Those of us who love the physical book have faced one bad turn after another over the past decade or so.
One of the two national chains, Borders, disappeared after a noble run that saw it try to give indie touches to mass selling. At first, the chain expanded very slowly, opening superior bookshops on prime shopping streets in major cities (the one on Walnut Street in Philadelphia was terrific). Its sudden demise after expansion was shocking.
The other chain, Barnes & Noble, is apparently hanging on by its fingernails. It is hard to imagine that it will be able to justify pricey urban real estate in areas like Union Square in Manhattan. The super-store concept seems to be unworkable for books now.
Those of us who always associated indie bookstore browsing with trips to New York City have been crushed by the loss of places like the Gotham Book Mart in the jewelry district and Coliseum Books, which failed to survive a move from 57th St. to 42nd St. The loss of the St. Marks Bookstore was also a terrible blow.
There’s good news for NYC book lovers, however, with the arrival of Codex at 1 Bleecker St., a rigorously curated collection of used and new-ish books. The store opened in January, with a connecting door to Think Coffee, and is well worth a special trip.
The place feels like a very smart person’s library, but one where everything on the shelves is for sale. During a recent, short browse I was able to find a reasonably priced (and not too worn) edition of a wish-list book, Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Sleepless Nights.”
I also bought titles in two favorite series – Semiotext(e)’s Intervention politics and culture series, and Bloomsbury’s 33-1/3 line of pocket-sized volumes in which notable critics examine an important rock album – that are not easy to find, even in indie stores.
“Achtung Baby” by Stephen Cantanzorite, about the U2 album, and “Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity” by Gerald Raunis were among my reading lifesavers when I was stuck in the Houston airport for five hours last weekend.
Amazon algorithms can occasionally steer you in the direction of something interesting, but they are no replacement for a smartly assembled collection like the one at Codex. It’s a snug shop but browsing the high quality goods can fill as much time as you can spare.
(For more information on Codex visit www.codexbooks.info)