THE BLOG
01/08/2008 09:22 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Secret New York Alternative to Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble bookstores in New York are massive.
They have readings from the world's most famous living
authors, as well as late hours, Starbucks coffee and a
thorough selection of best-sellers. But such is the
case with Barnes & Noble in all cities. So if you're
already in New York, you may as well seek out one of
the city's more distinctive neighborhood bookstores.
Following are seven lesser known shops to keep you
well-read every day of the week:

Crawford Doyle Booksellers on the Upper East Side is
one of the few mom and pop stores in the neighborhood
to stand the test of time; this small room has been a
bookseller since the 1930's. In addition to new
literary fiction and nonfiction, they carry first
editions of post-war American fiction, and have a
number of signed first edition books from local Tom
Wolfe, who has been known to autograph entire orders.
The shop also offers year-long book-of-the-month
memberships that manager Thomas Talbot tailors to
readers.

For a selection of titles by smart people who know
what they're talking about, check out Brown University
alumnus Toby's Three Lives & Company on West 10th
Street. The interior resembles that of its West
Village neighbors, with worn wooden floors and shelves
packed with books you should have read already. While
deciding what to tackle next, sit on the world's most
perfect bench in the back. It was lovingly crafted by
my personal favorite New York Times photographer Chris
Smith, who also went to Brown with Toby.

For children's books, Bank Street Bookstore, which is
affiliated with the Bank Street College of Education,
is an obvious choice. The bi-level refuge prides
itself on a knowledgeable staff and frequent in-store
events, including readings from children's authors. On
January 31st, for example, Toy Boat author Randall de
Seve, will read her book and teach kids to make toy
boats out of cans, corks, pencils and other household
objects.

If you're looking for a large independent bookstore
with a small bookstore feel, check out McNally
Robinson Booksellers
in Soho. Enter through the
"Teahouse" cafe, which provides sunlit workspace to
quietly caffeinated Mac users. The magazine area
displays a number of narrowly distributed, New York
based literary journals, such as n+1, Wooooo, Canteen
and Circumference (for an even more esoteric selection
of literary journals, check out Nikos Magazine and
Smoke Shop on 11th and Sixth). In-store events take
place just about every day of the week.

For a little piece and quiet, go to Hue-Man Bookstore
& Cafe
in Harlem, famous for its selection of books by
African American authors. The five-year old shop
doubles as a community space with activities like
weekend story time readings for children. The
bookseller's first author signing featured Walter
Mosley, but former President Clinton drew the biggest
crowd when he showed up with 2000 copies of his
autobiography, My Life. The cafe sells health food and
pastries, which you can snack on while perusing the
store's large assortment of African American
periodicals.

For used soft covers with cool graphics, try Alabaster
Bookshop
, which is a small, sweet nook on Fourth
Avenue, carefully guarded by Houle, the cat that lives
there. The shop has managed to survive for over a
decade in the shadow of the blaring Virgin Megastore
nearby, which also technically sells books. The much
larger and more famous Strand is also only a few
blocks away, but because it has become such a
behemoth, the used books are always shiny and
soulless, there is a small militia of security at the
door, and customer service is often impatient.

For socially conscious shopping, check out Housing
Works Used Book Cafe
on the cobblestoned Crosby
Street, where Dave Eggers scribbled "You shook me all
night long!" in my copy of You Shall Know Our Velocity
even though it was a reading for What is the What?
(I'm even more of a dork for smiling at it). Eggers
isn't the only socially responsible author to read
here, store visitors include Paul Auster, George
Saunders and Gary Shteyngart. The store is part of the
larger Housing Works nonprofit that deals with
homelessness, AIDS and HIV, and as such, almost all of
the staff is volunteer, copies of books from signings
are donated, and sales are not reported to the Times.
The year-round monthly concert series features
performers like Ryan Adams, John Mayer and Bright
Eyes.

I'm not sure which of these bookstores carry my book,
Secret New York, but it would be the greatest thing
ever if you asked.