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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In My Book

I remember hearing someone once say that there is an illusion that everything in the past was better, with the quality of antiques cited as evidence and that this perception is because we only save the best and discard the rest. There was plenty of junk made. Occasionally we even champion the junk, to be sold and seen as charming kitsch and somehow better than today's kitsch. I have heard the same type of thing said about books from those that have a good historical knowledge of the world of publishing - that plenty of crap has been written and published, but only the classics remain.
Certainly, looking at the landscape that is New York City, I would be hard pressed to romanticize the 1970s. I am not a fan of over gentrification or the encroachment of chain and big box stores but I also have no fond memories of graffiti covered trains, Bowery squeegee men insistent on washing car windshields, "no radio" signs in cars adorned with broken glass or running for your life in the East Village. I had a friend that was actually mugged three times in one week in the vestibule of his East Village flat.
There were good things too, of course - especially the affordability which allowed virtually anyone with desire and intestinal fortitude to get a foothold in this city and stake out their claim. Apartments could be had cheaply (in relative dollars). You could work yourself through a private university and support your yourself in your own place.
This environment really allowed all manner of things to survive and flourish - one of those things were the booksellers along 4th avenue, a row of 30 used book dealers in the space of 6 blocks from Astor Place to Union Square known as "the book row of America." I love books and perusing the wares of those dealers on a Sunday afternoon was one of my pleasures and pastimes. The Strand, still operating today on Broadway, had its roots there. The other survivor is Pageant Book Shop, founded in 1946 by Sidney B. Solomon and Henry "Chip" Chafetz as a used and rare book shop in New York City. Sidney's daughters Shirley and Rececca Solomon now run the shop. Pageant had its home in several locations along Fourth Avenue for 35 years before moving around the corner to East 9th Street. In the 1990s it moved to West Houston Street; recently it moved to its current location at 69 East 4th Street.
The current shop is much smaller than previous incarnations and unlike its predecessors, sells primarily antiques prints and maps with a smaller selections of books. I can't say this place exudes that rustic charm with musty smells of the early 4th Avenue booksellers. But no matter, because it is a book store and in my book, that is always welcome ...

Film buffs: The shop and its books have appeared in numerous movies filmed in New York City including Neil Simon’s "Chapter Two" with James Caan and Marsha Mason and Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" where Michael Caine and Barbara Hershey went browsing for a copy of e.e. cumming's poems.

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3 comments:

Blognote said...

I perfectly agree with what you have written, Brian!! I could not add anything else to it! Thanks for sharing.

Brian Dubé said...

thanks - maybe I should leave more unsaid.

Terry B said...

A lovely, thoughtful post. As a lover of books and booksellers, you should read Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road. A story told primarily in letters, it maps the 20-year friendship between a New York writer and a seller of rare books in London. An amazing, utterly charming book!