Update: Because Google's tools for maintaining this map are limited, and because the map was getting frequent spammy and irrelevant edits, we've closed the editing feature on the map for now. In the meantime, the map includes plenty of stores and places to check out. Hopefully we'll be able to allow people to add to the map again some time in the future. In revisiting, expanding and ruminating upon the updated Walking Tour of New York's Independent Bookstores we unveiled yesterday, we realized the potential to use these same tools to create a much more comprehensive atlas of the bookstores and literary places important to readers. After putting together our first NY store tour post two years ago, we heard from several readers looking for similar walking tours for other cities and towns. Others just wanted to let everyone know about their own favorite bookstores. This would be a great resource, but we need your help. Below you'll find The Millions' Collaborative Atlas of Book Stores and Literary Places. This Atlas is open to anyone and everyone to edit, and to get the ball rolling we have preloaded it with the New York map we posted here yesterday. We encourage you to add book stores and literary sites found in your town. Using the tools available, it's also possible to create book store tours for other cities worldwide. Click to view and edit a larger version of the map (Once you've clicked through to Google Maps, use the "Edit" button on the left sidebar to add content to the map). We'll be excited to see the Atlas evolve and we hope that over time it becomes a useful tool for readers (and travelers) everywhere. With this in mind, we'll be keeping the Atlas embedded in our sidebar (it's also accessible via Google). If you make an addition to the map, feel free to let us know in the comments below. Note: Even though the map is centered on the U.S., readers all over the world can take part! Once you click over to Google Maps to make your additions, just navigate to your part of the world. Note 2: If you want to spread the word about the Atlas, feel free to embed it on your own sites.
**We're doing a version of this tour in May. Click here to get all the details.I. IntroductionBy the time our original "Walking Tour of New York's Independent Bookstores" hit the web in 2007, its first stop - the Gotham Book Mart - had closed its doors for good. As I type these words, stop number 5, Greenwich Village's venerable Oscar Wilde Bookshop, looks likely to join the Gotham on the honor roll of bookstores past. The Strand Annex in lower Manhattan is, as of last summer, no more.It would be belaboring the obvious to say the last two years have been tough times for the bookmen and bookwomen. And yet, despite the vagaries of the business, independent bookstores continue to open, and to serve as hubs for communities real and imagined. I'll spare you the exegesis on why I think this matters - we've covered that ground in the original post, and elsewhere. Instead, I'd like to offer you a new and improved edition of the Walking Tour.You can still find brief descriptions of many of the stops in our first "Islands in the Stream Post," but the route we've charted has changed, and we've added new stops, with new descriptions below. In addition, through the magic of modern technology, we've created an information-rich online map of the tour.The full-size version of this map contains all of our capsule reviews, plus directions and website links. [Update: You can also now add your own edits to the tour at our Collaborative Atlas of Book Stores and Literary Places.] Below we offer the step-by-step itinerary, including capsule reviews for the newly added stops.II. The TourStop 1: St. Mark's Bookshop (31 3rd Avenue at 9th Street).Stop 2: The Strand (828 Broadway at East 12th.)Stop 3: Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers (44 Greenwich Avenue at Charles Street)This well-stocked half-basement shop in the heart of Greenwich Village is one of several area bookstores that specialize in mystery books. The staff is steeped in the store's chosen genre, making this an excellent place for suspense buffs to find new titles and old classics.Stop 4: Three Lives & Co. (154 West 10th Street at Waverly Place)The owners of Three Lives know that varnished wood and books go together like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and so the whole space has a uniquely warm atmosphere. The staff - one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable in the city - contributes to the sense of ease and comfort. Three Lives has also figured out how to maximize the number of titles placed face-up or face-out, which makes browsing easy. This is a particularly good spot to look for literature in translation; Ingo Schulze's New Lives was prominently displayed on a recent visit.Stop 5: Housing Works Used Book Cafe (126 Crosby St. between Prince and Houston)Stop 6: McNally Jackson (formerly McNally Robinson) (52 Prince