Books

MY FAVORITE BOOKSTORES IN THE WORLD

Bookstores have always been one of my happiest places. My Mom worked in a library when I was a little girl and there’s something about being surrounded by books that I find deeply comforting. A tiny corner to hideaway from the world and explore one that might be completely foreign to you.

Not surprisingly, I’ve got a handful of tried and true favorite bookstores here in New York and almost always seek out bookstores when we travel (I like to buy books when I travel that remind me of that specific place – Little Women from a bookshop in New England for instance or Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ in Paris).

I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite shops around the world and hope that if you have a favorite that’s not on this list in your town (or someplace great that you’ve traveled) you’ll share it with me so that I can add it to my list.

  1. Strand Bookstore (Union Square, NYC) – This is my home court so to speak. For 6 of my 10 years in New York I’ve lived within walking distance to the Strand – and you can bet that if I’m within a few blocks of passing by, I’m going in. So many books on my shelf have come from here and I love that they also will buy books back in good condition – in the case that your tiny apartment no longer holds your collection. It gets packed on the weekends but I love the feeling of New Yorkers (and a good fill of tourists) all jammed in together, excited to get a new book.
  2. Shakespeare & Co (Paris, France) –  If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me. That logic applies to both bars and bookstores, but in the case of Shakespeare & Co. you can get your fill of reading. The original opened in 1918 and then passed along its name to the new location, which sits along the banks of the Seine and opened in the 1950s. From F. Scott Fitzgerald to Allen Ginsberg to Zadie Smith, generations of American writers have passed through the doors of this tiny English-language bookstore in the City of Light. It’s a must visit before you browse the vintage book sellers along the river.
  3. The Spotted Dog (Hudson, NY) – Less than two hours north of Manhattan, along the quaint main street of Hudson – The Spotted Dog earns a spot on this list because it combines two of my favorite things – books and beer. A full bar with craft beer on tap sits right among the shelves. Adam and I passed an entire rainy afternoon in this sweet little spot and I can’t wait to go back again this Fall.
  4. Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC) – A cute little shop right along upper King Street. There’s a lot of shopping in this stretch that feels touristy but Blue Bicycle has an authentic Southern hospitality in my opinion, with friendly staff and a great selection. Don’t miss grabbing a biscuit at Callie’s afterwards.
  5. Albertine (Upper East Side, NYC) – An extension of the French Embassy, this swoon-worthy bookstore is devoted to French & English books and sits across from Central Park on Fifth Avenue. After a stroll through the park, I suggest popping in just to see the grand ceilings alone and picking up a tres bien livre (very good book).
  6. Daunt (London, England) – This one really has my heart. A travel-focused bookshop set in London’s very posh Marylebone neighborhood, my study abroad University was just a few blocks away from this so I passed many hours between classes by popping into this shop. It’s just beautiful inside and when I finally had a chance to go back a couple of years ago, it was still as charming as ever.
  7. Brattle Bookshop (Boston, MA) – One of the oldest and largest used bookstores in America, this one fits well with Boston’s historic charm. You’ll find plenty of great affordable options plus rare first editions all just a skip away from a stroll through Boston Common.
  8. Rizzoli (Flatiron, NYC) – Another NYC favorite – I couldn’t possibly just pick one.. or two – is conveniently located in the Flatiron district and is a wealth of beautiful coffee table books, new fiction, hobby sections like cooking or photography and a cute kids section. I often pop in on my lunch break just because its so pretty inside.
  9. South Congress Books (Austin, TX) – This place has exactly the sort of quirky charm you expect in Austin’s hip South Congress neighborhood. Pick out a used or vintage book here before heading to grab tacos at nearby Guero’s.
  10. Bookmarc (West Village, NYC) – Okay, okay, one more in New York. Bookmarc is a mainstay in the West Village to me and while it’s small it has a perfectly curated, highly fashionable offering that’s always worth stopping by to see. Plus, they carry Olympia Le Tan clutches (hand-embroidered small box clutches that look like famous book covers) which I will continue to swoon over until I can one day afford.

(pictured below: The Spotted Dog and Daunt)

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER TEN

I’ve been reading so many books this summer that I nearly forgot to go back and write the reviews on this batch! I have long days at the lake house/in the park to thank for that (plus stress at work that leads me to want to escape into a good book to blame for it). Last time I checked in, I committed to 5 books and I breezed right through them all and for the most part really love each one! Below my reviews + what I’ve already moved on to next on my shelf. And you can find all of my book club posts here.

