The New York City Public Library
Working in a bookstore has made me realize two important things about readers: people love to travel (even in the internet age, guidebooks are indispensable) and more people than I expected are part of book clubs. Seldom, however, do I hear of the two pastimes converging. People that are looking to participate in a club or a team with an aim to travel don’t often consider books to be the crux of adventure. Sporting events, wine tastings, beach vacations, and pilgrimages seem to make up the majority of group leisure trips. If your hobbies include collecting, buying, loving, and devouring literary ephemera then book tours are a pretty inexpensive and exciting way to enjoy cultural excursions with friends and provide alternative “lenses” for exploring a city. It can be overwhelming to plan a trip for a group because there’s always the possibility of disappointing at least one person, so having a theme for your itinerary can aid you in establishing a common ground that’s fun for everyone.
Recently, I was lucky enough to go to New York City with a group of friends and I was astounded by the amount of book-related activities and sites that my (very organized) friend could fit into one itinerary. We covered a lot of ground, I really got to experience the creative pulse of the city, and I would highly recommend checking out any of these amazing places when planning your much-needed weekend vacation to New York City:
The Plaza Hotel: Located on the edge of Central Park where you’re sure to a hail a cab or carriage ride if need be, is the luxurious and historical Plaza Hotel. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda were regulars of the Champagne Room and notoriously frolicked in the fountain outside. The hotel has functioned as a setting in many books and films, including the adorable Eloise books. There’s even a children’s store that celebrates the adorable hotel dweller in the bottom level. Upstairs there’s an Assouline store, which houses some great coffee table books, secondhand titles, and luxurious leathers for customizing your library.
New York Public Library: The opposite of the brutally grotesque and grotesquely Brutalist Robarts Library, this huge and beautiful building leaves a lasting impression on visitors as an awe-inspiring tribute to the importance of literacy in culture. Quotations cut into marble, painted ceilings, and a famous reading room (complete with green lamps) are some of the aesthetic wonders to be found within the library’s walls.
Morgan Library and Museum: The private library-turned-museum is the apotheosis of book porn. It indulges every fantasy an avid reader may have about luxurious libraries and it is definitely worth a visit if you would like to see some incredible rare artifacts. I could have spent hours there surrounded by the carved wood ceilings, leather bound books, marble floors, imagining myself reading next to a fireplace that’s larger than me. We saw a fantastic exhibition with pieces from the Bodleian Library, including Sappho’s fragments, a First Folio of Shakespeare, drafts of Frankenstein, John Smith’s hand-drawn map of North America, and a Gutenberg bible.
Greenwich Village: If you’re venturing outside of Manhattan for the afternoon, head to Greenwich Village, the famous neighbourhood that inspired and delighted many writers including Louisa May Alcott, Anais Nin, and the Beatniks. Although many of the authors’ homes and favourite bars have now changed, you can still go see the original buildings, and there are lots of places to visit and stop for a drink, such as The White Horse Tavern, a favourite haunt of Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsberg.
Washington Square Park: The NYC Parks department does quite a good job of accurately describing this bustling cultural hub on its website:
A marsh. A cemetery. A parade ground. A gathering spot for avant-garde artists. A battleground for chess enthusiasts. A playground for canines and children. Washington Square Park has served various roles for its community throughout the years.
If you enjoy people watching, definitely give your feet a rest in this historical park, on the street that inspired Henry James’s short novel Washington Square.
Some of Strand’s 18 Miles of Books
Argosy, Strand, and Bauman Rare Books: Why kid ourselves? It’s really fun to go shopping on vacations and at least buying books will help curb buyers’ remorse. Argosy and Strand are amazing used bookstores in which you can spend hours picking through unique, odd, and one-of-a-kind editions. You owe it to yourself to discover whether or not Strand actually carries “18 Miles” of books as it claims in its slogan. If your budget is considerably larger or if you want to enjoy the lush setting of a multi-level library (with ladders, like you’ve always wanted) then head to Bauman Rare Books and enjoy looking at some very unique masterpieces of book-making.
If you look above you in New York City, there are skyscrapers from your favourite films, around you are century-old apartments where your favourite author lived, and beneath your feet are plaques with quotations celebrating New York’s literary legacies. As Toronto metropolitan reputation grows, it should take note of NYC’s efforts to maintain its intellectual heritage as it tends to function as a hub to so much talent.