Here On the Street Where I Live

I love my neighborhood. If you google ‘Carroll Gardens‘ it is not hard to see why.

This weekend I walked a new friend to the train. She could not stop gushing,
“It’s like you live in EUROPE!”
–um…Yeah, I know.
I’ve said it before, but this is the best part of sharing the best part of New York my home with people. I look at it with fresh eyes when I am explaining its significance in my life.
Today I was going to review a book I bought a while ago on a visit to The Community Bookstore, but I decided – frack that. Instead I’m going to start by telling you about Community Bookstore. I’ll review the book later, and you’ll appreciate it more, knowing that it was a diamond in the rough.  First, Let’s look at this beautiful picture of my favorite neighborhood bookstore, taken in 1972….
This was taken two weeks ago. Have I mentioned that I love it here? If you make it through the front door, this is what you find:

This is the sorted part. As you fight your way further into the recesses of the store, things become sordid, a shanty town of books. It smells like dust and paper that has been well loved.

The part I like best is that you never ever know what you will find. Like, for serious. I once found a turn of the century porno here. It had a lovely dove blue cover and a letter pressed title. I thought it was so beautiful I decided it buy it before I read much further. The owner gave me the oddest knowing wink when I passed over my cash. I carried my new prize to the park, where five pages in, petticoats were being ripped off in hot passion, or excuse me, in piquant moments of rapture. It was published in 1892. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I’ve never used the word “score” more appropriately as when it I unearthed it from its dusty tomb.

I have found long forgotten, terribly important picture books from my past here. Deep loves from my childhood have rushed back into my life, not unlike that great scene from Pixar’s Ratatouille. My eyes dilate and suddenly I’m sitting on the stairwell in my pajamas, random untraceable mildest mid-grade novel in hand. I cannot count the number of single tears I have shed in this dusty old fire hazard. I’ve purchased cook books that fill me with glee (and butter), instructional encyclopedias that later assisted me in the fixing of sink pipes, and because it’s NYC, F&GS from yesteryear, including a dreamy copy of an unpublished DUNE graphic novel by the boys at Marvel. I have books I could never afford, all thanks to this neighborhood treasure. The Community Bookstore is a rolodex of fate. Here the book finds the reader. 

The store is owned and presided over by John, better known as The Bookman of Cobble Hill. I was going to put a picture that I took of The Bookman here, but Jacob Murphy, always does it best. See the rest of his beautiful series here.

The truly amazing thing is that even with the chaos and depth of The Community Book Store, The Bookman knows where everything is. 

I showed up there a few weeks ago needing a copy of ‘A Town Like Alice’ for a birthday gift. We had one of our typical exchanges:

Me: ‘Do you have A TOWN LIKE ALICE?

Him: “A Town Like Alice, A Town Like Alice… A Town Like Alice…………Nevil Shute?”

The process is ten kinds of wonderful. I’m always a bit nervous returning to the store. I’ve been there a million times, but every time is a little intimidating. John is prone to moods, but they disappear the second he realizes that you’re there on a reader’s errand. I was perhaps a tad obsessed with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST as a child. The day John gave me a book, batting away my hand as I reached out with cash, was the day New York City became my own.

Here’s the deal with John, he will give you a brand new copy if he has it. New releases and stuff publishers are releasing now (usually for 10-20% off list) are up front behind his ‘desk’ (read: French Barricade). If a new copy isn’t in his possession, he’ll climb deep into the store at a spry rapid-fire pace, moving boxes, re-stacking piles of hardbacks, sometimes even reaching behind books in the shelves as they’re stacked two or three deep. After this hare-brained excursion he’ll simply hand you the volume you’re in need of as if procuring it was effortless.

If I know I want something new in advance, I’ll have him order it for me. Afterall, I’m always looking for an excuse to stop by and see what’s ‘new’ on the corner of Court and Warren.

Simply adding to the eccentricity of this dusty shop of horrors/wonders, The Bookman doesn’t keep typical hours. On  breezy summer nights you’ll find him smoking his pipe on the open store steps well into the wee hours of the night. I’ve bought books in my neighborhood at 2AM – a miracle I fully expected to realize when I first dreamt of moving to New York at 8 years old. Other times I’ll pass his open store in the early morning, making a mental note to stop by on my way home from work, only to find a hand lettered cardboard sign in the window later that day saying something like ‘Gone until August – Vacation’.

And that is what I wanted to tell you about the street where I live today.

7 replies »

  1. I love this bookstore!
    One time I went in there and people were smoking… like it was 1972. You can't smoke inside ANYWHERE in NY!

  2. I am so jealous of your bookstore! If I make it to NY, I'm definitely hunting this place down & spending hours upon hours in the stacks. Thanks for the tip!

  3. It's also a great place to kill time whilst waiting for a table at Joya across the street (aka: the best thai food you'll ever eat)

  4. Ummm…yes, I should refrain I know…but see that girl w/her perfectly toned arms? So not 1970's. The girl staring at her w/peer envy – yes that DOES transcend every generation. 2011 or 1972, no matter. Now the Bookman along w/the ambiance, that is a different matter of timelessness.

  5. Oh how fun! Thank you so much for sharing! This store has so much CHARACTER! I hope that there will always be little treasures like this that aren't forced out by the big chains. I love that feeling of finding something special. I get the same feeling from music stores too.

    Have a great day!

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