The second floor of the Strand Book Store features more art and art history/theory
books than many well-stocked university libraries! (my picture)
One of the very first things I will be doing over the coming weeks (now that the academic term is over) is diving into the stack of books that have accumulated on the corner of my desk and in a growing pile on the floor behind me. Many of these are titles that I have collected for my research and professional interests over the past eight months—some of which will no doubt join my Essential Reading list over the next year—but a significant number of these books are strictly saved for the pleasures and indulgence of summer reading.
"18 Miles of Books" is the Strand's slogan-- they aren't kidding!
While in New York a few weeks ago, I added a couple of books to that pile when I finally had a chance to spend a significant amount of time at one of the largest and most impressive independent book stores on the planet—the Strand Book Store. Located in the East Village at Broadway and 12th only a few blocks from another wonderful book seller—the NYU (New York University) Bookstore—the Strand is one of those epic places for bibliophiles to visit, like Powell Books in Portland, City Lights in San Francisco, or Oxford University Press Bookstore in England (a place I blogged about here).
Entering the cavernous store (the Strand occupies 55,000 square feet of space and boasts “18 Miles of Books” as its slogan), I immediately glimpsed a massive Taschen book display and the deep discounts from the publishers annual sale. I knew I was going to be in trouble. Daunted by the prospects of how I was going to lug several dozen pounds of books back uptown to the hotel and then add them to my luggage, I quickly realized that I was going to have to be selective and only purchase a few special books. I had already heard that the store housed an incredible collection of art and art theory/history books and rare editions, and I was not disappointed when I ventured up to the second floor to check it all out. After nearly two hours of browsing, reading, chatting, and writing down lists of books to track down in local university libraries and/or book stores and online when I returned home, I ended up with a half dozen books to bring back home.
Summer reading pick #1
Of those, the two I added to my summer list and want to share with you here are books that came highly recommended as local favourites for art history enthusiasts. The first of these is a controversial book by author and social historian Michael Gross titled Rogues’ Gallery which takes an unauthorized look inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York power moguls that have shaped its creation and vision. This is a book that I have recently heard a great deal about, so I was happy to pick it up at a deep discount. The second book is a memoir written by artist Richard Polsky titled I Bought Andy Warhol and chronicles one man's journey of fulfilling a life long dream of buying an Andy Warhol painting. I had recalled reading a favourable review of this book when it was first published a few years back and was thrilled to snatch it up for $6! Both books fall into that wonderful category of indulgent summer reading, similar to another book I love to recommend in that vein, Seven Days in the Art World.
Summer reading pick #2
Chatting with the helpful employee who pointed me to these picks, I learned a great deal about the history of the bookstore and its importance to the New York literary and arts community. Over the years, the store has hosted countless literary events and continues its tradition of weekly readings, book signings, and speaker series. Just a cursory glance at the Strand’s event calendar offers a sense of how much vitality the bookstore brings to the city. I have included below a great YouTube clip that takes visitors on a virtual tour with Fred Bass, the owner of a family business dating back to the 1920’s. A must see if you ever find yourself in New York, the Strand Book Store is a place to visit, preferably with a large empty suitcase.