Biography Bookshop, 11th St. and Bleecker St., West Village, NYC
They call it Biography Bookshop because (surprise!) they specialize in biographies, but the selection of books goes far beyond the namesake's genre. The tables of books lining the front of the store outside are must-browse selections, and at half off or more, they're nearly irresistible bargains. Thus, for the four years and change that I've lived in New York, it's been a dependable truth: If I'm in the West Village, I'm making a stop at Biography Bookshop (and, more than likely, not leaving empty-handed).
On Sunday night I ventured out into the neighborhood with my boyfriend, first for dinner at Moustache (an excellent, tidy spot on Bedford Street serving delicious Middle Eastern food) and then for a few show tunes over at Marie's Crisis, a piano bar steeped in West Village history and lore. It was a perfect fall night, streetlight streaming through leaves just beginning to change, and neither of us was quite ready to call it a night after carousing at Marie's.
We sauntered up Bleecker Street and ended up at Magnolia, the famed cupcake shop (hello there, Sex and the City fans), but after we'd polished off our cupcakes at the little park across the street (vanilla with dynamic swirly multitudes of thick chocolate frosting) my hunger had shifted.
Time for books. A few steps and we were there.
At Biography I like to grab books first and ask questions later. I snapped up four or five right away at the tables outside, hugging them to my chest as I perused the other goodies. After a few minutes I narrowed it down to two books and headed inside the studio apartment-sized shop, boyfriend in tow, to check out the new trade paperback offerings.
Just as I was about to pick up Wally Lamb's new book, I heard one of the workers talking to a customer, and the conversation stopped my fingers mid-air.
"Yep, we're closing at the end of the year," the young hipster-ish guy behind the counter said, ringing up a book.
The customer took in a sharp breath. "But why?"
"Well, just between us, the lease came up and the landlord raised the rent eight-fold, and when we couldn't keep up, Marc Jacobs swooped in and got the lease."
I turned to my boyfriend, wide-eyed.
"But doesn't Marc Jacobs have, like, six stores in this neighborhood already?" the customer asked.
The clerk shrugged. "I think this place will make the sixth. Guess they needed another location. But we're moving a few blocks down and reopening as Book Book."
Book Book? Really? I saw new bookmarkers on the checkout counter with the new logo printed beneath it.
I thought about all the books I'd bought at Biography over the years, tucking my purchases under my arm and taking them back to apartments all over the city, and on airplanes and vacations, stowed away in totes and backpacks and bags of varying shapes and sizes on my various adventures.
Those books had been with me through good times and bad, from one share apartment to another, into one boyfriend's apartment and then back out again, trailing around the city behind me like little literary ducklings. Biography Bookshop had always been a touchstone. No matter where I lived or what was going on in my life, Biography stayed the same, and it always kept me well stocked in little treasures that filled up my bookshelves.
I paid for my books (sixteen dollars for two great books!) and headed back into the fall night with my boyfriend. I stopped outside for a second and looked at the awning and the small group of people still pawing through the bargain tables.
"Ready?" my boyfriend asked me.
I nodded. I felt like I was leaving something behind. Irrational maybe, I know. But in my head I made a promise to visit one last time before I headed home to Minneapolis for Christmas to say a proper farewell to an old friend and, of course, buy a few last books.
* * *
The Two That Left With Me
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris