At BrazenHead Books, a secret bookstore in uptown Manhattan, visitors come for the literature and stay for the banter. We recently stopped by to browse for paperbacks and found owner Michael Seidenberg amusing his guests with one-liners, novel recommendations, and stories from his salad days at clown school.
Tucked away in his rent-stabilized apartment in an old tenement building, the bookstore is the third incarnation of Michael’s second-hand shop—a move necessitated by the perennial New York City phenomenon of escalating real estate costs. Behind an unmarked door are four small rooms packed with classic titles, nesting dolls, an Oscar Wilde action figure, Michael’s hospital baby bracelet, a Samuel Beckett postcard, and an impressive pipe collection.
We sat down with Michael (he reportedly inspired a Jonathan Lethem character) to talk shop.
After reading the interview, catch up with Michael in his column for The New Inquiry, and stop by his store—if you can find it.
What’s your favorite reading spot in the city?
I like reading over at Upper East Side’s Carl Schurz Park, which I don’t get to as often as I like, but I do love reading outdoors in the heat. More recently, sitting outside my building with my dog has the top spot.
Do you have a lot of loyal visitors who stop by your secret bookstore?
There is a recurring cast of characters that come into the shop, and it is very sitcom-like, but as the years go by the cast seems to change from time to time.
In Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Beards,” he mentions that your former bookstore on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue was also a puppet theatre. Have the puppets made an appearance at your current location?
Other than my pulling of strings in anecdotes, and the scattered old puppet posters hanging around the shop, no.
What are you reading now?
Low Life by Luc Sante– a great book about the early seedy days of New York. I try not to read more than one book at a time, but I do read quite a bit of newspapers and magazines while I’m in a book.
When you start a book, do you force yourself to finish it or will you abandon a dud midway through?
I try not to give up on a book too soon, but if the connection is not being made, I have no qualms about putting it down. In fact, I think it’s great loss of opportunity to spend time with a book that is not speaking to you, and finishing one, just to finish it, is self-abuse.
Final question: do you have a Kindle?
The only reading that makes me happy is hard copy. I’m a tactile reader.
Photos by Elizabeth Crawford