72 Avenue A, New York, NY
While browsing around online for bookshops on the lower east side of Manhattan, I saw Mast Books pop up not far from Tompkins Square Park, where I figured I could take a break and read in the shade with an iced coffee. Not a bad one-two punch. So I cut my way over from the Union Square area where I’d been visiting two old favorites, Alabaster and Strand Books, and I eventually came upon this minimalist shop. It reminded me of a bookstore for an art gallery, one that straddles chic and experimental, and it used a lot of open/white space to offset its artistic and avant-garde collection.
The set-up is efficient and almost spare, with shelves that line the walls and in the middle are tables with selected books, some huge and others small, and almost all the books in the shop have a protective sleeve of acetate or plastic book covers keeping them in top shape. This includes the older used books in the rear. The air was cool and crisp and the one staff member barely looked up when I walked in, allowing me to browse. Others may want a more attentive presence (something I saw some reviews about Mast mention) but I am fine with this. It saves me from awkwardly explaining why I’m taking so many pictures of a shop, since I try to do these reviews in a very low-key manner.
If you’re looking for stacks of classics and bestsellers to wade through in musty aisles with creaking wooden floors, searching for diamond-in-the-rough deals, this is not the shop for you. There were some literary and lit-adjacent titles, both new and old, tucked away toward the back along the main wall, including those by Proust, Henry Miller, Sartre, Nabokov, and Kerouac, among others, and beside that were sections for plays, poetry, biography, etc. There were bigger books that combined biography and photo journalism that focused on people like Polanski, Cronenberg, and a number about Basquiat. So, yeah, it’s not your humble used bookshop full of Stephen King or Mickey Spillane.
The vast majority of the books leaned in that bigger, glossier, edgier direction, focusing on abstract art, photography, design, architecture, and alternative mediums. I saw some showcasing old advertisements from 90s club scene magazines, collections about the art of black radical women, and books that pushed the boundaries between nudity and art. Similarly, I found boxes of decades-old German art magazines in the rear, complete with models in various stages of undress and chicanery. If that’s your thing, they have it in bunches.
But anyway, if you’re on the lower east side and looking for some artistic books, some big glossy coffee table additions, or something a bit different and unique, you may enjoy this shop. If you want a catacomb of used books to get lost in, you may need to stick to other spots. Just a heads up!
Atmosphere — Spare and chic, with loads of art and photography books and open spaces to offset the displays.
Quality — The books are either brand new or are vintage editions, and most have protective sleeves to retain the quality.
Quantity — It’s not a large shop, just one room with a few walls of shelves and 3-4 tables.
Diversity — There are a lot of art and photo books, and a moderate to small amount of fiction, biography, poetry, and drama, but that’s pretty much the focus.
Affordability — Most of the books I saw were full price, and since many were bigger art books, it wasn’t something for me, but if you’re looking for those kinds of books, perhaps the prices are reasonable.
Amenities — Not many, just the books and a space that looks tailor made for cool art and release events.
Location — Just a block or two from the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park in the Alphabet City neighborhood of Manhattan.
Customer Service — There was one staffer. We didn’t speak and I got to do my thing, which was fine.
Overall — This shop specializes in art and photography books that deal with chic, edgy, and non-mainstream titles, with a dash of literary offerings. It’s always great to have something that leans away from the traditional and gives us a new look at what might be out there to discover.