Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Miracle on West 22nd Street

The Van Alen bookstore at 30 West 22nd Street opened a while back, but I only made it through the door yesterday morning. It's cute, in lemony yellow, with a sort of stairway / shelving area and an invitation on the web site invites you to linger among the books and periodicals on sale, which are largely Van Alen Institute-related. And what does the Van Alen Institute do?
The Van Alen Institute is an independent nonprofit architectural organization that promotes inquiry into the processes that shape the design of the public realm.

I say this only because I feel it deeply: book stores are closing everywhere, and people and society will suffer for their loss, in subtle, incalculable ways. The last independent book store in the Bronx is closing this month (or closed in 2008, depending on who you believe). So the specialist Van Alen Books deserves continuing support and browsing visits, even if it may not be your interest in reading material.

Recently I met someone who is fairly newly-arrived in New York City, and they noticed that within 15 or 20 minutes, I had twice mentioned books I have been reading. Perhaps they were seeking to wrong-foot me or deal with their own inadequacies, but they suddenly declared: "Reading is for people who can't think for themselves." Well. Yet you'd think after a year in the city, the same person would have a basic grasp of the subway system, why the concepts of east and west are slightly vital ones to grasp, and why Grand Central Terminal is not in Harlem. "And tell me what street / Compares with Mott Street / In July?"