New York weekend: Strand Bookstore

When putting together a schedule for the weekend trip we were making to New York City for Book Blogger Con, my dad asked me what I most wanted to see in the Big Apple.

The last time I was in the city, I was an awkward, oily 11-year-old on only one mission: to make my crush, Matt, notice me. Seated just across the way from me, Matt spent most of his time looking out a neighboring glass window and making boy talk with the kid next to him. My mom was a chaperone and my companion for the five-hour bus ride from my home in the D.C. suburbs, but that didn’t stop me from talking loudly and being silly, all in an effort to get that blonde-haired hunk to look in my direction.

He did. Once. If I remember correctly, it involved something about me “dropping” (read: throwing) a pen under his bus seat, a pen I then asked him to retrieve for me. Or something like that.

Oh, who am I kidding? I still have that pen, though it’s now under glass and in a well-lit corner of my room. A sign hangs above it, reading, “Matt touched this.” I keep it polished to, you know, remember that singular moment.

OK . . . not really. But I was so excited at the time, I might as well have created a shrine to the Pen Matt Touched so I could keep it pure and unsullied . . . forever. That was one of those perfect, crystallized moments in my adolescent life when it seemed like things were happening — like life was really, really exciting.

Looking back, it was probably just hormones.

Yes, friends, I was all kinds of not focused on anything in New York City almost fifteen years ago. And this time? Well, times have changed.

Mostly because Matt, a guy I haven’t seen in more than a decade, was nowhere nearby. And I was sending constant texts to Spencer, making our conversations my own little Twitter-like feed of everything I did for three days. (He’s a sweetheart for not telling me to shut up. One of the things I like about him: he lets me ramble.)

So when Dad asked me what it was I hoped to see and accomplish in NYC, I gave him the ready answer I’d been contemplating for months: we had to get to Strand Bookstore.

It’s huge, friends, and boasts 18 miles of books — a figure I totally believe. Split between two three levels, books in every genre imaginable cover the impressive square footage. We went Saturday morning, the day after BBC, and must have joined half of New York in our quest to find a good paperback.

While I don’t exactly need any more books — I need to take an updated photo of my bookcase, which is embarrassing and actually collapsing in places — I couldn’t exactly leave Strand empty-handed. That’s ludicrous, am I right? I mean, I’m in New York City. For a book conference. Because I write about books. And read them all the time. I can’t just walk out of a giant bookstore without a book.

So I got Tinkers, a tiny slip of a novel by Paul Harding. I’d be a dirty liar if I didn’t admit that I bought it was because it was small. And light. And my shoulder was still aching from carrying around the awesome BBC swag bags the day before, and I had a very long day of walking around New York ahead of me, and I just couldn’t — could not — invest in a hardcover I would then spend the next two days lugging around.

And, you know, it won a little something call the Pulitzer Prize. Whatever that is. So let’s just hope it’s awesome.

Oh, and I bought a little notebook with “Strand” logos all over it. Because it was cute and $6 and also very light.

Apparently, I’m just into not carrying around heavy stuff anymore.

What else did I do at the Strand, friends? Well, wandered about with my sister and took silly photos, of course! And I even got her in on the action. The staff told us to “make ourselves at home” and feel free to use the ladders scattered around the place to grab anything we liked. The place was too packed with people of all ages, backgrounds, and interesting clothing preferences for me to look like a total weirdo, and if there’s one place we’re all welcome? It’s a bookstore.

So I acted like a weirdo.

And now I’m posting it for the world to see.

Enjoy. And the next time I’m in New York? Let’s all go there and act like weirdos. I’ll bring my camera, a shoulder ready to be burdened with great literature and, of course, a book lovin’ smile.

Edited to add: My dad, that crazy videographer, took a short clip of my sister, Mom and I browsing in the bookstore. From his perch on the stairs, he had a pretty good view! Check out the bottom of this post for that clip.

Everybody’s free (to wear bright red sunglasses)

Looking at a recent photo of me in a pair of bright red sunglasses, my sister did a double-take.

“Who are you?” she crowed, giving me a hard look.

The answer came to me quickly: “Me. The new me.”

It’s true that I’ve recently undergone some changes. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I decided I was completely tired of my old life — mindset, misdirected energy, and the boring clothes I’ve been wearing since college: faded T-shirts with the University of Maryland splashed across the chest; ill-fitting jeans, worn with wear; scuffed sandals into which I’ve shoved my feet for years.

I’ve never been a fashion maven but I’ve never looked ridiculous, either. I generally wear feminine styles and, in terms of clothing, have a little flair for the dramatic. But lately? I’ve been stepping it up.

At least twice a week, you’ll see these little legs in a skirt or dress at work. Gone are my frumpy, baggy black dress pants — the ones I’d wear constantly to the office, hiding my expanding figure. In the past year, I’ve lost enough weight to fit back into all my “skinny” clothes . . . and invested in new pieces. Pieces that are more “me” than ever before. And see that nail up there, the one poking my cheek? That’s green, friends. Green nail polish. Would I have rocked a hue like that a year ago? Doubtful. But now? Let’s go for it.

Emerging from a very “blah” relationship and finally taking stock of my life since this time last year, I’ve sensed such a change in who I am . . . and what I want from myself. I’ve never been quiet, meek or afraid to speak up, but for a while I silenced any part of myself that was ready to step out of my comfort zone. Complacency was the name of the game, and anything that challenged me — as a person, as a writer, as a woman — was squashed. But between traveling, making new friends and strengthening old relationships, writing, bonding and generally living? I’m ready to get silly again. And bold. And crazy. 

All while wearing bright red sunglasses.

And damn if it doesn’t feel good.