What 17 People Are Reading Right Now in New York City

What 17 People Are Reading Right Now in New York City

Photographer Jasmine Clarke headed to four New York City bookstores to find out what everybody’s reading right now.


Cafe con Libros

A feminist bookstore in Brooklyn founded by Kalima DeSuze. Books, coffee, and pastries are all currently available for pickup from Café con Libros.

Whitney Kuo, 28

Which book did you pick up, and what’s it about?
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. She’s a black feminist queer author.

Did someone recommend it to you?
I think it’s on the ongoing, queer black feminist book list, so I had it on hand. I actually let my ex borrow it a year ago. I wanted to re-read it, so I asked her for it. She doesn’t want to see me, so she ordered it to Café con Libros because it’s in my neighborhood.

Do you usually shop here for books?
I just moved here, so I haven’t been before, but I’m really happy to be here.

What’s the last book you read, and what’s it about?
The last book I read was… Why is this so hard? Oh, I just finished Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. It’s another book about a lesbian coming of age, because I’m obsessed.

And what have the last few months been like for you?
During COVID?

Yeah.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve been thriving; my life is good. I spent a lot of this time journaling, reading, actually watching TV, and going through all that. It’s been a lot of me time which was really good. People think I’m joking. They’re like, “How are you doing?” Because everyone wants to complain. I’m like, “I’m fucking thriving.”

Last question, are you picking anything else up while you’re out?
I was trying to pick up Minor Feelings, but that’s  sold out. I may stop on a bench and read.

Prama Verma, 26

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

So, what book did you pick today?
Hood Feminism.

What’s it about?
It’s about feminism, but from an intersectional lens, written by a Black woman.

How’d you hear about it?
It’s been on my radar for a while. I heard the store was opening again, and I was just, like, “I think it’s time to finally pick it up and read it.”

What’s the last book you read?
Until We Reckon. It’s written by the executive director of a restorative justice nonprofit in Brooklyn. And it’s just about restorative justice versus the prisons and stuff.

What have the past few months been like for you?
I can’t complain too much. I work for a nonprofit, and I’ve been able to work from home, so that’s been really lucky. I have a roommate, so I’m not completely isolated, but it’s been a little tough to not be able to get out and see people.

Aaron Banes, 24

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

Which book did you pick today?
Fairest by Meredith Talusan.

How did you hear about it?
The Strand Bookstore did an interview with the author and another Filipino writer, so I watched a Zoom call about it.

Do you always get your books here?
No, this is my first time. I didn’t know about it before quarantine. I was sad that it’s been closed, but here I am, on the first day.

What’s the last book that you read?
I’m still reading a book right now called Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. It was described to me as a gay, African Game of Thrones. The main character is a tracker and he just, like, tells stories about his life and growing up, but there’s also magic. There’s a leopard that is actually also a human-were-leopard. It’s a fantasy book.

Is that the genre you usually like?
I’ve been trying to get back into it because real life is too scary right now.

I know. I feel like a lot of people are buying fantasy books. Escape is in. What have the past few months been like for you?
They’ve been okay. I’m not working right now. I’ve been really getting into tarot.

How’s that going?
It’s going really good. I have an Instagram if anyone wants to follow it.

Oh, shout it out. What is it?
It’s @misterwitchboy.

Are you picking anything else up on this outing?
I found all of these ants on my windowsill….

Oh no.
So I have to go find Raid, and I need body soap.

Mmm… Spring things!

Ashley Ahn, 26

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick today, and what’s it about?
I picked up Dominicana by Angie Cruz. I actually don’t really know too much about it, but I’m a teacher, and I teach a majority Latinx population, so I’m always trying to find books that incorporate my students’ narratives.

How did you hear about this book?
I heard about Café con Libros from a friend, so I went on their website, and I was just perusing through books and decided to put it in my cart.

Cool. What school do you teach at?
Sunset Park High School.

What’s the last book you read, and what’s it about?
The last book I read is Minor Feelings. It’s about how Asian-Americans kind of fit into the racial narrative of the United States and how oftentimes Asian people are erased from that narrative. And how by understanding our histories, we can be better allies and just speak up more, I think, in the current situation, and the situation going forward.

You would recommend it?
I would totally recommend it, because I feel like there are very few books talking about that sort of narrative.

What have the last few months been like for you?
It’s been rough, transitioning into online teaching.

Are you doing Zoom teaching?
Yeah. I’m grateful that I have high school students, so it’s a little bit easier to get them onto the computer and have those conversations. But I know it’s really hard to just continue those relationships over the computer. So it’s had its ups and downs.

Books Are Magic

Located in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, Books Are Magic is owned by novelist Emma Straub and her husband. They’re currently open for appointment-only pickups.

