Strand Books, New York.
To me the Strand bookstore in New York was like a beautiful, mythical beast. I believed in its presence and ethos so wholeheartedly but I never thought I would ever step foot inside. You see, I'm (was?) terrified of aeroplanes, but at the end of last year my boyfriend somehow managed to get me on to one. A few tears, a lot of plane food (I don't think I had ever eaten so much in a single day before!), and six hours later, we stepped foot on to New York soil. You're going to have to forgive my next sentence because it's going to sound like an overstatement, but I sincerely mean it. For me, New York was life changing. See I told you, it sounds like such an exaggeration. But it's not. It's a whole world away from where I currently live, but its 'take no bullshit, I'm here to get things done' attitude rubbed off on me and my gosh did I need that.
The Strand bookstore was everything I knew it would be. Everything good you've ever heard about it, well, it's all true. There's something about the way the books are arranged that draws you in. I don't know what it is, but it's magical and as soon as I walked inside I felt like shouting 'take all of my money'. As I wandered around, completely overwhelmed, I came up with one rule: if I was drawn to a book I was going to buy it
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
'Cheryl is a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone. She is haunted by the baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people's babies. She is also obsessed with Philip and believes they have been making love for many lifetimes, although they are yet to do so in this lifetime. When Cheryl's bosses ask if their twenty one year old daughter Clee can move in with her for a while, her eccentrically-ordered world explodes. But Clee ends up bullying Cheryl into reality and unexpectedly provides her with the love of a lifetime.'
Miranda July is nothing short of brilliant. No One Belongs Here More Than You is probably my favourite short story collection of all time and so when my boyfriend spotted this on one of the tables, I knew there was a place on my bookshelf for it. I know this is going to be a bizarre read, but I'm looking forward to getting to it.
Refund: Stories by Karen E Bender
'Refund is an award winning collection of stories that deeply explore the ways in which money and the estimation of value affect the lives of the characters. They reflect our contemporary world - swindlers, reality show creators, desperate artists, siblings, parents - who try to answer the question: what is the real definition of worth?'
This is a perfect example of a book I had never heard anything about before, but I was inexplicably drawn to it and had to purchase it. I don't think I even read the back, it just went straight on to the pile. I do love a good collection of short stories and after skimming through a few of the reviews on Goodreads, I think this might be a collection that's right up my street.
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
'A Reunion of Ghosts is a shared confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves at the end of the twentieth century, honouring the dark legacy that has haunted their extraordinary family for decades. But how do three sisters write a single suicide note?'
One of the first books that I picked up, but it almost didn't make the cut when I was standing in the middle of the store with a pile of books in my arms thinking 'I probably shouldn't buy all of these'. But then I came to my senses and thought 'of course I should buy all of these, why on earth not!' And it turns out I'd added this book to my goodreads to-read list a few months previously but had just completely forgotten about it, so it was meant to be.
Dinner by Cesar Aira
'One Saturday night a bankrupt bachelor in his sixties and his mother visit a wealthy friend. They discuss their endlessly connected neighbours. They talk about a mysterious pit that opened up one day, and the old bricklayer who sometimes walked to the cemetery to cheer himself up. Anxious to show off his valuable antiques, the host shows his guests old wind-up toys and takes them to admire an enormous doll. Back at home, the bachelor decides to watch some late night TV before going to bed. The news takes a turn for the worse when, horrified, the newscaster finds herself reporting about the dead rising from their graves and begin sucking the blood of the living, all figures disturbingly reminiscent of dinner party conversations.'
At just 96 pages, this little book is small slice of the bizarre and the wonderful, where nothing is quite as it seems. The first time I read it I turned the final page and thought, what have I just read? Because although I had no real idea what to expect, I certainly wasn't expecting that. But the second time I read it I was drawn in by its masterful prose and cleverly amusing events. Really, really wonderful and I enjoyed it immensely.
It Shouldn't Have Been Beautiful by Lia Purpura
'These exquisitely rendered poems reach back to an early affinity for proverbs and riddles, and the proto-poetry found in these forms. Taking on vast subjects - time and memory, metamorphosis and indeterminacy, the complicated nature of beauty, wordless states of being - each poem explores the bright, crisp, singular moment of shock, or awareness, or revelation. Purpura reminds us that short poems can transcend their size, like small dogs, espresso, or a drop of mercury.'
This is a beautiful collection that I have revisited more than a handful of times so far, and with every intention of dipping back in very soon. If you have been feeling the urge to begin exploring poetry, but you're not sure where to start, or are a little intimidated (I was!) then I think this collection could be a wonderful place to start. Brief in form, big in impact, these poems are so utterly relatable and so recognisable. Here's a little taste from one of my favourites:
Like a thought you saw coming.
Not one you didn't.'
(Lia Purpura, 'Accident', p. 49)
Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath
I mentioned this a couple of days ago when I talked about the books I'd read so far this year, and I've already reread it multiple times because I find something new between the lines every single time. It's the book that keeps on giving. And it's even more fitting that I bought this copy in a place that had such a big impact on my soul. This edition also includes the complete working drafts of her poem 'Ariel', which gives an insight into Plath's creative process and is one of my favourite parts of the book.
Cries for Help Various Stories by Padgett Powell
'The surrealistic and comical terrain of most of the fourty four stories here is grounded by a preoccupation with longing, fear, work, loneliness and cultural nostalgia. Powell's language is both lofty and low-down, his tone cranky and heartfelt, exuberant and inconsolable. His characters rebel against convention and ambition, hoping to maintain their very sanity by doing so. Even the most fantastical stories ring so gloriously, poignantly, true.'
Another collection of short stories, this is one that I'm not sure I'm not sure whether I'll like or loathe, but I'm certainly looking forward to seeing how I feel. There are a lot of stories in there so I think there are going to be some ups and downs, but what's life without some ups and downs, eh?
M Train by Patti Smith
'A journey through eighteen 'stations', beginning in the tiny Greenwich Village cafe where Smith goes every morning for a black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. We then travel, through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations from: Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorer's society in Belgium; from the ramshackle bungalow Smith buys in New York's Far Rockaway just before hurricane Sandy hits, to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer's craft and artistic creation, alongside signature memories including her life in Michigan with her husband whose untimely death was an irredeemable loss.'
Finally, after reading and absolutely adoring Just Kids, I had to pick up M Train. I just had to. I've started reading this one, but I haven't got very far because it's one I want to read when I have the opportunity to fully savour every word and every photograph. And it's one I know I'm going to adore, from the very first page I knew that it would probably be everything I was hoping for.
Have you ever been to Strand books?
Do you have a favourite book shop?
Do you have a favourite book shop?