February 19, 2015 [Tuesday]
I get out of work late, and I don’t know what I should discover today. The time will come when I will be a camera-carrying, slow-moving, easily excited tourist, but for now, I want something simpler, something more down-to-earth, something closer to home.
I find myself standing in front of the New York Public Library, its grand exterior dwarfing my carefully-arranged scarf and small black snow boots. It has a majestic aura to it, and the words “The New York Public Library” are etched in capital letters above two pairs of tall columns that frame the lit entrance archway. There are two arches on either side of this main entrance, with lone columns serving as their outer boundaries.
Glass onion-shaped chandeliers hang from the three archways, small in comparison to the large stone building, and near the little statues of robed figures embedded at the top, I can glimpse faint traces of the word TRUST.
I like that the building feels almost Greek, with stairs leading up to its doors and dirty traces of once-white slush muddying the way there. The steps are all stone and all edges and no feeling, beige and endless and dauntingly imposing, so different from the typical brick houses of the city that have wood and carpet gracing their interiors. I sometimes think about the differences in architecture between Lebanon and America, and it is hard to decide which style I like best.
But I am at the New York Public Library, and today, as I stand at its steps, it is closed.
I cross the street, careful to wait for the onslaught of traffic to subside before making my way across with my cold hands in my pockets, and I see a Kinokuniya nearby. I am cold, so cold, and I can almost feel the warmth emanating from the bookstore, both literal and figurative. As I approach the door, the shelves of books become clearer, more distinct, as do the sections under which they are divided.
There are sections on history, cooking, tourism, and architecture. The books to do with art are always the most beautiful, with pretty binding and sketched covers and graphic images. They are usually hardback, with the kind of pages I relish turning and the kind of descriptive instruction I enjoy reading and promptly forgetting.
The books in the history and politics sections are always the loudest, with titles in capital letters and rougher but clean-cut paper. They tend to have heavy covers plastered with large quotations containing words like RIGOROUS, POWERFUL, GROUNDBREAKING and LETHAL.
It isn’t so with the fiction section. A quieter section, fiction includes an abundance of books and a greater variety of styles and quality levels. The texts here range from the trashy, cheap paperbacks with italicized cursive for titles to the sturdy but flexible novels with simple, well-designed covers. Some books are even hardback, usually later editions of popular texts or sequels to commercial bestsellers. These are the lucky ones of the bunch, and not normally the best, a fact to which Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey can attest.
The bookstore also has the expected New York tourist section, and of course a section filled with splendid journals of all kinds. I lose myself here for a while, in the beauty of paper and design, until I decide on a journal I will use for my time here, and a tiny Killer Sudoku puzzle book for the train.
I cannot help but smile as I pay at the cash register, for the way some things never change, even with the advent of Kindles and iPads. I have a tendency to find home not simply in the architecture of wood and of marble, but really in all things, and in all places; and here, in this small bookstore in midtown Manhattan with cookbooks and design manuals and books by Kissinger and Khaled Hosseini, I feel at home.