Arianna Cameron, 25

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick up today?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I believe it’s about a woman who’s depressed and addicted to Xanax and sees a therapist. The modern woman, I guess.

How’d you hear about it?
Through a friend who works in publishing.

What’s the last book you read?
Just Kids by Patti Smith—her biography.

Did you like it?
I loved it.

Are you picking anything else up on your outing today?
I wanted to buy White Fragility, but it’s out of stock right now.

Natasha Guarda, 17

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick up today?
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. I’m reading it for a book club.

What was the last book you read?
I’m in the middle of reading War and Peace, another classic. But the last fiction book I read was The Girls, which is about a cult in the ’60s.

Did you like it?
Yeah.

How have the last few months been for you?
I’ve been reading a lot more.

Rebecca Strassberg, 28

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick today?
I picked Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby. It’s a collection of her essays. I was just looking for something to immerse myself in.

What’s the last book you read?
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which I highly recommend. I actually started reading it before the state of the world erupted. It’s a book about this Black babysitter who gets herself tangled up in this—I’m trying to put it into just a few words, but it’s really a story about race and class and people’s intentions. I recommended it to quite a few people. I found it to be an escape but also just very important reading right now.

So escapism, but with a twist.
Yeah. It was very cool.

How have the past few months been for you?
A little isolating; I live alone. I’m also in the media, so just working non-stop. Obviously I’m just super thankful to have a job. The community has been really great though—there’s a great Facebook group that I’m part of, Boerum Hill at Large. We reach out to people. But yeah, it’s getting hard.

Last question: Are you picking anything else up on your outing today?
I bought some plants at The Sill. Basically, there’s nowhere to be outside that I feel is far enough away from people, so I bought a little camping chair, and I just sit outside and read.

Joshua K.

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

So, what book did you pick?
I got Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. It’s from a British publisher I like a lot. It had good reviews on LitHub, so I picked it up from there.

What’s the last book you read?
Oh my God. I just finished one. Give me a sec. Why am I struggling?

Sure. No problem. Take your time.
I read East of Eden a little while ago. I’m reading a book by Judith Butler on nonviolence—the philosophy of nonviolence. She’s the feminist philosopher from University of California, Berkeley. It seemed, like, on-the-nose-ish, but I have a bunch of books that I’ve ordered—MLK Jr. Speeches, The Color of Law—and they were saying that racial justice books are back ordered by hundreds of copies.

Oh, that’s interesting.
I’m waiting for a month or two to get White Fragility, but I read East of Eden and then this nonviolence book.

Would you recommend East of Eden then?
Yeah. It’s top five for me. Really, really good book.

Can you explain what it’s about?
It’s a multi-generational tale. I sound like a narrator here. It’s about a family that starts off on the East Coast and migrates to California in the post-Civil War era. And it’s about the dissolution of a marriage, and then the man’s relationship with his two sons—and free will and the ability to make decisions about the people we want to be, and not being constrained by our family and our history. And still having a chance to become good, even if we’ve been bad for a long time.

What have the past few months been like for you?
The first couple of months were extremely isolating. I had tried to do a book a week—that was my goal for the year—and I was ahead of pace. Then, despite having all the free time in the world, I couldn’t focus on anything for the first month.

The past two weeks have had a bit of a different tone—it feels like you can’t really do enough. I’m just trying to focus on doing what I can—whether it’s reading or donating or marching or whatever. It’s not a good thing, but it’s nice to feel more of a sense of community. I think it sucks to live in New York and be stuck indoors all day.

I feel like there’s a common sense of purpose right now. It’s been a dark couple of weeks, but it makes me feel proud to live here. I’m not from here originally.

Where are you from?
Toronto. I moved here five years ago. And I feel like I’m becoming a New Yorker through all this. I’m proud to live here.

Are you picking anything else up?
I asked about the Ibram X. Kendi book How to Be an Antiracist. I’m trying to send stuff back to my parents in Canada as well. My dad watched 13th last week. He was, like, “Oh my God”—he kind of had this awakening. And then I left The New Jim Crow at my house for him back home. I’m trying to pick out things that are going to be easy for them to read and digest.

Brooke Wright, 34

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick up today?
I picked up Slavery by Another Name and White Fragility.

Could you tell me a little bit about them?
I don’t know a whole lot about them—that’s why I’m going to read them. For me, Slavery by Another Name seems most interesting just because it’s more about the systemic issue, whereas I don’t really know a whole lot about what White Fragility is about, I’m not going to lie. I get that it was a good one to read so I was like, “Okay, let’s do that.” There are so many books right now that are being really advocated for and I was like, “Let’s go with those two for the beginning.”

Do you shop at Books Are Magic a lot?
Yeah. It’s my local bookshop.

