Lately, I’ve been realizing I’m in a bit of a rut. I slacked off with this blog some, I was spending too many nights zoning out in front of the television, and I wasn’t exploring the city. So I needed to shake things up a little – cut the cable and stock up on books, get out and see more of the city, and have something to write about.
This weekend’s Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl let me do all three in one very big fell swoop. In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, a lot of Brooklyn’s indie bookstores banded together to make a day out of it – with special sales, promotions, and funky events, meant to draw us all in and send us hopping from store to store. And thus I spent the afternoon on a whirlwind tour – of five bookstores I actually know about already. Oh well.
I’d actually just been at Freebird, my first stop, only two days before. Freebird is a quirky used book store, which is only open on weekends – but it also operates as a collection site for a couple of book-donation charities, like Books Through Bars, which gives reading material to prisoners. Peter, the owner, was especially pleased with a couple of the books I brought in to donate; somehow I acquired a couple of Spanish-language books, including a Spanish-language guide to Feng Shui, which he said would definitely end up with Books Through Bars. As he sorted through my books, I made a beeline to see if a book I’d seen a couple nights prior was still there.
Freebird hosts the only book club I’ve ever stuck with for more than two meetings – a club devoted exclusively to post-apocalyptic fiction. I can’t even begin to figure out what draws me to that niche – because hoo boy, is that a niche – but I thought I was the only one who was into it, until last February, when I discovered the club. The group’s been meeting there for eight years, and the members – a faithful lot – are all a wildly interesting lot, including publishers, doctors, students, and bakers among them.
But while just before our last meeting, I saw Peter slipping a used copy of the WPA Guide to New York onto a sale shelf – and was instantly covetous. And – it was still there. I brought it to the counter just as Peter was finishing sorting my books; he tipped me off to another club he’s thinking of starting, devoted to New York-centric books.
A young couple was coming in as I was heading happily out – their eyes drawn to some of the shelves towards the front, where Peter displays books that have especially unfortunate author photos or books with really bad titles.
Bookcourt is a little sleeker and spiffier compared to Freebird. They also had a whole roster of events, all of which I managed to miss – I showed up about twenty minutes too late for a trivia contest, and an hour too early for an author lecture. But no matter. I tend to visit this place for some of the more mass-market things anyway – the rack of Dover Thrift Editions of the classics or their Moleskinne collection. In fact – usually I come to browse while sitting in an insanely comfortable couch they have towards the back.
Bookcourt was encouraging people to take selfies “with your favorite book”. I wasn’t going to at first – something about a middle-aged woman taking a selfie seemed undignified, and there was no way in hell I was going to be able to pick one favorite book. But then I spotted a nice big copy of Boccacio’s Decameron, which is definitely one of my favorites.
Plus the copy was also big enough to hide behind.
I have absolutely no idea why I’d never realized that Powerhouse was also a publisher. Possibly because I’ve always only gone in when I was looking for something fairly small, to slip into a pocket on my way to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Or I hover towards the front, where they also have a little collection of blank books, crafty things and candles. Once I even got a map pinpointing “Brooklyn’s Best diners”. But sure enough, they have a sizeable collection of titles themselves – mostly photo and art books, with some…odd craft titles as well.
My ‘hood! I’ve stopped in here plenty of times – so much so that I am in their rewards program, and it’s often one of my “I don’t know what to do with myself” options on a weekend. Today, though, they’d really pulled out the stops for the Independent Bookstore Day activities – including a “photo booth” right by the door, where a bunch of local authors were taking turns letting patrons pose for pictures with them, complete with silly props. I didn’t recognize the author holding court when I was there – Tanwi Nandini Islam, whose first book just came out. She saw me hovering curiously around the booth and asked if I wanted a picture. “….I guess…” I said, putting my bag down. I confessed that I thought that the whole idea of selfies was a little undignified.
“Aw, why be dignified?” Tanwi said. “In fact, I think that undignified is more interesting.” She grinned and thrust a hat at me, and put one on herself, and then turned me to the camera and put on a mock-serious face.
Sometimes you just have to go with the moment.
The crowds around the table where her book was were too thick, so I resolved to pick it up later in thanks. But I did find something tucked on a back shelf – a graphic novel retelling of some of the racier stories from the Bible. The clerk chatted with me about the book as he rang me up. “Have you ever heard this guy speak?”
“No, can’t say I have.”
“I did, for his last book,” he said, scanning my book. “He’s pretty…interesting.”
I wasn’t sure why he hesitated until later, when I read through the book and saw that the author was also making an impassioned argument that there is a good deal of Biblical support for prostitution. His scholarship is credible, but…he has a bit of a zealot’s fervor. Still, it was an eye-catching enough title that Tanwi saw me with it as I made my way out, and gave me a wink and called, “That doesn’t look dignified! Good for you!”
Maybe it’s because of the prices, or maybe it’s because of the curation – but I love used bookstores. The people running them always have a discriminating eye, and eclectic taste. Peter at Freebird is one example (come on, an emphasis on New York and post-apocalyptic fiction?), and here at Unnameable, there’s a good collection of religion, poetry, and small presses, a whole shelf of mass-market sci-fi paperbacks, and two shelves of books on sex. Although that section is way up at the top of its bookshelf, so you have to ask for the ladder to get at it; I suspect a lot of people are too shy to ask.
Today, though, was the first time I learned that the staff has a collection of “Weird Things We Found In Books” posted on one of the walls. I made my choice here early, but then spent a good five minutes browsing the wall before even making it to the cash register.
If I’m giving books away to a used bookstore, I check them pretty carefully. This has all only strengthened my resolve to check them even more carefully, or possibly never get rid of any book again just in case.