Independent bookstores are the sober equivalent of your local bar: Not only does everyone know your name, they know what you like. Furthermore, they benefit the publishing business: “Independent stores are where innovation lies,” says Kent Carroll of Europa Editions. “They can still make best sellers [like Europa’s Elegance of the Hedgehog]. The chains didn’t come onboard until after the fact.” If you’re looking for new books or used (the Strand, it goes without saying, is tops here), we offer these fourteen bibliophilic delights.
HUE-MAN BOOKSTORE & CAFE
Specialties: Harlem’s largest bookshop is known for its celebrity clients (Toni Morrison, Bill Clinton) and a polyethnic selection including Native American novels and Spanish-language kids’ books.
Surprising Demo: Japanese tourists. “They love hip-hop culture and reggae,” says co-owner Marva Allen. 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd.; 212-665-7400.
The Crowd: Caters to the Upper West Side’s erudite collectors (with first editions from Jimmy Breslin, Updike, etc.) as well as cost-averse Columbia students (a wall’s worth of Penguin Classics).
Sample Find: A vintage 24-volume Charles Dickens set.
What’s Selling? Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. 2915 Broadway; 212-222-3350.
MCNALLY JACKSON BOOKS
The Vibe: Formerly McNally Robinson, the two-floor purveyor of new books is as dedicated to aesthetics as it is to selection.
The Crowd: Comes for the discounted Bolaño, but sticks around for the $4.75 yogurt and Balthazar granola.
Sample Finds: Observable Readings, 2006–2007, a small-press poetry collection; Phaidon’s bulky Design Classics set; the Voudon Gnostic Workbook. 52 Prince St.; 212-274-1160.
HOUSING WORKS BOOKSTORE CAFE
The Vibe: Soho but tweedier, full of publishing and media shop talk. Specialties: Contemporary lit and rarities. Much of its high-quality, bargain-basement selection is donated by publishers, whose staffers frequent the place, even filling out the ranks of its volunteers.
Added Benefit: It’s a wood-brick-and-iron outpost of a charity for homeless people with HIV and aids. 126 Crosby St.; 212-334-3324.
The Vibe: Part bookstore, part gallery (past exhibitions featured Andres Serrano and Sol LeWitt).
Specialties: Shelf-straining art, photography, and design titles, but also best sellers from the likes of Murakami and Chabon, and awfully purty (graphically sophisticated) children’s books.
Sample Finds: I. M. Pei: Complete Works; a hardcover Tintin collection. 192 Tenth Ave.; 212-255-4022.
ST. MARK’S BOOKSHOP
The Vibe: Sleek, brilliantly efficient, and browser-friendly.
The Crowd: Dressed-up night owls (the place stays open until midnight) on their way to bars.
Specialties: ’Zines; heavy on lit mags, academic titles, and design books.
Sample Find: The Culture Industry, by Theodor Adorno. 31 Third Ave.; 212-260-7853.
THREE LIVES & COMPANY
The Vibe: Congested, but unsnooty staffers are eager to help.
Specialties: The mystery and poetry sections are cultivated with care; a boatload of Proust.
Sample Finds: John Ashbery’s Notes From the Air: Selected Later Poems; mystery titles from renowned publisher Soho Press. 154 W. 10th St.; 212-741-2069.