The ultimate guide to the best book shops in New York City
From rare titles to niche New York fiction to manga: New York has a book store for everyone.
New York City has long been a mecca for writers, poets and other creatives. The likes of Joan Didion, Herman Melville, Patti Smith, Truman Capote, Edith Wharton, Walt Whitman, E.B White, J. D. Salinger and Maya Angelou all spent time living and being inspired by this bustling city, and when you arrive it’s easy to see why. It also means The Big Apple is an inspiring place for bookworms to stock up on old classics and new tales, thanks to an incredible range of the best book stores in New York City.
Whether you’re into creative coffee table books, poem anthologies, underground indies, pop culture, self-improvement or the classics – there’s a book store for you. These are our favourites.
1. Rizzoli Books
Often touted as the most beautiful book store in New York, it would be easy to spend hours wandering along the rows of tall wooden bookcases in Rizzoli Books, even though the shop itself isn’t that large. Specialising in illustrated tomes, literature and European magazines, you’ll find some unusual wonders here. Of particular interest is a whole section dedicated to New York history, culture and writers.
When being a tourist in Carrie Bradshaw’s neighbourhood, one can’t go passed Marc Jacob’s own quaint bookstore. There’s no trace of snootery from the staff at BookMarc, who are ready for a chat and a book recommendation. This is the perfect place for a coffee table book on art, design, fashion and music, as well as a huge range of novels and poetry collections from New York City talent throughout the ages.
3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art shop
The Metropolitan Museum of Art shop is almost as famous as the museum itself (in fact, it’s so popular you can even peruse it online). While many quirky, arty and beautiful items can be found here, art and fashion aficionados will be in heaven looking through their extensive book collection. From coffee table books on The Met and its own famous collections to general art history around the world to fashion and design history: if it exists you’ll probably find it here.
4. Posman Books
There are many reasons to visit the famous Chelsea Markets – from local crafts and designers to an incredible range of food and even some bigger brand shopping – but while you’re there it’s definitely worth spending time in Posman Books. Perhaps not quite as pretty as other New York book stores, it has an amazing range, including unique editions of classics, an extensive choice of kids, non-fiction and philosophy books.
5. Whalebone on Bleecker
Ok, so it’s not technically a bookstore, but Whalebone on Bleecker is an art gallery/store for Whalebone magazine and merchandise. What is Whalebone magazine? A very cool mag out of New York started by Jesse Joeckel, a surfer living in his Hamptons hometown of Montauk. Starting as a clothing brand in 2010, it has since grown to start producing the magazine, and we’re glad it did. Each issue dives into a single topic that can be just about anything from music to pizza to Costa Rica. The shop is also just a really cool space.
6. 192 Books
While in Chelsea, delve deeper into the world of art by dropping into 192 Books. Opened in 2003 by famous New Yorker, Paula Cooper (who also opened an art gallery in her own name) and late publisher Jack Macrae, the store is a dedication to the great loves of each of its founders: the world of art in all its forms, and a curated selection of literary works. It also hosts readings by respected writers and artists and a weekly story hour for kids.
Assouline is a name that many may already know, thanks to the recent popularity of their travel coffee book series featuring bright and eye-catching front covers, but that’s not all they sell. These book stores are dedicated to unique coffee table books and other gifts covering just about every topic under the sun – from wine to New York culture to car racing to fashion. They’re also dedicated to planting a tree for every book they sell, so this is a purchase you can feel good about.
8. McNally Jackson
This popular New York independent bookstore has five New York locations, and it’s hard to pick which McNally Jackson is cutest (although a strong case could be made for Seaport which is complete with a beer and wine bar, or the 650-square-metre Rockefeller Center locations). No matter where you go, you’ll find stacks upon stacks of bookshelves full of novels, tomes and even some more obscure finds, like indie fashion magazines.
9. Books Are Magic
The family-owned, independent Books Are Magic has two locations around Brooklyn – one on Smith Street and the other on Montague Street – the original drawing booklovers in with a bright and fun comic-like mural out the front. Across both locations, events and readings are held so often it’s more likely something will be on when you want to go than not and the carefully curated books share stories and voices that make it a welcoming, cosy place to be.
10. Strand Book Store
It may not look like much from the outside, especially when considering the other stores on this lists, but Strand Book Store near Union Square is a classic in the Big Apple for a reason. It’s several levels, for starters, so it’s basically you’re one-stop book store. But beyond the classics and the popular, there is a used books section, out-of-print titles, experimental photo books and other hard-to-find tomes and even maps.
11. Argosy Book Store
You’ll find the six floors of Argosy Book Store in Midtown. This is the most comprehensive and high-quality second-hand book store you’ll ever come across. Find beautiful maps alongside thousands of rare, out-of-print and used books all inside the elegant and classic decor. Opened in 1925, the store has been passed down three generations of the same family, so it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.
12. Astoria Bookshop
Don’t sleep on Queens – arguably the new Brooklyn when it comes to a burgeoning art scene. The culture here is unique and inviting, as is Astoria Bookshop. This independent book store may be small, but it packs a mighty punch in its selection of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. What’s more, the friendly staff are more than happy to help you track down any titles they may not have on the shelf. They hold heaps of in-store events as well, from readings and storytelling sessions to book clubs.
13. Albertine Books
As you may have guessed by the name, Albertine Books is a safe haven for Francophiles. In fact, with over 14,000 titles from 30 French-speaking countries, it boasts the largest French-language literature selection in the whole United States. Housed within the French Embassy (which probably explains a lot), it’s also a gorgeous place to sit and read. Find a designated reading room with brown leather sofas and armchairs (a classic) and a range of interesting events throughout the week.
Besides being brilliantly named, Book-Off is a Japanese used book store chain with a location in the city, Brooklyn and Long Island. Unlike many second-hand stores these days, you’ll actually find a lot of incredible bargains here – the USD$1 selection is particularly appealing – but it’s also got an extensive manga selection, as well as Japanese language books and even video games and movies from Japan. Anime fans must stop in at the Brooklyn location – its name, Bookoff AnimeLab Brooklyn should give you a clue as to why.
15. Spoonbill and Sugartown
Another niche interest is catered to by Spoonbill and Sugartown. Founded in 1999, this independent Brooklyn book store is a haven for new and used copies of rare titles on art, architecture and design, as well as theory, literature and poetry. They also have a small but carefully curated selection of kid’s books, cookbooks and food writing, and are more than happy to help you down any other titles they may not have.
16. Bluestockings Cooperative Bookstore
For something completely different, Bluestockings is the only queer, transgender, and sex worker cooperatively-owned book store in New York City. As you can imagine, that means you’ll find an incredible range of books focusing on modern social issues, from race to gender to globalization to climate change. There’s an organic, vegan cafe on site so you can sit and ponder for as long as you need, and when it comes to events they take it well beyond book readings: think sewing circles to organised discussion on sex work.
17. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is the best of three worlds. As a book store, its two levels of titles include a constantly changing selection of donated books, as well as records and and collectables. As a cafe, it offers a cosy nook of the city to sit and read (or chat with friends) over coffee or wine. And, as a social enterprise, it donates all proceeds towards fighting homelessness and HIV/AIDS.