Bookstore of the Month: BookBook

Last month, I shared my Lower Manhattan bookstore tour. But there are a lot more bookstores in New York to be visited! Each month, I’ll share a different bookstore to visit here in the Big Apple. The first up: BookBook!

At 266 Bleecker (between 6th and 7th), BookBook is just about the right size: not too big but not too small. It has a wide selection of fiction at a nice variety of price points. The staff is accessible, knowledgeable, and helpful. Most importantly for me, the store invites you to browse without pinning you into one section or making you feel too literary or too genre for looking at a specific book.

Responsible Storytelling in Romances

In the midst of a romance kick a few weeks ago, I started a Regency that sounded like it fit the formula to a T: a reticent, somewhat awkward lady encounters a society rake, they initially want nothing to do with each other, and then, of course, they end up together. This is what I look for in a romance because when I read a romance, I’m reading for the familiar experience of the formula. But before too long, I put down this particular romance.

To be technical, it followed the formula. The lady and the rake encountered each other; she shied away from him while he set his cap for her; the dance of pursuit began. Only in this case, it wasn’t the “dance” that you get in most romances: chance encounters, witty banter, some act of fortune that bonds the protagonists together. In this book, it was plain pursuit. The rake wanted to seduce the lady, and so he badgered her, he followed her, and–this is the point where I put it down–he kissed her after she said she didn’t want to be touched by him.

Like I said, romances thrive on their formulas, and part of those formulas is a mismatch between what the protagonists say they want and what they do. But not included in that formula is sexual assault. The way this book handled what was happening was basically an institutionalization of sexual assault; because the rake is just as much a protagonist as the lady, the reader is set up to root for him as much as we root for the lady. Worse, I’m convinced the author didn’t even realize she was writing a story of sexual coercion. The way the rake isolated the lady socially and physically, cornered her, badgered her, and then told her when she said “no” she meant “yes,” was not analyzed, castigated, or even really mentioned: it just happened, because it was the author’s way of filling in the pursuit formula.

My reaction was to stop reading. This wasn’t because I don’t think sexual assault should be written about; we live in a world where sexual assault is prevalent yet unaddressed, and that means we should be writing, reading, and talking about it. But this wasn’t an exploration of the topic or even an attempt to explore what might have been acceptable in the Regency period. This was an author’s attempt to raise the stakes and fill a formula without thinking. That is more than sloppy storytelling: it is irresponsible, and it is all too easy to find in romances.

Have you ever come across a romance that crosses the line without realizing it? Have you read a romance that addresses sexual assault while still fulfilling its formula?

Lower Manhattan Bookstore Tour

I’ve been lucky enough to have several people visit me in New York already, and I quickly discovered that there is SO much to do here that sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do!

To give my visitors a flavor of the Manhattan I love the most, I came up with a customized tour of Lower Manhattan designed around–of course–bookstores. If you’re in town, it’s an excellent way to get a glimpse of several neighborhoods and pick up a souvenir or two all at once.*

St. Mark’s Bookshop

31 3rd Ave (on the corner of 9th street)

In the culturally intense St. Mark’s Place near NYU, St. Mark’s Bookshop is a progressive bookstore that has been around since 1977. It carries books that are interesting to artists, academics, and (as they say) other “discerning readers.” It may be moving soon, but it will remain in the East Village and will no doubt continue the spirit of its neighborhood wherever it is.

Alabaster Bookshop

122 4th Ave (on the corner of 12th street)

This is one of those whole-in-the-wall bookstores that is small and musty yet has endless books. New York Magazine’s profile gets it just right: http://nymag.com/listings/stores/alabaster-bookshop/.

The Strand

828 Broadway (on the corner of 12th street)

One of the more famous NY bookstores, it advertises 18 miles of books! To be honest, I find this store too overwhelming to go to unless I’m showing people around. There are three floors of bookshelves that hog the floor space; it is always so crowded that you can barely turn around without elbowing someone; I always lose whomever I go with; and it only reminds me of how many books I will never read! However, it is a landmark bookstore, so it’s worth visiting if you are in town. 

Three Lives and Company

154 W. 10th St (on the corner of Waverly Place)

Small, neat, selective, and warm, Three Lives and Co is a famous, Greenwich Village neighborhood store. It carries mostly literary fiction, so don’t come here for genre. The staff is very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, and it ends our tour in one of my favorite neighborhoods that is populated with plenty of restaurants and cafes to rest your feet, fill your tummy, and give you a place to read all your new books!

Three Lives and Co

The truth is that there are a lot more bookstores to visit in Manhattan and even in Greenwich Village, but by the end of this tour, my visitors are usually all walked out. Keep an eye out for future posts about other New York bookstores I love or want to visit!

*Fair warning: this tour is a lot of walking and can sometimes be a little expensive!

My favorite book of 2013

On Goodreads, I took a moment to remember all the (published) books I read in 2013. Which ones would I read again? Which ones do I want to keep forever? Could I challenge myself to name a favorite?

NYC (8)

There were several books that I enjoyed reading but found the endings to be too disappointing or shocking to want to reread them. Anita Shreve’s Sea Glass was one of those: it was beautifully written and seemed to be one kind of story only to end up in a completely different place than I expected. So, too, was Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One. A few of the books I read, like The Family Way by Rhys Bowen, continued a series but didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Then there were reads I had fun with but don’t feel the need to revisit, and, of course, there were a few novels I simply didn’t like. But did I have a favorite?

I’ve decided that my favorite book of 2013 was A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. This is perhaps more indicative of who I was in 2013 than any of the other books I read in the year. A Circle of Quiet is the first of L’Engle’s memoirs and spends a lot of time contemplating how we find success, happiness, love, faith, and meaning in our lives. It is, of course, beautifully written, hardly preachy, and incredibly thought-provoking. And as I transitioned from student to a working adult, from living in my family home to finding my own apartment in New York, from editor to whatever it is I’m going to be when I grow up, these were the questions circling around my head. New York may not be quiet, but still, I search for how to make my own quiet wherever I go and how to relish in that quiet no matter what else is going on in my life.

I’ve got a list going of books I want to read in 2014, most of them novels, but I think I’ll add L’Engle’s next memoir to my queue and see what guidance she can give me as I find out who I am this year.