Will Von Ratblood reports on a recent visit.
Turning in to the alcove outside Argosy Books, just east of Park Avenue on 59th Street, you face . . . full bookshelves. These contain hardbacks for one dollar each. In display cases you can read letters, some handwritten, by people such as Arthur Miller and Aaron Copeland, treats that, along with the shelves and a table of religious books, might occupy you for a while in front of this beautiful wood-trimmed store.
Step inside and step into another time; old and rare are the specialty here, and antique prints and maps. To your right, above, is a painting of two bears attacking an American Indian and his horse. One sinks his teeth into the unfortunate creature’s neck. The other lunges over its haunches at the man who is ready to fend it off with a large knife. If you’re frightened and fall back, you may strike a rack of contemporary books selling for three dollars. Sighing with relief, you’re reminded you are in Manhattan where encounters with bears or barely-clad,
knife-wielding Native Americans are not probable.
You might spend an hour looking through racks of prints before even getting to the books. For the budgetarily-restricted art appreciator are bins of prints for three dollars and ten dollars. You pass a shelf of books printed in the 17th Century — if you want something newer that is — on your way to a large basement that holds used hardbound books of all types. There are several more floors, including an autograph department, if you’re in the mood to explore.
On the way out during my visit, I picked up one of the dollar books outside, Those Drinking Days: Myself and Other Writers, by Donald Newlove. Now out of print, this memoir covers the struggling writer’s time living in New York in the 60’s and 70’s and details some pretty serious alcoholism. Given that, and the fact that it was written about twenty five years ago, I wondered if Mr. Newlove was still alive. A few mouse clicks and I’d produced his email and contacted him. I’m glad to say he’s still with us.
Sample quote from Newlove’s book:
I too am an alcoholic and once sat with my number one, el supremo smile before my typewriter, toppling in place over my copy, a farsighted blur pasted to my eyeballs. I patiently uncurled the English tongue to make it speak plain but it kept tying itself into gorgeous knots I couldn’t make sense of. And if the knot had a hard glow, like sunlight on snow, then I didn’t care about sense. This light overrode sense, or the need for it. Light is all. This, I’d assure myself with a thankful glance toward heaven, this is the best prose I’ve ever written.