The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

A (very overdue) farewell

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I remember browsing the books in the Gotham Book Mart and feeling like I was standing among giants. My first visit came about four years ago, when I was a heady aspiring novelist looking forward to the doors of opportunity that graduate school would open up. The Gotham was at its newer but less cramped location on East 46th Street then, maybe not the same space that Auden et al once frequented, but it didn’t matter. The space wasn’t the bookstore; the books were. First editions, rare editions, autographed volumes, all in formidable, tattered brown covers, as well as famed lithographs, and newer lit mags sitting next to vintage PRs (Paris or Partisan, take your pick) — imagining a place with so much literary history (usually) open to the public seemed impossible. This was the company I wanted to join.

When I was in New York last year, I went looking for the Gotham Book Mart again, but it didn’t turn up. I imagined I had forgotten the address. I had no idea that the bookstore had folded up back in 2007.

It was a visit to the Penn Library that broke the news for me. I’ve been a regular visitor to this library, but only last week did I come across the plaque in the lobby that commemorates the library’s acquisition of the Gotham Book Mart’s 200,000+ volumes. How I missed the news of its demise, I have no idea. Needless to say, it’s a shame it came to an end. But I’m glad I experienced it before the end came.

On first thought, it is strange and kind of pleasing to know that a Philadelphia university holds the remains of a Manhattan institution. On second thought, as a mere guest to the Penn Library, I won’t be able to browse the collection like I did before. Further, maybe this isn’t an act of one-up-manship as much as an act of intellectual kowtowing. So, way to go, Penn. You’ve solidified our city’s Sixth Borough status. (And where do you get these crazy “anonymous donors” of yours? Inquiring minds at Temple wish to know.)

Still, all those books had to end up somewhere. I’m sure Penn has made the best of this donation.

More details on the collection here.

Written by cwmote

January 27, 2010 at 10:33 pm

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