I read a lot. I would say I am an avid reader, verging on voracious, verging on utterly nerdy. I have extremely fond memories of growing up poking around the independent bookstores that were so ubiquitous in the Bay Area. I was told once that Berkeley had the most independent bookstores per capita of any city in the country, and although I'm not sure this is still the case, I can certainly imagine that it was when I was a teenager.
Coming from a place of such bounty, my one disappointment with New York when I first moved here seven years ago was with the bookstores. Yes, there is Strand. I know that it's independent, that it's been around for 80 years and that it has 18 miles of books, but I don't find it conducive to good browsing. The space is not welcoming, the selection is overwhelming, and unless I go there in the early morning on a weekday, I feel as though I'm constantly ramming people with my huge bag. So I tend to take refuge in the cookbook section, leaving all other 17.95 miles of books unexplored.
And although I'm not ideologically opposed to the big chains like Barnes & Noble (despite being raised by parents with a distinctly populist, hippie bent), I must say that I am rarely surprised by the selections on the tables in the lobby areas of these stores. I feel as if I always know pretty much what to expect, plus which I'm over the fare that the Starbucks cafes provide. So with these as the main options, the literary retail landscape struck me as a bit bleak. That is, until I discovered McNally Robinson.
The store is on Prince near Lafayette so I pass by it quite frequently. I cannot remember a time that I have passed by without stopping in, which means that I go there at least once a week. The space is modern and clean, and I want to read virtually every new title or staff pick that they display. To top if off, they have extremely well edited food, architecture and design sections, and the cafe is just perfect. I could sit there all day at the communal table reading and drinking tea out of their seemingly bottomless tea pots. And occasionally I even make it over for a book reading which makes me feel more cultured than is really appropriate.
It's been heartening to see that of late the store has been packed, people seem to be discovering it in droves which I couldn't be happier about. I hope that the owner's hard work over the past few years is paying off for her!