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Leisure: Best Places to be Read To

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Barnes & Noble's near monopoly on books has yet to devour all reading spaces. Consider Three Lives & Co. (154 West 10th Street; 741-2069), an independent West Village survivor that's hosted the up-and-coming for decades. Readings are free, but come early for the big names (mordant wit David Sedaris recently packed the place), and snag a choice spot on the ratty rug up front. bam, Brooklyn's cultural juggernaut, is picking up speed with its new movie theater and BAMcafe (30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-636-4111, extension 516), a restaurant, bar, and performance space. BAMcafe hosted its first reading at the end of March -- a Brooklyn-themed installment in the improv-heavy moth storytelling series, which George Plimpton hosted. The café's organizers will soon present spoken-word performances and, beginning in the fall, a series of readings. Plimpton was pleasantly surprised that such a vast space could preserve acoustics and atmosphere. "I tend to doze off," he admits, and though excellent content is the best way to keep him awake, "intimacy helps."

That's why he recommends KGB (85 East 4th Street; 505-3360). This faux-underground Commie theme bar-cum- writers' clubhouse may be peaking in popularity and slowly going corporate (there are now some product-sponsored events), but after only six years of existence it's the top choice among literati of all ages. Young novelist Dani Shapiro has read there, and so has poet Donald Hall, who recently ran into his college friend John Ashbery there. With several series ensuring constant readings, KGB wins for sheer volume. Drinking and smoking abound (for better or worse), as does insider New York publishing chat.

Patrons of the Selected Shorts series at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway, at 95th Street; 864-1414), now in its fifteenth season, don't expect to unearth the next generation of storytellers, but that's not the point. The Upper West Side intelligentsia flock to this midsize theater for surefire classics. Actors like Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep are matched with kindred literary spirits. Readings cost $17, so for a regular fix, stick to the taped broadcasts on NPR.


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