One lit(erary) weekend in New York City

I recently returned from a brief visit to New York City. I had been to NYC only once before, 10 years ago. Back then, I visited some of the more standard tourist destinations (Times Square, Central Park, etc.). This time, seeing more of the literary side of the city was a priority. Here are some photos of some of the bookish places I checked out on my latest trip to the Big Apple.

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is run by volunteers and its stock comes entirely by donation. All proceeds go to services that support people living with AIDS and HIV.

I told myself I wasn’t going to buy any books in NYC that I couldn’t get in Toronto, because 1.) I didn’t want my luggage to get too heavy and 2.) I want to support my local indies as much as I can. But I made an exception for Housing Works. I picked up a copy of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and a cute Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  journal.

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Three Lives & Company

Three Lives & Company is located on a street corner that is easy to miss. But I had heard many good things about this shop, and I also wanted to stroll around Greenwich Village, so I made sure to check it out. It’s a fairly small shop–which I loved because it felt so cozy–but it certainly seemed well-stocked.

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The Strand

If you’ve heard of only one NYC bookstore, chances are it’s The Strand. Maybe you’ve even taken the quiz that the store gets job applicants to take, such as this version published in the New York Times a couple of years ago.

The store opened in 1927 and claims to have “18 miles of new, used and rare books.” The Strand is also the last remaining bookstore from NYC’s “Book Row”–48 bookstores that used to cover six city blocks.

20180929_18062420180929_18150320180929_181515Browsing the shop was a lot of fun, but what I enjoyed even more was attending Banned Book Bingo in the store’s Rare Book Room. Hosted by drag queen Sol, the evening included free pizza and beer, lots of trivia about banned books, and prizes made of Strand-branded tote bags filled with books and other items (that I did not win). The event cost $15 to attend, but, in return, everyone received a $15 Strand gift card. So, really, I felt like I got a lot for my $15.

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Rizzoli Bookstore

In contrast to The Strand, which sort of feels like a giant warehouse filled with books and book-related items, Rizzoli Bookstore has a much more sophisticated feel to it. Walking in, I was struck by all of the dark wood and chandeliers. In fact, the decor reminded me a bit of Ben McNally Books here in Toronto.

Rizzoli Bookstore has two rooms, The room at the back has two comfy chairs for reading, and, being far back from the street, it’s the perfect place to do some quiet reading.

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Albertine

Since Albertine is located on Fifth Avenue, it was convenient for me to pop in for a quick look on my way to the Guggenheim. Albertine specializes in French-language books, but there are some English-language books, too. (It looked like the English books were all original French titles translated into English, but I could be wrong about this.)

This is a gorgeous bookstore. The mural on the ceiling of the second floor is stunning, and the lighting and furniture almost got me to curl up with a book on one of the couches and forget about the Guggenheim (even if I didn’t understand the language the book was written in).

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New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building)

Going inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (the main branch of the New York Public Library) was a must for this visit. The only problem was, I went on a Sunday. I didn’t realize much of the library is closed on Sundays, so there wasn’t as much to see as there would on a weekday or a Saturday. Even the shop is closed on Sundays. But I did manage to take a guided tour and go inside the Rose Main Reading Room, so I’m happy.

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Alice’s Tea Cup

I’d read about Alice’s Tea Cup. A book-themed tea shop? I had to check it out. Alice’s Tea Cup has three locations: Chapter I, Chapter II and Chapter III. I went to Chapter II on East 64th Street.

The tea was pretty good (I ordered Anna’s Earl Grey) and the scones were delicious (and quite large), but the cream and preserves were disappointing. However, this certainly is a cute place that does feel special.

Before I went, I thought this place might be geared toward children, and I wondered if I would feel out of place. Maybe the cafe does get more children on weekends (I went on a Monday morning), but, while I was there, the place was filled with adults and there appeared to be at least two business meetings happening. So I guess I shouldn’t try to judge who’s going to be interested in an Alice-themed cafe.

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Where the books I read come from

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Taking a cue from Laura at Reading in Bed, I’ve listed the last 30 books I’ve read and have included how I got them.

Putting this list together reminded me about a post I wrote a while back titled How did your bookshelves get so full? In that post, I selected a few books from my shelves that I thought had some interesting stories tied to how I acquired them. This, however, is a straight-up list of the last 30 books I’ve read.

All of the books I review on this blog are books I’ve acquired personally; I don’t receive copies from publishers in exchange for reviews. If you’ve noticed that my reviews seem unusually positive (except for one that I wrote early on), it’s because I’ve decided to only write about books I really enjoyed–the ones I want to rave about to other readers. That being said, there are books on this list that I have not reviewed but have still enjoyed immensely. What can I say? I guess sometimes I’d just rather be reading than reviewing.

