East Village Book Crawl

browsing outside Strand BooksMichelle RickBrowsing outside Strand Books.

I enjoyed the portrait of Mast Books by Brendan Bernhard we published yesterday because the clean, bright space has become one of my regular haunts on Avenue A. Not that I can claim to be a valued customer. I like to take my ten year-old daughter in there and point out the books I’ve already got. “I have that. I have that. I do have that, but in a different edition.” The problem for Mast Books, if not for me, is that its curation of titles is so close to my taste that the store’s bookshelves uncannily mirror my own.

Reading the piece, I mentally counted off the neighborhood’s surviving independent bookstores and paused to mourn a few long lost. Posman’s on University Place was somewhat west of the East Village but housed an extraordinary selection of academic paperbacks. This was a place to revel in critical theory, bask in sociology and drown in philosophy. Almost irreplaceable, but I get an adequate fix of Foucault and Badiou, together with the opportunity to browse improbably expensive glossy magazines, at St Mark’s Bookshop.

The Strand is the neighborhood giant, of course, and one of the largest bookstores in the world in terms of miles of shelving. Usually crowded, always hard to navigate thanks to crowd-sourced aisle dithering, it’s the place to find relatively new books heavily discounted as well as cheap used editions. The Strand has been easier to access since surveillance cameras took over from the bag check (like only people with large bags can steal books) and the store’s website, unlike aspects of the store itself, is a model of user-friendliness.

Alabaster Bookshop exists in the shadow of The Strand. It’s a small storefront on Fourth Avenue and like Mast Books it reflects its owner’s interests: art books, well-chosen paperback fiction and what we used to call “belles lettres.” I once passed on a memoir of the tragic downtown street poet Max Bodenheim here and have never forgiven myself. (If Alabaster has a website, which I doubt, I can’t find it.)

The other store on my circuit, briefly mentioned in Brendan’s article, is East Village Books on St Mark’s Place. I actually donate almost as many books here as I buy. Not that I dispose of books; no, what I do is absent-mindedly buy second copies of volumes I already have, and it’s these which I deposit in the charity book donor box outside the store’s front door. There’s a specialism here in cult authors like John Fante, but I visit mainly for very well-priced used paperbacks and the occasional quirky choice from the alternative-radical-bohemian section it calls “Anti-This Establishment.”

What have I forgotten and where do you buy your books? Let us know in the comments below.