Lifestyle

Need a Reading Partner? Dog-Ear These Cool NYC Literary Gatherings and Book Clubs

Don't forget your bookmark.

Photo courtesy of Reading Rhythms
Photo courtesy of Reading Rhythms
Photo courtesy of Reading Rhythms

When it comes to that adage about the best things in life being free, for many New Yorkers, reading in public tops the list.

Tossing a book in a tote and plopping down at a laptop-free cafe, hidden green space, or favorite street bench can be an activity in and of itself. But it’s equally as fun to share that imaginative experience with others. And while making friends at niche bookstores is one way to possibly keep your circle strong, larger literary happenings-from erotic poetry readings to bookshop bar events-are also having a moment in New York City.

These groups are uniting bookworms across the city, making it socially acceptable to ask, “What are you reading?” Because let’s face it: We’re all a little guilty of nosily peering over our neighbor’s book on the subway. To help you form human connections worthy of poetry, we rounded up the best reading groups in NYC.

Photo courtesy of Reading Rhythms
Photo courtesy of Reading Rhythms
Photo courtesy of Reading Rhythms

Reading Clubs in NYC

Reading Rhythms

Various locations, $20
Reading Rhythms wants to make it clear that it’s not a book club; It’s a “reading party.” The idea is to show up, engage in two sessions of sustained silent reading (save for the ambient music), and break in the middle for a literary gab with fellow readers. Whether you discuss the passages you just read, the next book on your must-read list, or even the new subway fare gates, that’s entirely up to you. Events take place every few days across Brooklyn and Manhattan, though they tend to sell out quickly, so make sure you secure a spot in advance.

The Center for Fiction
The Center for Fiction
The Center for Fiction

Book Clubs NYC

New York Public Library Book Discussion Groups

Locations vary, Free
The New York Public Library puts together a wide array of book clubs taking place at libraries across all five boroughs. The discussion groups are organized by genres, like mystery or romance; formats, like books under 100 pages, or short stories; and more open-ended conversations, like “What Are You Reading Now?” On February 14th, Staten Island’s South Beach Library will host their bi-monthly discussion dedicated to the classics, and the Valentine’s Day pick is the apropos Like Water for Chocolate.

The Center for Fiction Reading Groups

Fort Greene, $30 and up
The Center for Fiction is a non-profit literary organization dedicated to connecting readers and writers. In addition to previously welcoming famous authors like Salman Rushdie, Rachel Cusk, and Cherríe Moraga, the literary community runs workshops for emerging writers, as well as reading groups on classic and contemporary fiction. The next event will be a conversation about The Nighlighters by Catherine Lacy.

McNally Jackson Book Clubs

Various locations, $5
New York’s favorite bookstore hosts a selection of book clubs that are wonderfully niche in theme. The “NYC To Its Edges Book Club,” for example, seeks to escape the “diluted and anonymized New York City” of contemporary literature and points readers to novels, poetry, and nonfiction that paint a more vivid, 20th-century picture of the city. Other discussions might focus on “unusual appetites” or the “decadent, debased, and degenerate.” The latest addition to the line-up is the “McNally Jackson After Hours,” essentially a mixer for bookish singles.

Book Club Bar
Book Club Bar
Book Club Bar

Reading Series and Events in NYC

Franklin Park Reading Series

Crown Heights, Free
On the second Monday of every month, this Brooklyn beer garden hosts readings from emerging and established authors and poets, who in the past have included Roxane Gay, Colson Whitehead, Jennifer Egan, and more. While you listen to some lines, enjoy craft brew specials and enter a raffle for the readers’ latest titles. February’s event will welcome Marie-Helene Bertino, reading from her new novel, Beautyland, as well as Emily Schultz (Sleeping with Friends), Sidik Fofana (Stories from the Tenants Downstairs), Christina Cooke (Broughtupsy), Will Mountain Cox (Roundabout), and Anita Gail Jones (The Peach Seed).

Perverted Book Club

Various locations, Free
At the Perverted Book Club, listen to local celebrities like Jemima Kirke reciting all kinds of fanfiction and erotica at unexpected venues, like the Burger King in FiDi, or the Sbarro’s in Penn Station. Orchestrated by Dream Baby Press, which was founded by creatives Matt Starr and Zack Roiff, this raunchy book club is bringing together New Yorkers who are keen to have a good laugh, redefining overlooked spaces in the process.

Sugar Hill Creamery Ice Cream Social

East Harlem, Free
Harlem’s beloved scoop shop, Sugar Hill Creamery, shows its love for community with weekly Ice Cream Socials, taking place every Wednesday from 6:30 pm to 8 pm. Neighbors can connect over a range of topics, “from discussing a controversial newspaper article or book to how best to navigate the public school system to sharing resources on how to obtain affordable housing.” The latest addition is a Book Club led by Dr. Misa Dayson, discussing books by Black authors on topics related to our current social and political moments. February’s read is How We Get Free, edited by Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor.

Book Club Bar

East Village, Free entry
In a city where so many coffee shops close at 5 pm, Book Club Bar might just become your next, late-night reading spot. The independent bookstore, which also sells coffee, beer, wine, and cocktails, is reminiscent of a snug living room, inviting you to treat it as a third place. The community hub hosts all kinds of events, from “Drink ‚ÄėN Draft” creative writing workshops and East Village Wordsmiths literary salons to book clubs and author events. On February 22nd, the bar will host a conversation with author Jordan Salama on his new book, Stranger in the Desert.

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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