Friday, November 07, 2008

Remembering Book Row

No comparable substitute has developed [to New York City’s Book Row], no, not even in cyberspace or those overpopulated Internet burbs. Thanks to the broadband interests and proud diversity of the booksellers there, on Book Row there wasn't just a book for every need, mood or taste. Often there was a whole section of applicable books or even an entire bookstore for every taste, mood, need. The variety, independence and heterogeneity of the dealers and their books made Book Row a haven for reading and collecting diversity where Vive la difference meant three cheers for nonconformity. In their place have come drearily homogenized chain stores, a global electronic whirlpool erratically accessible mainly to persistent onliners with superhuman patience for slogging through vast swamps of World Wide Web distractions, and a wistfully few widely scattered individual bookshop survivors.
From Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade by Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador (2003).

The only survivor of the many used bookstores that once populated Book Row in New York City appears to be the Strand Bookstore.


Inkling said...

Book Row would be a deathly vortex for me. I would be sucked in and never return. Just a trip to a chain store is painful, because I will never, ever be able to buy all the books I wish I could buy, and I leave feeling gorged and empty at the same time. And that's just at Border's--not mentioning independents.

Mrs. Sinta said...

Have you visited Powell's Portland?

Muley said...

Inkling -- I know the feeling. I can visit just ONE used bookstore, like Half Price Books (about all we have here of any note) and easily spend four hours browsing and buying. My wife is mystified by this behavior ("How can you spend FOUR HOURS looking at books?") but she has grown used to my addiction.

I would imagine that if the old Book Row existed still, and I made a vacation trip to NYC, I would be in danger of forgetting to take the kids to Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, etc., and instead spending days going from store to store.

We don't have Borders here in Waco -- just Barnes & Noble, which luckily is fairly small. Otherwise, I'd be spending way too much time there.

Mrs. Sinta -- One of my life goals is to visit Powell's in Portland, after reading articles for years describing it as the Valhalla of Bookland. I once was in Chicago and had the chance to visit a Powell's branch store there for about 30 minutes, but I decided that all a visit that short would do was get me interested and then leave me wanting, so I skipped the chance.

Bee Repartee said...

I'd say that Powell's Books rivals book row. Mr Coffee and I go to Powell's about once a month. You could spend a whole day there.

By the way, when Emm@ S0metimes disappeared, it's rumored she may *bee* emerging under another name, I'm just saying...

Lisanne! said...

In its heyday one could spend weeks on Book Row and make little more than dent in it. Unfortunately I missed that, but even in 1969 there were almost a score of bookstores along both 4th Avenue and Broadway.

Sadly, The Strand is the sole survivor. They survived because they weren't afraid to grow and innovate. And yet they still maintain the same craziness of the smaller stores which were the charm of the old book district.