With all the power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy, you might have turned to your bookshelf for entertainment, only to discover that you needed a new book to read. Well, never fear, Brooklynites! Our bet is that you’ll probably find what you’re looking for at one of our eight favorite bookstores in the borough. Inspired by our list of the Top Ten Bookstores in Manhattan, we’ve scoped out the best independent booksellers from Williamsburg to Prospect Heights to Park Slope, and what we found is pretty exciting.
True to its name, powerHouse Arena in DUMBO is known for keeping a packed schedule of high profile, interesting, and sometimes zany literary events that are open to the public. Perhaps my personal favorite of the best bookstores in Brooklyn, powerHouse is also one of the most massive, boasting 24-foot ceilings and six rows of built-in concrete amphitheater-style seating for their events, which usually feature free drinks from Brooklyn Brewery. Unfortunately, like many of the local shops nearby, the bookstore was hit hard by the hurricane–their 5,000 square foot ground level experienced a foot and a half of water damage during the storm surges, and within only 20 minutes, the bookstore was flooded. Dedicated to staying strong through this crisis, the store is holding a #SandyHatesBooks fundraiser in order to pay for the damages (they don’t have flood insurance). In the meantime, we’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed for a speedy recovery for powerHouse.
Walk down Metropolitan Avenue toward Union Avenue, and you’ll stumble across a strange storefront, advertising “Italian, French, and Sicilian Bread…and Comic Booklets.” No, dear friends, this is not a bakery; it is Desert Island comics, a fiercely independent purveyor of all published material that is artistic and worth reading. It’s an oddly visual little shop, too, filled with artwork for purchase by local and international artists. “It’s not exclusively about comics,” owner Gabriel Fowler said in a 2008 interview with Block Magazine. “I wanted to have work in here that’s affordable art. It’s about community and the quality of the stuff.” Even if Sandy’s got you grounded for now, you can still check out Desert Island once the subways are up and running at the upcoming Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg from 12-7 P.M. on November 10. (We love the store’s current Halloween display window, created by local artist Gary Lieb–check it out here).
Truly a community institution (even down to its establishment in 2008, which was funded largely by approximately 70 individual community lenders), Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene is well-stocked in multiple genres, and its beautiful, curvaceous interior lends itself well to the multiple book clubs that meet there every week. We like Greenlight because of the friendly vibe of the place–the staff is incredibly knowledgeable, and, if you become a regular here, just as apt to start up a conversation with you about your family as about their opinions on the latest bestseller or a hot indie find that they’re obsessed with.
I recently went to BookCourt for a Junot Diaz reading, and though it took me a while to actually find the shop (probably more due to my inherently terrible sense of direction than to the store’s actual location), I was pleasantly surprised by the store itself. Complete with a whole basement level full of more books to choose from, BookCourt is pretty, warm, and has enough open space that you don’t feel claustrophobic while you’re browsing titles. Of course, this typically changes whenever the store hosts popular events–the Diaz event was so packed that my friends and I felt more like we were attending a rock concert than a literary reading. But what I like best about BookCourt is that bestsellers are always 30% off there, and that their staff recommendations are nearly always en pointe. And, if you’re in Manhattan and simply can’t make the trip (or just don’t feel like it), they also run a fully operational online store.
If the weird, seemingly oxymoronic name of this Prospect Heights book shop doesn’t get your attention, its enormous inventory certainly will. A little dingy and slightly unorganized, this used bookstore feels more like a hoarder’s apartment–but in a way that makes you feel cozy and mysterious all at once. A major player in the small zine scene, I first visited Unnameable last year as a part of Boog City Festival, a kitschy, kind of bootleg celebration of poetry, music, and boutique literary journals. Events here are either held downstairs in the basement or in the small, gravel-filled back yard. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Unnameable sticks with you, but it does. Maybe it’s the sensation that any book you pick up will reveal another, equally intriguing title hidden beneath it, or maybe it’s just the fact that Ample Hills Creamery is right across the street. Regardless, it’s worth a visit; wear your favorite worn-in jeans, scuffed-up Chucks, and a grungy hoodie, and you’ll feel right at home.
The Thing (1001 Manhattan Ave.):
Greenpoint’s favorite second-hand shop, The Thing, is not exactly a bookstore, per se, but that doesn’t stop us from loving it. Though The Thing is widely famed for its unbelievable record collection (Pitchfork recently lauded it as one of its favorite record stores in the nation), we like its equally impenetrable and random selection of second-hand paperbacks. Sure, you may have to wade through mountains of wicker furniture and old lamps just to find the stacks of books in the corner, but if you’re into hunting for treasure, then you’re more than likely to snag a good find in here, especially if you’re into sci-fi, romance, or horror classics. If rummaging through piles of junk is not your thing, then perhaps The Thing is not for you. I just like it because I can also browse their collection of old typewriters while I’m there.
If you’re in Greenpoint and you don’t want to dig around at The Thing all day, WORD’s got you covered. A seriously kick-ass community bookstore with the best YA book events in the city (that’s Young Adult for all you non-lit nerds out there; think The Hunger Games or–yes, okay–The Twilight Series, and you’re on the right track), WORD is one of the best bookstores I’ve ever set foot in. It is community-oriented, but globally-minded, eccentric, helpful, and reliable, accessible to hardcore word nerds but still inviting to dabblers in the art of reading. It is fun to hang out there, and their selection celebrates both well-known authors and first-time crafters of fiction and nonfiction. Plus, they truly love Greenpoint, and will tell you all about their favorite hangouts if you let them. Essentially, WORD is the kind of local bookstore that doesn’t just inhabit its community, but enhances the personality of the neighborhood and strives to promote its welfare. And if all this somehow fails to convince you to make the trip, WORD’s website also gives its own reason to stop by: “Because books are the repository of all that is good in this world, and we love them, and we love you.” We love you, too, WORD. Quite a bit.
On the surface, Book Thug Nation doesn’t look like much–it’s just a big square space with glass doors, concrete floors, and unfinished plywood shelves–but it’s home to one of the largest selections of used literary fiction in all of New York City. If you’re not much of a fiction reader, you might be interested in their philosophy, film criticism, or biography sections. But the real reason Williamsburg residents hang out at Book Thug Nation (aside from the name, which is undisputedly awesome), is for the low-profile, high-minded events they continually host–like indie film screenings, weird and informative lectures, and of course, readings. Basically, if you’re a hipster, you’ll love Book Thug Nation. Just remember to stop at the ATM before you visit; all sales are cash only.
What are some of your favorite Brooklyn bookstores?
Get in touch with the author @kellitrapnell.