18 Miles of Books

Newfound  Joys at the historic Strand Bookstore in NYC 

I like to think of Union Square as my second home. Having gone to a private New York City high school, almost all of my friends growing up lived in the village. That’s why I was so surprised when a college friend of mine – he had spent his past summer living in Hell’s Kitchen – asked me if I knew The Strand, a bookstore in Union Square, which I had never heard of before. “It’s right in Union Square, next to the movie theater. I can’t believe you’ve never been.” So, over spring break, I decided it was time to go.

Walking past Max Brenner’s and the movie theater, both of which I knew too well, I stopped at large red sign that read The Strand. This large sign had probably been right in front of my eyes many times before, and yet I had never seen it. It amazes me how many hidden nooks this city still contains. The store was overwhelming. It is the last remainder of Book Row, which in the 1920s spanned six city blocks and was home to almost 50 bookstores.

The store was overwhelming. I walked in and immediately understood why they prided themselves on having 18 miles of books. Every single inch of the floor was covered in table space piled high with books on every subject. There was a table for best fiction, best non-fiction, recipe books, children’s’ books, etc. A section to the left held a bookcase that was lined from floor to ceiling with books that were falling apart in the most beautiful way. I picked up an old edition of The Grimm Brothers’ Fairytales and skeptically checked the price on the inside cover. Only $12. There was no fucking way.

With the book in my arms, I circled the store, making my way down from the topmost floor, covering every single table, every single author I could manage. By the time I climbed down the stairs to the last floor, my head was spinning from how many books were encased in this small hole in the wall store. It was a writer’s paradise. To my pleasure, I had heard of or read many of the authors they kept on their shelves.  

What made me fall even more in love? A large rack on the corner of the bottom floor that held old stylized maps of New York City – almost all priced at $10 or less. I was physically dragged away by a friend who was accompanying me. I was fully capable of giving The Strand every last dollar in my bank account with no regrets, and we both knew it.

I stepped out into the balmy sun, exhausted. Spring Break would come to a speeding halt, but I would definitely be going on more explorations my next time back at home.

Nehal Aggarwal is a voracious coffee drinker from NYC always on the lookout for the next adventure. She can frequently be found in any coffee shop or leafing through books at any bookstore.



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