Birthday Book Haul

Thanks, Dove, I am.

I turned 50 in March and to celebrate my wife took me to NYC for a bookish celebration.

We stayed at the Library Hotel, hung out at the New York Public Library, and saw my current favorite Broadway musical, Something Rotten, for the second time.

View of the library from our hotel room.

I also hit both The Strand and The Mysterious Bookshop for the first time on my big day.

First, The Strand. Laura walked me down from Midtown, where the Library Hotel is located, to The Strand, which is in the East Village. She did some shopping of her own and left me to spend as many hours as I needed. We’re both readers but our approach to reading and book buying is very different. When I told her I was going to limit myself to buying five books (one for each decade, I reasoned) she laughed and told me to have the books shipped home. My inner book beast imagined the UPS truck pulling up to our house loaded with nothing but boxes of books for me. I shook the image, glanced around at various sections, and then decided to focus in on three priorities: literature, mystery, and lit crit.

Here’s my haul from The Strand:

~ Books About Books & Reading ~

  • Reading on Location: Great Books Set in Top Travel Destinations (2011) by Luisa Moncada and Scala Quin. This one will help broaden my reading horizons. Books, both fiction and nonfiction, listed by continent, then country, and in some cases further breakdowns offered. From the UK and it’s nice to find a book where the US doesn’t dominate (25 out of 253 pages of content are focused on it). Imagine I’ll write a review of this one eventually.
  • How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (1940) by Mortimer J. Adler — I read this book when I was in my 20s during a winter break in Germany. I remember reading it on train trips and couldn’t tell you the first thing about its content. It pops into my mind every-now-and-then as a book I’d like to revisit.
  • Reading Style: A Life In Sentences (2014) by Jenny Davidson. I tend to focus on character and social issues when I read. Thought it would be an interesting change of pace to pay more attention to what’s going on at the sentence level.
  • The Greatest Books You’ll Never Read: Unpublished Masterpiece by The World’s Greatest Writers (2015) by Bernard Richards. This book is like crack. It covers manuscripts from the Middle Ages to the present and is full of fascinating tidbits, colorful pictures, and photos. A real pleasure to flip through. I look forward to sitting down with this one.
~ Books About Writing ~

  • Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish: A Guidebook for the Journey (2015) by Joseph Bates.
  • A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice (2015) by Jordan Rosenfeld

Both of these Writer’s Digest Books were on a display table and I’m a sucker for writing books. And the covers: a knapsack on one and a tree on a hill on the other. How could I resist?

~ Women Writers ~

  • Doing Literary Business: American Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century (1990) by Susan Coultrap-McQuinn. I owned a copy of this book once upon a time and never read the whole thing. Don’t know if I loaned it and never got it back or lost it. Happy to have it back in my library.
  • A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx (2009) by Elaine Showalter. I’m familiar with Showalter’s work and like the chronological approach this book takes, “the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to the present.” I studied pre-twentieth century women writers in grad school and am looking forward to revisiting those writers while learning more about twentieth century writers.
~ Male Writers ~

  • Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) — translated by Peter Wortsman. I’ve heard of von Kleist primarily as someone who influenced Thomas Mann and Kafka, but have never read him.
  • The Chosen (1967) by Chaim Potok — one of my wife’s favorite novels, which I have been meaning to read for 15 years now. We saw a recent production of the play adaptation in Hartford and I wanted to read it prior to that but didn’t. This is the year, for sure.
~ Mystery & Crime ~

  • Buddha’s Money (1998) by Martin Limon. Military mystery set in 1970s Seoul, Korea.  Limon is a 20 year veteran of the Army so I’m hoping there’ll be some realistic details and action. Plus, I was hooked by the first paragraph: “Three miniskirted business girls flitted around Ernie like butterflies bothering a bear. He pulled out a packet of ginseng gum, grinned, and passed out a few sticks.”
  • Murder in Memoriam (1984) by Didier Daeninckx, translated from French by Liz Heron. A fictional investigation into a coverup surrounding the real-life Paris Massacre of 1961. What started as a peaceful protest by Algerians ended in extreme violence (over 1, 000 injured, up to 300 dead).
  • Enter a Murderer (1935) and Artists in Crime (1938) by Ngaio Marsh. Prolific New Zealand mystery writer. We have our Edgar Award here in the US and in New Zealand its the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel that gets handed out annually.
  • Baghdad Central (2014) by Elliot Colla. Set in Baghdad. An Iraqi cop who deserted his post is lured back into service and investigates the disappearance of a young translator who was working for the US Army. Colla translates and teaches Arabic Literature at Georgetown. He writes on his website, I started writing Baghdad Central in 2009 largely because I was frustrated by a lack of English-language stories, from Iraqi perspectives, about the US invasion and occupation.”
  • Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (First published in 1972, this is the 1985 revised edition and there was also a third edition published in 1993) by Julian Symons. Seemed like an entertaining, thoughtful, and opinionated survey of crime fiction. It won an Edgar Award in 1972 and I know Symons is a big name in crime fiction.
  • Fiction, Crime, and Empire: Clues to Modernity and Postmodernism (1993) by Jon Thompson. Explores how crime fiction responded to the British and American experience of empire.
  • Murder & Other Acts of Literature: Twenty-Four Unforgettable and Chilling Stories by Some fo the World’s Best-Loved, Most Celebrated Writers (1997) ed by Michele Slung. Stories by writers not usually associated with the mystery genre like Alice Walker, Nadine Gordimer, Isabel Allende, Anthony Trollope, and twenty others. I was intrigued by all the names.
I didn’t even look at the sale carts. Next time!

