Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes. For me, happiness comes in the form of a book. Combine 2.5 million used, new and rare books then place them all in one store in Manhattan, and you pretty much have what I imagine Heaven to be like, provided I have money to spend.
I am talking, of course, about Strand, the only bookstore left of the famous “Book Row” that existed in the earlier 1900s. Book Row was comprised of 48 bookstores spread across six city blocks. Strand bookstore, founded by Ben Bass, became part of Book Row in 1927, and is the only remaining store today.
Strand was born out of history and love for literature. The name itself comes from an iconic street in England where writers and publishers lived and worked. Furthermore, Bass was so passionate about literature and so determined to create a place for readers and writers to congregate that he took his entire savings of $300 an borrowed another $300 from a friend to create a magical place where, “books could be loved, and book lovers could congregate.”
I find myself lost in their bookshelves more often than I would like to admit. With shelves reaching 10 ft. high and books expanding in every direction, it is easy to spend an afternoon, or in my case Saturday morning, lost in the expansiveness of literature seemingly pouring from the walls.
I always come with a list prepared, because yes, I do keep a list of books I want to read; books that someone has either recommended to me or books I have seen in the media often make my list. It is important for me to have multiple books on this list, because Strand is a used bookstore and it is likely that they might not have the book I am so desperately searching for amongst its collection. But, for me, the search is part of the magic. Nothing excites me more than that initial jolt when I find a book I have been searching for.
The search begins with a quick browse of the newer books, AKA books I cannot afford. I stare at the covers and mentally write them down on my list of books to read in the future. Then I return to my real life list and try to focus, which is easier said than done.
In the back of the store on the first floor lies my favorite section, fiction. The fiction section is alphabetized, but that doesn’t make it easy to navigate. With so many books, authors and titles, it is easy to lose your spot, become distracted, and forget what book you were searching for in the first place. This often happens to me. I start looking for one book, see an author that I recognize, and immediately reach for the previously unknown title.
Actually, this happens to me all the time.
During my most recent visit, this became an overwhelming problem. I put the book amongst my already hearty collection and continued to browse. After about an hour I realized I was holding six books, and I only brought $20 to spend (because budget). Needless to say, I had some thinking to do.
As I tried to decide which books to purchase and which to hide, I walked around in an attempt to find a better deal than the books I already had or a magical $20 bill. Either would have been appreciated, but I knew the former was more likely.
Titles jumped out at me and synopsizes drummed in my head. I thought about what books I really wanted to read, and what books I just picked up because they looked good in the moment. Unfortunately, those were one in the same. Thankfully, Strand is expansive enough that I could wander around for a while and kill immeasurable amounts of time that I didn’t really have.
I soon found out, this was dangerous. Not only did I discover a Hemingway novel I had yet to own, I also realized there was a collection of travel writing essays I had been dying to purchase for quite some time.
I told myself it wasn’t likely that Strand would have them, but then I realized Strand had everything. So, with a mix of renewed hope and dread over the fact that I really was going to be over my budget, I descended the stairs toward the nonfiction, essays and education sections.
At first it was difficult to find where the travel books might be. There were sections designated to literary essays, memoirs, math, biology, chemistry, journalism, writing and any other subject you can think of. I browsed the literary essays and found, “Collection of Best Travel Writings 2014.” My spirits flew up and then down as I saw the price tag. Dang.
“But,” I thought, “if they have the 2014 edition then they likely have previous editions, and those are probably cheaper.” Luckily, I was right.
After a few more minutes of tedious searching, I found my calling; the travel section, i.e. the section I one day dream of being published in. I found the cheapest copy, which happened to be 2003 and the biggest, and I added it to my collection of now eight books.
I stood there with my books and pondered what to do. I realized I was running out of time and really needed to make a decision. Eventually I settled my decision with logic; I decided to buy the cheapest books, because then I could buy three of them instead of two. I’m a genius. I know.
I smugly smiled to myself as I hid the remaining five books on the bottom shelf in a row of banned books, committing to come back in two weeks when I got paid again. I headed to the register with my spirits soaring at the cleverness I displayed, until I looked at my phone and realized I was 15 minutes late for a brunch date with my friends.
Normally timely, I tried to shrug it off. I paid for my books, which turned out to be $22.50, so only a little over budget… no big deal. Strand was definitely worth a little tardiness the cost. I mean, it was created for book lovers just like me to get lost in, so I shouldn’t chastise myself for contributing to the store’s purpose.
Strand is definitely a blessing to those who love reading and it’s no surprise that it’s still around after all these years. Hopefully it will be around for many more to come.