Brooklyn, where I live, is not bad when it comes to having independent bookstores, at least by today's diminished standards. I have a few that by bike I can reach in ten to fifteen minutes. Earlier this year, I was happy to see that in downtown Brooklyn, in a mixed-use complex called Citypoint where there are stores, bars, lots of eating places, a Trader Joe's, and an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, a new large indie bookstore was being readied for opening. This store is McNally Jackson Books, of which there are four in New York City, two in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn. Before the pandemic hit, I went to Citypoint, for a bite or a drink or a movie, all the time, and when I saw that an indie bookstore I know and like was coming there, I was excited. Like, I suppose, nearly everyone, I buy a large number of my books from Amazon, and I promised myself that I'd frequent this McNally Jackson store -- near me, no excuse not to go often -- on a regular basis.
The long-awaited opening happened the first week in March, but before I even had a chance to stop by, the coronavirus lockdown went into effect and the store had to close. It was open then for 11 days. The bookseller's other three locations were able to reopen in June, when the lockdown eased, but this particular store at Citypoint, because it is in a mall, did not get clearance to open. That didn't happen until September, and I didn't realize the store had reopened until I swung by Citypoint several weeks after that. Like most people I know, I don't go out much these days.Well, a couple Saturdays ago, I finally bicycled over to the new location, and as soon as I stepped inside, I felt both at home and regretful. At home because it's a lovely and spacious place, lined wall to wall, floor to floor, with books, and regretful because I don't make the effort to go to independent bookstores often enough.
I realized almost at once how much I miss going to bookstores frequently and just doing the one thing you cannot do through Amazon in a way that's comparable: browsing. Spending an hour or two in a store, flipping through any number of books, finding a book you didn't know about and getting lost in it for awhile, is something I used to do so often and now, not so much. And this goes back to before the pandemic, my falling out of the bookstore going habit. I can't blame it all on Amazon either, because Amazon has been around for years and I used to go to bookstores a lot well after Amazon came on the scene. I'm not sure why I go to bookstores less than I used to; if I had to pick a single reason, I'd say it's because I have so many unread books at home, I think to myself why go to a store to pick up yet another book (unless it's a book I'm going to buy and know I'm going to read immediately).
Regardless of the reason, I had a wonderful time in McNally Jackson that Saturday and spent a good hour and a half there. I actually took my time and browsed. No need for something I so essentially enjoy to feel like a retro experience, but it did, a little bit, though that's something I can change by going more. And I intend to. We all know how much indie bookstores like this need our support. The store was nearly empty the whole time I was there, and I couldn't help but wonder what business is like. The store is in what should be a good location, but because of the pandemic, one worries. I hope very much the location can make it.
Did I buy anything, or only browse? I bought something, of course. Only one book for now, because, as I said, with far too many unread books at home...
The Promise, the final work, years in the making, by the great Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo. This was plucked from the Latin American and Caribbean fiction section, where I could camp for months and months and thumb through the books if someone brought me food and water. So much more to explore from there (I mean that one section, not to mention other sections), and that exploration will continue next time.
As I said after paying at the register, though in a friendly, not a Terminator, voice, "I'll be back."