Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BEA- Before the Show: The Great Bookstore Tour

I spent almost all of last week in New York- I left Boston early Monday morning and returned late Friday night. I attended Book Expo America on Wednesday and Thursday, and Book Blogger Con on Friday. That leaves Monday and Tuesday, and the Great Bookstore Tour.

While Monday was mostly taken up with travel, when I got to New York I had time to run over to the Javits Center to pick up my badge and go out to dinner with my friend, Jean. We went to the Union Square area to browse and shop in Forbidden Planet and the Strand, two of my favorite NYC bookstores, and have a light dinner at Chat'n'Chew, a casual restaurant with yummy comfort food.

Tuesday was the main event. Jean put together an amazing tour of NYC bookstores, capped it off with a pedicure and even put me on a bus that went right by my midtown hotel.

The first bookstore we visited wasn't really a bookstore in the strict sense. Radiance Books & Tea (158 W55th St.) is a charming teashop in midtown (we passed it walking to the subway) with a beautiful section featuring Asian (-themed and language) books and gifts. Next time we'll stay to actually drink the tea, but for this time I just bought some to take home, and Jean bought a book of Korean folktales.

The official start to the day was Bluestockings Bookstore (172 Allen St.) in the Lower East Side; we got there just as the staff was opening. Bluestockings is a feminist bookstore specializing in women's, GBLT and leftist political books, zines and gifts. It's been over 10 years since Boston had a women's bookstore and it was a real treat for me to visit Bluestockings. I bought Jillian Weise's novel The Colony, about body image and medical ethics and published by Soft Skull Press.

Next up was Books of Wonder, (18 W18th St.) a landmark children's bookstore featuring books new and old. Here you can find everything from the latest and greatest to affordable vintage classics and not-so-affordable serious collectibles- for example, rare L. Frank Baum volumes costing over $50,000, and more. I almost bought an old copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but put it down at the last minute. Just as well, really.

After Books of Wonder, we wandered over to Idlewild Books, (12 W19th St.) a travel bookstore named after one of New York's airports. Idlewild sells travel books as well as themed fiction and nonfiction, with a particular emphasis in international literary fiction. In other words, a bookstore for me! I could have bought a lot of things here, but I settled on Fosca, by Igini Ugo Tarchetti, a satirical Italian love-story-gone-wrong. I can't wait.

The next order of business was lunch, and Jean and I headed over to Alice's Tea Cup (three locations- see website) a lovely restaurant nearby themed after Alice in Wonderland. You'll read more about Alice's Tea Cup from the bloggers who went to the Adriana Trigiani tea party but let me tell you- I love this place. The decor, the scones, the tea, the scones, the food, the scones- you get the idea.

After lunch we went over to Shakespeare & Co., (716 Broadway), a large general-interest bookstore with a speciality in drama. I enjoyed my visit to this sunny, attractive indie but didn't buy anything.

Our feet were aching with all this walking and subway-ing and browsing, so we headed over to a local branch of the spa chain Dashing Divas for a wonderful, fun pedicure. I've had a lot of foot problems lately and it was wonderful to have a little pampering!

When our toes were dry and pretty, we picked up a bus to 57th Street and the magnificent Rizzoli Books (31 W57th St.), a gem of a bookstore right near Carnegie Hall. I loved this place. Loved. It's gorgeous- it's like an elegant New York townhouse transformed into a three-story bookstore housing an incredible selection of coffeetable and art books, as well as literary fiction, graphic novels and foreign-language books. I could have practically bought out their French section, never mind all the Christmas-present potential. I got on their mailing list and plan to shop from them in the future, but I didn't buy anything on this trip.

Finally, several hours later, I took an after-dinner walk to the Columbus Circle branch of Borders (10 Columbus Circle). I would have gone back to Rizzoli but they closed at 7 and Borders stays open until 10 on weeknights. Anyway, Borders is the bookstore equivalent of comfort food for me; I just love it. I picked up a little paperback I'd been eyeing at home, Tayeb Salih's The Wedding of Zein. It was like the proverbial mint on my pillow after a day of bookish feasting. Just perfect.