Fond, nostalgic account of the rise and fall of the secondhand- and rare-book sellers who once clustered on and around Manhattan’s Fourth Avenue.
At times as dusty and disarrayed as one of those shops, this survey begins with a snapshot of the seven-block region that served as home to several dozen stores. Mondlin, estate book buyer for the Strand, and freelance writer Meador interviewed scores of bookstore owners, employees, patrons, and neighbors; they scoured old periodicals for stories on Book Row and gathered a plethora of detail and anecdote. (However, an appendix listing shops, addresses, owners, and dates of operation is notably and regrettably missing.) They have done book-lovers a grand service by profiling the men and women who established these legendary ventures, starting with George D. Smith, whose acumen helped Henry E. Huntington acquire his eponymous library in California. Smith opened a shop on Broadway in the 1890s and held sway for 30 years. Subsequent chapters deal with various dealers grouped together for assorted reasons including chronology, kinship, marriage, and even like-sounding names—Jack Biblo and Jack Tannen eventually joined forces to maintain what Mondlin and Meador call “one of New York’s finest bookstores in the 1960s and 1970s.” The authors explore the conditions that gave rise to the shops (lots of books, low rents) and offer reasons for their disappearance in the ’70s and ’80s (rising rents, diminishing numbers of book-lovers), though they see the Internet as a new boon to the business. A long paean to the Strand that reads more like ad copy than analysis is typical of a text in which weaknesses compete with strengths for dominance throughout. A perfect detail or poignant anecdote is sometimes followed by such eye-glazingly trite comments as, “The great finds at Dauber & Pine are no more, but still great are the memories.” Equally numbing is the formulaic arrangement of chapters: introduction, biography of the dealer(s), rise and fall of the shop(s), nostalgic phrases of farewell.
Priceless items shelved alongside pap and pulp. (16 pp. b&w photos)