A few years ago, FanLit reviewer Terry Weyna eloquently sung the praises of The Strand, the pride and joy of all literate New Yorkers. I myself have spent countless hours there, browsing among the establishment’s four copious floors; it truly is a bookstore second to none. But for the sci-fi/fantasy/pulp lover, The Strand can be a bit problematic. The single section devoted to those three genres is not a large one, the wares on display seem to be a bit static from week to week, and (or is it just me?) it always seems as if the book I am looking for is at the very top of one of the store’s 10-foot-high shelves.
But I shouldn’t complain, as it was in The Strand that I first got wind of what has turned out to be my new favorite store in NYC. While browsing in The Strand’s Rare Book Room this past July, I met a handsome young writer named Max. We were both looking at the Arkham House editions, and lamenting over the $100, out-of-reach prices, when he asked if I’d ever been to a store named Singularity, in Brooklyn’s DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). I had not, but made it a point to visit the following week… and I have been back a half dozen times since, with undiminished awe.
Unlike The Strand, which sits a mere two blocks away from bustling Union Sq., Singularity is in a much quieter part of town. I am being kind here; some would call its neighborhood downright grim, with cobblestone streets and seemingly abandoned warehouses around the corner and a formidable-looking power plant across the street. It is the sort of neighborhood that you wouldn’t want to walk around in after dark, although it is probably perfectly safe; like many other run-down NYC neighborhoods, DUMBO is currently undergoing a gentrification/renaissance of sorts. The store, located at 18 Bridge St., is easy to get to from Manhattan. Just take the F train to York St. (the first stop in Brooklyn), walk down the long hill to the East River, and go right one block.
But though Singularity is easy to get to, it is certainly difficult to get out of! Indeed, when I first entered this store, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop, and had a very rough time pulling myself away. The place is not overly large, but is jam-packed with shelf upon shelf of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and pulp fiction paperbacks (some hardcovers, too), most of them selling for $5, and all in a surprisingly excellent state of preservation. Many of these books are from the 1950s – 1970s, too, an era of especial attraction for this reader. On my initial visit there, I managed to find no less than six old Robert Silverberg paperbacks from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and hope to review this bounty here on FanLit this winter. On subsequent visits I purchased some more 50-year-old paperbacks, many obviously unread and in pristine condition, from John W. Campbell, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak and Stanley G. Weinbaum.
At The Strand, I can often browse around for an hour and find nothing that compels the dinero out of my wallet; at Singularity, every time I go, I have to restrain myself from buying too much! The store is even better than what the brand-new Forbidden Planet used to be back in 1981, before it devolved into the glorified comic book/models store that it is today. But Singularity sports 20 times as many used books as Forbidden Planet ever had in its heyday. Are you a fan of those cute little “Ace doubles” from the ‘50s? There’s a whole shelfload of them here. How about those yellow-spined DAW paperbacks from the ‘70s on? Singularity has an entire bookcase full of them… a DAWsome display!
There’s even a section devoted to nothing but sci-fi anthologies, and a small section devoted to horror, and one containing best sellers and pulp titles from the ‘40s and ‘50s. (Just the other day, I bought my friend Lee the 1962 paperback edition of Leave Her to Heaven, one of her favorite films.) Truly, the store is everything the sci-fi/fantasy fan could wish for… with the curious exception of Philip K. Dick. For some reason, I have never seen one of this author’s works on the shelves. Apparently, they fly off just as quickly as they’re stocked. And, oh… I forgot to mention the smallish comics/magazines section, and the bins of more-beat-up books that you can purchase for $2 a pound….
Singularity has been in existence since the summer of 2012, and it pains me to think of all the deals that I must have missed there in the two years before Max hepped me to its existence. The place is actually more than just a bookstore (in truth, it almost feels like a museum to me), as it is the site of frequent podcasts and author readings. But perhaps Singularity’s most laudable accomplishment is in the field of book preservation. Each month, a poll on the store’s website (singularity.co… mind you, not “com”) gathers reader suggestions, and one out-of-print sci-fi/fantasy/pulp/adventure title is selected. The store’s owners clear any copyright obstacles, if any, and publish the book online or as an e-book, for little or no cost. Thus, you the reader can have a say each month as to which title will be saved from limbo. This is a store whose owners are in the game not so much for the money, one gets the feeling, but rather for the love of the books themselves. And Jen, the lady who has been at the register on all but one of my visits, is a perfect example of the Singularity spirit. An impossibly cute strawberry blonde, Jen’s love of her job and of the books she tends is both infectious and appealing. But Jen is more than just a self-confessed sci-fi book nerd; she is also pretty darn cool. On my last visit, as I browsed around, she played, on the store’s sound system, cuts from Pere Ubu and Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ “Freak Out”! I was in bookstore heaven! Here’s Jen talking about the store:
To be honest, I had to debate with myself whether or not I should write this short piece and spread the word about Singularity at all. It is the sort of tucked-away little treasure that one feels he should most prudently keep to himself. But if Max can shine a light on this place, then I can do no less. Besides, as I mentioned, the work that these folks at Singularity perform deserves all of our support. You can feel good about plunking down your $5 for a rare find here, knowing that your money is going toward a good cause — book preservation — and that the store owners are not some faceless megacorp, but rather committed fans. And that makes Singularity an even more singular destination indeed!
PLEASE NOTE: To my experience, Singularity is only open from Thursday – Sunday.
Readers, got a great bookstore to tell us about? Please contact Kat.