The last 30 books I’ve read

  1. Smile by Roddy Doyle — borrowed from library
  2. Brother by David Chariandy –borrowed from library
  3. Marlena by Julie Buntin — borrowed from library
  4. The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker — purchased from publisher (ECW Press) at Word on the Street Toronto
  5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng — purchased from Book City (Bloor West Village location)
  6. Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton –borrowed from library
  7. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud — borrowed from library
  8. Things that Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini — purchased from Queen Books
  9. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto — purchased at used book sale in Toronto Reference Library
  10. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai –borrowed from library
  11. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese — purchased from Queen Books
  12. Strange Light Afar by Rui Umezawa –borrowed from library
  13. Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa — purchased from Book City (Danforth location)
  14. Be Ready for the Lightning by Grace O’Connell — purchased from Book City (Danforth location)
  15. Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin — purchased from Queen Books
  16. Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash — borrowed from library
  17. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — borrowed from library
  18. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami — purchased (secondhand) from Eliot’s Book Shop
  19. Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez — borrowed from library
  20. For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known by Danila Botha — purchased from Ben McNally Books at the Trillium Book Award readings at Toronto Reference Library
  21. Pedal by Chelsea Rooney — borrowed from library
  22. The Nix by Nathan Hill — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  23. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid — borrowed from library
  24. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  25. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami — given a secondhand copy from an acquaintance who was getting rid of some books
  26. Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  27. It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany — borrowed from library
  28. So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  29. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes; Music, Music, Music; Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine — borrowed from library
  30. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid — borrowed from my mom

Looks like I’m pretty evenly split between the books I purchase and the books I borrow. It feels like I buy more secondhand books than is reflected in this list, and also that I buy more books at events than is shown here. I do admit to having several books on my bookshelves that I haven’t read yet (don’t we all?), so that might be why. But I can’t say that acknowledging this is going to put a pause on my trips to the bookstore or library.

The literary side of Halifax and Lunenburg

Halifax and Lunenburg may not be as famous for their literary culture as, say, London or Paris are, but during my recent trip to Nova Scotia, I was delighted in the bookstores, libraries and cafes I visited. Book lovers, take note: You will want to stop by these places the next time you’re in the Maritimes.

Bookmark

Bookmark, on Halifax’s Spring Garden Road, carries not only books but also a selection of literary accessories, including toys, mugs and tote bags. I visited the store on a Sunday morning. While it was quiet, there were a few other customers browsing along with me.

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Trident Booksellers & Cafe

I had heard about Trident ahead of my trip, so I was super excited to check it out. It’s a used bookstore that’s also a cafe and bakery–basically, it has all of my favourite things under one roof.

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I browsed the bookshelves for some time before ordering my breakfast.

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Although the view isn’t much to get excited about (a parking lot is across the street), I was happy to get a table by the window. A screen door allowed a pleasant breeze to come through. Top that off with a pot of Earl Grey, a cinnamon bun fresh from the oven and a good book, and that makes a pretty perfect morning.

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Halifax Central Library

love browsing in bookstores, but I think what makes a city absolutely fantastic is when they have a top-shelf library. The Halifax Central Library was built in 2014 and it is gorgeous.

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I love this display of books for Halifax Pride. Beautiful!

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This room is called The Sunroom, and it’s basically the upstairs cafe in the library (there is another cafe on the ground floor). The place was bustling on this Wednesday afternoon. It’s not surprising. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in here?

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The library, of course, has many books too. This is the view I had of some of them as I looked down from the staircase.

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On a lovely day, it can seem a shame to read or study indoors. The library offers a rooftop patio so that you can enjoy sunshine and work or read at the same time.

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If you prefer to enjoy the sun from a distance, here’s a great spot to hunker down in: This is what it looks like from inside that cube on the top of the library shown in the first picture.

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There are so many different nooks and crannies in this library, I suspect it would be hard to get bored hanging out here.

Woozles

It seems odd for me to visit a children’s bookstore, since there aren’t many children in my life and I’m not a particularly big fan of children’s literature. But Woozles is Canada’s oldest children’s bookstore, so I had to stop by. And with that charming exterior, it’s a pretty inviting place.

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Lunenburg Bound

I didn’t know what to expect in Lunenburg. I hadn’t heard much about this fishing town before I was actually in it. But once we arrived, I was thrilled to find three bookshops on one street. The first store I visited was Lunenburg Bound, which primarily sells used books. I loved all the old typewriters lined up across the windows.

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In here you’ll find lots of tables piled with books, packed bookshelves and some comfy chairs for reading.

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Elizabeth’s Books

Sadly, I did not get to go inside Elizabeth’s Books, as it was closed during my brief stop in town. But I do have a photo of the shop’s lovely exterior.

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Lexicon Books

While Lunenburg Bound is the place for used books, Lexicon Books is where you’ll want to shop for new books.

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I loved the lights that were strewn all over the store as well as the wooden beams. They give the shop such a cozy atmosphere.

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I noticed a poster advertising the Lunenburg Literary Festival and asked the woman working in the store about it. It’s happening in September–a great time to visit Lunenburg.

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Statues of literary figures

What I didn’t expect to see when I was strolling through Victoria Park in Halifax was a statue of Robert Burns looking down at me. But of course there is a connection between this province and Scotland, and when you think about that, seeing the great Scottish poet isn’t so surprising.

