18 miles and… nothing?!

Posted on | April 18, 2011 | 13 Comments

I’m back from NYC, and I had a great time. Worked hard, partied hard, read little. The guys I work with were on a mission to ensure I missed at least one of my half-seven meetings after a night out. Much to their dismay, they didn’t succeed. I didn’t do any sightseeing whatsoever, barring a couple of early morning runs at Central Park – not sure that counts though? However, on the Sunday that I landed, I did make my way to the Strand Bookstore: “18 miles of books”.

Image taken from http://www.strandbooks.com/

I love books, I love bookstores, and the thought of eighteen miles of books was more than a little appealing. I half-thought I’d go crazy and buy half the store. As I approached the store, I told myself, “you will not spend more then $50 here,” and I was quite uncertain as to whether I’d be able  to stick to that resolve.

Before entering the store, I scoped the outside, where loads of secondhand books were stacked, but in no order or categorisation. I tried looking through them to find something, and considering there were about a few thousand books there, I thought finding three to four books to read would be easy – but nope! No such joy. The books were literally just dumped there, and while they were only $1 each, I just couldn’t find anything even remotely interesting. Guess part of the charm is to search through loads and loads of books to find the gems, but…. I don’t know.

Anyway, I strolled inside, thinking that I’d have more luck with books. Immediately, I was overwhelmed. The shelves were stacked from floor to the ceiling, and it was just – wow!

I started browsing, just enjoying myself in this apparent book-lover’s haven. However, the whole place was a little strange, as in, the popular fiction books had tables devoted to them – completely random. The tables were called “Fiction-I”, “Fiction-II” etc. and they were books that the store recommended (presumably). However, again, it was just idly scattered as in, it wasn’t done by author or genre or anything. They did, however, have a “Best of the best” section, which I quite liked.

I picked up a couple of books and thumbed through them, only to be slightly turned off by the quality of the books. I now understand what Hanff meant in 84 Charing Cross Road, when she said that the books in New York felt cheap and not as beautiful as the books across the pond. I was carrying The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay at the time, and I picked up the same paperback at the store. While the number of pages were the same, the book was significantly thinner than my edition. It felt as though the pages would rip the minute I started turning them – does anyone feel the same way about American paperbacks? Or, is it just me?

What really got me going, though, was this beautiful edition of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber that they had sitting on one of their fiction tables.

I already have two editions of this book: one sent to me by Claire in March last year, and one I found in a second-hand bookstore a couple of months later, which featured the cover art of Roxanne Bikadoroff. Anyway, I couldn’t justify buying a third edition of this book, so I asked one of the employees if they had any other books by Angela Carter – and I just got a brusque “if it’s not on the table, then no”. Fair enough – other than the fact that about ten minutes later, I did find some more books by her – none in this kind-of edition though. :(

Ideally, people who work in book shops should be book lovers, but I didn’t think that was the case here. Even the brand new books (full-priced books) weren’t kept well. I almost bought Maus, but all six copies they had were torn – and they were all at full price. And when I say torn, I don’t mean a slight crease at the edges. Parts of the cover of the book were definitely detached from the book itself, and unfortunately, in my little world, that’s not okay!

I eventually did buy two books, just because it would be wrong to leave a bookstore that overwhelming empty-handed, but all in all, I was slightly disappointed by the experience. I love going to Foyles in London {Charing Cross Road}, because they have an amazing collection, but more importantly, each time I go to pay, I end up chatting with the cashiers about my purchases or/and request them to recommend some of their favourites to me. It’s the same with the two Waterstones I frequent.

How about you? Do you have any such illusions about bookstores? Do you have a favourite store which you visit more for the experience than for the actual books? And am I just being idealistic and silly?


13 Responses to “18 miles and… nothing?!”

  1. She
    April 18th, 2011 @ 2:12 am

    I’ve never been to The Strand, but that stinks about your experience. People who work in bookstores should be book lovers and treat the books their selling that way. No torn covers!

  2. JoAnn
    April 18th, 2011 @ 3:12 am

    The Strand is an experience! It’s huge, overwhelming, and (in my opinion) a little disorganized. Last summer, it was hot and claustrophobic as well. I didn’t ask sales staff for help and went in without having specific books in mind. My purchases were all purely impulse and serendipitous …. and I think that may have been the best way to approach it.

  3. Jodie
    April 18th, 2011 @ 9:59 am

    I wish I did but we’re book shop poor in my area of the country. Waterstones is fine, although the one nearest me now plays pop music while you browse (no) but the one in the city is lovely, huge and cross references books so you can find them in all kinds of sections. It’s a shame that you had such high hopes and got not great results (that Angela Carter books is delicious, if only other books with tattoo style covers were available).

  4. Darlene
    April 18th, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    You’re not silly at all. It sounds like you would need a weekend long camp-out to search for treasure there.

    My favourite bookshops have creaky floors, book-mad sales staff and classical music playing softly in the background. Nicholas Hoare in Toronto and Hatchard’s in London fit the bill nicely.

