Literary Downtown

You just have to look a little harder, walk a little farther

Léonora Miano at McNally Jackson, Sept 17, 2018. (Ken Kurson)

That headline isn’t a misprint. When the St. Marks Bookshop closed its doors after 38 years in 2016, people who live downtown and had watched Shakespeare & Co and countless others cease to exist, could be forgiven for assuming every possible storefront was required by law to be a bank, pharmacy or coffeeshop. But a stroll around the East Village and SoHo on a sultry Monday night reveals plenty of worthy, ambitious book-related goings on.

At 6, the coffeeshop at SoHo’s McNally Jackson featured a reading by Cameroonian novelist Léonora Miano. Her new novel Season of the Shadow (The French List) covers the beginning of the slave trade from the perspective of sub-Saharan people who suffered horribly from the blight of slavery. The book covers unimaginably troubling subject matter but after the event, Miano greeted her fans with effervescent cheer. She signed my book in French and the reason this picture is cut off is because her translator, Gila Walker, told me there’s not a single photograph of her on the entire internet and she’d like to keep it that way.

Off to Housing Works, where Sari Botton and Jason Diamond were emceeing “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, a Brooklyn Book Festival event that featured authors discussing why New Yorkers are both fanatically devoted and dying to leave. Botton knows the topic well; she’s edited two anthologies about loving and leaving the city; Diamond wrote a book about searching for John Hughes called Searching for John Hughes.

A surprisingly strong Monday night roster featured Jen Doll, Pilot Viruet, Ryan Chapman, Talia Lavin, Will Hermes, Cory Nakasue and Britney Wilson.

I had to cut out early to head back to McNally’s proper exhibition space downstairs, where Elaine Makhtefi was reading from her new book, Algiers, Third World Capital. Makhtefi was an ordinary middle-class Jewish lady in New York when she became engrossed with the Black Panthers. When the Algerians threw out the French in 1962, Algiers became the defacto “liberation capital of the Third World.” So that’s where Makhtefi headed, coming into contact with Stokely Carmichael, Timothy Leary, Eldridge Cleaver, Frantz Fanon, and obviously, Mokhtar Mokhtefi. The place was packed—half looked like they struggled alongside her in the 60 and half weren’t even born until the 90s.

And then, walking home, what’s this? A new bookstore in the Village. Codex on Bleecker is tiny and overstuffed—a throwback to the days when a shop like See-Hear could eke out EV rents selling only fanzines.

Maybe there’s hope for people who just like to read and to do so on paper that’s bound, and sold to them in person by like-minded individuals.

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

One thought on “Literary Downtown

  • September 17, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    I only love to read paperbacks. Thank you for sharing this same appreciation.


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