8:30 am Aug. 13, 2010
The Strand Bookstore, with its famous "18 Miles of New, Used, Rare and Out of Print Books," is as New York as a bookstore can get, and so naturally it seems on a summer day to be mostly tourists.
It also makes sense that several of the books on the store's bestseller list—Gary Shteyngart's brand-new Super Sad True Love Story (No. 3), Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (No. 8), Sloane Crosley's essay collection I Was Told There'd Be Cake (No. 9), Catcher in the Rye (No. 16), Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin (No. 17), and Colm Toibin's Brooklyn (No. 19)—have little in common except that they are set in the city.
But tourists and parochials are not the only customers at the Strand. That sense you have on the L train in the morning that all the hipsters are reading slouchy classics like the Ernest Hemingway short story collection with the eye-catching title Men Without Women? It's No. 7.
It's not Hemingway's only entry on the Strand's bestseller list, and his other, Old Man and the Sea, the anathema text of the Beat generation, sets up a fun parallel: it's No. 12, while Jack Kerouac's On the Road (in the Vintage Classic trade paperback edition with the black and yellow and the spot varnishing on the cover) is up at No. 5. (It's worth mentioning here that the aforementioned Salinger has the reproduced original cover with the deranged carousel horse; it's probably a crossover hit.)
I Was Told There'd Be Cake also heads up a meme in the rest of the list. Let's call it Ladies' Literature. Two novels employing something between the Kara Walker and jade pendant versions of the silhouetted face on their covers make the list: Chris Cleave's Little Bee, clocking in at No. 11, is "the story of two women whose lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice 'we hope you never have to face'." One Day, by David Nicholls (No. 13), is soon to be an Anne Hathaway movie.
Also buried in the Books About New York theme are the city's more aspirational reads. After all, this is the bookstore where both the late Susan Sontag and the late David Markson were regulars. (Strand employees: Who are the great unsung downtown geniuses that hang out there nowadays?) David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (No. 10), Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (No. 18), Let the Great World Spin, and Brooklyn count in this category.
But no bookstore is immune to Stieg Larsson, whose trilogy of books hogs up positions 1, 4 and 6; and no place, apparently, is safe from the depredations of Eat, Pray, Love (No. 2). But the deep-backlist tendencies of Strand readers penetrate even this category, with The Alchemist holding on at No. 20.
As the one of us who used to work at the Strand can attest, there comes a time when you get so bored of checking out a customer with the same pile of books that, good or bad, you want to hurl the customer backwards over your shoulder and hope for that David Letterman breaking-glass sound effect. Back then, it was Smylla's Sense of Snow (staff nickname: Smylla's Sense of Smut) and Up in the Old Hotel (staff nickname: Up Your Hotel!). Wonder if they still do that …
THE STRAND BOOKSTORE BESTSELLER LIST:
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. (Trade paperback; store price $11.95.)
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. (Hardcover; $26.00.)
- The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson. (Trade paperback; $12.76.)
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac. (Trade paperback; $11.25.)
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson. (Hardcover; $22.37.)
- Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway. (Mass market paperback; $4.95.)
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. (Trade paperback; $11.20.)
- I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Little Bee by Chris Cleave. (Trade paperback; $7.00.)
- Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. (Mass market paperback; $4.95.)
- One Day by David Nicholls. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Tinkers by Paul Harding. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. (Trade paperback; $6.29.)
- Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. (Trade paperback; $11.95.)
More by this author:
- Marilyn Horne, who ruled American opera in the 1970s, trains a new generation for a very different art
- Model citizen: Composer Eric Whitacre, dashing star of high-school choruses worldwide, makes the big bucks