The New York arm of Japanese chain Books Kinokuniya recently moved from a murky and strangely laid out Rockefeller Center location to a bright, open 3 level space across from Bryant Park. Always an amazing source for Japanese magazines covering every subject imaginable (in obsessive and unimaginable detail), Kinokuniya also carries massive amounts of manga, toys, stationary, and books in every field. They've also a added a sunny cafe. Plus: Check out the great denim aprons on the staff, with pockets for everything a bookseller might need.
Once upon a time, the East Village section of 4th Avenue was New York's Book Row, a street nearly entirely given over to second hand books. The only shop keeping the 4th Ave. tradition alive is Alabaster Bookshop. It's everything you'd want a small used book store to be: cozy, overflowing with books, and home to a temperamental bookstore cat, Houle.
Why, you may ask yourself, would I pay $200 a year to go to a library? Because it's the New York Society Library, and the membership cost seems absurdly low to have access to such a quiet, beautiful book lover's haven in Manhattan. The books aren't your standard library issue, either. You can see for yourself on the Society's cover scan page, located on their website. The Library is the oldest in the city, and was founded in 1754 by the New York Society, a civic-minded group formed in the belief that the availability of books would help the city to prosper. It now contains nearly three hundred thousand volumes -- the result of the tastes of its members over almost the last quarter millennium. Members may borrow books and have the use of several reading and study rooms on the upper floors; they can also browse in the stacks. Non-members are invited without charge to use the ground floor for reading and reference. Plus: The Library's location, situated between the Whitney and the Met, means your weekend is planned.
So, you say you just missed the 12:20 to Beacon, and now you've got some time to kill? You say you wish you had brought some reading about Andy Warhol or the Hudson Valley to prepare you for your trip? You say you don't think Hudson News is going to have the books you want? You think you're out of luck, being in the middle of Grand Central Station? Well, this is your day. Posman Books is not only a huge independent (and quite literary) bookstore located right in the station, they also have an inventory that any bookstore would be proud of, including surprisingly comprehensive cooking, children's, and art sections. Plus: Heading to Grandma's upstate? Posman has gift wrapping, as well as a large selection of gifts.
It isn't enough for Housing Works to have fantastic thrift stores, or even a vast and welcoming used book store. No, they also have to have a heart of gold, giving their profits to house homeless people with HIV. The mostly volunteer staff do a great job managing an unwieldy and consistently high quality inventory, the dollar racks (and 50 cent racks!) are many and always worth pursuing, and the atmosphere is woody and cozy. A cafe and plenty of chairs and tables invite you hang about, imagining you are in your own personal dream study. Plus: The location hosts in-house musical events (Beth Orton & the like have played there) as well as a yearly, block-closing outdoor book fair.
Leave it to a small Canadaian chain to create one of the best independent bookstores in New York City. McNally Robinson suits Nolita quite nicely. The store feels young, together, and alive. Proudly literary, the events here are much more "book-nerdish" than most, and the merchandise is shown off in a way that tells you everything about the store's priorities. They also carry a smallish, but intelligently curated selection of magazines. Plus: A lovely teahouse/cafe makes an evening here something like a night out.
Note: McNally Robinson is now McNally Jackson, their link is here.
A stone's throw from E.E. Cummings' New York apartment, The Jefferson Market Branch of the NYPL has seen a lot of action. The building is one of the most unique in the area and has a very colorful history, including service as a courthouse where Mae West was once tried. Things have settled down since, and the building now houses a serene and scenic library. Plus: A lovely garden out back hosts frequent low-key musical and literary events.
The Jack Spade Lending Library has fallen on hard times. Once chock full of paperback classics culled from the cities finest dollar racks, some cretin swiped most of them recently, leaving the "Book Lizard" looking a little thin. It's a shame, because the books at Jack Spade are an integral part of its charm. New books (for sale) can be found crammed in all over the shop, but it's the old-school trust of the lending library that speaks best to the ethic of the brand. The library still exists, though, and those wishing to borrow a book need only inform a shop clerk. Plus: Need I say it? Bookbags.