Recently, I dashed up to NYC with my daughter and coerced her into a brief visit to my favorite bookstore.
Three Lives does everything right. It's small - so small that you almost always bump butts with some stranger who is, like you are, nose deep into a book and looking for a place to sit, or lean and read. It's jam-packed with books - really well selected books - Art, novels, poetry, biography, history. It's low tech. If you want a book you ask the bookseller sitting behind the high counter. I'm assuming there's a big computer behind that counter - but I'm short, so it's hard to tell. And it's really, really friendly. Every chance I have, I go to that bookstore because I know I will discover something I want to read, or a writer I have never heard of, or, that a writer I love has a new book.
I know I should read the New York Review of Books, or the NYTimes Book Review, or the many blogs out there where new books are announced - but I don't have time. For instance, today, should grade papers, update the syllabi, and make a stab at vacuuming. That's what I have to do - what I want to do is write a bit, add to this and my other blog, give the dogs a good long walk. Read a good book. It's only 8:30am and already I feel guilty. And reading book reviews, like browsing Amazon, is not nearly as exciting as walking into a bookstore, poking around, picking books up, putting them down, reading half a chapter and tucking it under your arm or leaving it at the registrar to go hunt some more.
I came home with Someone by Alice McDermot, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (everyone has told me to read this) and How Music Works by David Byrne. Ok, I came home with more books than that - but these are the ones I'm reading right now. I'm not going to check email, I'm not going to grade papers and I'm certainly not going to vacuum. Nope. I'm happily sitting here, by my new fake fireplace, with the dog asleep on the couch listening to the gentle hiss of the gas (it's real fire, gas powered, fake logs, looks as cheesy as it sounds. I care not, it turns on and off with a clicker). This is my favorite kind of day: sitting and reading, writing, occasional napping. Listening to the Decemberists. Later, I guess I'll go to the grocery store - but I'm gonna take a detour through Bryn Mawr, because, as fate has it, there's a bookstore there calling my name.
By the way - if you want to read an excellent selection of short stories - purchase yourself Museum of the Americas by my fabulous friend Gary Lee Miller!!
UPDATE: Had a friend ask how Three Lives rates next to the Strand - also a great NYC Bookstore and institution. I have always preferred Three Lives over the Strand simply because Three Lives is cozy and edited. It is in no way overwhelming. The Strand has got EVERYTHING - I love browsing the sidewalk carts - and there is a wonderful outpost right on the corner of 57th and 5th at the bottom of Central Park which reminds me of the booksellers along the Seine in Paris. If you are looking for something that's been out of print a while - go to the Strand. If you are looking for discounted books - the Strand is also your place. I love the Strand for it's sheer volume - but Three Lives is my place.