Be Independent in Your Summer Reading
Summer is just around the corner. With it comes a hallmark of the season as reliable as the warm weather and long days: the summer reading list. Everyone from Oprah to The New York Times Book Review editors weigh in on which titles you should peruse this season, but consider making your own discoveries at some of the city’s bookstores, most of which cover the top-sellers and also have their own quirky preferences.
Whether you want a light beach read or finally have the time to delve into “Ulysses,” avoid the glare of an electronic reader and throw an actual book in your bag. Besides, technology and sand don’t mix.
Here our picks for local bookstores worth a visit.
126 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Open seven days a week.
Beloved by both the hipsters and the moms with babies on their hips, WORD in Greenpoint proves that the small can be mighty. In spite of limited square footage, the store offers a well-curated collection. They specialize in paperback fiction, narrative non-fiction and cookbooks. WORD also loves the indie press. The store carries a respectable collection of titles from publishers such as Europa and Unbridled and is hosting a summer book club with only books from independent publishers. Some people even find love among WORD’s book stacks. The store has a board where singles can post literary-themed personal ads.
Good for: Indie reads or making a love connection
163 Court Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Open seven days a week.
Book Court’s owners must be doing something right. The store, which opened in 1981, has not only survived the onslaught of the big box book store and the e-reader, it actually expanded during that time. There’s lot of space for everything here, including up-close-and-personal events with authors who reliably sell out venues like the Highline Ballroom and the 92nd Street Y. Past highlights have included Chuck Kolsterman, Lou Reed and Miranda July. Colson Whitehead is on tap for July. Book Court also has a long-standing policy of offering best-sellers at 30 percent off the retail price on a rotating basis.
Good for: Picking up the newest best-seller at a low price, free events with authors you’d normally pay a pretty penny to see.
123 Columbia Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Weekends only.
Customers describe the Freebird experience as similar to hanging out in a friend’s living room – if your friend is a bibliophile with a penchant for New York City or the end of the world. The store carries mostly used reads and owner Peter Miller says he has one of the largest collections of books on New York in the city. Miller is also the founder and host of the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club. The idea started as a joke. Four years later, it’s still going strong with members analyzing books like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Stephen King’s “The Stand” at monthly meetings.
Good for: Books on New York City; the backyard where you can read and pretend you’re on vacation.
Other great choices in Brooklyn:
Park Slope: The Community Bookstore: 143 Seventh Avenue in Park Slope.
Greenlight Bookstore: 686 Fulton Street in Fort Greene.
Boulevard Books and Café: 7518 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights.
12 West 19th Street, Manhattan, or 249 Warren Street, Brooklyn. Open seven days a week.
Stocked with books about other countries, Idlewild Books is appropriately named after the original name of John F. Kennedy International Airport, which was called Idlewild Airport until 1963. To add an element of serendipity, Idlewild organizes its shelves of fiction and non-fiction titles by locale. You may find E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View” next to a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. The store also plays host to conversational language classes in French, Spanish and Italian at both the Manhattan and the new Brooklyn location.
Good for: Reading up on that exotic place where you’ll be spending your vacation or at least helping you pretend you’re there.
Grand Central Station, East Terminal, Manhattan. Open seven days a week.
I read the first two books of the Harry Potter series in poorly understood Spanish; not by choice. I forgot to pack books for my vacation and had to make a last minute purchase in the international terminal of the airport. If you’re forgetful like me, Posman Books in Grand Central Station could be your saving grace. They carry best-sellers, a good selection of fiction and a well-curated collection of non-fiction titles, all of which you can pick up while you’re waiting for your train to some countryside getaway in Connecticut or for your commute.
Good for: Grabbing a good read on the go. Posman also has shops in Chelsea Market on Ninth Avenue and at Rockefeller Center.
Other great choices in Manhattan:
The Strand Book Store: Broadway and 12th Street in the East Village
Book Book: 266 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village
Three Lives & Company: 154 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village
536 West 112th Street or 2915 Broadway in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. Open seven days a week.
Book Culture is actually two book stores rolled into one. The 112th Street location, formally Labyrinth Books, carries more academically-oriented works. The first floor is made up of all new publications, organized by subject matter. What many people don’t know is that Book Culture’s owners also opened a general book store around the corner on 114th Street. This location has an especially large children’s section. With one trip uptown, you can satisfy the reading needs of everyone in the family.
Good for: Finding something a bit more challenging than the average beach read or a great kids book
4157 Broadway in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Open seven days a week.
Call it the little book store that could. Word Up was the brainchild of Veronica Liu, a Washington Heights resident who wanted a book store in her community. She approached the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance about creating a pop-up book sale during its annual Uptown Arts Stroll. Local residents loved having a local book store so much that they fought to keep it at the end of the festival. Word Up is about to celebrate its first anniversary thanks to lots of fund-raising and donations. In order to keep costs down, the store is run by a collective of volunteers and most of the books are donated. The selection can be erratic, but the friendly staff is more than happy to help customers find something interesting among the stacks. Word Up also has a packed roster of events that keeps the store buzzing every night of the week.
Good for: The thrill of discovery. You never know which book you’ll find on the shelf or who you might run into here. Past guest readers have included Junot Diaz and Julia Alvarez.
Other great choices in Uptown Manhattan
Hue-man Bookstore & Café: 2319 Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem, Manhattan.
La Casa Azul: 143 E. 103rd Street in East Harlem, Manhattan
39-15 Bell Boulevard in Bayside, Queens. Closed Sunday.
One of the few independent booksellers in Queens, Turn the Page Again gets rave reviews for its customer service. The store sells used books priced between one and five dollars. One reviewer noted that the selection tends to the mainstream, but most locals are just excited to have a book store nearby, complete with a sitting area and coffee. The shop is run by Transitional Service for New York and provides job training for people who have struggled with mental illness.
Good for: Bargain hunting.