I spent about four hours in The Strand and left only because it was time to head off to The Mysterious Bookshop in time to browse before they closed at 7pm. It is about a half hour walk from The Strand to The Mysterious Bookshop, which is further south, in Tribeca.

The Mysterious Bookshop

The Mysterious Bookshop might seem small at first, but if you’re a mystery lover it’s like a big, mouthwatering candy store.

Here’s my short, but sweet stack from The Mysterious Bookshop:

  • Lemon City (2004) by Elaine Meryl Brown. I pulled this one off the sale cart out front. I was intrigued by its setting in a tight-knit black community in the foothills for the Blue Ridge mountains.
  • The Thin Man (1934) by Dashiell Hammett. This was the one novel I planned on buying at my first visit to this specialty mystery shop. Corny, perhaps, but I wanted to buy a classic there. I re-read The Maltese Falcon last year and decided it was time to read more by Hammett.
  • A Question of Identity (2012) by Susan Hill. I read The Woman in Black and thought it was okay. Simon Savage often mentions his appreciation of Susan Hill on The Readers podcast so I thought I’d try another.
  • The Swimmer (2013, paperback in English just released 2016) by Joakim Zander, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel. I read a review of this somewhere and it kept popping up at the library and bookstores, so I bought it.
  • The Madwoman Upstairs (2016) by Catherine Lowell. I’ve heard good things and so-so things about this one, but something was pulling me toward it. It’s a literary novel that involves a mystery related to the Brontes. 

These last two books coming up were recommendations by Ian who helped me during my visit. I asked him to recommend “the” book I should read. Silly question, I know. After asking me what kind of mysteries I enjoy he recommended three books. They were sold out of the first recommendation, which was Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing. The other two books he had in mind were in:

  • The Devotion of Suspect X (2005) by Keigo Higashino, translated from Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander. I read Higashino’s Salvation for a Saint last year for my mystery book group and we all really enjoyed it. Ian said this novel is even better.
  • The Gone-Away World (2008) by Nick Harkaway. A bizarre, wild novel, impossible to describe, Ian said, but a fun read. Also, Harkaway is John le Carre’s son.

So there you have it, the books that I bought myself on my birthday. It was a fun day, but I was pooped from all that book browsing/buying. Now it’s time to read!


  1. That is an impressive haul!

    I *love* “How To Read A Book.” Even if it seems somewhat self-evident, I think it has quite a lot of good advice. The one thing that seems to date it now is its preoccupation with speed reading. IIRC the latest edition was put out in the 70s? I get the impression that being able to speed read was way more hyped then than it is today.

    Happy birthday!

  2. Happy belated birthday! This is an AMAZING book haul. I've always wanted to visit The Strand, it sounds like a magical place. And you've got to love a cozy little bookshops all devoted to one particular genre. Sounds like you had a really nice time!

  3. Happy Birthday! I'm always overwhelmed by The Strand. I love it, but it's always just so much that I don't know where to start so I look for stand by favorites in new editions 😀

  4. Sounds like a perfect birthday treat to me! I'm so glad you got to do all those fun things — and the BOOKS! The fun is just beginning.

  5. Thanks! Interest in speed reading must come and go in waves. A cousin of mine got into it in the 90s. Well, he took a class, but I don't think he really stuck with it. I was a bit curious about it myself at one point, but I enjoy the process of sinking into a book too much to treat the experience like a wood chipper.

  6. Thanks, Geoff! I think next time I'll spend some time in the graphic novel/comics section. I did look around there a bit (I'm always on the look out for Sgt. Rock and want to expand my reading in that area.

  7. It was perfect and so much fun! I also want to explore more New England bookstores. I love the Northshire in Manchester, VT and checked out the Harvard Bookstore last year. I'm all ears if you have recommendations for me.

  8. I'm going to put together a post about some New England bookstores I've been to…stay tuned! I really want to go to Northshire, though, I haven't been there yet. And I need to carve out some time for Boston bookstores. Unfortunately some of them are closed on Sunday which is my day off.

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