Reading Around New York

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On Thursday, May 3, 1979, the New York Times unit lensman Fred Conrad visited the main subdivision of the New York Public Library. A assemblage had gathered connected the steps extracurricular — successful groups, successful pairs, talking, eating. But among this gathering, a fewer sat somewhat apart, heads bent. They appeared oblivious to those astir them, unaware of the photographer’s lens. They were reading.

Even successful the busiest of places, if you person a bully book, you tin retreat into solitude. And erstwhile you unrecorded successful a metropolis similar New York, a publication tin beryllium adjacent much than a communicative astatine your fingertips. It tin besides beryllium a respite, an escape, a sanctuary, a diversion and a question companion.

Whether they’re borrowed oregon bought, books person ever been an enduring portion of New Yorkers’ regular lives. When the library’s 42nd Street subdivision opened successful May 1911, The Times reported that much than 50,000 radical visited connected the archetypal day. Since then, radical person been speechmaking not conscionable successful the building, but besides each astir it. In Bryant Park successful 1935, the N.Y.P.L., on with the city’s Parks Department, opened an outdoor speechmaking room, primitively intended to supply books, newspapers and magazines for the jobless during the Great Depression. It ran each summertime until 1943 and gave New Yorkers the accidental to work while, according to The Times, “idling successful the unfastened aerial nether the level trees.” The Bryant Park Reading Room returned successful 2003, again for the warmer months, and has tally each summertime since.

With the emergence of paperback books came a burst of caller bookstores — and with them, adjacent much publication browsing. In Times Square, an all-night Bookmasters opened successful April 1962, stocking 100,000 paperbacks for aboriginal birds and nighttime owls alike. Despite the determination and operating hours, the owners of Bookmasters insisted, “We bash not person 1 pornographic publication successful this shop.”

These photos — each drawn from The Times’s immense photograph archive — amusement that, successful New York, there’s nary spot excessively engaged for a book. To spot idiosyncratic speechmaking successful New York is to witnesser an enactment of determination. The scholar has to disregard a barrage of imaginable disturbances, ranging from good creation to formation announcements. For those who are funny successful literate trends, nationalist spaces similar subways tin besides beryllium a useful, if informal, barometer of what’s popular. A glimpse astir the bid car — peculiarly successful the days earlier smartphones — could sometimes archer you arsenic overmuch astir which books were successful the zeitgeist arsenic The Times’s best-seller list.

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Credit...Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

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Credit...Chester Higgins, Jr./The New York Times

For some, the publication they chose to work was arsenic overmuch a portion of the representation they presented to the satellite arsenic their outfit — a mode to amusement disconnected however intelligence oregon hep they were, and possibly to drawback someone’s oculus successful the process. In 1906, The Times published a quartet of sonnets astir a bid defender who was smitten with a rider who took the local, not the express, conscionable to person much clip to work her novel. More than 100 years later, The Times published a selection of subway-related “Missed Connections” poems taken from Craigslist. “I bought the book/but I ne'er got your sanction … ,” 1 lovelorn commuter wrote.

If you’ve work portion lasting and swaying connected a packed subway, you’ll cognize that a bully publication defies immoderate posture oregon location. Just inquire the New Yorker who risked the perils of walking and speechmaking portion crossing the Lexington Avenue skywalk, indifferent to the canyon views below, oregon the scholar who turned the metropolis into her ain waterside surviving room, stretching retired connected a pier arsenic if it were a couch, with a makeshift pillow nether her head.

Many of these photographs, pulled from The Times’s archive, are alleged “day shots” — photos taken of scenes astir the city, often capturing the weather, to diagnostic successful the pursuing day’s paper. But seen today, these photos uncover much than conscionable the elements. The cars and fashions person changed, and there’s a refreshing lack of cellphones. Yet the photographs of radical speechmaking — play to season, twelvemonth aft twelvemonth — person a timeless quality. We admit the acquisition of reading, adjacent if we’re unfamiliar with the era. There’s nary artifice to idiosyncratic whose attraction is heavy successful a book. They are mislaid successful a spot conjured up by the magic of words connected a page.

And that literate spell starts to beryllium formed successful the earliest days of childhood. In 1923, visitors to the city’s archetypal nationalist room exclusively for children, the Brownsville Children’s Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, had to get aboriginal for communicative time. The Times reported that the auditorium, which seated 100, was sometimes not large capable for each the children anxious to perceive the stories, “one being chosen for its literate worth and 1 for humor.”

Maybe immoderate of those youngsters sat arsenic attentively arsenic this kid photographed astatine the Van Cortlandt Library successful the Bronx successful 1976 — half-kneeling connected the chair, torso stretched retired crossed the array toward the scholar and look tilted upward, nether the enchantment of a communicative told successful pictures and words. This is simply a New Yorker who could 1 time basal with a publication connected the subway, oregon by the East River successful winter, oregon connected the stairs of the room connected a outpouring day. A scholar who, amid the clamor of a metropolis of much than 8 cardinal people, tin inactive find a abstraction to imagine.

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