Avi WordCraft blog

Book Row

The Strand Bookstore
Strand Bookstore, by Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0

When I was growing up in New York City, there was an area along Fourth Avenue which was called “Book Row.” It existed from the 1890s until the 1960’s. Over its six blocks stretch there were some thirty-six bookstores, mostly selling used books. As a teenager I used to wander about there, beguiled, looking at, and now and again buying a book. The only one of the Book Row stores that has survived is The Strand. Today it stands in book fame along with such fabled bookstores as Portland Oregon’s Powell’s, or San Francisco’s City Lights.

By the time I turned sixteen—1953—I was already something of a bibliomaniac, with a firm passion for reading, a library of my own, and perhaps, just thinking about writing. 

For my birthday present that year my father took me to The Strand. When we got to the bookstore he told me that his birthday gift was that I could buy up to twenty-five dollars’ worth of books. “And if it’s a little more than that, don’t worry.”

Considering the cost of books today, twenty-five dollars doesn’t seem like a great deal of book-buying money. But if you run it through one of those inflation calculators (which you can find online), by today’s value that twenty-five dollars was worth about two-hundred and fifty of today’s dollars.

For my father, who was rather a miser, this was rather an extraordinary gift. Not only do I recall my elation but I have a distinct memory of wandering among the bookshelves. I can have anything! I recall buying fiction, books about American history, and books about my then obsession, railroads.

I selected so many I was given a box to take home all my books.

Astonishingly, I still have a couple of those books on my shelves today.

And I still love to wander about used bookstores, more so, in fact, than a bookstore which has just new books. A used bookstore is a place of memories I have yet to have. Indeed, it’s rare for me to buy a new book. My most recent acquisition was a book published in 1906.

And when I buy my books I do so mostly on-line. I am often tracking down a rare (as in scarce, not valuable) book for the research I do for my historical fiction. When I get them I am often saddened to discover the book has been discarded from a library, not used, not wanted, except by the likes of me.

When I moved away from Denver to our log house in Clark, Colorado, there was the painful question of what to do with some five thousand books. I just had no room for them.

The solution was easy. I gave most of them away to used books stores, stores like Books for a Buck. I love such places. You can buy a lot of books for twenty-five dollars.

1 thought on “Book Row”

  1. Mr. Avi (I know that’s your nickname, but I’ll call you that anyway),

    I have come across a book, “Writing as a Way of Healing,” by Louise Desalvo and wondered what makes you write–since I seemed to be magnet to your books growing up. I tried to look up your story online a few years ago, but didn’t find anything until a few days ago. This book has intrigued me and so have your books, which is why I wondered about your story. Your writing helped me discover my love for historical fiction.

    My first encounter was from my sister, a sixth grade teacher, “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” making one of the first marks toward my love of adventure books. My second was “Nothing but the Truth,” which was a junior high choice based on the front cover, which in turned to be another enjoyable read for me. My third was in college as I was curious of your other authored stories and found, (don’t remember the title) but the one with the historical setting along the beach front of ships sailing to America from England with a dark ages setting. I didn’t read the sequel, however, but enjoyed the detail and adventure-like narrative. It takes a lot for me to sit and read a book, but when I do, it’s very worthwhile.

    I ended up choosing a career in elementary education, where I then started to read “Crispin the Cross of Lead,” but was too scary for the fourth graders I taught at the time. I ended up reading to them “Homesick” by Jean Fritz, also an historical fiction book. That was in about 2004 and then about 2013 I attempted a series my parents gave to me to begin called the “The Storm Testament” by Lee Nelson. I wasn’t not enthused at first and put it down until almost six years later when I tried to read it again.

    I reread the prologue and discovered that the book was based on true and actual events, which changed my perspective as I read and since then have been hooked. I have reached the 7th book now and wanted to tell you thanks for inspiring me to continue my journey to read and adventure through the authored books you’ve made available.

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