Arguably the literary capital of America, with a rich history of serving as muse to famous writers, a population that includes hundreds of thousands of serious book nerds and casual subway riders, and a claim on the kingmaking bestseller list in The New York Times, New York City doesn’t have any 4-star book stores.
Can that be right?
We came up with a system for identifying the greatest book stores. There are four criteria, and each one potentially merits a star.
— Great selection of new books
— Great selection of used books
— A good space that welcomes browsing
— A strong sense of identity through local events, staff selections, etc.
Scoring a 4-star rating is hard, but not impossible. In our native San Francisco, Green Apple Books and City Lights are both 4-star gems. Boston has Harvard Book Store and the Brookline Booksmith. Those cities are a fraction of New York’s size, so you might expect New York to have at least half a dozen 4-star options.
But nope. Even the best stores we’ve found in NYC (St. Mark’s Bookshop, McNally Jackson, Community Bookstore) fail to earn the second potential star, and tend to feel snooty or unrelaxed. Don’t even get us started on the Strand, which out-of-towners and undergrads seem to love, even though it fails miserably on all four counts. (Hell is a tower of dog-eared remainders, a labyrinth of crowded aisles, and a gaggle of Midwesterners yakking as they line up for the new David Sedaris.)
So what’s wrong with book stores in New York City?
Have we lost our literary soul?
Did we invite the bookpocalypse by letting Gotham Book Mart go belly-up?
Is Barnes & Noble secretly financed up by a shell company run by Kim Jong Il, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and Starbucks?
Do you know any other 4-star book stores?
Should we change the rating system?
Have you ever fallen asleep on a big armchair in a patch of sunlight in the fiction aisle of a 4-star book store, and when you woke up there was a pretty Asian girl standing by the Virginia Woolf section, and she indicated by a discreet swipe of her hand that you had drool running down your chin?