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The Big Apple of bookstores

strand logoThe Horn Book’s old office in Charlestown had more space and a slightly different setup than our cozy current digs at Simmons College. One aspect of that setup was the “No Shelf,” full of extra copies of books and galleys. The old location didn’t have the benefit of students and professors walking by to take unneeded reading material off our hands…which is why those of us who completed Horn Book internships in that office addressed many, many boxes of books to the Strand.

There’s a pretty big soft spot in my heart for bookstores, especially independent bookstores. (Shout-out to my bookselling alma mater, Brookline Booksmith!) So on a recent trip to New York, I made a point of filling a gap in my experience as a book nerd: I had never actually seen Strand Book Store.

I knew exactly where I would end up doing the bulk of my browsing (I work for an organization dedicated to “books for children and young adults,” after all), so before I let myself get too absorbed, I started by looking around the rest of the store’s “18 miles of books.” Invitingly stacked tables: check. Alphabetized shelves: check. Used books downstairs, including galleys: check. There was even a table of kids’ and YA books in a prime spot on the main floor, with a sign indicating that there were plenty more such books to be had upstairs.

And there were, starting with a few more tables spilling out into the more general browsing area. When I finally entered the kids’ section, a storytime featuring special guest The Cat in the Hat was just wrapping up in a sizeable nook filled with picture books and board books as well as kids’ nonfiction. The rest of the kids’ section wasn’t quite as roomy, but still, I found my former-bookseller self drooling over all the space. There was space for hardcovers and paperbacks of the same books. There was space for some seasonal picture books year-round.

There were more tables, some with categories — Children’s Award Winners, New Children’s Picture Books. Nimona (HarperTeen, May 2015) had a bookmark sticking out of it that read, “Best Gift for the Comic Connoisseur. My Cousin Momo (Dial, June 2015) had one reading, “Best Gift for Fans of Awesome.” The shelves were highly subsectioned, too. There were areas for Children’s Historic Fiction, Children’s Classics…the YA section was full of categories, including several genres of fiction, an LGBT section, and a Self Help section.

Are more-specific sections a good thing? I think it depends on a shopper’s mission. If you’re looking for a particular book and you know the author’s name and the alphabet, broader sections make it easier to find it faster. But the sections made for interesting browsing, and I imagine they help a lot of readers find readalikes. “I (or the young reader in my life) liked ______. What’s a good book to read next?” is one of the most common questions in a bookstore. With this setup, several good answers are probably very close to the original favorite on the shelf.

Empire State Building? Been there, done that. Statue of Liberty? Maybe next time. Heading to New York? Have I got a tourist attraction for you!

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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