St. between Mulberry and Lafayette)Stop 7: Bluestockings (172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington)Bluestockings, the venerable, cooperatively run Lower East Side institution, puts the independent back in independent bookstore. Of New York's many bibliophile haunts, this one boasts perhaps the most pronounced curatorial sensibility. Punk, feminist, progressive, culture-theoretical, and environmental sensibilities predominate, without domineering. With its extensive and esoteric periodical section, its frequent events, its adventurous front tables, and its terrific coffee, Bluestockings is a great place to make a discovery.Now, across the Brooklyn Bridge to Stop 8: Melville House Bookstore (145 Plymouth Street at Pearl Street, Brooklyn)Melville House HQ, as I like to think of it, is part publishing house, part bookstore. The daily operations of Dennis Loy Johnson's stalwart independent press take place in Bat-Cave-like secrecy behind a nifty set of pivoting bookshelves. Up front, shelves and tables are stocked with the Melville House catalog, as well as the wares of other Brooklyn-based independents and literary magazines, including Akashic Books, Ugly Ducking Presse, N+1, and A Public Space.Stop 9: BookCourt (163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean)Stop 10: Freebird Books & Goods (123 Columbia St. between Kane & Degraw)Stop 11: WORD (126 Franklin Street at Milton Street, Brooklyn)WORD, a new Brooklyn bookstore, seeks to bring the Three-Lives/BookCourt model of the cosy neighborhood bookstore to the off-the-beaten-path precincts of Greenpoint. In this case, WORD combines top-shelf contemporary literature with a great selection of kids' books. Frequent events and a terrific staff help cement the connection between store and neighborhood. With one of the more impressive internet efforts among NYC independents, WORD is doing online community-building, as well.III. The Future(s) of IndependentsNot just in the Big Apple, but all over America, the rapid technological and economic transformations of the last decade have profoundly altered the ecosystem in which independent bookstores exist. Far from solemnizing the end of an era, however, our Walking Tour seeks to illuminate some of the strategies that may help our favorite bookstores thrive in the 21st Century. A glance at our last three stops serves to illustrate the point.Since we first wrote about BookCourt (Stop 9), the store has expanded, nearly doubling its square-footage. This has allowed it to create a more generously apportioned area for children's books - a growth genre in this baby-booming neighborhood, and a turf BookCourt can now vigorously compete for with the Barnes & Noble down the street. Another advantage of expansion: the store can now book readings for big names such as Richard Price without fear of running out of space.Freebird Books (Stop 10), under new ownership, has expanded in a more metaphorical sense, building up its events calendar. Readings and screenings, post-apocalyptic book clubs, and back porch barbecues help attract readers over to quiet Columbia Street. Owner Peter Miller also maintains a lively, involving blog detailing his discoveries in the used-book trade.WORD (Stop 11) has nudged the events-plus-online-presence strategy even further toward the latter. With a frequently updated blog, a Twitter account, a facebook following and a highly functional website, Word involves even those readers who can make it to the store only infrequently. Millions alum Patrick Brown, now blogging for L.A.'s Vroman's Bookstore, has written perceptively and at length about how a bookstore's online dimension can become more than window-dressing. I'll be interested to see how aggressively, and how successfully, independent bookstores expand their online efforts in the coming years.More mapping fun: The Millions' Collaborative Atlas of Book Stores and Literary Places
"Experience has fallen in value. And it looks as if it is continuing to fall into bottomlessness.""It is no longer intelligence coming from afar, but the information which supplies a handle for what is nearest that gets the readiest hearing." -Walter Benjamin, "The Storyteller." Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn.When it comes to a reputation for difficulty, the book business is second only to the restaurant business... and no one has yet figured out how to run an online restaurant. The ascendance of e-commerce - along with the consolidation of corporate capital, the real estate bubble, and a host of concurrent factors - has over the last 15 years profoundly altered the reading lives of Americans. The changes are not exclusively for the worse; in the small town where I grew up, for example, it's become a hell of a lot easier for a high-school sophomore to get his hands on a volume of, say, Angela Carter. But, as the recent documentary "Indies Under Fire: The Battle for the American Bookstore" suggests, the