A Bookstore Tour of Brooklyn

Is there a city that can boast a higher concentration of bookstores than dear old New York? My guess is no, though I don't have the data to back up that claim; when I asked Twitter for recommendations on not-to-be-missed stores in NYC in preparation for my most recent visit to the city that never stops reading, I was inundated with suggestions.

The Strand is an obvious choice, but a store I frequented when I lived in NYC (considering that I walked past the store's entrance on my way to and from class every day, it is astounding that I couldn't boast 13 miles of books myself before my move). Housing Works was already on the list, and though I can't rightly use the word "frequent" to describe my relationship with the place, I have been there--which is more than I could say, sadly, for any of the indies in Brooklyn.

And oh my, how many there are in that fine borough! In an effort to visit as much as possible in just one day, I focused on three that could be tackled in one afternoon on foot: Book Court, Greenlight, and Community. Armed with the conversation of a good friend (and her handy-dandy ability to always know where she is and how to get where she is going without a map), a cup of coffee, and an empty tote bag, I set off to explore Brooklyn's indie bookstores--which did not disappoint.

The three stores are remarkably different; Book Court feels open and spacious, with shelves pressed against perfectly reasonable, rectangular rooms. Greenlight is well-lit by a bank of windows in the front, but unlike Book Court, oddly placed shelves in the middle of the room turn an evenly-shaped space into an odd one. Community is dark and long, with black bookcases instead of white and a yawning bookstore cat to top it off. All three are alive with the hum of books well-loved, shelves well-stocked, and booksellers well-read.

How is it that the promising shelf of bestsellers at Book Court can lead us to believe that print is anything but alive and well? Or that we can face the shelves of Europa editions and NYRB titles at Community without feeling that our own collections of these darling books are insufficient? How can we see the children's room tucked into the back of Greenlight and wonder if our next generations will grow to love books as much as we do?

It is easy to sit behind a computer screen and ponder the death of the book, predict the rise of the e-reader, and bemoan the loss of our local bookstores. But in the heart of Brooklyn, where three bookstores thrive within a three-mile radius, "books" and "dead" can scarcely be used in the same sentence, unless it be to discuss The Book of Dead Philosophers

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Books purchased:

Object Lessons, a collection of short stories from The Paris Review
Birds of a Lesser Paradise, by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Stoner, by John Williams
The Tenth of December, by George Saunders  

9 comments

  1. This is such a great post. Thoroughly enjoyed your descriptions of these, as I've never visited any of them.

    I'm also super intrigued by that book over in your "reading" column - The Mapmaker's War. Gorgeous cover, and I can't wait to see what it's about.

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    1. Oooh, The Mapmaker's War was excellent! Review will be coming in Shelf Awareness in March (it doesn't pub until Mar 5), and I will share again here once it's run.

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  2. I love this post! You are so right. I make a point to visit as many indie stores as I can while travelling and am ashamed to say I haven't been to a single book shop in NYC! The horror. I'm definitely making sure I see these when visiting.
    I love the area for children, especially when the little ones visiting are just excited about getting new books as I am. It also brings back good memories of the trips to bookstores and the library that I took as a child.
    Thanks for showcasing these! I'll let you know how it goes. I've started a series of bookshops in other states since I've been making a point to travel more. I'll link over to this post the next time I have one up!

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  4. I love this post. The last time I was in NYC I stayed with a friend in Brooklyn and we went to the Community bookstore. It was just a lovely day.

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  5. Now I have a list of stores I'm going to need to check out. It's hard to pull yourself away from Strand though.

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  7. you spelled BookCourt incorrectly. it's one word.

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