Promoting passion in book collecting
Rare Book Week is well underway here in New York City, and Thursday was the opening evening for the 2014 New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which runs through Sunday. If you’ll be visiting the city for the fair, you’ll find that the city has plenty of diversions for bibliophiles. In addition to the New York Public Library and the Grolier Club, check out these literary sights in the city!
At the beginning of World War II, Antoine de Saint-Exupery was dividing his time between 240 Central Park South and a mansion in the village of Asharoken, on Long Island. He started The Little Prince at the latter residence, during the summer and fall of 1942. The following year, Saint-Exupery returned to France to join the French Free Forces as a pilot. His plane went down on July 31, 1944. A commemorative group wanted to place a plaque at 240 South Central Park, but the new residents were afraid it would draw crowds. Instead, the group placed a plaque at 252 E 52nd Street, which was the home of Saint-Exupery’s great friend, painter Bernard Lamotte. The two often dined at La Parisienne, which occupied the building’s bottom floor, or visit at Lamotte’s studio, on the top floor. Lovers of The Little Prince will also appreciate the current Morgan Library exhibit, “The Little Prince: A New York Story.”
Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, was born at 6 Pearl Street. Although the house where he was born is no longer standing, there is a commemorative plaque at the site. If you visit this spot, try to imagine what it would have been like in Melville’s time: Pearl Street was right on the East River. In the ensuing centuries, landfill development has slowly extended the shoreline, giving us a very different view than the one Melville enjoyed. He evokes Manhattan in Moby Dick, offering a delightful description of Battery Park and other parts of the city.
Just a block from the hustle and bustle of Union Square is Irving Place, named for Washington Irving. The legendary American author was incredibly influential, even shaping the way we celebrate Christmas! And Irving’s satirical Knickerbocker’s History of New York is the antecedent of ‘Knickerbockers’ (and its shortened form, ‘Knicks’) becoming a nickname for New Yorkers. You’ll find Irving’s home–now occupied by the exceptional publication Lapham’s Quarterly, comfortably situated on the street that bears his name. On 15th Street and Irving Place, you’ll also find two spots that evoke Irving’s literary legacy: The Headless Horseman and Ichabod’s. Make a stop at either location for a snack or a cold pint.
Children’s author EB White penned Stuart Little while living on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village. His classic tale of a tiny but courageous mouse also takes place in Manhattan. Though White isn’t specific about the location of the Little family home, illustrator Garth Williams evokes Gramercy Park with his sketches–particularly one drawing that includes an ornate wrought iron gate very much like the one that guards Gramercy Park’s private entrance. Irving Place reaches a dead end at Gramercy Park, so take a turn after you finish at the Headless Horseman! And if you truly love Stuart Little, head up to the Conservatory Pond in Central Park, where Stuart triumphs in a sailboat race.
Henry James is famous for distilling New York at the turn of the century, evoking both the places and attitudes of the city’s high society. Another short walk from Irving Place is Washington Square Park. Unlike bustling Union Square, Washington Square Park invites a relaxing break on a park bench. Sit for a while and imagine yourself in Henry James’ New York, as captured in the pages of his novella Washington Square.
What are your favorite literary destinations in New York City?