Neat organization at new NYC bookstore

Yesterday, my pal Jess Hemerly happened upon Idlewild Books, a new travel bookstore in Manhattan with a terrific organizational scheme. It shelves guidebooks with travel literature related to that place. "So the Ireland section has a bunch of Ireland-related travel guides plus Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Jess says. I found a Publishers Weekly article about the opening of IdleWild six weeks ago:
“I was in a chain bookstore and realized I would have to go to five different sections to get what I needed–a travel guide, a map, a language book, a novel,” (owner David Del Vecchio) noted. “At Idlewild, everything will be shelved by country, and in the case of the United States, by state–that way people will be able to browse according to the place of their interest.”

Del Vecchio emphasized that he believes literature about a country–be it a novel or a political biography–can be just as useful as a guidebook. His product mix will be at least 40% armchair travel titles: “Guidebooks you really can buy almost anywhere,” he explained, “but books on politics and culture are often much harder to find. Our section on Turkey might have guides, maps, a history of the Blue Mosque, a biography of Ataturk, and novels by Pamuk and others.” Graham Greene’s novels won’t be shelved in the U.K. section, said Del Vecchio, but in Cuba and Mexico, where the books are set.
Link to Idlewild Books, Link to Publishers Weekly article


  1. I don’t know about this one. It’s like organizing your MP3 collection by genre, great in theory, until you try and catalog stuff done by David Bowie, Lyle Lovitt or some other “genre transcending” artist (AMG’s words, not mine).

    Then you get to the electronic music, and realize that there’s a hundred sub-genres and the drum and bass doesn’t really go with the true techno, or that nu-skool breaks doesn’t really have much to do with happy hardcore etc.

    Or should you split country music into two sections, post-1980 and pre-1980?

    You get what I mean, this seems like a hassle to set up for books, and potentially a hassle for the customers as well (It should be in the UK section!

  2. >1

    Except that I don’t know how a person could be in two places at once, and the same goes for fictional people in books, unless they’re Wolverine.

    Besides, if a book deals with multiple locations, they could always order multiple copies and shelve each copy under one of the appropriate countries.

  3. scratch the petty critique and give it up for a new independent bookstore. something I think all can agree we don’t have nearly enough of.

  4. Not very new I’m afraid!

    The Altair travel bookstores (in Spain) have been doing this for at least 13 yrs, as well as Daunt Books in London.

  5. The Globe Corner Bookshop has been shelving like that for decades. In the original store on State Street in Boston – the bottom floor was all New England, and the second flood had all the books of the world arranged in circumference around the room as they are on the planet. Very cool.

  6. I think LB has it right on with the multiple locations for books, except it would be a huge hassle for bigger shops to organise.

    I guess you could have a scanable tag on a book indicating which section the customer got it from, so you know where you need to restock, but that’s the kind of thing people get worried about: the little consumer micro-tags coming out that document an absurd amount of information about customers without their permission. Plus people pick up books and reshelve them at random–I’ve had a lot of trouble with bookshops reading something in stock but being unable to find it because it was either stolen or misplaced.

    Generally though, I love the idea of creative organisation, even if this isn’t the most out there example. For instance the Tate Modern may not be the most radical museum ever, but I definitely appreciated how different paintings seemed to mean different things when classed according to subject or colour etc. as opposed to period or school as in most museums. The world is a dynamic place where things tend not to fall into clearly demarcated categories, and I’m not sure the benefits gained by efficiency outweigh the flat monotony of pretending things can be easily and definitively placed in categories. When you really need a book no matter how a place is organised you almost always need to ask the staff to look it up on the computer to find out where it is, so might as well make browsing into an experience, rather then a failed attempt to facilitate a customer’s trip from a to b, no book to book to door.

  7. My mom has being doing this for years. It’s bloody confusing if you don’t know where an author is from!

  8. JenJen, it’s a travel bookstore. What makes you think they stock spacey science fiction at all?

  9. Last time I went to Ireland, I got a few cookbooks and a copy of Dublin Noir (mystery anthology) before I left. This is a great idea.

  10. LB @2, unless I missed that issue, Wolverine can’t be in two places at once. You want Jamie Madrox.

  11. Very cool idea, indeed.

    It would make a good idea for a temporary travel-related display in a public library, too.

  12. Very cool concept, even if it’s been done before.

    A random series of events led me to read “Prague” by Arthur Phillips (which is not about Prague at all, but rather about Budapest) shortly before my first trip to Hungary. Since he lived in Budapest himself before writing the book, all the places the characters visited were real. This made my trip to Budapest extremely enjoyable, as I could avoid tourist traps but have my own private guided tour.

  13. If you like that idea, you should check out the titles from Whereabouts Press; they’re a tiny publishing company in Berkeley that produces what they call “literary traveler’s companions;” whole books of the literature from a particular country (or iconic city) in translation.

    Last time I checked, they have titles on China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Prague, Amsterdam, Greece, and Japan. Definitely worth a look—you might even be able to find them at Idlewild.

  14. Ditto the Powell’s Travel Bookstore in Portland, OR. Glad to see NYC finally caught up with the times. :P

  15. As a former record store employee, I can only imagine the nice serendipity for the casual browser and the hair-pulling trauma for the clerk when somebody asks for a title.

    Bookworm: “Hi, I looked under Literature for ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ but didn’t find it. Do you have it in stock?”

    Frustrated poet with an English Degree behind the counter: “Hmmm…the computer says we have one copy, let’s check the Irish travel section, the Catholicism rebellion section, The ‘Desmond From LOST’s Fave Reads‘ endcap, behind the returns desk, and any number of other kooky places to see if we can track it down.”

    If your future blind date’s Facebook page says she’s really into William Carlos Williams and you want to do some pre-date cramming (so to speak) where do you start?

    Then again, when I was at Tower Records we always joked about putting every single CD in alphabetical order and calling it “World” music since it was all recorded on the planet, so I may have thought about this junk too much.

  16. Datawhat (#17): Well, there was that saxophone track that Ron McNair was supposed to record during his flight on Challenger for Jean-Michel Jarre. That wouldn’t have been recorded “on” the planet….

  17. BTW, “Idlewild” used to be the name of JFK airport in the New York City borough of Queens.

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