Bookstore Review: Book Culture in New York, NY

Karsten Moran for the NYT

Book Culture is the type of store you know you’ll love before even stepping inside. There’s something intrinsically lovely about nearly every independent bookstore, but Book Culture’s racks of discounted gems and fierce “Shop Indie” sign out front (picture below) set it apart from the rest.

Inside, the store is pretty massive. On the first floor, bookish tchotchkes crowd shelves and library-style bookshelves line the walls. Almost immediately, I fell in love with a tote bag with two cats sleeping on a neon pink book titled “A Tale of Two Kitties.” Unfortunately, I was not at Book Culture to browse. I had a mission: find my required summer reading. Thrilling, I know.

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The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

otcuIn On the Come Up, Angie Thomas builds upon the vivid world of Garden Heights that she introduced to readers in her #1 New York Times bestseller debut, The Hate U Give. But this time, instead of Starr Carter narrating this story, readers are introduced to sixteen year old Bri Jackson, daughter of underground rap legend Lawless. Like her father, who was killed in a gang-related shooting when she was little, Bri dreams of becoming a legendary rapper (that is when she’s not taking ACT prep courses or geeking out over tweety bird).

You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream/just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also/ saying Bri

I found On the Come Up even more compelling than its blockbuster predecessor, perhaps because of Bri’s similarity to Thomas, who writes in her dust jacket biography that she was once a rapper. However, instead of Bri’s musical ambitions, what stuck out most to me was the conflict between Bri’s upper-middle class arts school and her working class roots.

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A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

araftwI am not the biggest fan of magical realism. I just don’t like wandering through hundreds of pages, completely confused. Now, don’t get me wrong, A Room Away from the Wolves is confusing. But, somehow, Nova Ren Suma makes it work.

Suma’s newest, released just two days ago, follows Sabina “Bina” as she ventures into New York City after being thrown out of the house by her mother. She winds up at Catherine House, a refuge for young women, home to strange residents and even stranger rules.

As Bina navigates through the novel, there is a sense of wrongness, as if she and the reader are missing something critical. But, even upon finishing the book, I still didn’t quite understand what I was missing. I didn’t even know what questions to ask in order to find out. Although this quality can be frustrating in some novels, it only gives A Room Away from the Wolves a more ethereal atmosphere.

“I’d never met a better liar, or a girl I admired more.”

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