It can be overwhelming to consider the sheer number of books currently available, from new releases to the enduring presence of the backlist. (And that’s without getting into the matter of books still to be published.) The title of Gabriel Zaid’s essential 1996 book So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance remains all too true today — and finding the perfect book or books can sometimes feel like a daunting task.
That’s where a good bookstore comes in. For some bibliophiles, the very experience of browsing can be liberating. For others, talking to a bookseller or seeing a list of staff picks might point you to a new favorite read. Thankfully, New York City abounds with notable bookstores, several of which are highlighted here.
That said, this doesn’t encompass every shop within the city that’s doing important work. It’s worth stating up front that I am a dedicated partisan of independent bookstores; it wouldn’t take too much for me to just swap in a list of every indie bookstore in the five boroughs in this space. (To say nothing of just across the Hudson — Hoboken and Jersey City are also home to some terrific spots.) My default assumption when I see an indie bookstore is about the same as my default assumption when I see a dog, to wit: it’s good. Here are some of the best bookstores in NYC to find your next great read.
Together with its sibling Community Bookstore just to the north in Park Slope, Terrace Books has an immaculately-arranged array of fiction and nonfiction on its shelves. On my last trip there, I picked up critically acclaimed fiction from the likes of Claire Keegan and Brenda Lozano. The cozy ideal of the neighborhood bookstore is alive and well in Windsor Terrace.
A glance at the name of this lower Manhattan destination will give you a pretty good idea of what you’ll expect to find on its shelves. There aren’t too many single-genre shops to be found in the city, but this one has a terrific selection and some prominent fans — including Knives Out writer-director Rian Johnson, who spoke about his fondness for the place in an interview earlier this year.
I’ve been shopping at this Greenpoint spot since not long after they opened, and it’s been a wonder to see how the store has adapted to their unique space. (Their Jersey City location is also highly recommended.) As the neighborhood around them has changed, so too has this store evolved, all the while maintaining a good overview of books from a variety of genres, including some memorable tomes about the city itself.
David Mitchell fans, take note — this West Village establishment makes a cameo appearance in his novel The Bone Clocks. It’s also a shop that manages to situate a treasure trove of books increasingly creative ways. The contents of its shelves include compelling essays, cult fiction in translation and compelling travel narratives. T Magazine once dubbed it “the perfect New York bookstore,” and we’re pretty sure they’re on to something there.
There’s a lot to savor at McNally Jackson, from some of the best-designed bookshelves in the city to their penchant for filing fiction by its country of origin. It’s an interesting way of making connections between the books you’re browsing, and it’s gotten my attention directed to some books I might not have checked out otherwise. There are a total of five locations around the city, but I’m especially partial to their Seaport location and the way its design bridges the old and new.
Do you like your indie bookstores in NYC situated inside museums dedicated to contemporary art? Artbook @ MoMA PS1 abound with — shocker, I know — a host of great books about art, along with interviews with artists and thoughtful takes on design. Throw in a well-curated selection of fiction and nonfiction, and you have a compelling destination in Long Island City. On my last trip there, I picked up the history of a nonexistent book and a bizarre psychological thriller, but that’s only a trace of what’s available within.
Located a few blocks from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Greenlight features a fine array on its shelves, including a wide range of books on the borough and the neighborhood they call home. Incisive staff picks and a spotlight on indie press titles are two more of the highlights here. Their programming, including regular spotlights on acclaimed nonfiction authors, is also well worth checking out.
The Best Gifts for Readers That Aren’t BooksBecause under no circumstance should you buy them a book
Archestratus’s focus is on food — which means that, yes, their cookbook selection is great. Their ethos goes beyond that as well, encompassing books that wrestle with food thematically, plus some actual food items. In practice, that makes it a spot where you can buy tinned fish, a cookbook and Italian pasta all in a single go, which makes it an especially enticing destination.
Expansion is one sign of a bookstore doing well, and Books Are Magic opened its second location not long ago. Odds are good that you’ve seen your favorite author posing in front of their distinctive mural outside the shop. And as befits a store owned by a writer, Books Are Magic has a lot of fantastic programming both in the store and offsite. The wide-ranging staff picks cover a lot of ground, from informative nonfiction to haunting tales of psychological obsession.
Would you prefer to do some of your literary shopping en francais? Manhattan’s Albertine Books is a beautifully-designed space on Fifth Avenue run by the department of Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and its selection includes no small amount of titles in the original French. There’s also a sterling array of Francophone literature in translation, and the whole experience might leave you convinced you’ve made a brief stop in Paris.
Most of the bookstores on this list specialize in new books, but you should never disregard a good used bookstore. Spend enough time there, and Bushwick’s Human Relations might feel like the platonic ideal of a used bookstore. On my last visit, I picked up a Ray Bradbury novel and a work of nonfiction by the historian Dorothy Thompson. An esoteric number of genres and a wide-ranging selection make this a destination to savor.
One of the newer indie bookstores in the city — and one of a handful of indies based in Queens — this eminently warm and welcoming store is located on a quiet street in Kew Gardens. A number of local authors are solidly represented on their shelves, like the terrific crime novelist Alex Segura. Plus, the presence of an actual fireplace is a nice touch, especially when you stop in during one of the colder months.
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