My Afternoon at The Strand
Image of carts of books.

If you are into independent bookstores, and you have been to New York City, then you have probably heard of The Strand. It opened in 1927 and is still owned and operated by the same family. It is also the last surviving bookstore on what used to be called Book Row, originally encompassing six city blocks, with dozens of bookstores. I know I would have loved to see that. I can imagine myself spending hours wandering in and out of all the bookstores. 

Now, I content myself with The Strand. It is a great bookstore. They have anything and everything. Every genre or niche book possible can be found on their shelves. I am always awed by all the many things that exist to read. 

But my most favorite part of The Strand, is the carts and carts of used books, mostly sold for a dollar or two, that line the sidewalk outside the store. First, they are at a price point I can afford, and two it is my favorite way to browse books. Mostly haphazardly organized, no real rhyme or reason. I come across things that I would have never found otherwise. Topics I didn’t know I was interested in or could be interested in. It is not unusual for me to spend an hour or so browsing these carts, and walk away with ten, dollar books. 

For instance on my most recent visit, on a beautiful Spring afternoon, after not having been in a long time, the first book that caught my eye, was a copy of My Antonia by Willa Cather. I remembered reading this book as a kid, and I remember liking it. I wondered if I would still enjoy it as an adult so many years later. Unlike my current experience of having reread Louis May Alcott’s Little Women last summer and hating it as an adult. 

I also came across a textbook on Latin American History written for a US audience published in 1944. The introduction of the text book states the purpose as promoting understanding between the two Americas and that at the end of the day we are all Americans. I was intrigued, as I am in the midst of writing a memoir on my Latin American identity. I thought it would be interesting to see this historical perspective. I skimmed through the table of contents and where Puerto Rico should have been along with Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba- it was missing. So then I quickly flipped through to the index- not even listed. Which means they don’t mention the island at all! I was shocked and dismayed to discover this oversight. But maybe they assumed it was already part of the United States America. In any case, I digress. 

Next, I picked up a copy of one of Julia Child’s cookbooks. It brought me back to the hours I would spend as a kid watching her show with Jacque Pepin on PBS. She is probably the reason I enjoy cooking and baking. Seeing all the wonderful things that she would concoct. 

I then came across Stephen King’s seminal book, On Writing. Since I’ve begun my writer journey, this book is oft quoted as the book on writing for writers. And that if you want to learn the true craft of writing, you should read it. 

Then there was the Lara Vapnyar novel that I picked up. I had become familiar with her through her short story collection, There Are Jews in My House, that I found at a previous trip to The Strand. It is a book I would have never come across or thought to seek out, if I hadn’t come across it while browsing used books. Her stories showed me a perspective that I was unfamiliar with and further added to the canon of stories about people that inform so much of how I view the world. So now I know her and her writing. It is these types of encounters that I relish. The not knowing of what I am going to find. The surprise, the new perspective gained, the understanding. That’s what not looking for anything in particular, that’s what browsing used books gets me. Variety and nuggets of perspective on different authors, different genres. 

Order A Walk Through the Redwoods

If you loved this book review, you might also enjoy my debut picture book, A Walk Through the Redwoodsillustrated by Natalia Bruno. You can order it now from your favorite bookstore: Amazon, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble.