One of the best things about living in New York is that there is never a shortage of fun surprises waiting around every corner of practically every street. The problem is, most Manhattanites have their "don't mess with me I'm busy" blinders on pretty much from origin right through to destination. I, for one, have been just as guilty of lack of observation as most, but I have definitely had my periphery widened by this blog. In learning to observe my surroundings, I have uncovered many jewels of the urban jungle I previously thought I knew so well. I LOVE strolling through the streets and inadvertently finding a new "bloggable" experience. So, on a recent Sunday, I was pleasantly (and bloggably) surprised when I happened upon a little establishment called "The Mysterious Bookshop" on the way to my car after church. Nestled on Warren Street between a baby store and a spa in a nebulous area of Tribeca, I soon found out the quaint bookshop more than lived up to its surreptitious name.
I, quite literally, would not have noticed (much less entered) the shop if it had not been for the archaic black and gold swinging sign that jutted out toward the sidewalk. I looked up at the placard; on which a sword formed the T in "mysterious" while the black iron that held the sign was deliciously malapropos on the slick downtown street. Slightly creepy. Okay. I was intrigued enough to petition my husband to take a quick detour from our beeline to the nearest brunch and we entered through a glass door that boasted: "Specializing in mystery, crime, suspense, espionage, and detective fiction". I took two steps and was smacked in the face with the overwhelming redolence of old books. There's nothing like that aroma. And yes, to me, it is definitely an aroma. It takes me back to my childhood obsession with books and libraries and the excitement of checking out a book just to stick my nose in it and inhale the perfume of literary possibility. <whiff> Mmm. When I was finally able to employ my other four senses, I took a good look around. The ancient-looking wooden shelves were completely packed with old, new, rare, signed, out-of-print, first edition, and heaven-knows-what-else books - all of the mysterious persuasion. I spied a section with a cardboard sign over it - Sherlockiana. Wait. Really? I walked up to survey the titles. Yep. Just as one would think. According to Wikipedia, Sherlockiana "encompasses: memorabilia, such as statuettes, drawings, and movie posters, that concern the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, his associates such as Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade, and his dwellings at 221B Baker Street; Non-canonical fiction, not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that relates to these characters and their world; and reference as fiction, as when characters from other fictional settings refer to the Sherlock Holmes stories as stories." Dude. Who knew. As I had recently read The Valley of Fear for one of my book club's October selections, I fully appreciated the breadth of this collection. Inspired, I inquired into the history and activities associated with this little gem of a shop.
Turns out, it's one of the oldest mystery specialization shops in America, dating back to its establishment 31 years ago by a gentleman named Otto Penzler. Mr. Penzler, still the proprietor, is a well-known and richly decorated publisher of all things mysterious, having won the Ellery Queen award, the Raven, and the Edgar Award for his Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. The shop itself publishes a monthly newsletter, hosts six book clubs, and has numerous other clubs that provide its members with monthly copies of personally inscribed signed first editions. All in one little shop about the size of my first New York apartment in midtown. Impressive. I took one more lap around the stacks while Victor and my empty stomachs growled along with the track from Sherlock Holmes' The Woman in Green. Yes. I could see how everything about this shop could quickly and completely become an obsession. I thanked the shopkeeper and headed back out the door into the chilly wind to drive to brunch with my patient husband. I noted the slight spring in my step as somehow, I felt as if I had uncovered some sort of mystery of my own. Much like Sherlock Holmes used his keen powers of observation to unravel the most complicated enigmas of the late nineteenth century, I had taken the New York blinders off (mostly thanks to this blog) and made a little discovery of my own. Faber est quisque fortunae suae.