SHOP THIS MONTH”S BOOK CLUB:

Black Swans by Eve Babitz: What an unexpected treat. This collection of short storeis reads a bit like Joan Didion meets Carrie Bradshaw if she were a 1960s Hollywood groupie. There were times I would write her off completely as a vapid valley girl and in the next sentence she would write something so beautiful I’d be searching for my notebook to copy it down. The stories are about the city of Los Angeles and her wild times… and sober days… living there. I loved this and it set me up nicely to get into the 1970’s LA rock ‘n roll scene that led right into reading Daisy Jones. (4 out of 5 stars)

Normal People by Sally Rooney: I expected to love this based on the rave reviews I was seeing everywhere – and I did like it… but I haven’t found myself highly recommending it to anyone. The novel follows a long up and down relationship between a young girl and guy as they struggle to define themselves both separately and together. While the portrayals of the main characters were honest and in depth, there was something slightly forgettable about the entire storyline – just teetering on the edge of being fully engrossing to me. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid: This book on the other hand was exactly as fun as I hoped that it would be – I honestly may read it again this summer (it only took me a day and a half I was so into it!). Written in a really interesting documentary style of interviews, the novel follows a band that rose to quick fame in the 70s and then broke up. Very ‘Almost Famous’ – a movie I love deeply, so consider that a major compliment. (5 out of 5 stars)

Blue Nights by Joan Didion: Ohhh Joan. Her book ‘The Year of Magical Thinking‘ about her husband’s death and daughter’s illness is in my top 10 favorite books of all time. ‘Blue Nights’ didn’t knock that out of place, but I really loved it too. This one is about her daughter’s death and once again Joan’s incredible ability to cut through the heart of one of life’s most trying experiences and really examine her own closest relationships is so moving. (5 out of 5 stars)

Goodbye, Vitamin: Funny and heartfelt this was a quick read that I ended up loving after picking up on a whim at the library. This novel follows the story of a woman in her early 30s who moves back home for a year when her father is diagnosed with dementia. Sometimes when things get the hardest in a family, it’s exactly when you need to find the humor most – and this book does that to great effect. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

SHOP NEXT MONTH’S BOOK CLUB:

I’m going to be closing out the summer reading as much as I can. My stack this month includes Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (all buzzy, relatively new fiction), Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (non-fiction following the true love lives of three American women – in vastly different scenarios – I’ve heard SO many rave reviews of this) and Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (which just seems like a fun, summer read). Happy reading!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER NINE

After a bout of slow reading this spring, I really hit my stride again as we kicked off summer. And I’ve got no plans to slow down. Doesn’t it feel like there are just a million great book out right now? Below, the books I just finished (from here on out I’m going to be using a 5 star rating system so it’s a little easier to explain how much I liked or disliked each one!) and the big stack that’s waiting on my shelf next. Plus – see all of my past book club posts here.

SHOP THIS MONTH’S BOOK CLUB:

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: Based on a true story, this book was set during WWII and followed the life of a New York socialite, a Polish woman and her sister who were sent to a concentration camp and a female Nazi doctor who worked at the camp. This wasn’t what I was expecting (without knowing the full story I thought it would be a little bit fluffier), but it ended up being unexpected and much more in depth. I like it but not sure if I loved it. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt: Short and sweet I read this romp of fiction in a single day at the beach – following an eccentric mother and her even more eccentric son as they flee New York and head to Paris. It was dark and witty and weird. Probably not everyone’s taste but I loved it. (4 out of 5 stars)

Maid by Stephanie Land: A memoir of a young single mother, sharing her descent into poverty and the ways in which the, often broken, system in our country keeps many there. It was a realistic re-telling of what life looks like when you clean houses for money that still barely covers the bills and work hard for a young child that you never have time to see thanks to the very same work. If you’ve ever for a second questioned how someone could end up on food stamps.. you need to read this book. I didn’t love it as much as other memoirs (Educated is hard to top for me), but I really liked it. (3 out of 5 stars)

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: This book topped the stack for me. An unexpected telling of the intersection of two families across two generations. I loved her writing style, the characters, everything. (5 out of 5 stars)

Next month I’ve got ambitious goals. Black Swans by Eve Babitz (think Valley of the Dolls but non-fiction), Normal People by Sally Rooney and Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (both at the top of the best-sellers lists this summer and I couldn’t resist), Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (reflections on her daughter’s death – her book about her husband’s death ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ is one of the best things I’ve ever read) and Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (a story of reaching an age where you’re the parent and your parents become the children). Happy reading!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER EIGHT