What’s the last book you read?
Let’s see. I’m really bad at finishing books. I’m normally reading five at a time. The last book that I almost finished—it’s still kind of not done—is a book called Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. It’s a history book about four women—two on either side of the Civil War. Two are for abolition, two for are slavery.

How have the past few months been for you?
They were stressful at first, just not knowing what was going on. I had been traveling abroad with many people from many different countries, prior to coming back for Fashion Week. I was definitely pretty scared for the first month or so. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to work from home.

Sisters Uptown

Located in Washington Heights, Sisters Uptown is a family-owned and -operated bookstore.

Landon Michael, 35

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores? What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

So what book did you pick up and what’s it about?
I actually picked up James Baldwin’s Another Country. I originally came for White Fragility, but they’re sold out until the end of the month. So I picked up James Baldwin because he’s one of my favorite authors. I started with Giovanni’s Room, which is one of my favorites. It hits home for me. So, I wanted to continue with this as well.

How’d you hear about this bookstore?
Instagram, actually. I think someone posted about the conscious reading list, and I was like, Ah, yes. Perfect.

What’s the last book you read?
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

What’s that about?
Literally the subtle art of not giving a fuck. It just helps you build that confidence that you need to be able to move through your career paths and your spiritual journeys and things like that.

Would you recommend it?
It changed my life. So yeah. Absolutely.

Do you live in the neighborhood?
I live in East Harlem—like 120th and Madison.

What have the last few months been like for you?
You know, surprisingly a lot of my friends, or a lot of people, are saying this is the end of the world, but I really appreciate this time, because it’s given us a moment to sit back and be able to sit with ourselves. We don’t usually get that time. We’re always rushing around, whether it’s school or your career; you’re always on the go. But now you actually get time to just sit with yourself and reflect, and then be able to move forward. The one thing that I continue to repeat to myself is that I’m going to be stronger after this than I was when I went into it. You know? That’s the one thing that I push to everybody that I speak to. Get something positive out of it. It’s really just about self-care right now, honestly.

Milton Lyles, 31

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What books did you buy today?
Blueprint for Black Power, and then another Amos Wilson book on Garveyism, Afrikan-Centered Consciousness Versus the New World Order.

How’d you hear about those books?
I saw the Blueprint for Black Power after I was doing a play one day with New Heritage Theater Group over in Harlem, and then I wanted to get it, but I didn’t have the funds at the time. It’s been on my mind.

What’s the last book you read?
Wounds of Passion by bell hooks. It’s the last one I read to completion. Then I’m working on The Black Jacobins right now. It’s about the Haitian revolution. Then I just bounce around between books.

How have the last few months been for you?
Exhausting. Yeah. Exhausting.

Sam Winslow, 20

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick today?
I picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power. I suppose it’s about Obama-era politics and that kind of interplay on the Black community. It’s something I’ve had on my reading list, on the back-burner for a while, but with recent shit that’s been going on, I thought, now is absolutely the time to pick this up.

How’d you hear about it?
I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple of years ago for a school assignment. That one really stuck with me, so then I just did a little Googling about him and came across this book.

How’d you hear about this place?
I just Googled local, Black-owned bookstores in New York City that are open right now. I live all the way downtown in Greenwich Village—I needed exercise, so I hopped on a bike.

What’s the last book you read?
Shit. The last book I read and completed was a book by Ben Horowitz, who’s a venture investor a16z. It’s called What You Do Is Who You Are. Essentially, it’s about leadership, by your actions speaking louder than your words, and how, if you’re a leader or a person in a position of power, it’s not enough just to say that, “Oh, at our company we respect people” or “Our purpose is charitable giving.” It’s, like, put your money where your mouth is. Speak up—and not only speak up, but actually take action. Of course his background is working at a very successful tech company and then starting a venture firm, but he pulls in examples from all over history. I just thought that was really powerful.

Are you picking up anything else on this outing?
I picked up some coconut water.

That’s it, unless there’s anything else you want to say.
No, not really. I’m just excited for another summer in the city. I love Manhattan, I love the people in it.

McNally Jackson

McNally Jackson is currently offering curb-side pickup at two of its four New York locations—on Fulton street in Brooklyn and on Prince street in Manhattan.

Sandy Blanc, 40

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick up today?
The Water Dancer from Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve read some of his other books in the past, and I saw him speak years ago at Albertine.

What’s the last book you read?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Now, I’m reading Purple Hibiscus. She’s a fantastic writer.

Are you picking anything else up today?
Food.

Robin Amos Kahn

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

So, what book were you going to pick up today?
Robin DiAngelo’s book about white fragility—but they’re sold out.

Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot actually. How’d you hear about it?
Probably on Instagram, or Twitter, or something like that. I think it’s one of the easier ones to start with. I have Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, but I wanted to read this one first and then read that one.

