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Amazon.com is one of my favourite sites. Unfortunately postage to Europe’s petty high, and although the UK and Germany versions have some American editions, their selection is always pretty limited. When I last went shopping in America there was no doubt in my mind that at least 2 full days would be spend book hunting. Sod the clothes, shoes and make up, give me reading material any day.
Now New York has lots of book shops, but Barnes and Noble was top of my list since it claimed to be “the largest bookstore in the world”. I desperately needed a Prolog textbook to help me with my programming, and having visited every single bookshop in Manchester to no avail, I was hoping this place would fit the bill. There are numerous Barnes and Noble stores in NYC and I visited 3 of these. At the first, near the Lincoln Centre I asked the girl in the computing department, and she ever so kindly sent me over to the drama section. Oh dear. Still “Prolog” and “prologue” do sound the same so I guess it was an easy mistake to make. I explained what I wanted and she declared she’s never heard of such a language. Not a good start.
My next stop was the flag ship store on 5th Avenue. Most impressive it was too, and probably well worthy of the “largest in the world” title, for square footage if not for stock. Again I asked and although the bloke had heard of the quite widely used language, he shook his head and said they didn’t have anything on the subject. I had a quick peep anyway, but alas he was correct.
My last stop was the day before I returned home, at the B&N near the Guggenheim on the Upper East Side. This one was smaller than my local branch of Waterstones but I had a look anyway, and while they did have quite a bit on offer, there was nothing matching my programming logic requirements.
I did not leave any of these store empty handed, I hasten to add. I have a terrible compulsion when it comes to book shopping, and almost always come home with one of those lovely little paperback affairs, and my holiday here was no different. The prices compared to the UK were lovely and cheap since although $1 does not equal £1, that seems to be the exchange rate publishers work on. Barnes and Noble was not, however, the cheapest place I found. Both Coliseum and the Strand (especially the second one) offered some of the same titles at much discounted prices. Their selections were, however, no where near up to the standard of the biggest B&N, so I was forced to buy some books at, shock horror, full price.
While British bookshops focus on fiction, these ones seemed to be answering the demand of the American public – there were shelves of self help books, bushels of business ones, armfuls of academic texts and tons of travel guides. Alas only a fraction of the overall stock was fiction. (Note to self – lay off the alliteration). Children were well represented, with whole areas made up like playrooms – lots of seats and toys, and of course books to look at (and buy, they hoped).
As well as books (and to be fair they do have a lot of these, even if they couldn’t meet the demands of my UMIST reading list) they sell magazines, CDs, videos, software and more – although the mixture of these varies from branch to branch. Two of the 3 stores I visited had cafes which were packed and expensive, but looked like fun places – full of literary coffee drinking types.
The layout of the stores was nice and simple, and departments were well signed. My favourite store was the first one I mentioned, since it was lovely and large but, not being the one in all the guide books, also not too crowded. The toilets were fantastic and as sparklingly clean as the rest of the store.
All stores are served by a mixture of stairs, escalators and lifts meaning each floor is accessible to everyone. There were plenty of staff around (plus an alarming number of security guards) and they were all typically American – chirping “have a nice day, now” at every given opportunity.
I would recommend a trip if you’re in the states (there are branches in almost every town and on almost every campus) but I wouldn’t say it’s all it’s hyped up to be. Try the Strand, Tower Books, Coliseum or one of the independent retailers for a contrast too – smaller and less well stocked, but less crowded and cheaper. Or, consider shopping online for a wider choice without the cost of airfare to the States :-)
** For directions, special events and opening hours, have a look at the website : barnesandnoble.com **
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