I’m not quite sure why it took me over 2 months to read 2 books, but here we are. I’m looking forward to warmer days when I can read in the park or spend a weekend at the lake, reading beside the water – pretty much my all time favorite activity! Anyway.. below are my thoughts on the books I read in March/April and what’s on my shelf next. And if you’re looking for more – you can always find all of my book club picks here.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: First of all, drop whatever political baggage you’re holding at the door. This book isn’t here for that. This is the incredible true story of a woman born on the south side of Chicago, raised in a one bedroom apartment who went on to graduate with a law degree from Harvard and become the first African American First Lady this country has ever seen. It’s such an incredible story about the power of knowledge, hard work and resilience. It’s a story about what it means to be a young black girl in Chicago and how if you don’t like what that story typically is – you can fight to write a different one for yourself. It’s about marriage through difficult times and motherhood through crazy circumstances. It’s a human story and I highly recommend it.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: This book is by an Italian author and was translated into English and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that for me, there may have been a little something lost in the beauty of the translation. This is also the first in an anthology (The Neopolitan Novels) of four books and something about that kind of seemed daunting in the back of my head while I read it, like I’d still have so much more to read. All that being said, it’s still a precisely crafted novel about the story of friendship between two young girls – starting at about aged 5-6 and ending at age 16-17 taking place in a small village in Italy in the 1950s. Painting a complex story about coming of age mixed with poverty, family relations, education and community that felt like a slow burn – in a good way. And by the end? I still knew I’d have to pick up the next book at some point.

Next up: I’ll be reading Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (a novel based on the real-life story of a WWII-era New York socialite and a renegade group of concentration camp survivors), Maid by Stephanie Land (the memoir of a working mother’s will to survive), French Exit by Patrick DeWitt (a romp of a story about an Upper East Side Mother and Son who fall from grace and flee to Paris), Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (a multi-generational novel about how a decision by two people can affect families for years to come), and Black Swans by Eve Babitz (about the wild world of NYC in the 80s and 90s). I’ve got a lot of reading to do but I’m so excited about all of these books. Hope you’ll pick one or two of them up for yourself!

SHOP MY BOOK SHELF:

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SEVEN

January was a big reading month for me, but coming off of the amazing books I read at the end of last year (see that list here) I knew I wanted to kick off 2019 by diving right in. Below, what I read this past month, plus what I’ve got on my shelf for February:

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena: To be fair, I think this is about what I expected out of this book. A thriller that follows two sets of neighboring couples and a central crime – I think that if the writing had been stronger I could have felt more captivated by this. That being said, if you’re generally thrilled with thrillers this one isn’t without its exciting twists and turns. All in all I’d give it a ‘B’.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: An American classic I had somehow never read, I’m so glad I made time for this. I think sometimes we forget to go back to the classics, favoring newer fiction that’s “popular” instead – and at nearly 600 pages including plenty of jargon from the mid-1800s this wasn’t necessarily a breeze to read. But the story itself is timeless and was certainly a pre-cursor to a million novels that followed. Louise May Alcott, a feminist and suffragette, proved that women’s stories and voices were important, even if her characters were just living everyday lives. Sidetone: I can’t wait for the new film adaptation to come out at the end of this year. Could there be a more perfect Laurie than Timothée Chalamet?!?

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon: All in all really interesting if you like historical fiction – since there was a lot of true history to be learned from this one. This book follows the story of a woman claiming to be Anastasia Romanov – the young Russian princess who was believed to have been killed, along with her entire family, during the Russian revolution on the early 1900s. It flips back and forth over the span of 40 years telling a captivating story. I was definitely most invested in the early Romanov story since I know admittedly so little about Russian history. After I was finished this book I actually went on to do some internet research to learn more about the family’s story – I love a book that teaches you something you never even knew you would be interested in.

A Wild Swan And Other Tales by Michael Cunningham: From the author of The Hours (a book I love) this is a collection of well known fairy tales, with a modern (decidedly adult) twist. They’re short and simple so I ended up reading a few each night before bed and it was a fun way to end the month after a few heavier books. Added bonus – there are really cool black and white illustrations every few pages that help bring the stories to life.

SHOP THIS MONTH’S BOOK CLUB:

Since it’s a short month I narrowed my reading list to just two stand-out books for February. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – translated into English but originally an Italian novel – that I’ve heard great things about. It follows the story of two women growing up in Italy over the course of their lives and is apparently the first in a trilogy set to become a TV show. And Becoming by Michelle Obama – on my list for month’s now and I can’t wait to dive in.

SHOP NEXT MONTH’S BOOK CLUB:

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