Even in our era of digital media — and even as a creator of digital media myself — I can’t help but evaluate each new city I visit, or the state of each old city I visit, in part by the quality and quantity of its bookstores. Toronto, where I’ve spent the past week or so, does surprisingly well on this count, though I hear from longtime locals that recent circumstances have forced a few beloved spots to shut down, relocate or downsize. A similar fate may loom over New York City’s Brazenhead Books, the by-appointment-only underground Upper East Side bookstore we featured back in 2011. New York still does pretty well in terms of bookstores, of course, but here we have a rare specimen in any city: a bookstore run almost in secret, a place where, according to Fodor’s, you’ll find three rooms of an apartment “crammed floor to ceiling with books, both new and used, including some rare titles,” where, “on Saturday nights, the city’s intellectuals can be found sipping whiskey and discussing classic and contemporary literature.”
If that sounds like an evening to you, you might want to pay a visit sooner than later. According to the website DNAInfo, Brazenhead’s owner, Michael Seidenberg, wrote on his Facebook page this summer, “Brazenhead Books turns its last page on October 31st.” “Lost our lease…lots of things must go.” If you can’t make it to New York before then, at least have a look at the video tour of Brazenhead at the top of the post.
As the bookselling industry has shifted over the past few decades, those omnipresent, large, orderly, utilitarian chain spaces meant for customers in search of a specific title — remember those? — have given way to smaller, more idiosyncratic bookstores, each of which provides a different set of textual and social experiences. Far at the latter end of the spectrum, we have Brazenhead, a one-man center of literary culture that you’ve got to know about just to enter. Hopefully it will survive, in some form, beyond October. But no matter what, the short video just above reminds us that what holds true about your favorite bookstore — whichever bookstore you call your favorite — holds especially for this one: you won’t find another place like it.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.