with author signings and readings for children of all ages (there was a super cute storytime for the youngins going on when we were there), Books of Wonder is definitely a place to hang out for a long time. While the selection is extensive, what I love most about Books of Wonder is the featured vintage and first editions along the back wall. I love old books and Books of Wonder has a fantastic selection of classics – everything from the Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter. It’s truly breathtaking.
The Strand is Home. The Strand is the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see. The Strand is three floors of pure joy. Boasting 18 miles of books, the Strand has literally everything you could ever possibly want and more – including rare, vintage, and first editions, the Strand is just….heaven. Just heaven. It doesn’t get better. I could just live and die here.
Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe, 126 Crosby St
(featuring Phoebe’s come-hither look)
Housing Works is another one of my personal favorites – it’s a beautiful bookshop specializing in (100% donated) secondhand books that doubles as a charity – along with the thrift shop next door, 100% of Housing Works profits go towards helping those living with HIV/AIDS and homelessness in New York City. Housing Works works to provide Heath services, job training, and housing resources for those who need it, and work tirelessly to advocate for these people. The bookstore & cafe hosts all kinds of events – readings, musical performances, parties, and even Literary Speed Dating for Queer Ladies – all to help raise funds for this wonderful cause.
McNally Jackson, 52 Prince St
Right around the corner from HousingWorks is McNally Jackson – a two floor bookstore with a beautiful cafe attached – seriously, that ceiling. There are books hanging from the ceiling and lining the walls. It’s so beautiful. McNally Jackson has become a recent favorite for one reason – not only do they have a large fiction section, but it’s divided up into regions, so you can find American fiction alongside African, Asian, Indian, Australian, and more. To someone who loves books in translation, it’s such an amazing find. It’s a great spot to find something new! Pick up something just because it looks cool, grab yourself a coffee and a muffin, and dive in.
Bookbook, 266 Bleecker st
Bookbook is (as you might be able to tell from the name) a super cutie-pie bookstore in Greenwich Village. It’s tiny and full of best sellers and classics – plus they have a sale table out in front, which is always a good thing to have. It’s such a small space but there’s lots to look at, and we had a lovely conversation about poetry with some fellow shop goers, and then Phoebe read Kipling to us from the floor. Beautiful.
Three Lives & Co, 154 West 10th Street
Okay so Three Lives & Co is honestly gorgeous. It’s pretty much a closet, but it’s one of those bookstores you walk in to and it smells like books and it looks like your dream library, and so you can’t help but fall in love a little bit. It’s got a great selection of new releases and travel books, but what really caught my attention was the lack of a YA/Children’s section. Three Lives definitely strikes me as a shop for someone who might be a bit of a lit snob – you know, the tweed jacket with elbow patches type. Aka, me. Yeah, I’m that kind of nerd.
192 Books, 192 Tenth Ave
We arrived at 192 books just as the beautiful afternoon sun was starting to stream through those big windows, flooding the shop with light. It was an enchanting effect, and we took the opportunity for lots of photos. 192 Books is small, but the place is literally stacked floor-to-ceiling with awesome things to read. It’s the type of place you could spend some time digging through stacks and piles to find something different and exciting. The staff were delightful and all too happy to chat about their favorites. I definitely recommend coming here towards the end of the day, and then finding a coffee shop nearby with outdoor seating to tuck in with your new find.
It was an exhausting day, but one I would gladly do again – I’m such a bookstore junkie that this tour was a dream come true for me. I’ve found several new favorite stops, and I’m already dreaming about going back for a visit to spend some more time among the stacks.