COVID Newsletter #5
Greetings from Three Lives & Company!
A book is a journey, a thrill, a distraction, a consolation. It can be a disappointment or a revelation. Reading is intensely personal but also – especially for us, as booksellers – a public and communal thing: What are you reading?, we ask each other, And would I like it?
This week the Three Lives staff wrote about our Ňdesert island booksÓ – the books we would most like to have with us if stranded on a desolate shore without bookstores, Wi-Fi or third-wave coffee shops. They are books that are transporting, formative, or simply stunning: books that would keep us company until we spot sails unfurled on the horizon.
We are all of us watching for the sails now, and we also want to hear what you would pick for your desert island library. If you were stranded for a month or a year and had space in your rucksack for only one or two books, what would they be – and why? We will feature some of your responses in our next newsletter.
The good news, of course, is that while most of us are isolated, we still have books available to us. The next few weeks see the publication of several shop favorites in paperback – Jill CimentŐs The Body in Question, George PackerŐs Our Man and Christopher CastellaniŐs Leading Men – and brand-new releases are continuing through the summer. If you would like to order any, our is ready for action – you know the drill!
Read on for our desert island picks, but first, another missive from Three Lives owner Toby Cox.
~ A Letter from the Owner ~
Greetings from the Corner!
I hope this finds you and yours well and safe.
We are in Week Eight of the shutdown. Our city has suffered a great deal, but it does seem, at present, that we are slowly making our way through these difficult times. It has been tough to see NYC brought down and laid out – there are moments when I see the empty streets, the shuttered businesses and am taken aback by the loss of our vibrancy and energy at the hands of this virus. But I do have great faith that we will be back – different, no doubt, but the great City of New York once again.
We are all well at the shop, thankfully, and our online ordering has kept us busy. I want to thank you, dear customers, for all your support over the last two months: the orders, the encouragement, the good cheer. Our ordering system is all a bit wonky, like Three Lives itself, but it retains the elements of bookselling that are essential to every one of us at the shop: the personal touches.
Though temporarily shuttered, the little bookshop on the corner of Waverly and West Tenth continues to sell lots of books. It is true that our revenue is off a good deal, but the staff has been heroic in their efforts to keep the shop sailing smoothly in these unsettled times. Considering how hard they have been working, while their homes become their workspaces and mini-bookshops, I am delighted that our Payroll Protection Plan loan application has been approved in the second round of funding. It is well-earned on their part.
As my dad, an old ship captain, has said about a ship tied up in port, Three Lives, though closed, still requires attention and care during this time. While Miriam is ordering your books for direct-to-home shipment, and Nora and Troy are calling for your payment information and perhaps a chat about the day and our times, and Ryan is processing all the orders, all from their homes, I tend to our bookshop.
A couple of times a week I visit the shop, either walking in from my home in Brooklyn or driving my trusty and very rusty Ő93 Honda Civic (often after a detour to the Rockaways for a quick early-morning swim and soul-cleansing) to spend some hours behind the locked red doors managing the paperwork, the bookkeeping, the receiving, some straightening, and even, yes!, rearranging the displays! I am also the Gift Certificate coordinator: if you have ordered a gift certificate online (and thank you!), I am the one who wrote it up and mailed it off to you or your gift recipient.
My bookshop office, usually a semi-organized mess in the bookshop cellar, is now on my back, shuttled between the shop sales area or sprawled across my dining table at home (sorry, honey, weŐll have to eat dinner from the counter for a little while longer!). And, in an ever-hopeful sign, I have begun my buying season for the fall releases. ItŐs true, we have no idea what our lives or New York City will look like in September, but we do know that there will be books, lots of glorious new reads and wonderful discoveries, and it is a heartening, hopeful task to review all these forthcoming titles.
And, finally, to the authors. If you had a book published in the last number of weeks, I can only imagine the heartache of having your hard work and considerable effort land during the midst of a global pandemic and healthcare crisis. Please take heart: I donŐt know a bookseller who isnŐt working double-time to keep their bookshops functioning and to support the new releases. It is a different beast, to be sure, but we are very aware of your books and the support they need. Hang in there!
Again, thank you for all your support. Please email if you need any book recommendations – booksellers are standing by! If you have read about a book in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books or the New York Times Book Review or heard about a book on Fresh Air or some other NPR show and you would like to order it, please fill out our . We appreciate your orders.
Take good care.