mercantile landscape grows increasingly inhospitable for independent booksellers. A recent spate of high-profile bookstore closings underscores the point (via Ed).Why does this matter? After a Joshua Ferris reading at an independent bookstore the other night, a friend of mine proposed that our cultural lives are forged by a confluence of information and experience. Information - that Rolling Stone gave the album Born to Run five stars, for example - is a perfectly reasonable way to get a handle on a work of art. But to experience "Born to Run" exploding off the Delaware Memorial Bridge at night, in the summer, with the windows down and a person you love in the passenger's seat, is to find it seared forever in one's soul, like Marcel's madeleine.The corporate book-purveyor, armed with the best market research money can buy, directs information toward consumers. If I want to find out what Barnes & Noble thinks New Yorkers are likely to want to buy, the downstairs tables at the Union Square B & N can't be beat. And there are fine books on those tables. But as Walter Benjamin observes, "The acquisition of books is by no means a matter of money or expert knowledge alone." The experience of the Barnes & Noble - quality controlled, wood-veneered, perfectly odorless - disappears as soon as one is out the door.A great bookstore, by contrast, is a staging ground for experience. The experience of the zealous clerk. The experience of the comely fellow browser. The experience of seeing Gordon Lish's first book of stories nestled against Eudora Welty's in a teetering pile, and reading the first page of "For Jerome" in situ, and feeling that private excitement of the mind. The experience of entering something larger than oneself... the republic of letters. As public libraries downsize stacks in favor of internet kiosks, this last experience, so important for so many of us, is increasingly the preserve of the independent bookstore.Here in New York, the indie isn't dead - far from it. Passionate owners and managers and employees understand that they're not just making sales, but making room for an experience. As a way of thanking them, and celebrating the arrival (finally!) of spring - and in the spirit of Walter Benjamin - I herewith offer a highly selective walking tour of my favorite bookstores in New York. "I have made my most memorable purchases on trips, as a transient. Property and possession belong to the tactical sphere. Collectors are people with a tactical instinct; their experience teaches them that when they capture a strange city, the smallest antique shop can be a fortress, the most remote stationery store a key position. How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!" -Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking My Library," trans. Harry Zohn.Stop 1: Gotham Book Mart (16 East 46th between 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue)If my wanderings these days took me further uptown, I'd probably have some more stores to single out. As it is, I'll start with the Gotham Book Mart. This venerable institution, featured in a sexually charged scene in Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, is also John Updike's favorite bookstore. This is, as far as I know, all that these two men have in common. In addition to fantastic selection of used & new 20th century literature, the Gotham boasts rare memorabilia, antiquarian treasures, and the best selection of literary magazines you'll find anywhere... period.Stop 2: The Strand (828 Broadway at East 12th.)Having got your fill of midtown, amble down Broadway past 14th St. Now we're really in book country. The Strand, another New York institution, advertises "8 miles of books," but it feels more like 16. A recent redesign has stripped away some of the flyblown, foxed, and watermarked pleasures of shopping in The Strand, but the vertiginous sensation of being surrounded by millions of cheap books remains... a feeling like playing hooky with a slight fever. Be sure to troll the Parisian dollar stalls outside, as great finds abound. Half-price review copies are great if you're looking for contemporary fiction. The Strand remains a wonderfully terrible place to go searching for a specific book... I never leave empty-handed, but generally spend several hours and several dollars discovering volumes I wasn't planning to buy.Stop 3: St. Mark's Bookshop (31 3rd Avenue at 9th Street).Continuing downtown, forgo the cramped Astor Place B & N in favor of St. Mark's Bookstore. You can't turn around in this fantastic shop without elbowing a brilliant intellectual... they're drawn here by the shelves full of recondite critical theory, post-New York School poetry collections, and cutting-edge art books... and by the feeling of rubbing elbows with the East Village denizens who penned them. Pick up some Slavoj Zizek, enjoy the condescension of an existentialist clerk... and be sure to wear your plastic-framed glasses. You'll emerge