#8: New York—A Booklover’s Dream Pt. 1

#8: New York—A Booklover’s Dream Pt. 1

Hello fellow booklovers! Just returned from a fantastic trip to NYC for the New Yorker Festival and a tour of independent bookstores. I didn’t want to give any part of this trip short shrift, so I decided to make this a two-part post.

Check out my new section, “Bookbits”, for news about highlights and happenings at bookstores as I come across them. As always, thanks for reading!


The excitement builds!

On Saturday, October 12, we had the extreme pleasure of seeing Michael Chabon interviewed by Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor of The New Yorker.

Chabon has written some of my favorite books, many of which I’ve re-read several times. He was witty, engaging, candid and offered a great glimpse behind the thought processes of his writing. The books covered in the interview included:

  • Wonder Boys (made into a great film in 2000 starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.).
  • Telegraph Avenue
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Pulitzer Prize Winner, 2001)
  • Moonglow

One of the highlights of the talk was the discussion of “Moonglow”, which takes as its subject the popularity and authenticity of memoirs. “Moonglow” purports to be a family story, in which a novelist called Michael Chabon visits his dying grandfather and listens as a heavy dose of painkillers “brings its soft hammer to bear on his habit of silence”.

In the book, Chabon states that liberties have been taken “with due abandon”; facts have been warped to fit “the truth as I prefer to understand it”. As Chabon’s book incorporates other events from the life of its protagonist – his childhood obsession with a glamorous bearded lady; his marriage to a French concentration-camp survivor tormented by terrifying visions of a creature called the Skinless Horse – it becomes clear that this story about the writer and his family is far more novel than memoir.

As opposed to “A Million Little Pieces”, Chabon said, “I could have put the word memoir on it,” Chabon continues. “I could have left the word novel off the title page. Not included the author’s note. Taken away all the cues and clues and reminders to the reader that this is a work of fiction, and just put the book out.” I think this is why “Moonglow” is such a tantalizing read.

Toward the end of the interview, he also revealed to my surprise that he is now the showrunner of the newest Star Trek series, “Star Trek: Picard”.

Star Trek has been an important part of my way of thinking about the world, the future, human nature, storytelling and myself since I was ten years old,” said Chabon, “I come to work every day in a state of joy and awe at having been entrusted with the character and the world of Jean-Luc Picard, with this vibrant strand of the rich, intricate and complex tapestry that is Trek.”

From Deadline

Although Patrick Stewart had vowed never to play a ship’s captain again, he agreed to reprise his role as Jean-Luc Picard, this time 20 years after the events covered in Star Trek: Nemesis.

This isn’t the first time that Chabon has crossed over from his successful novel-writing life into the role of screenwriter and teleplay writer. He’s worked on projects like Spider-Man 2, John Carter, and the upcoming Netflix television series Unbelievable, which he worked on with his wife and fellow writer Ayelet Waldman.



So far, I’ve only read two books by Orlean, “The Orchid Thief” and her most recent, “The Library Book”. However, those two books were so mesmerizing, carefully researched and well-written that I knew I had to get tickets for her talk. And she did not disappoint! She spoke about many aspects of “The Library Book” and then took questions; I asked a question about the book’s design, which is so striking that it has been asked about previously in other talks:

“One interesting question from the crowd prompted Orlean to discuss the thought process behind the beautiful red and deckle-edged book. “I didn’t want a dust jacket. I didn’t want anything between you [the reader] and the book,” Orlean said. With a classic sort of design with a textured red cover and gold lettering and icon detail on the cover and spine, there’s no doubt the book is a beautiful story wrapped up in a beautiful object. The endpapers are a fun nod to libraries, too, with a printed image of a circulation card and a few Easter egg names on it. It’s absolutely a design to be proud of.”


Orlean spoke about how she first learned about the Los Angeles Public Library fire. The fire was disastrous: it reached two thousand degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. The story of the reclamation efforts alone is worth reading!

She detailed her extensive (and years long) research into its aftermath to showcase the large, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. The book delves into the evolution of libraries; brings each department of the library to vivid life; studies arson and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. She also spoke very thoughfully about attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; she could not bring herself to do it at first. Then her husband brought home a copy of  “Fahrenheit 451” which she eventually does burn and is stunned and saddened by how quickly a book can catch fire and disappear.


116 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022

Argosy Book Store, founded in 1925, is now in its third generation of family ownership. Their enormous stock of antiquarian and out-of-print items fills a six-floor building in midtown Manhattan and a large warehouse in Brooklyn. Luckily, they have one of those marvelous old-fashioned grille-door elevators that (just barely) fits two people, plus an operator.

At the Argosy I restricted myself to their polar history and exploration/travel sections. Polar history is an obsession of mine; I have over 200 books on the subject (this will be the subject of multiple future blog posts.). They had a marvelous selection but I was on a budget; I selected five hardcover books to be shipped home and then checked out the Maps and Drawings floor. They have artefacts from every time period, place and subject you could imagine.

Truthfully, I could have spent my entire time in New York at the Argosy but other stores were calling my name. Do NOT miss this store whenever you’re in Manhattan!

58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007

Opened in 1979 by Otto Penzler, The Mysterious Bookshop is the oldest mystery specialist book store in America. Previously located in midtown, the bookshop now calls Tribeca its home. The Mysterious specializes in mystery fiction and all its subgenres, including detective, crime, hardboiled, thrillers, espionage, and suspense.

Since I’ve been entranced with British and Scandinavian mysteries for over 30 years, this place was a treasure trove! Although I thought I already had a pretty good collection of “Nordic Noir” at home (I’ve dedicated three blog posts to the genre) I ended up buying SIX Scandinavian mystery books to add to the collection! This store is a MUST for any mystery lover and also has some great merchandise. (I’m about halfway through “Snare” and it’s hard to put down; it’s part one of a trilogy by Lilja Sigurdardóttir.)


Downtown Location: 18 West 18th St. New York NY 10011
Uptown Location: 217 West 84th St. New York NY 10024

Books of Wonder is New York City’s premier store for children’s books. Founded in 1980, the store has locations in both Chelsea and the Upper West Side. Books of Wonder features a carefully curated selection of the finest books currently available for young readers as well as vintage, old, rare, and collectible editions for collectors and those looking for long lost treasures. There is also a gallery of original children’s book art and limited edition prints. 

I came here looking for a particular childhood favorite, “Black and Blue Magic” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and I was not disappointed. I have been re-collecting some of my favorite childhood books and this was one of the last ones to complete the collection. This is obviously a great store for parents, young adults and kids and is very welcoming and friendly.

Well, that concludes part one of “New York—A Booklover’s Dream”. I hope you enjoyed it and as always, I welcome your comments and questions. Stay tuned for part two, which will feature the following bookstores:

  • Book Culture
  • RIzzoli Books
  • Idlewild Books and Language Center

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