I love the Strand but…

I love a lot of things about the Strand bookstore in New York City’s Union Square.

First, it’s in a great neighborhood. Union Square is two blocks away; and the store right around the corner from the 14th Street Whole Foods so you can take your new book, grab some grub at the salad bar and go sit upstairs and read your precious new find.

Second, the not-so-well-kept secret about the Strand is that it is a fantastic place to buy new books even though it is a used bookstore.  There are tables upon tables in the center isle from the entrance to the back of the store heaped with luscious selections: fiction; history; New York City pictorials; Pulitzer Prize Winners; British, American and foreign classics and much more. I’ve spent many trips to the Strand standing over those tables and I never get much further because I find too many books before I can even go to the second or third floor.

Third, the helpful staff.  I’ve been to a lot of bookstores and I’ve spent a fair bit of time in New York City where, let’s just say people with sunny dispositions aren’t always in abundance.  But the Strand staff are dedicated to helping the customers, and they will walk you to the section where you can find X, or Y and show you exactly where to look.  Or they will ask you enough questions about “this book my friend told me I’d love but I can’t remember the author or the title” to guide you to the correct book. (Yes, they’re just that good.)

And for all of it’s magical and fantastic abundance of books, I do have one small complaint.  Not that I want to complain! A bookstore that boasts 18 miles of books and which has been in business over 80 years obviously knows what it is doing and does it well.  So as I said, this is one teensy complaint.  The short story anthology section of the Strand is ridiculously small.  In fact, when I went looking for it today and couldn’t find it, the Strand staff person remarked to me, “Yeah, we moved it.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter where we put it, those books don’t sell.”

WHAT? was my mental reply, which I kept to myself as he walked me over to the staff desk at the rear of the store and pointed me to the bookshelves directly beneath their counter.  He also pointed me to the table directly across from their counter, but pointed out that short story anthologies were sharing space in that table with erotica, and erotica was rapidly encroaching on the short story anthologies.

I scanned through all of the short story anthologies today, and I’d say about 25% of them are from the annual Best American Short Story series.  This is an excellent series which I love, and I own several recent volumes but frankly this should not be the majority of what bookstores carry when it comes to short stories.

I was pleased to find a volume I hadn’t seen before: This is not Chick Lit edited by Elizabeth Merrick from 2006.  An anthology of amazing women writers to tuck into! That was the magic of the Strand at its best – I’m pretty sure this anthology is not readily available in new bookstores and if you didn’t know it existed you’d never look for it.

So although my very small complaint still stands, I respectfully request that the Strand (and other bookstores as well!) beef up their short story anthology sections.  We book store browsers love the thrill of the hunt – finding something you didn’t know you wanted but realizing you had to have it after spending a few minutes reading the dust jacket or the introduction.

The short story writers of the world thank you for your support….


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