~ Staff Picks: Desert Island Books ~
When considering desert island reading material, my mind drifts to the world of Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Mariner) has been, arguably, the most formative reading experience of my life. I read it as a kid, then again as a teenager, and have been considering a revisit lately. They are the perfect escape books for the adventurer in all of us, and, while I appreciate the trilogyŐs magic and many excitements, it is the hope and heart of the characters that make it one of my most beloved reads. Switching gears to contemporary fiction, Jesse BallŐs book from 2018, Census (Ecco), is easily my favorite of the last five years. I remember reading the last page and immediately wanting to start all over again. It is an on-the-road novel, a father-son story, a meditative, philosophical nosedive into existence and impermanence and the relationships that define us and is one of those rare books that changed the way I look at the world. – Nora
The book that immediately comes to mind as my ideal desert island companion is Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Grace Frick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a fictional recreation of Emperor HadrianŐs life and rule. Picking it up for the first time a few years ago, I had the rare conviction midway through the book: ŇI cannot wait to read this again.Ó I had not even completed my initial read, and I knew without a doubt that I would return to YourcenarŐs words repeatedly throughout my life. Even putting aside her stunning, transporting prose, her reflections and insights on how to live and die, how to lead and love demand consideration every few years. And to keep things interesting, I also would pack Milkman by Anna Burns (Graywolf), another novel that I think rewards return visits. A young woman in an unnamed town in the North of Ireland during the Troubles navigates her stifling community as rumors spread that sheŐs involved with an older paramilitary. BurnsŐs voice is one-of-a-kind: her humor, linguistic prowess, and vibrant depictions of the inner life of her protagonist and the often hostile external world she confronts would entertain me until Three Lives shipped more books to my island. – Miriam
Choosing only two desert island picks is torturous! My first would have to be Jane Eyre: you have angst, mystery, feminism, and romance. WhatŐs not to love? My second would be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Anchor): the imagery is so vivid, and your imagination runs so wild that you could easily place yourself there and forget that you are stranded on a deserted island. Not to mention itŐs just damn good writing! – Tatiana
My desert island picks would not be books that I have read before. I would want books in which the authors have created whole worlds with a large cast of characters and a strong sense of time and place. I have chosen Middlemarch by George Eliot, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (St. MartinŐs), and Armistead MaupinŐs entire Tales of the City saga (Harper), of which I have only read a few in the series. While marooned on an island (a.k.a. Stagg Street), what could be more fascinating than being caught up in the lives of all those characters and being transported to the Midlands, Bombay, and San Francisco? – Troy
My desert island book must be something I can read again and again – and I am not much of a re-reader. One book, though, pulls me back in every few years, wrapping around me like a warm overcoat on a cold New York City night in 1939: Michael ChabonŐs novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Random House). I still remember the front-cover blurb from the first time I read it, fifteen years or so ago: ŇAbsolutely gosh-wow, super-colossal.Ó It is those things, and much more: a coming-of-age story in a land of promise and excitement (mid-century New York), a nerd-fest of a novel celebrating pop culture from comics to Houdini to pulp to Dali, a love story (or two) fit for Hollywood, and a convergence of characters who feel real, feel like friends, and feel like essential elements in the cityŐs tapestry – Rosa Saks is the bohemian Village, Joe Kavalier the hustle of 34th Street, and I will always think of Sammy Clay when I pass the WorldŐs Fair remnants in Flushing Meadows. – Ryan
Postcard from Park Slope: Really hung up on this Ňdesert islandÓ thing. Decided to go with ŇtropicalÓ – i.e. Hawaii – instead (if thatŐs all right with everyone)! J.L. CarrŐs A Month in the Country (New York Review Books) is what I reread when my head is about to explode – so soothing for tortured minds! So Mr. Carr comes to Hawaii with me. Also J.G. FarrellŐs Empire Trilogy (New York Review Books). Sorry, canŐt choose just one – am bringing all three: The Siege of Krishnapur, Troubles, and The Singapore Grip. So tragic, so darkly funny, so astute when pondering the human condition. (Is it okay to say I have a crush on Mr. FarrellÉ?) Lastly, another reread favorite: Isabelle AllendeŐs best book (to my mind) The House of the Spirits (Atria) will be coming along. It is that requisite sweeping saga of three generations of undaunted women caught in the currents of the personal, familial, and political issues of their times. Also, a bit of magical realism never hurt anybody! So there you go, thatŐs my little stranded-on-an-island library. (For my vision of a tropical island sojourn, check out the Merwin Conservancy online. Transporting!) – Joyce
As someone who has never chosen to re-read a book, I cannot imagine being stuck on an island with only one. There is just too much out there to discover! But I will admit that I have fantasized about rereading Middlemarch by George Eliot. It has so many avenues to explore, from family relationships to gender roles to local political dealings, and I remember underlining sentence after sentence that rang with modern wisdom when I read it in college. Being able to soak in those sentences without speeding to meet a page count before class would be even more enjoyable, IŐm sure. – Emily
My first Ňdesert islandÓ read would be Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). It is one of the few books I reread. FadimanŐs essays, recalling her life as a bibliophile, are warm, clever, and beautifully written. In the delightful opening essay, she writes about merging her and her husbandŐs libraries ten years into their marriage. My second pick would be The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Picador), a modern interpretation of the classic nineteenth-century novel. I would be happy to return again and again to EugenidesŐs elegant prose and carefully crafted characters. – Ruby
Around the bookshop I am known as one who likes a good, long novel. (I will say that I love a great short novel, too; take a look at A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, translated by Sam Taylor (New Press), an astounding and near-perfect slim book.) As we are offering our suggestions for desert island reads, I thought I would suggest a long-book favorite for our life raft survival kit. The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch, translated by Paul Vincent (Penguin) – also the author of an excellent short novel, The Assault (Pantheon) – is an absolute wonder. Centered around the friendship of Max and Oono, which gives the book its great and rollicking narrative hook, it is a resplendent story of philosophical, theological, historical, and psychological meditations and ruminations. This is a book, and not just its 700+ pages, that stays with the reader long after finishing. One note: after recommending the book to a visitor from England back in 2008, I received many months later a lovely fountain-penned letter from Downside Abbey in Bath: said customer had read the book, loved it for its ÔhappeningsŐ of a divine sort, and subsequently decided to chuck it all and join the Benedictine monks. Perhaps, on this desert isle, one will found an abbey. – Toby