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I’d barely passed Robert Burns when I came across a bust of writer Sir Walter Scott. Both of these monuments were put in place by the North British Society.

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Nice places to read

There’s nothing particularly literary about Halifax’s Cabin Coffee, but it’s a cozy place to curl up with a book. The place is designed to make you feel like you are in the wilderness, with lots of wood, a canoe and even fake trees.

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The Old Apothecary, located on Halifax’s Barrington Street, is also a cute place to read. The old-fashioned couches are adorable. (I had a delicious chocolate-almond croissant but was told later that their chocolate eclairs are even better.)

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When it’s nice out, there’s no better place for reading than down by the Halifax Harbour. I was happy to snag a bench in some shade.

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I must say, as much I enjoy browsing bookstores, visiting libraries and viewing literary landmarks, sometimes there’s nothing better to do while on vacation than to read a good book. And when you can read by the ocean–well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

 

How to buy books as gifts

20161204_195145In general, I do not enjoy Christmas shopping. The stores are crowded, and everyone’s rushed and in a bad mood. But shopping for books is an exception. It’s one of my favourite parts of the holidays. If you haven’t discovered the joy of buying books for your loved ones, here are a few tips.

Consider their interests

Maybe you don’t know what this person likes to read. Maybe you’re not sure how much reading they do at all. There are lots of books that can link to other hobbies or interests they have. Do they like to cook or bake? Check out the newest cookbooks. Maybe they like history and would be interested in a biography of a historical figure. Or you might try a book about gardening or travel.

Connecting a book to a hobby doesn’t mean you have to stick to non-fiction, either. You can find a novel or a book of short stories that has this person’s hobby or interest as a central theme.

Check out their social media feeds

You can, of course, pay attention to the conversations you have with this person, or maybe even sneak a peek at their bookshelves. But when you don’t have the opportunity to do some sleuthing in real life, it’s time to turn to the internet.

The most obvious choice is to see if this person has a Goodreads account. This can show you what they have already read and give you an idea of the kinds of books they like. But you can look beyond Goodreads, too. They might discuss books on Twitter or Facebook. Or maybe they posts photos of books on Instagram.

Ask a bookseller for help

Sometimes, no matter how well you know a person, you could still use some assistance. That’s when you should turn to a professional. Booksellers know of a lot more books than the rest of us do. It’s their job. Tell them a bit about the person you are shopping for and see what they recommend.

Shop in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore

This will make the above point a bit easier, but there’s also something about picking up books in your hands and being able to examine them up close. You can also check out store displays for titles you hadn’t thought of.

Give your personal favourites

This only works if you read a book and you truly think the person you are buying for will like this book, too. But sometimes you don’t need to take a chance on a book you’ve only heard about. Maybe the perfect gift is something you’ve read yourself.

When in doubt, stick with the visual

I love words and perhaps you do, too. But if you’re not sure that your giftee has a similar affinity for reading, go with a coffee-table book or a book of photography. If nothing else, this object of beauty will be something they can display.

Have fun with it

Yes, there’s a chance you’ll give a book that the person won’t read or that you’ll get them a duplicate copy of something they already own. But it really is the thought that counts. Of course this means you actually have to make an effort and not just grab the first thing you see off the shelf. But as long as you’re shopping with someone specific in mind, that will come through. Trust me. And that’s the best gift you can give.

Book-browsing in Boston

I have a thing for Boston. The first time I visited was in 2012. I recently went back and spent a few days in this beautiful city.

One of the reasons I love Boston is for its literary history and the continued appreciation for the written word the city seems to have.

The last time I visited, I took a tour of the public library, joined a literary walking tour and went up to Cambridge to see Harvard and go to the Harvard Book Store. I didn’t get a chance to do those things this time around, but I did do some book-browsing at three great bookstores and one pop-up library.

My first stop was Brattle Book Shop, a famous used and antiquarian bookstore. I went even though I knew it would be closed. The shop has an outdoor section, and I wanted to get a look at the artwork. The mural is visible at all times, but the doors painted with images of books and book spines are only shown when the shop is closed, as these are the doors that lock up the books.

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Brattle Book Shop mural

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I did, of course, return to the shop when it was open.

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Then I headed over to Commonwealth Books, another store selling used books. It’s not as easy to find as Brattle, as Commonwealth is down an alley, but there are plenty of books to look through when you arrive.

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The only bookstore I visited that sells new books was Trident Booksellers & Cafe, a really cute shop in the Back Bay area. I even had lunch in the upstairs cafe.

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I also got to do some book-browsing when I wasn’t expecting it. I went to the very touristy Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area and stumbled upon a small library out in the square. It made me smile to find it there.

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Next time you visit a new place, maybe skip the museums and galleries and just do some book-browsing instead. Admittedly, it might end up costing you more than the price of museum admission if the book-browsing excursions turn into book-buying excursions. Set yourself a limit so you’ll (hopefully) have some cash left in your wallet by the time you head home.