What’s the last book you read?
I just finished reading a book, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum. She was a young Jewish woman who was living in Amsterdam, during World War II at the same time Anne Frank and her family were in hiding. She ended up going to a concentration camp outside of Amsterdam, and then eventually died at Auschwitz. It’s a beautiful book.

How have the last few months been for you?
I mean, what can you say? There’s very little work, so I don’t really have any income. But, on the other hand—knock wood—I’ve been healthy, my family has been okay. But the reality is that it’s been horrible and sad and really disturbing. And then Amy Cooper, then George Floyd, and then all of this is…. It’s not shocking by any means, but just like, Whoa, it’s time.

Are you picking up anything else on this outing today?
No, I just needed to get out. I was on a Zoom call and I was like, I can’t stand Zoom, I have to go for a walk.

Newton, 32

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What did you pick up today?
I got the The Paris Review—the spring edition.

What’s the last book you read and what was it about?
I think the last book I read was Giovanni’s Room, the James Baldwin book. It’s about a character living in France who is kind of unearthing their homosexuality in the ‘50s. It was amazing.

Are you picking anything else up on your outing today?
No. Just these. I’m getting one copy for myself and one for my friend for his birthday.

Chiara Cortez, 32

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

So, what book did you pick up today and what’s it about?
It’s called Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood—and Trusting Yourself and Your Body. The author is Erica Chidi Cohen. She’s the founder of this incredible fertility center out in the West Coast. She’s been a doula for years, and I’ve been following her online.

Oh, cool.
I’m not trying to have children yet, I just want to become more knowledgeable. She’s an amazing woman.

Do you usually shop for books here?
Yes. I’m so happy that they’re open. I love this book store. I live in the neighborhood, so I shop here all the time. I’ve just been waiting for them to reopen.

What’s the last book you read?
The last book I read is called The Witch Elm. It’s crime fiction. It was really good.

What have the last few months been like for you?
That’s a hard question. Honestly, all things considered, I’m very privileged and very lucky to have been able to continue my work, partly. I work for myself, and I have fewer clients than I used to, but I can still work. I have my apartment. I have my partner and we’ve had everything we need. Because my hours were cut in half, I’ve been volunteering at The Bowery Mission, just down the street three times a week. That has really helped structure my time. So, I can’t complain, honestly. People have had it much harder than I have.

Anthony Martignetti, 41

What are People Buying From Independent Bookstores?

What book did you pick up today?
Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud.

What’s it about?
Well… civilization and its discontents. I am probably one of its malcontents, but it’s for a talking group that is hosted by Sarah McNally—the owner of this store and a professor at NYU—who’s a great friend of mine. Since we’re not able to do them in the basement, it’s going to be a talking group on the ideas espoused by Freud 100 years ago.

So, do you usually shop for books here then?
Only here.

Nice. What’s the last book you read?
The last book I read… Well, I went back and reread some Hemingway. I read To Have and Have Not because I thought that was quite apropos. Right now with the societal fear that’s being held up to us as the haves and have nots.

Can you tell me a little bit what that book is about?
It’s set during the Great Depression and it deals with one central character who’s a boat runner; and is running people, fisherman, and guns back and forth between Cuba and Key West. It deals with the poor society and Key West, the wealthy people that are also there, and a bit of the beginnings of revolutionary thought in Cuba.

Would you recommend it then?
Highly, but I’m not the only one. It’s Hemingway, so…

How have the last few months been for you?
I’m in the restaurant business—I own restaurants—and it’s been quite hellish for me and my team. 165 of my employees are out of work. I’ve permanently shut down three of the five restaurants I own.

I’m sorry.
Don’t be sorry for me. I’m not worried about buying books, taking online courses. I have some savings. Most of my employees, one of whom I just had tacos with, does not.

Are you picking anything else up?
I tried to pick up a book by Merlin Sheldrake that I just read a great review of, but they have to order it from their online division because they haven’t received new books and it’s a new book. It’s called Entangled Life and it’s about mushrooms basically. And how we can learn a lot from them.

For those not able to shop in New York City right now, we recommend Bookshop.org.

The Reading List

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Just Kids by Patti Smith
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Girls by Emma Cline
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Force of Nonviolence: The Ethical in the Political by Judith Butler
Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
The New Jim Crow  by Michelle Alexander
Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A Blackmon
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Fairest by Meredith Talusan
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
Until We Reckon by Danielle Sered
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Another Country by James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
Blueprint for Black Power by Amos N. Wilson
Afrikan-Centered Consciousness Versus the New World Order by Amos N. Wilson
Wounds of Passion by bell hooks
The Black Jacobins by C L R James
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum
The Paris Review
Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood—and Trusting Yourself and Your Body by Erica Chidi Cohen
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

The post What 17 People Are Reading Right Now in New York City appeared first on Man Repeller.