new york part five: paradise is a library

“…bookstores, libraries… they’re the closest thing I have to a church.”

Jim C Hines

The back story:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

When we finally got back to the hotel, it was close to midnight. The place was hoppin. Apparently, we’d landed in ‘the place to be,” on a Saturday night in Manhattan. Funny thing about that, the older I get, the more I want to be as far from ‘the place to be’ as possible. Music throbbed through the lobby and far too many bodies for my middle-aged comfort filled the dark space. A line wound around the entrance to the bar – or club, or lounge, or whatever one calls such things these days. We made a bee line for the elevator.

The elevator car was packed as we made our way to our floor. And there it was that my girl said to the crowd, “I suppose you all know why I’ve gathered you here tonight,” just before the doors opened and she ran out into the hallway, leaving me to follow up with, “That’s my girl.” She giggled, deliciously self-satisfied, the entire way to the room.

After a couple of hours of sleep, we gathered our things and headed out for the day. The first order of business was meeting Katie’s pen pal. Well, a text pal, I suppose, as modern technology has all but made actual pens obsolete, but you get the idea. A few years ago, I met another mom through the blog and we, along with a group of other mamas of autistic kiddos, became friends. At some point, Katie and her daughter began texting one another. A lot. Turned out they have a lot more in common than autistic siblings, most saliently creativity and imaginations gloriously unrestricted by insecurity. Over the course of their friendship, they invented entire worlds together – planets and creatures and all of their back stories. When I told Katie that we’d be going to New York, one of the first things on her agenda was meeting Nicole.

As it turned out, Nicole’s 13th birthday had been the week before, so we decided to celebrate with breakfast at American Girl. The girls connected immediately. As a birthday gift, Katie had sewn two of their imaginary alien creatures into existence for Nicole and, just because she’s awesome, Nicole had sewn one for Katie, all without either knowing about the other.

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{image is a photo of the girls walking around American Girl together after breakfast}

Nicole brought Katie a copy of her favorite book so that Katie could see why she loves it so much. They read the question cards on the table and mused about what they’d take to a desert island and what chore they’d choose never to do again. They looked like they’d been friends forever. After breakfast, Katie asked if we could cancel the rest of the day and just hang out with Nicole. As happy as she was in the moment, I knew she’d be heartbroken if she missed out on everything else on her list. I promised that we’d be in touch and they could, ya know, text each other within like a minute and a half of leaving.

Katie had two main priorities for the day – The Strand and Katz’s Delicatessen.The Strand because I’d made the mistake of showing her their website and Katz’s because, just as I’d grown up on their pastrami and pickled tomatoes, she’d grown up on stories of their pastrami and pickled tomatoes. We hopped in a cab and headed downtown.

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{image is a photo of Katie looking in the window at The Strand}

There are bookshops. There are amazing bookshops. There are really, really cool old independent bookshops. And then there is the Strand. The numbers alone are staggering – eighteen miles of books. Two and a half MILLION books. New books, used books, rare and collectible books. Beautifully bound treasures – books with stories well beyond those told within their bindings. Katie was rapt.

{image is a photo of the sign on The Strand’s door – Welcome Book Lovers!}

She didn’t say a word. I tried to show her something. She shushed me with an outstretched hand. A shop clerk said hello. She walked by him in a daze. “She’s bookdrunk,” I said. He smiled. “Happens in here,” he said.

She walked straight to the closest bookshelf and did this.

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{image is a photo of Katie crouched down in front of a row of books, reverently running her hand along their spines.}

And this.

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{image is a photo of Katie now standing, touching another row of books.}

And then this.

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{image is a photo of Katie on the other side of the same bookshelf.}

I became a little concerned about our pace. At this rate, were we to see all 2.5 million books, it would take us, well, let’s see … carry the one, multiply by twenty-seven and, um … eight years. Slowly, she pulled herself away. But we didn’t get far.

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{image is a photo of Katie checking out a book in the Classics corner.}

It soon became clear that she had no intention of leaving any time soon.

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{image is a photo of Katie having taken off her coat and plopped herself down onto the wooden floor to read a book. On a stack of other books. Which she clearly plans on reading as well.}

With six books on her lap, she looked up at me with wide eyes. “May I get one?” she asked. I said that it would depend on the price. This wasn’t a place to give my kid carte blanche. “How many?” she asked. “One,” I said. She looked at her lap as though I’d just asked her to choose one child to save from a fire. “One?” she asked. “One,” I said. “And one for good luck?” she asked. I told her that I’d think about it. i LOVE buying my kid books, particularly used books, but we had a couple of factors working against us. One, the expense. She wasn’t looking in the bargain bin. Two, the fact that we’d have to carry whatever we bought around the city all day and finally home. She was undeterred. “I’ll think about it,” is totally two,” she said. Wise guy.

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{image is a photo of a stack of red Strand shopping baskets. I thought it was a fun photo. I was bored. She was still on the floor. Whatever.}

Eventually, she made it into the stacks, where I snuck what might just be my favorite picture ever.

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{image is a photo of Katie sitting on a ladder in the middle of the stacks. She is surrounded by books.}

Eventually, her eyes glazed over, she said that she was done. I told her that we hadn’t even cracked the surface. “I know we’ll be back,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed. This is more than I can handle at one time.”

I told her that I’d seen some really cool t-shirts on the way in and that if she wanted one, I’d buy it for her. Off all the places in New York to get her a wearable souvenir, I couldn’t imagine a better one. Her face lit up. “Can I still get a book though?” she asked. I told her she could. She headed back to the Classics and, after a long and difficult debate, chose a beautifully bound copy of My Antonia. She clutched it to her chest as we went in search of the t-shirts. En route, we found this ..

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{image is a photo of Katie holding a sign which reads, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library. – Jorge Luis Borges”}

On the way to the t-shirts, she discovered a messenger bag that she loved, which set off a string of high-level negotiations that ended with her agreeing to buy herself the t-shirt and me paying for the bag and the book. I’ve never been so happy to shell out money for “stuff” on a trip. It was the right stuff. It was perfect. Thank God they didn’t sell Strand ponies.

We walked outside just as a cab deposited its fare at the door. With a shrug, we jumped in. “Katz’s, please,” I said, “On East Houston.”

“I know where it is,” the cabbie responded.

“Of course you do, sir” I said.

Katie looked at me with a smirk. “You sound like Papa,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You talk like him when you’re in New York,” she said.

I laughed.

“Say, ‘water,'” she said.

“Water?” I asked.

She smiled. “Yup, you sound just like Papa.”

I sat back and smiled at my girl as we drove the eighteen blocks into my childhood.

To be continued.

9 thoughts on “new york part five: paradise is a library

  1. I have loved all of your posts about the trip, but this is by far my very favorite. My most very favorite. I love that Katie loves to read, and I love how you nurture that love. It’s just so….lovely.

    Bookdrunk… What an amazing term. I must admit, I’ve been book drunk a time or two. Or possibly every time I’ve ever walked into a library!

    Book lovers, unite! *giggle*

    I’m glad you two have had such an amazing trip so far. I can’t wait to read more about it!

  2. I think your father gave Katie the best present ever. I have really never wanted to go to New York but now I really want to go lol .

  3. I love this post. I love books, and Katie’s love for them (one of my dreams has been to have a room that I can call my library, and we certainly have enough books for that–we just need the room). But also? I love this turn of phrase:

    we drove the eighteen blocks into my childhood.

    That’s lovely. Thank you for writing it.

  4. I love this line: “I’ll think about it,” is totally two,” – that is totally my kid, too.

    These NY trip posts have been simply delightful, thank you!

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