  5. Thomas at My Porch
    April 19th, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

    My experiences at The Strand are similar. I rarely buy anything when I go there. I have never been able to really figure out why. But I often find it too crowded or difficult to really have fun browsing. And it is often too darn hot inside, even in the winter. I actually think though, that books these days in the US are better quality. At least the paper is. Many trade paperbacks in the UK seem to be using pulp paper which may be more environmental but sure doesn’t feel as nice on the fingers.

  6. Jeanie
    April 22nd, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    Had a very similar experience at The Strand except it also included pouring rain and people jammed in the aisles with umbrellas. If you’re ever in S California, come to Laguna Beach Books. Clean, well-oganized, stocked with fantastic books, and a very knowledgable and friendly staff. Let me know you’re coming and I’ll meet you there – I go every chance I get!

  7. Sarah
    April 22nd, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

    I don’t know… Eighteen miles of books? Sounds a little quantity over quality. Apart from the Angela Carter. Wow!

    My favourite book-shop is of the second-hand variety, run by a friend from the book group of which I am a member, and although the fiction section is small, it is pure quality. You can see why I like going there :)

    Sorry for your experience; seems like you might need to visit one of your favourite bookshops as consolation…

  8. anothercookiecrumbles
    April 24th, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    @She: I couldn’t agree more. I mean, if it was just about buying books, I’d be buying everything from Amazon. It’s about the experience of buying books in the store…

    @JoAnn: That’s how I intended on approaching it – seeing if there were any books that caught my fancy. It was sooo overwhelming though…

    @Jodie: Eek at pop songs while browsing. I think the one I normally visit has classical music in the background. I don’t think I’d be able to deal with pop music while browsing… I mean, just imagine Britney Spears in your head while you’re looking for some classics!!! I might have to look into buying the tattoo-styled covers from Amazon…

    @Darlene: I’ve never been to Hatchard here. Really must change that… Creaky floors and book-mad staff sounds about right! Sounds perfect, in fact.

    @Thomas At My Porch: Yeah, it was warm inside, and there were way too many people. Maybe that was my fault, as I’d gone on a Sunday afternoon?! Hm, can’t say I’ve noticed that… I was just comparing like for like, with Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but I’ll have a look – can’t think of any books I’ve bought recently, which uses pulp paper…. I guess if it’s good for the environment, it’s a good thing though? !

    @Jeanie: Ouch! That sounds worse than my experience… Haha, thanks! I was in SoCal back in January… damnit. Maybe if I make another trip in the autumn? It’s not decided yet… but yeah! Will definitely let you know if I ever go down to Laguna Beach Books… it sounds lovely.

    @Sarah: Argh! I’m not visiting any bookstores for a long long time. I might’ve gotten a little carried away in the recent past…. the book store you describe sounds good though. Quality over quantity, please… specially if it’s just for browsing, as opposed to knowing what you’re looking for and just wanting to purchase that.

  9. The Book Whisperer
    April 29th, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    I have been to NYC about 5 times in the last few years (I’m from the UK but I have family in NJ) and I have NEVER visited this bookshop! Inb fact I didn’t even know about it – I spent all my tome in B&N (which we don’t get over here). I MUST go to this shop next time. 18 miles of books? Sold!

  10. Books are my Boyfriends
    April 30th, 2011 @ 2:06 am

    I have such a soft spot in my heart for the Strand, whenever I visit NYC I always pop in and come out with a few books I had never heard of/usually end up loving to pieces. It is an overwhelming place, but that’s part of why I like it so much, for me the fun of the experience is wading through all those books and fishing around for something that looks A+ great. Also, yes, the quality of books in the UK is VASTLY superior to books in the US, as an American book-lover I will not even try to contest, I completely fold on that point.

  11. softdrink
    April 30th, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

    I’ve only been to The Strand once, and I did find it a bit haphazard. And I was surprised by how small of a building it was. I mean, 18 miles of books should be bigger, right? :-D If you’re ever in Portland, Oregon, you must visit Powells…it’s huge and there’s room to just camp out and pore over the books.

  12. anothercookiecrumbles
    April 30th, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

    @The Book Whisperer: Haha, you must! I’d love to know about your experiences there. :)

    @Books are my Boyfriends: Thanks for commenting here for the first time. Lucky you – I did pick out a couple of books as well, so hoping they’ll be amazing. Let’s see… I’m not sure if I’d go back, but again – we will see.

    @softdrink: Powell’s sounds good – bit like the Borders and B&N in LA, both of which I love. I know what you mean about the building seeming small – I’d love to have a personal library similar, i.e. with floor to ceiling shelves. I would have a little more order though…

  13. Ryu Murakami – 69 : another cookie crumbles
    June 22nd, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

    […] vibrant cover of this book caught my attention while I was drifting through eighteen miles of books in New York a couple of months ago, and I ended up purchasing it. In The Miso Soup and Piercing […]

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