feeling 15 IQ points smarter.Stop 4: The folding tables on W. 4th St. (W. 4th between West Broadway and Mercer)Okay, not strictly a bookstore, but what's better than lollygagging on a sidewalk on a sunny day and discovering W.G. Sebald? Prices are negotiable, and the guys who sell the books make even the most hardcore bibliophile look minor league.Stop 5: Oscar Wilde Books (15 Christopher Street between Greenwich Ave. & Waverly Pl.)The country's oldest gay and lesbian bookstore has been serving the West Village for more than 40 years. For founder Craig Rodwell, a "gay and lesbian bookstore" was not a clearinghouse for erotica, but rather a bookstore whose shelves spoke to the lives of the gay community. The store has been central to advocacy efforts for gay rights and, in the 80s, recognition of the growing HIV/AIDS crisis. Many a young poet has worked the register here, and a recent program invited authors like Michael Cunningham to spend an afternoon clerking, offering patrons a unique chance to chat informally with their favorite writers. Or was that Three Lives I'm thinking of? (154 W. 10th at Waverly Place)Stop 6: Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Books (34 Carmine St. between Bedford and Bleecker Streets)This tiny shop on Carmine St. seems to run largely on remainders. Thus, prices are low, low, low. The sensibility is well-represented by the name. Here's the place to find Zen esoterica, punk rock poetry, and various books from the political left. And you don't have to worry about your money going to right-wing PACs. Much like...Stop 7: Housing Works Used Book Cafe (126 Crosby St. between Prince and Houston) Having worked up an appetite, stop into this gorgeous loft space on atmospheric Crosby St., and buy soup or a knish or coffee... for a great cause. This bookstore, staffed by volunteers, stocked with donations, sends 100% of its proceeds to its parent organization, Housing Works, which provides medical care, job training, housing, and other services to New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS who have faced homelessness. It's truly an amazing project, and boasts some of the best literary programming in the city... like a recent reading/concert featuring Jonathan Lethem in conversation with George Saunders. Free! Of course, I'm biased, as Housing Works signs my paychecks.Stop 8: McNally Robinson (52 Prince St. between Mulberry and Lafayette)McNally is maybe the most lavishly appointed bookstore in the city. Here, much attention has been paid to the aesthetics of the literary experience. Book displays feature small presses that produce beautiful books, like Coach House Books or Archipelago Books. The fiction section used to be arranged nationally (French, German, English, etc.), but is now, alas, alphabetical. Still, it's hard to leave McNally without something lovely. If you're not sure what to read, a friendly and knowledgeable staff is eager to share its favorite titles.Now, across the Brooklyn Bridge to Stop 9: BookCourt (163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean)BookCourt is not only my neighborhood independent bookstore, it's the very model of a neighborhood bookstore. The selection of books and periodicals is large enough to meet everyone's interests, and well-curated enough not to be overwhelming. Displays are tailored to the neighborhood's reading habits... the BookCourt top 10 is always strikingly different from that of any bookstore in Manhattan. Benches on the sidewalk out front offer a comfortable place to crack open one's latest purchases.Stop 10: Freebird Books & Goods (123 Columbia St. between Kane & Degraw)This ur-used bookstore is where I took in the above-mentioned Joshua Ferris reading, and so I'll defer to Mr. Ferris for a description: "There's creaking hardwood floors, a pleasant dog on a thrift-store recliner, and the inimitable smell that comes of old comforting books long shelved back to back. It's my favorite used bookstore in New York because it gets everything right: the big plate-glass window, the bell on the door, the enviable view of Manhattan, and the always well-stocked fiction section. Plus, a palpable feeling that you're in a place where books, no matter how old, are alive and well. [...] Open Mic, special guests, and food and drinks, including Moxie soda (oldest in America) and corndogs. Freebird is the kind of place that reminds you of why you read, why you wander New York streets in search of something, and why you know it when you find it." (via TEV)And now my feet are tired and it's time for a beer and a corndog. But if you want to keep exploring, you should check these out, too (commenters, please feel free to add to this list):Community Bookstore and Cafe of Park Slope (143 7th Avenue Brooklyn, between Carroll and Garfield Streets)Spoonbill & Sugartown (218 Bedford Avenue Brooklyn, between North 4th and North 5th Streets)Nkiru Books (68 St. Marks Place Brooklyn between 5th and 6th Avenues)