December 5, 2007

Walking to Strand Bookstore

After writing the previous post and contemplating an alternative life as a recluse, I became despondent for three minutes and so had to leave the apartment to walk anywhere or somewhere. The somewhere turned out to be Strand bookstore, a brilliant spontaneous choice, if I may say so myself, as I think the store is the center of civilized life below 14th St. (12th @ Broadway).

While browsing Strand today, I understood better why I like to get out of the apartment in the first place and why I like to shop for books at a bookstore more than I do online. While I'm in a bookstore I'm able to scan the shelves for a particular book, but my eye frequently lands on some treasure that I would never have discovered otherwise. This is especially the case for used or out-of-print books. The same principal applies, of course, to browsing the shelves in the library. Online bookstores don't know me, and when their software sends up the "if you enjoy this, then you will like this other book also," I often think, "Hell, no."

After spending most of the time in the New York section, I picked up a used paperback copy of New York Days by Willie Morris, a book I wanted to find. Near the Morris book I saw a used copy of The Street Where the Heart Lies by Ludwig Bemelmans. The author and illustrator may have spent most of his life in New York, famously drawing and writing Madeline on the back side of menus at Pete's Tavern nearby, but the novel I found was about Paris and should have been properly filed under regular fiction. Life offline comes with charm and serendipity, but maybe this was also the doing of a cunning book store clerk, far wiser than consumer software, who knew someone like me would find it and take the book home.

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