A Reader's First Trip to New York

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

At the risk of sounding like a hick, I admit I’m not what you’d call a big city guy. I prefer the quaint, might be a nicer way to put it. I do, however, love new experiences. Alicia and I regularly travel for work and pleasure. This past weekend I went to New York City for a party. It was my first visit.

I knew my time was limited so I picked my priorities thus: (1) Book of Mormon; (2) The Strand Bookstore; (3) Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. By starting early each day we squeezed much more into our four days. We managed two more bookstores, the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and The Museum of Modern Art. Of course, to get there we used the subway system which, is in my mind, a national treasure.

In no particular order here is four days in New York as seen by a Texan, first time visitor, and reader:

The Airport

I am happy to report that airports still have Hudson News stores and books are still the best pre-flight and in-flight entertainment for your money. Reading while you wait is fashionable and I would even say expected in airports. I worked on American Rust by Philipp Meyer, pre-flight, and during the flight I listened to the final audiobook in the Hunger Games trilogy while I snoozed.

Books still work best because they aren’t electronic devices that have to be turned on and off before takeoff and landing. During preparation for takeoff and landing I stowed my iPad and read a plain old paperback.

I am happy to report the state of reading on planes is strong.

The New York Public Library

Libraries are being hit hard across the world by funding cuts. So the starting point in understanding the New York Public Library system is imaging how you might serve eight million people anything. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

There is no real way to visit all the sub-structures of the library without devoting more than four days to the adventure. We did, however, make it by the historic location that hosted an exhibit entitled “Shelley’s Ghost,” the Schwarzman Building.

The trip was worthwhile for the architecture alone. The special exhibits, most available free of charge, are worth spending time on. In particular, the Shelley exhibit gave a good history of Shelley as well as sources to learn more. Speakers lined up throughout the week would talk on various subjects related to Shelley, however, time would not permit us more than a walk through of the exhibit.

Alicia found a neat necklace in the gift shop which is engraved to read: “Love should be a tree whose roots are deep in the earth, but whose branches extend into heaven.” -Bertrand Russel

The Strand Bookstore

Four floors. Eighteen miles of books. This is mecca for readers. If you collect books the third floor is the rare book room. If you prefer literary non-fiction, check the basement. In between is the most awesome display of books I have ever seen.

Tables tout special selections. A special section is reserved for “real” books priced less than Kindle titles.

I think this store is an example of the past and future for bookstores. Bookstores like this have character. This one, around since 1927, will find its niche. The fate of others is less certain, but maybe that’s because they try to compete with Amazon at their level. Amazon does what they do very efficiently. I’d like to think that a smal shop with a personality could survive, but that may be naive.

I picked up about ten books as I browsed the shelves and displays.

Peter Luger’s Steakhouse

Alert! Vegans stop reading now and resume at the next heading. I’m sorry, but I love steak and a reader has to eat, right?

I don’t have much to say here except that I haven’t paid for a meal with cash in several years, but Luger’s only takes cash. We savored the meat, left to stand on its own in terms of flavor with very little, if any seasonings used.

We brought the giant porterhouse bone home for Eggers by using a combination of a duct taped doggie bag and the hotel freezer. He found the bone quite pleasing. He devoured it completely in two hours.

Book of Mormon

Set aside your nature if you’re easily offended or don’t go.

I am not easily offended and I loved it. I call it part South Park, part Lion King, part Bertrand Russell. You’ll love this play about organized religion’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Bible and the Book of Mormon are books, so that’s how I defend this as a “book-ish” activity. It was my first Broadway show and I don’t regret the choice at all.

The Subway

No reader’s survey of New York would be complete without a section devoted to the subway. Like a temporary prisoner in a packed cell you ride. If you have a book, though, the entire experience changes and you have an excuse to avoid eye contact with everyone on board and just get lost for the few minutes until you get off.

A Few Asides

If I had more time I would have done something to explore The Great Gatsby in New York. There’s always next time.

Central Park is an outdoor reader’s dream. We watched the dogs play in the park and had a coffee one morning. If I lived in New York I would go daily.

The only thing more common than coffee shops in New York are taxi cabs. There are shops and cafes galore. All great places to read and sip.

Newspaper stands are alive and well in New York, although, I don’t see how. They must be impacted by electronic media, but you can still find one on most streets.

The New York Book Haul

Between Hell’s Kitchen flea market, the smaller bookstores, the New York Library gift shop, and The Strand Bookstore my total New York book haul was:

1. Bartelby The Scrivener, Herman Melville.
2. The Complete Plays of Sophocles, Edited with an Introduction,  Moses Hadas.
3. Aristotle’s Poetics with an introductory essay, Francis Fergusson.
4. The Curtain, An Essay in Seven Parts, Milan Kundera.
5. Roland Barthes, Mythologies.
6. On the Nature of Things, Lucretius, Translated by Frank O. Copley.
7. Kafka Americana,Jonathan Lethem and Carter Scholz.
8. The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett.
9. Tintin and the Secret of Literature, McCarthy.
10. Men of Art, Thomas Craven.
11. Modern Short Stories, The Uses of Imagination, Third Edition, Edited by Arthur Mizener.

The bookstores were crowded in New York. I credit the educated population of New York for making me believe there is a place for books in the city.

All photos by Alicia.


  1. T. Lloyd Reilly

    Great read. I grew up in the suburbs of NYC and have many fond memories. Concerts in the late ’60’s and ’70’s, certainly Broadway, driving a truck in all the boroughs, and the ultimate NY experience…having earned a living as a NY Taxi Driver.

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      What a great time to be in New York.

      I can’t even imagine driving in NY let alone driving a cab all day. I’m impressed.

      Ever make it by CBGB’s? I hear it’s shutdown.

  2. Ruth Coe Chambers

    So glad you made the trip and hope you enjoyed the party. Your description of your adventure in the Big Apple is great. I especially enjoyed reading about the Shelley Exhibit. Alicia’s Necklace would make a nice title for a story. Her pictures are a real treat.
    All this and I didn’t even have to take the subway. You should do more travel writing.

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      The party was great! The Shelley exhibit was great and well attended, too. Her story is interesting.

      Thanks for the compliments!

  3. Chris

    Great post. Sounds like you got some great books(I’m jealous). The subway becomes trying when you have to be on it everyday (at least in Barcelona). Even worse is when *gasp* you finish your book, and still have a huge chunk of your daily commute. Or sometimes when I’m reading on my kindle, when the battery dies…

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      Thanks! I can see how it might get old but we have nothing like it where I live.

      Without a book I could see the monotony!

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