Recessionary Summer Reading


Summertime fun remains hampered by an uncertain economy. While word is out that jobs are slowly becoming available, the unemployed/newly re-employed/semi-employed continue to deal with the repercussions of the last few years, economizing to make up for losses. Vacations are still considered excess and are being traded in for time spent at home with season-long beach or pool passes.

With all that lolling around, you’ll need some summer reading to go with it. Unfortunately, if you’ve been to a book store lately, you’d already know the cost of a summer reading list can run as much as an airline ticket to Florida (not including the hefty price tag for one of those fancy electronic readers on the market these days). One of the ways Woman Around Town came up with to pinch a few extra pennies this summer was to hit some local thrift shops for book finds. Sure, you could go to a library but then you’d miss out on the excitement of finding treasures you didn’t know existed. We were surprised to find a huge assortment of books we may never have discovered otherwise (and a few we were pretty familiar with). Plus, we’re doing our part for the environment by being green and recycling. We picked up these seven books all for under $10 (including tax)!

At New York City Opera Thrift Shop on East 23rd Street, we found a lovely hardback volume entitled The World of Bemelmans. Ludwig Bemelmans is otherwise known as the creator of the Madeline children’s books. He apparently wrote and self-illustrated this collection of four-little-books-in-one chronicling his travels from his birthplace in Austria through New York City, Hollywood, Ecuador, Paris (this guy certainly got around) and his time in the service with the U.S. Army. We paid $1.95 for this gem and even if it turns out we aren’t thrilled with the stories, the illustrations are quite the treasure.

While we were on 23rd Street, we stopped in at the Housing Works Thrift Store and picked up a few classics. It was half-price on books the day we shopped so we went a little crazy and picked up three juicy classics: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann by Barbara Seaman and The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. For those of us of a certain age, these three books will take us back to another time, roughly the early 1970s.

The best part of these particular finds is the accompanying film for each (we could use the library for acquiring those) and on a rainy summer afternoon, would it be so bad to watch a double feature of Valley of the Dolls and The Stepford Wives? We don’t think so. Bette Midler and Nathan Lane starred in the excellent film adaptation – Isn’t She Great? – of the Barbara Seaman biography but that might be a bit harder to track down at the library. We paid a whopping $2.50 for all three books.

We took a walk to The Salvation Army on West 46th Street and picked up two more books for mere pennies (literally, we spent less than a buck on both). We found a little book (good for one afternoon’s reading) called Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico and one giant tome – Hawaii by James Michener (since we probably won’t be going to Hawaii – this year, anyway – we might as well spend the entire summer reading about it). We didn’t know Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris was in book form, only remembering the made-for-TV movie starring Angela Lansbury and Omar Sharif from the early 1990s. Hawaii, too, has an accompanying film, circa 1966, starring Julie Andrews (if you’re interested).

Finally, we stopped at the New York Public Library’s used bookstore below the Webster Branch on York Avenue at East 78th Street. We were overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of titles available and the organization of the shop (with a charming and knowledgeable staff of volunteers). There, we picked up a copy of How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto (also with a film version starring Winona Ryder – to complete our unintentional book/film theme). We paid $1 for it bringing our total for all seven books to $6.23 (plus tax). We spent an inordinate amount of time perusing the titles in this shop, however. The cooking section, alone, was massive and stocked with everything from Martha Stewart manuals to vintage Jell-O cookbooks. We found film books, bound scripts, self-help, chick lit, audio books, biographies, novels, music, DVDs, children’s titles and craft books plus a whole lot more. In the end though, we actually may have overshopped with the seven books we did get.

Here are some tips for purchasing used books:

1. Be flexible and open to reading something not on the current New York Times Best Sellers List (some say Valley of the Dolls was the best selling book of all time) – you don’t know what surprises you’ll find.

2. Go ahead and judge a book by its cover or by the illustrations inside (that’s how we chose the Bemelmans book).

3. Size matters. Pick books sized not to overwhelm (for single afternoons of reading) or choose one awesome novel (like Hawaii) which can keep you captivated the entire summer.

4. Selecting books to which you’ve seen the movie adaptations can give you a fresh perspective and it’s always fun to (re)watch cheesy but oh-so-satisfying companion films like The Stepford Wives.

5. Re-recycle the books after you’ve read them by giving them to a friend or donating them back to one of the thrift shops below.

Suggested shops for finding books on the cheap (call for hours of operation):

New York Public Library Webster Branch Used Book Shop
1465 York Avenue (at 78th Street)
(212) 288-5049

Housing Works Thrift Store
157 East 23rd Street
(212) 529-5955

Housing Works Book Store Cafe
126 Crosby Street
(212) 334-3324

New York City Opera Thrift Shop
222 East 23rd Street
(212) 684-5344

The Salvation Army
536 West 46th Street
(212) 757-2311

If you’re interested in any of the books (or films) from our shopping spree, offers all of the titles, used, some for as low as $.01 (plus shipping). But, check your local thrift shop first!

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