Book Culture: Where to Find It in NYC

18 Jan

I’m routinely asked how I like living in New York City. If it’s by a New Yorker, this is usually phrased as “Don’t you love it here? I mean, I love it. I could never live anywhere else. Could you imagine? God!” or something to that effect. I think this billboard sums up this attitude best:


And while I have loved parts of the city, especially the (often) perfect months of May and October, those parts haven’t added up to enough to allow me to respond with a resounding “Yeah, I love it. It’s amazing.”

My commute crosstown to work each morning  is enough to make any sane non-New Yorker break out in a machine-gun-toting killing spree. Especially in the winter, when it’s 20 degrees out (okay, quiet already, you Midwesterners, I know it could be colder but you have to remember I grew up in Southern California and my peoples are a tropical peoples), and the wind makes that feel like 12 degrees, and you’ve taken great care in dressing so as to not allow one chink in your cold-fighting layers only to have something ride up or ride down, usually where you just can’t reach, and winter’s icy fingers jab you right in the back or hairline or across your presumably boot-bundled toes.

Sorry, I digress. But one of the main things that always, always delights me about New York is the plethora of art/culture offerings, especially for someone like me who is obsessed with the written word. There are book readings, discussions, panels, festivals, award ceremonies, performances – all highlighting that great and magical thing.

Someone asked me recently how I find out about all these great things, and, as I began to enumerate the various blogs and websites and e-newsletters that I troll, I realized that the shame of it all is that there is no easy way to find out about these things. Of course there’s the NY Times and the New Yorker and TimeOut, but they’re so spread out and sometimes hard to follow (I’m talking to you, TimeOut!).

And then there’s the added problem of worrying if this or that event is going to be any good. Worthwhile enough to justify leaving off your myriad responsibilities for the night and venture out into the cold. We depend so much on the word of a good friend who loved this movie or that book, and what if most of our friends are just like us and feel as though they’re just barely holding their necks out of the water?

So, after this very long-winded wind-up, here’s my Jho In The City-approved list of NYC Literati hot spots.

(In no particular order)

McNally Jackson

Consistently one of the best book places in New York. A great bookstore and cafe (grab a scone, you’ll thank me) that hosts some kind of reading or discussion almost every day of the week. I love that they feature fiction and poetry and non-fiction and literary magazines, so there’s no end to the interesting things you’ll find out about. I’ve discovered so many great books in this place, they deserve a medal.

The Center for Fiction

Billed as the only fiction-centered non-profit in the U.S., the Center for Fiction is a treasure trove for story lovers. They’re a library, quasi-artists’ colony, reading room, bookstore, and host to a tremendous variety of fiction-only events. It’s housed in a charming, old townhouse right in the middle of Midtown, walking distance to Grand Central Station. Their First Novel Prize always turns me on to some as yet undiscovered wonder, like Michelle Hoover’s The Quickening.

CityBoy and I usually treat ourselves to ramen at Menkui Tei or Menchanko-Tei, because who doesn’t want a big bowl of pork soup after hearing great fiction.

NYU’s Reading Series

This reading series, in particular their readings at the Lillian Vernon House, were my saving grace the first six months I lived in New York. And the reason for my great envy of NYU MFA students. They get their own friggin’ house! Where the visiting poets come and actually interact with them! And they have free beer and wine! They will get mobbed when the greats, like Sharon Olds, come and read, so get there early and be prepared to sit, cheek by jowl, with other aspiring writers, notepads in hand.

The New School

These guys host a ridiculous number of events and readings, some in big auditoriums and others in more intimate classrooms. Every year, they host the National Book Critics Circle Reading, which is a fantastic way of finding out about a big cross-section of great writers in one long and beautiful evening. Most of their events are free or a small contribution like $5-10.

I like to pair an evening reading here with dinner at Da Andrea, this fantastic Italian place within walking distance.

Tenement Talks at the Tenement Museum

Home to NYC-centered readings and events, the Tenement Museum is a great place to find out about New York’s long and gritty past and to indulge your inner historian. Their events tend to get crowded, since they’re packed into their little visitor’s center/bookstore/gift shop, and the crowd is always hilariously full of old school New Yorkers, who ask weird, long-winded questions and participate as vehemently as call-and-responders at your local Black church. It’s a great taste of old New York.

We once had dinner at The Ten Bells, a tiny tapas place nearby, where the barkeep satisfied my secret craving for super stinky cheese. CityBoy struggled with not ordering me to another table with my “foot cheese.”

Check ’em out and see what you think. Hopefully at least one will surprise and delight you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: