Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stacked-NYC on Vacation – Part I

Earlier this summer Stacked-NYC visited a number of towns on the New Jersey shore.  Since this post is coming a bit after the fact, we wanted to wish the owners of these stores and their patrons well and hope that they have stayed safe during the recent hurricane.

This week Stacked-NYC celebrates summer by taking a week-long break on the Jersey Shore (no not that part of the Jersey Shore). But even with the ocean, the pool, mini-golf and the arcade, a girl still has to read. First stop, Atlantic Books (12th Street and the boardwalk) in Ocean City, NJ, where Mr.Stacked-NYC is scheduled to do a book signing of his new picture book, Detective Blue. The greeting was underwhelming as the staff behind the counter acknowledged his existence with a nod and told him to come back in two days. The good news is that Atlantic Books is located right on the boardwalk where you can soothe your wounded pride with creamy gelato or homemade fudge at Shriver, the candy store now celebrating its 113th birthday, or gaze off at the breaking waves as the sky turns to dusk.
Update: Sadly, Atlantic Books in Ocean City has closed. Ocean City now has only one bookstore--Sun Rose Words and Music, located at 765 Asbury Avenue.


Shriver's Salt Water Taffy & Fudge
(photo courtesy of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce)

For a more enjoyable book shopping experience, travel south to Hooked on Books in Wildwood, NJ. Located on Pacific Avenue and Oak Street (3405 Pacific Avenue), walking distance from retro motels like the Suitcase motel--look for the surreal neon sign with the half-dressed couple inside the suitcase--and the Lollipop (a historic Doo Wop landmark). This veteran of bookstores—now in its 21st summer—is chock full of used books in a far-ranging variety of subjects. 

Hooked on Books, Wildwood, NJ

The treasure hunt begins...

While there’s plenty of paperback romances and adventure stories by Ludlam et al, you can also do some serious reading here. On a recent visit, we picked up copies of novels by Maugham, Gaskell, and Gallsworthy, as well as Everything Scrabble: The Definitive Book on Scrabble, and some vintage Garfield the cat comics.  The staff is knowledgeable and agreeable, there are at least two comfy corners where you can take a seat and read on the spot and chances are good that you’ll find something fascinating and unexpected. 

Co-owner Kieran Linnane helping a customer.

Kieran Linnane, who co-owns Hooked on Books with  Jim Wright, told us teen-aged girls are frequent customers (hurray for girls who read) as are those making purchases for their school-assigned summer reading.  During our visit he helped one customer find a copy of Catch-22 and another one with the latest entry in the Hunger Games series. This store will also please those on a reading binge by a newly discovered novelist. In addition to Cry, The Beloved Country, for example, the only Alan Paton title I know, the store had five other books by that author.  For a mid-sized store, you'll find books categorized into into a surprising number of sections. Visually, my favorite was self-help (below).

 How could you not feel better?

Something for everyone...

At a crossroads

The store offers a great incentive for kids to expand their home library with their buy three  kids books and get one free policy, as well as a 20% discount on your purchase of ten or more books. Hooked on Books has a loyal following that has voted the store "best bookstore in Cape May County" for the past 11 years by readers of the Freetime, a local publication. The store stays open five months out of the year and is scheduled to close for the off-season at the end of September. Call for details: 1-609-729-1132.

Some of our Hooked on Books Finds 

-- To be continued --

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Do You Love Your Librarian?

Let her or him know! The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the New York Times have announced their I Love My Librarian 2011 award. Nominate a librarian at your public library or at a school, college, community college or university library and he or she could win a $5,000 cash award and a plaque. The winners will also be honored at a ceremony and reception at The New York Times in December. The deadline is September 12.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Books and a Bite

So you’ve just been to Saint Agnes and checked out something unexpected, like Garrison Keillor’s  77 Love Sonnets--a collection of mostly deeply romantic--and occasionally quite erotic--poems, or a  provocative novel like Meg Wollitzer’s, The Uncoupling (a novel set in modern-day suburbia with  echoes of Lysistrata). Or maybe you’ve attended story hour with your favorite three year old…where should you go for a snack? For younger bibliophiles, check out Insomnia Cookies at 405 Amsterdam Avenue, where a delicious and massive chocolate chip cookie will set you back a dollar and a quarter.  Add $2.25 for a bottle of cold milk to wash it down. Or go for their decadent ice cream sandwiches ($4.00). Pick any two cookies and an ice cream flavor (choices include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and moose tracks) and your server will make if for you on the spot.

Insomnia Cookies will meet your cookie needs into the wee hours!

None of these cookies were harmed........

But sadly, this one was....

If your taste runs to the healthier alternative consider the peacefood cafe  (460 Amsterdam Ave at 82),   a vegan restaurant, where you can flip through the pages of your latest book while enjoying a quinoa-raspberry muffin (or any one of a number of gluten-free delights), and a cup of coffee--soy milk only.   The cafĂ© also has a full menu of vegan entrees.

The Peacefood Cafe....

.... and a sampling of gluten-free goodies

Finally, if you’re need something stronger to accompany your reading—perhaps you’ve just checked out Finnegan’s Wake--stop in at The Dead Poet at 450 Amsterdam  – just a few doors north of St. Agnes,   where you can combine literature and libation. 

Owned by a former English teacher, The Dead Poet features a range of cocktails named for authors and poets including Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I tried the Emily Dickinson, a pink lemonade drink that combines Bacardi limon, triple sec, sour mix, and a splash of grenadine.  If you need something to snack on, the Dead Poet serves a selection of bar food, cooked at the bar’s sister site up the street, George Keeley, and delivered by one of  the good natured bartenders.  

"I tasted life." -- Emily Dickinson*

The day I visited The Dead Poet I brought my own reading matter, The Liar by Stephen Fry of Jeeves and Wooster fame. But if you’ve forgotten to bring a book, you’ll find framed quotes on the walls, as well as on the LCD that alternate displays the bar’s beer menus and more literary quotes--one of my favorites was Gwendolyn Brooks' “Poetry is Life Distilled.”  Better still, the Dead Poet has its own lending library, just ask the bartender where to find it.

 The Dead Poet Library (and juke box)

Part of the small but choice collection!

* perhaps not exactly what she had in mind, but recommended nonetheless.

Friday, August 5, 2011

St. Agnes Library

444 Amsterdam Avenue (between 81st and 82nd St.)

It was the early 90s and I was hitting my stride as a New Yorker. No longer a fledgling Midwest transplant, I was now an Upper West Sider with a local library to call my own. The St. Agnes branch had an old-fashioned and somehow familiar look. I felt at home.

I soon became a regular up on the third floor where I volunteered with the Center for Reading and Writing as a literacy tutor. The Center was and is one of those programs that make me wax poetic about New York City (a moment inevitably followed by an incident of shopping cart rage at Fairway or the sound of car alarms in the night.)  I taught absolute beginners and I met some unforgettable people: M, a charming former acrobat from Morocco; S, who was born and raised in South Carolina, but somehow never got beyond mastering words of two or three letters; and G, a charismatic construction worker from Jamaica with a Clark Gable smile, people I never would have met in my "regular" life.  We celebrated frequently with pot luck dinners and readings of our “published” work in anthologies.

Andrew Carnegie, NYPL benefactor

St. Agnes is one of 67 Carnegie libraries in Manhattan, the legacy of one of this country’s great robber barons and philanthropists—who believed it was his duty to help educate and improve the minds and morals of the working class. Originally located at West 91st Street and established as a parish library for St. Agnes Chapel, the library was notable for housing a small collection for the Library for the Blind.    After becoming the St. Agnes Free Library and moving several times, the branch opened in its present location as part of the New York Public Library (NYPL) system in 1901. 

From 2007 to 2010, the St. Agnes branch was closed for a major renovation.   The library is now accessible, with a ramp next to the front stairs and a slow, but functioning elevator.  The comfortable and appealing children’s room is located on the first floor (recently featured in an on-line article on the  Best Libraries for NYC Kids in  Time Out New York Kids.) 

The Children's Room at St. Agnes, first thing in the morning.

A well-stocked collection for adults is on the second level. Wireless internet access is available throughout. The St. Agnes Branch continues to house a branch of the Centers for Reading and Writing on the third floor. 

Also located on the third floor is a small auditorium where the library presents a variety of lectures, performances and readings. (For a full schedule of these offerings at St. Agnes and other NYPL branches, visit   On a recent Satuday afternoon, actress Prudence Holmes gave a lively performance of her one-woman show “Life & Loves of Willa Cather .” (more below) 

If you visit St. Agnes on a Wednesday or Saturday, you may be fortunate in finding that your visit coincides with one of the bi-monthly book sales held in the library basement. Organized by the Friends of the St. Agnes library, a group of dedicated volunteers, the sales feature more than 40,000 items organized by category and displayed in the cozy and well-lit space.  Most items sell for  between 50 cents and $2.00. While there are no book sales scheduled during August, the group is expected to resume holding sales—and accepting donations—in September. Check the library’s web site for details.

Quick Pick
Saint Agnes Library Book Sale
With just ten minutes to spare between appointments I raced downstairs to join the mini-throng of Upper West Siders eagerly searching for book bargains. My find of the day? A copy of The Pick Up by Nadine Gordimer,  the Nobel-prize-winning activist and  chronicler of life in apartheid South Africa. This story of a relationship—too complex to call a romance, but more than just a sexual alliance—is a quick and compelling read. Gordimer addresses class and race in post-apartheid  South Africa, and also explores questions of identity, the desperation of a Muslim immigrant trying to leave an undesirable (associated with terrorism) and unnamed African country.  I was also struck by her expert portrayal of the awkward  self-consciousness of the upper class characters as they try to behave democratically in a setting saturated with a history of bias, repression, violence and exclusion. 

Life in the Library
Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived in a library… While it may sound like the beginning of a charming piece of children’s fiction, the story is true. At one time, a number of branches of the New York public library had live-in custodians. St. Agnes was among them   The little girl who lived there in the 1960s was Sharon Washington (her father, George King Washington, was the custodian) has grown up to be an actress and author.  Sharon had free run of the children’s room, and invited her friends to birthday parties at the library, but keeping the furnace going meant shoveling coal at frequent intervals, hard work that sometimes became a family affair. Happily, for those (like me) who are enchanted by the idea of growing up in the library, Washington is currently working on a children’s book about her experiences.  There’s more on her story in this New York Times article.

Another Reason to Love the Library: Free Theater at Saint Agnes:
Lives and Loves of Willa Cather 
A one-woman show performed by Prudence Wright Holmes, directed by Nora Deveau Rosen
True to its title, this performance focused primarily on Cather’s personal life, particularly her love affairs with other women.  Actress Prudence Holmes touched only briefly on Cather’s novels with an allusion to the Bohemian girl who inspired My Antonia and a mention or two of family members whom she immortalized in her writing.   (While apparently there is no record of the author speaking or writing openly about her sexual orientation, Cather scholars agree that she was a lesbian.)  Ms. Holmes’ depiction of Ms. Cather and three of her lovers makes a convincing case—this is not your grandfather’s library entertainment.  Ms. Holmes alternately inhabited the characters of plain-spoken, passionate Willa; Louise Pound, the object of her young infatuation at college; Isabelle McClung, her graceful, remote and reserved friend and muse--who breaks Willa’s heart by marrying “a Jew”;  and the slavishly devoted Edith Lewis, who acted as Cather’s secretary. The two eventually became lovers and Lewis remained with Cather until her death. A clip of Holmes' performance is available on youtube.
If you’re interested in reading more about Cather, Ms. Lewis’s account of life with the writer may make interesting reading: Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record by Edith Lewis. For another take on the author’s life, see Willa Cather: A Literary Life by James Woodress. Both are available at the NYPL.