Monday, September 27, 2010

18 Miles of Books

A few mornings ago, I was talking on the phone with a friend and planning an initial excursion into New York City. I've been in Newark for more than a month now, and I decided that it was about time that I went into the City and loafed around for a while. My friend mentioned the Strand: "I see people in D.C. all the time who have Strand tote bags. 16 miles of books! It sounds like your sort of place."

"I thought it was 15 miles of books."

"I'm pretty sure," she said, "that it's 16 miles."

Well, we were both wrong: the Strand has been--and is still--expanding. It's a bookstore I've wanted to go to for a few years; I still can't forgive myself for missing City Lights when I was in San Fran a few years back, and the Strand bags I've seen on-campus at Susquehanna and Bucknell were walking advertisements for this bookstore. When I arrived at the Strand's location, 828 Broadway, near Union Square, I immediately noticed that the number on the Strand's awning, which announces the miles of books in a white sans serif font, offered the verdict on the collection: 18 miles.

Notably, the "8" was slightly translucent and almost masked a "6." I couldn't see if there was another layer underneath that, the possibility of the "6" disguising a "5."

In a time when a lot of bookstores are experiencing troubles and either closing down or catering to electronic market, the Strand stands a testament to the existence of book lovers everywhere. It's more than a tourist attraction: it's four floors of books, containing titles from university presses, indie presses, and mainstream publishers alike. And the Strand handles used and collectible books, as well.

One search I always perform in bookstores is the quick glance for books by my past instructors. The short version: successful on all counts, even academic monographs.

It's difficult to amble through the Strand--the shelves are stacked and leave only narrow walkways between them. There was a girl nestled against the shelves in one of the fiction aisles, and I had the somewhat awkward experience of towering over her on a stepladder as she swaddled herself with a scarf and, cramped in her corner, continued to read despite the hordes kindly elbowing each other for access to the stacks.

But this girl and I were the oddballs in that we were exploring the Strand alone; most of the patrons were accompanied by a friend, a lover, a partner, with whom they investigated the many stacks.

Books may not always be the dominant media for reading. I certainly have no problem with the e-reader revolution (Moby Dick or Ulysses on the Kindle, for instance, is infinitely more portable than their ink-and-paper counterparts), but we still live in the cult of the book: a society in which a tote bag becomes a universal advertisement as easily recognizable as a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. And there's something about the physical object itself that unites people--as friends, as readers.

1 comment:

  1. I can't even fathom 18 miles of books. I think I'd be staring in utter awe if I ever saw it.

    Give me paper books any day. I doubt I'd ever get any sort of ereader. There's just something about the weight of a book and the feel of paper that makes the words on the page that much more real.

    -Anon (although not really because you can probably guess)