Strand Bookstore: 18 miles of books

The Strand has 18 miles of bookshelves, some filled with new works, some filled with older books.

The Strand has 18 miles of bookshelves, some filled with new works, some filled with older books.

The first floor of the Strand is only the beginning. There are two more floors of all sorts of books.

The first floor of the Strand is only the beginning. There are two more floors of all sorts of books.

Get lost in the stacks…. The slogan on a tote bag at New York City’s Strand Bookstore means it. During a recent day away to New York City, one of our objectives was this gigantic bookstore filled with the newest bestsellers and some gorgeous old leather-bound tomes.

Doesn't the window display beckon the booklover in you to come inside?

Doesn’t the window display beckon the booklover in you to come inside?

It is said the bookstore just down the street from Union Square has 18 miles of books to peruse. It would have taken me more than a day to get through them all. There’s just so much to see, leaf through, read, desire, and buy. Want that new Amy Poehler book? Or a leatherbound copy of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby? Or a picture book or a child’s book? Maybe you want something used? A bargain? Or a rare book? Something written in Spanish — or Latin?

I found all of those here on three floors of stacks. The Strand came highly recommended. It was the reason one of my book-loving daughters was on the trip. The Strand, she said, was considered one of the best bookstores in the world — up there with book cathedrals in Italy, Portugal and Detroit.  So it wasn’t hard convincing the librarian, the teacher, the college student and the other bibliophiles among us. Off we went.

Fluorescent lights illumine shelf after shelf in the Strand.

Fluorescent lights illumine shelf after shelf in the Strand.

I lost track of time. I lost track of my traveling companions (and they, me!) I didn’t need a book. I wanted one. A special one to remind me of my visit to New York and to this bookstore. I wanted something I wasn’t going to find on Amazon. Or maybe I could have — but I wanted to look through the pages, feel the binding and admire the typography. You need to be inside a real bookstore to do that. That’s especially true if you’re looking for something special. I scanned the shelves of new books, used books, art books, photography coffee table books.

They don't make them like this anymore, do they?

They don’t make them like this anymore, do they?

So what did I take home? A slim volume of Handel's Messiah, simply and beautifully illustrated.

So what did I take home? A slim volume of the libretto of Handel’s Messiah, simply and beautifully illustrated.

I found myself in the upper stratosphere of book collecting on the third floor where the rare books are kept. Some are on shelves, others are kept behind glass. Some looked well-loved. Some looked well-kept. I recognized classic titles and authors and saw others so beautifully bound I never even noticed the title or the author.

Tote bags from the Strand, including one with a quote by  Baltimorean John Waters.

Tote bags from the Strand, including one with a quote by
Baltimorean John Waters.

This is where everybody in my group ended up, all clutching a few books, one of the store’s clever tote bags or some other literary treasure.

How long had we been lost in the stacks? That’s something else we lost track of. This is clearly a place you visit twice. I had seen only a fraction of the titles and hardly anything on the first floor. We’d had only a second to browse through the totes, toys, office stuff with all their literary themes. Outside, the sun had set.

Literary stuff.

Literary stuff.

Still we had time to take pictures of ourselves at the store and on the way out to shoot a picture of the shop’s literaryNew Year’s resolutions posted on a sandwich sign outside on the bustling New York City sidewalk. Something more to consider as we left one of the world’s greatest book shops. I think we were convinced.

Resolved...in 2015.

Resolved…in 2015.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

 

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