[October 9 2019]
People love books. I am one of those people. My siblings and I grew up surrounded by shelves and shelves and piles and piles of books, which occupied at least half of our childhood flat. To call my father an obsessive collector of printed matter would be an understatement.
As a teenager, I spent much of my time hiding in majestic, beautiful, sometimes abandoned libraries in grand old buildings. I puttered around Paris and London, uncovering hidden treasures in weird bookstalls on the banks of the Seine and hunting down dusty antique shops only my dad knew of. The cast of characters I encountered along the way were a fascinating as the literature: an old, owl-faced rare-book collector with tiny round glasses, a long white beard, and hair to match ; a perpetually furious librarian who hushed and scolded children – even those on their best behavior; and, of course, there were the eccentric and unpredictable dealers (who were rather nice once you knew them) in shops so old you could still smell the books on your clothes days later. To a young reader, these memorable people became indelible parts of the stories that they lovingly passed along.
My father first came to New York in July 1968. Though still a teenager, he had sold drawings to the New Yorker that would eventually appear on the magazine’s cover. After that, he would visit frequently, staying with his mother’s friends on Madison’s Avenue, directly across from the Morgan Library. He spent his days discovering classic Midtown and Uptown stores like Ursus, Argosy, and Swann, and still today fondly recalls the legendary Gotham Book Mart in the Diamond District – the same place he held his first New York exhibition in 1977.
Decades later, I moved to New York and was instinctively drawn to exploring the city’s literary secrets. The skyline was certainly different from the versions my father had depicted but much of what makes New York a special place for curious bibliophiles is still here. I found a library inside a subway station (The Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Library) : at least eighteen miles of books in space so charming you will fin dit hard to leave (Strand) ; a bookshop open after nightfall with a shady corridor packed with secondhand undiscovered art and photobooks (Mercer Street Books & Records) ; and the dark-wood booth in which Madeline – my all-time favorite character – was created (Pete’s Tavern).
Even after years living in New York – the epicenter of belletristic brilliance and cultural abundance – my quest for uncovering everything book-related only grows more rewarding. The results of this endless search are captured here, in A Booklover’s Guide to New York.
Preface by Cleo Le-Tan
The Purple Community is so sad to hear about the passing of Pierre Le-Tan, his illustrations will forever remain a beautiful reminder of what a lovely person he was. We are sending lots of love to the Le-Tan family.