Monday, August 22, 2016

Gotham Book Mart Project

I really loved Gotham Book Mart. I loved walking to it past all the diamond shops on 47th, glimpsing their famous sign--"Wise Men Fish Here"--and feeling that rush, browsing through the shelves, always finding something wonderful and unusual. For years now, every time I venture close to its former location, I get a pang of sadness that I can't go there ever again.

So here's something.

After the shop closed in 2007, its entire contents--about 200,000 books and other items--were donated to the University of Pennsylvania by Edmondo Schwartz and Leonard Lauder. And now they're gradually appearing on a blog called The Gotham Book Mart Project.

Here are a few that seem especially special:


onemorefoldedsunset said...

That's good to see. Until recently the owner of closed/closing Community Books on Court Street was still selling books at $1 apiece - not sure if that's still happening (the hours are eclectic!). Good things left! And I have to give a shout-out to the ZZ School Library in Kansas City, MO, whose collection is mostly of "ghost" books libraries no longer had (literally & metaphorically) room for. Some great treasures there, and a reminder of all the great arts projects that exist far from here. @zzschoollibrary

Unknown said...

Wow, great archiving of all these great books! Fun to browse, even if only virtually. Thanks for the link to the site!

John K said...

Jeremiah, I'm so glad you highlighted Penn's Gotham Book Mart Tumblr. I've been following them for about a year and love seeing the various materials they post. Gotham's end marked the loss of one of New York's great(est) 20th century bookstores. So many major US and foreign writers passed through its doors, and it represented the epitome of cultural and social hub--and hive--that is now being erased building by building, block by block from New York, particularly Manhattan. Amazon may ship any book you want in no time, but it can never replace the knowledge, wisdom, and love of books that the staff at Gotham possessed.

What I also try to remember is that bookstores like Gotham were and are public commercial spaces. Anyone could and can enter, browse, enjoy the space, conversation, etc. The University of Pennsylvania's library, one of the best in the world, however, is a private elite entity that far fewer have access to. The Tumblr is great, but it's virtual; you can't wander in Penn's library without permission and you certainly aren't going to encounter the kinds of people you might in a New York bookstore.

We're walling off more and more of our culture in ways that benefit elites at the expense of everyone else, but getting people to see this is a challenge. As you show repeatedly with neoliberalized zombie urbanism and hypergentrification, what often looks like an "improvement" is really a loss, for the majority, in favor of very powerful, elite private entities.

When nearly all our public space and commons are gone, we'll lament, but we really should keep trying, as you do, to stave off the losses before they become faits accomplis.

JMS said...

I was thinking of Gotham Book Mart just the other day. In 1982, I moved to NYC, and I found myself one day in the shop, looking for a book by Don DeLillo. I don't remember which one, but I had just read Running Dog and was hooked. I asked a man who worked there -- I think he may have been a proprietor -- whether the book was in stock. It wasn't.
"But," he said, "upstairs I have a complete set of first editions of the novels" -- there were six at the time -- "all signed, that I could let you have for $120." That was a lot of money in those days, money I didn't have. Knowing I was making a mistake, I said thanks, but I couldn't afford it. "Well, if you change your mind..."

Unknown said...

Just noticed that 564 Fifth Avenue AKA Finchley's castle is being prepped for demo by Extell. I would have thought any idiot would realize that building shouldn't be demolished, but I guess that is how this city is going.

Unknown said...

I was thinking about The Gotham Bookmart today. When I first came to New York about 1980 I spent at least one lunch hour a week there buying what I could afford, wishing I could buy more. Books were the second biggest line item in my budget, after rent, in those days, and I made a pittance.

I attended meetings of The James Joyce Society, read everything by or about Thomas Wolf I could lay my hands on, and loved the poetry section. Nowhere else could I find contemporary poets like The Gotham. I hung around like a hound would hang out at the butcher’s.

Through the magic of search engines I came here tonight. Thanks for sharing your memories of this very special place.