Farewell, New York: Westsider Books

We’ve told our families, we’ve given notice to our employers: We’re moving back to Texas. If you’re surprised, you should know that we are too. Had you asked me 30 days ago if I’d ever live in Texas again, I’d have said “Likely not.” Yet here I am, confirming a reservation for a moving truck and spending hours on the phone with prospective apartments.

It wasn’t a simple decision, but beyond the fog of unlikelihood we see opportunity to pursue the things we want, like days filled writing and nights spent singing. Though we’re eager, a piece of our heart is broken at leaving this difficult, smelly, wonderful city.

To say good-bye for now to old New York, we’ll be posting vignettes on places in the city that are special to us. We hope you enjoy the first, a remembrance of a place that claimed our affection last spring.

On Broadway between 80th and 81st Streets, a strip of storefronts capped with forest green overhangs stretches across the sidewalk. Among its occupants is an unassuming shop, distinguished from its sisters by only by a pair of book carts. It’s largely hidden by the limbs of scaffolding that have darkened the sidewalk for over a year at least – even if you know where you’re going, you may walk straight past it. But this little place is rather like a secret garden, a Wonderland, a Hotel California – once you find it, you’ll find it nearly impossible to leave. If you like books, that is.

Used books have been toppling off the shelves of Westsider Books in New York City since 2002. Quite in opposition to its unassuming exterior, the store itself is a veritable castle of books. It’s dusty, feels quite old, and almost definitely has a witch living in the back room. It is an exercise in organized chaos – you’ll have the best time in this bookshop if you come thoroughly clean of expectations and simply allow yourself to reshape your neck as you crane and scan and paw through the ceilings-tall shelves.

As in any magic place, you never quite know what you’ll find. Noah and I stumbled across one of our very first New York Review Books, which ignited a ravenous love affair with the publisher. It was at Westsider that we found Ann Patchett’s book of essays and Caitlin Doughty’s smoky memoir. We even stumbled across a title published by Persephone Books, a British publisher and bookstore we fell in love with on our honeymoon.

If you love music as much as you do books, I’d recommend loping a few blocks down the road to sibling location Westsider Records, which deals in used LPs and CDs. But worry not – even if you can’t make it to Records, you’ll still enjoy choice music in the bookstore. We’ve heard everything from classical to rock to a punkish interpretation of the songs from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that all sounded like they were sung by a ghoul from the attic.

All told, this place is a speck of dusty magic. In a city rushed along at a frenzied pace, you can step into Westsider Books and feel transported back in time – or better yet, feel time’s stopped altogether.

Stay tuned for more Farewell, New York vignettes this week!


2 thoughts on “Farewell, New York: Westsider Books

  1. Mary Cate and Noah,
    A thought to consider: If your drive back to Texas brings you anywhere near Chicago you are welcome to come stay at my house in St. Charles… rest and continue on. No pressure, just a thought. Would love to see you. Aunt Lynn


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