New York offers more than expected to all its visitors who come here from every corner of the world, no matter the reason they are visiting this major city. However, the treasures that lie waiting booklovers in New York are not well known. This most famous of cities offers an alternative and fascinating tour not only with its well-known locations, but also with magnificent libraries, thematic bookshops, secondhand bookshops, bookstore/cafés, and parks.
Manhattan is like a crystal ball. It shows you whatever you want to see: if your passion is shopping, it is a giant shopping center; if you are an art lover, this is a city of museums –it is nearly impossible to visit them all. If you are a gourmet, this is a center for food, where the variety of flavors never ends. If you are a booklover, this is an island that is essentially an endless library. Even though the book treasures on offer do not come to the fore in the guidebooks, New York is in the top three of the world’s book-loving cities. If Cicero, who said “If you have a garden and a library, then you have everything you need,” had come to Manhattan he would have said “This is what I meant.”
As we are going to set our route according to books, let’s set out taking a novel as the setting for our route. Disembarking from the train at Grand Central Station, we look up at the giant dome which is reminiscent of the sky and the walls in this stunning 150-year-old station; imagine that we start to walk with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. Leaving the station, we go west on 41st Street. Please look in front; we are walking along the famous Library Way.
You can read the inspiring words of famous thinkers and writers… As we come to the final maxim in the pavement, lift your head. You are standing right in front of New York Public Library with its stunning architecture. There is a lion waiting on each side of the enchanting entrance to the building, which looks like a palace. We are at the door of a living palace, every corner of which relates a different story. Greet the two lions, Patience and Fortitude, who stand at the entrance to the building and are believed to protect the library, and let’s proceed inside.
Our first stop is the Rose Main Reading Room. It is only natural that it will be hard to tear your gaze from the ostentatious ceiling, from the decoration that makes you feel as if you are in a museum dedicated to the books that wrap the room for 90 meters. In this room, which has been a haven for writers, researchers, and students for over a 100 years, there are 10 million books in 430 languages and research material numbering 43 million items.
If you are touring with someone who is under the age of 15, you should go to the lower floor of the library. The lower floor of NYPL is the most comprehensive children’s library in the world. Anne Carrol Moore, the first children’s librarian, established the first children’s library here; there are over 100,000 children’s books of every genre in this room. Moreover, at certain hours, story workshops for children aged 0-12 are held. These are open to everybody and free of charge. Now it is time for a book-coffee break in Bryant Park, which is the backyard of NYPL. If you are not a member of the library, you cannot check out a book; however, you can purchase any book you want from the library bookshop by the main entrance. Perhaps you will also buy a few booklovers’ souvenirs, a bag or a T-shirt.
From Hotel Library to Museum Library
Leaving NYPL behind, let’s walk along Madison Avenue. On your left you will see the Library Hotel, which is a dream hotel for booklovers. Library Hotel, as its name suggests, has been arranged like a library. All the rooms have been designed according to the Dewey Decimal System, the most common classification system for libraries. Every room of the 60-room hotel has a Dewey name. For example, Room 1100.006 is Love; the library in the room has been designed like a library’s section on love. Even if you are not staying in this hotel, every detail of which from the hooks to the pillows has been designed to feel like a library, do not miss the chance to have a coffee on the terrace aptly named Bookend.
Leaving Library Hotel behind, we walk south on Madison Avenue; after a few blocks we see the Morgan Library on our right. This is a library museum. The building, built by the world-famous banker J.P. Morgan as a private library 120 years ago, was donated to the city by Morgan’s son. When you go in, you start a journey that takes you back 100 years. The ceilings of the building, reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel, the shelves of manuscripts, the rare books, the collections worth a fortune… This is a magnificent building that leaves one breathless. The Morgan is a great place to take a trip in time from when only the wealthy could own books to today, when you can buy a book for the price of a hamburger.
Legendary Bookshops of Downtown Manhattan
Let’s walk south down Madison Avenue. After passing Madison Square Park there is a bookshop that cannot be overlooked by lovers of children’s literature: Books of Wonder. Be prepared to turn back time in this bookshop, which for 40 years has sold only children’s books. Now, let’s continue south. After crossing through Union Square Park, we hit Broadway. The 100-year-old legendary Strand bookshop, which according to a number of bookworms is the best bookshop in the world, is to the south. The five-story Strand holds a million books; if you were to place all the books in the Strand side by side, they would stretch for 27 kilometers. Here they sell both secondhand books and manuscripts, as well as rare books and new books; it would take days to examine all the books on the shelves of this treasure trove. A shop that sells $1 books under the same roof as $10,000 books is truly a rare thing.
If you can manage to tear yourself away from the Strand, head towards the Jefferson Market Library, one block away. This building, which from the outside looks like a palace that has escaped from a fairy tale, is a branch of the New York Public Library. It used to be a courthouse and has been witness to many fascinating events; it serves as one of the most peaceful locations in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. It is hard to describe the pleasure of reading a book under the high ceilings, sitting by the huge windows that overlook the garden. There is a children’s book section that will satisfy those who are interested in children’s literature.
As we are close by, let’s stop at two independent booksellers in the West Village: Idlewild, which only sells travel books, and Three Lives & Co, which boasts a well-read staff and makes you feel as if you are in a library that is full of philanthropic librarians rather than in a bookshop.
Washington Square Park, where you can read among giant trees, perhaps to the accompaniment of live jazz music, is only a few blocks away.
After you leave the park
there is a bookshop café where you will feel like the character out of a
television series: Housing Works Bookstore. The spiral stairs rise up between
the bookshelves, which stretch to the ceiling, and the secondhand books are
steeped in the scent of coffee. You can find a copy of a book by your favorite
author, printed 40 years ago for just 50 cents -nothing could be better for a
booklover. For those who love mystery books, the Mysterious Bookshop is close
by. This location, which sells only mystery books, houses specially printed
Towards Literary Walk
It’s time to cross Central Park. But first let’s visit two magnificent bookshops on the Upper West Side and get our provisions ready. Let’s start with the Columbus branch of Book Culture, an important independent New York bookshop. The upper floor is for adults, and the lower floor for children; the children’s section is a charming area where your children can really enjoy themselves. For those who say “I’m not interested in children’s literature, I want to inhale the scent of old books, I want to turn pages and travel back in time,” head to Westsider Books. Every millimeter of this small bookshop is crammed with secondhand books. It is a place that is difficult to leave. Now, we have two choices for where to read our books. The first place is the route through Central Park that is known as Literary Walk. While walking down this route you can greet the statues of several writers and poets, and you can sit on the grass and indulge in your book in peace. Perhaps you would like to wait until the evening and watch a free play as part of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater. Your second choice is the Cloister, with its medieval-style architecture and artwork. This museum, which is affiliated with the Metropolitan Museum, gives you a chance to feel that you are not a tourist reading a book in the middle of Manhattan, but rather a poet living in medieval times. Or, as Cicero said, you will feel as if you have all that you need in this world.