The Union Square bookstore trilogy

How the heck have I made it this long without talking about bookstores in NYC? I guess I take them for granted now, though one of my earliest memories of life in New York is making the trek from Clinton Hill to the Barnes and Noble on Court Street. It was my very first weekend here and I wanted to buy a book that had just been released. I looked up directions and walked all the way over there and back, a roundtrip of about three miles. The things we do for books.

When bookish friends come to visit me, if I’ve already taken them to the NYPL, Union Square is a great place to visit. Within a few blocks you have the huge and lovely Barnes and Noble on E. 17th St, at the top of the Park, Forbidden Planet at 13th St and Broadway, and of course, the Strand, at 12thand Broadway.

Barnes and Noble has a huge range of new and recent titles across its several floors. It has a café on the third floor and space for author events on the fourth floor. While there aren’t quite enough places to sit with a book and browse, if it’s not raining you can usually find somewhere to squeeze in. Once I found an awesome bit of graffiti on the back of a bathroom door at this store: someone had written “Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead”, which is a reference to a one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes.

It’s something you’d expect more to find in a bathroom at Forbidden Planet, which sells everything from comic books and graphic novels to collectibles and t-shirts. My brother, who loves video games, and my friend, who loves super hero movies, both enjoyed stopping in, and once I had to tell myself not to buy the not-as-nice-as-on-the-show TARDIS journal they had on the display table. Perfect for quirky gifts or new reading materials.

The Strand, just a block south, is absolutely lovely, but a bit overwhelming. According to their site they have eighteen miles of books, used ones, new ones, and rare ones. If you fight your way past the crowded display tables on the first floor to the fiction section at back, or to any other floor, the crowds are easier to handle. I seem to always end up in the travel and nonfiction sections in the basement, with a quick pop in to the children’s section on the second floor. I almost never leave without buying something, and that something usually costs fewer than ten dollars.

My only quibble with the Strand: they don’t have a romance novel section. They have sci fi and mystery, but the romances they have are lumped together with other books on their disorganized mass market paperback tables. Romance generates more revenue than any other category, so the fact that an institution like the Strand can’t take the time to cultivate and organize a section for it seems a little crazy.

Anyway, those are my three go-to bookstores when I have friends in town. Anyone have suggestions of other stores to take people to? I need to find some hole-in-the-wall used bookstores to patronize…


3 thoughts on “The Union Square bookstore trilogy

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