“Start spreadin' the news, I'm leavin' today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York” (“New York New York,” by Frank Ebb 1957)
This spring, I embarked on a self-guided literary tour of New York City. Here is a snapshot of my adventures.
Earlier this year I reported on the re-opening Greenwich Village’s Left Bank Books (41 Perry Street), and on this trip I met co-owner Erik DuRon. While only 300 square feet, the store offers a delightful collection of rare and antiquarian books. Left Bank had been open for about two weeks at the time of my visit, but business seemed brisk.
From Left Bank Books, I headed east to Union Square and the world-famous Strand Bookstore at 828 Broadway for its great selection of new, used, and rare books as well as book affiliated paraphernalia. For a scant $15 I picked up a 2015 reissue of Danish children’s book illustrator Kay Nielsen’s East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a collection of fifteen Norse fairy tales originally published in 1914.
Next I trekked to Murray Hill and one my favorite haunts in New York: The Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Avenue), where I was particularly keen to see Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, an exhibit showcasing Tolkien's drawings of maps and scenes from the beloved world of his books. Photographs, letters, and calligraphy rendered by the author of the Lord of the Rings make this the largest collection of Tolkien material on display in the United States. (Interested? Better get there quick; the exhibition closes May 16th.)
As a Tolkien fan, the exhibit did not disappoint, but I was most impressed with his drawings. I had no idea that he illustrated his work and even designed the first cover of The Hobbit.
But my favorite part of the Morgan is the private library that once belonged to J.P. Morgan, a gilded space filled with books. On an earlier visit, a guard shared a secret about the library: internal staircases were built behind bookcase doors to access the upper floors, which I confirmed by peering through a tiny gap in the walls to find the white stairway hidden within.
No trip to the Big Apple is complete without a visit to the Metropolitan Museum. Wandering around the American Wing led to the Jefferson R. Burdick collection of baseball cards (covered previously on the Book & Paper blog). While it’s not a huge exhibit—these are baseball cards, after all—it was thrilling to see the T206 Honus Wagner.
This city never gets old.
Elisa Shoenberger is a researcher and writer. She has published articles and essays at the Boston Globe, the Rumpus, Deadspin, and other outlets. She is a regular contributor to Book Riot and is the co-editor and co-founder of The Antelope: A Journal of Oral History and Mayhem.