Sadly, Manhattan is as famous for its vanished bookstores – the era-defining Gotham Book Mart, original gay bookstore The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, and the oldest independent bookstore, St. Mark’s Bookshop – as for those that have managed to survive, despite soaring rents. The paradox should alarm us: Manhattan is the densest population of readers on earth, with the fewest independent bookstores. Yet those that remain are an eccentric, expansive, and expertly curated lot. Here are nine of the greatest bookstores in New York, and the world, running the gamut from specialty stores such as Forbidden Planet and The Mysterious Bookshop, to institutions such as The Strand.
Run by a husband-and-wife team of book editors, McNally Jackson is most New Yorkers’ first stop for international, classic and contemporary books. Outfitted both with a café and its own printing press that is open to customers, McNally Jackson also stocks DVDs and a capacious selection of literary magazines.
This used bookstore is a nonprofit business dedicated to combatting homelessness and AIDS. Besides its impressive shelves of books, its perks include a used record section, a fantastic array of coffee table art books and racks of vintage science fiction books, making it SoHo’s premiere bookstore.
192 Books manages to achieve a lot with its modest space; a new bookstore in Chelsea that has outlasted the same area’s defunct Barnes & Noble. Unlike many bookstores of its ilk, 192 Books demonstrates a curated collection where you can actually discover buried treasures of fiction and nonfiction among the usual NPR-buzz books and recent hardcovers.
Idlewild Books, near Washington Square Park, is something special indeed – an internationally flavored bookstore where you can shop by country, region and language. In addition to its indispensable travel section, Idlewild also offers language courses, making good on its mantra of voracious reading without superficial or geographic borders.
This volunteer-staffed bookstore specializes in feminist and socially committed books – something genuinely enviable and empowering in times when marginalized populations can feel politically powerless. But it’s impossible to feel that way within its doors, where you can browse hundreds of titles engaged in questions of community, representation, and civil rights –definitive New York City values – for all.
Here it is! The famed 18 miles of books of The Strand make it much more than a bookstore – it is a New York City institution, where you can buy and sell everything under the sun (as long as it is printed), and while away many an afternoon within its always-stunning collection. Despite its status as the lifeline of Manhattan book culture, The Strand has a rainy-day, homey feel even when it is bustling with customers from around the world.
Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop is the destination for fans of mysteries and its founder (who edits an impressive number of anthologies on the subject), lovingly curates the store’s once-in-a-lifetime collection of novels, collection, and all things mysterious. Visiting the store will truly take you back to a day of friendly neighborhood bookstores, and it is impossible to browse without feeling touched by the love that has gone into maintaining the store over the years, despite the gruesome subjects so voluminously expounded upon within its shelves.
Primarily a comic book store, Forbidden Planet is more accurately termed a fan culture store, with a vast and always-entertaining collection of artifacts – action figures, magnets, statuettes, you name it – from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. As such, its considerable collection of genre books is unrivaled in specialty stores, and the staff are always more than happy to make a recommendation!
Not to be slighted by the downtown crowd, Columbia’s massive two-story used-and-new bookstore has never faltered (even when it changed its name from Labyrinth Books), supplying the city with a Strand-worthy used collection, as well as the latest from independent and university presses.