Friday, December 18, 2009
Skyline Books, NYC's Go-To Source for Pulp Novels and Beatnik Literature, Closing Next Month
New York ---- Skyline Books, the pulp fiction and Beat literature mecca on West 18th Street, will close its doors for good next month, victim to online booksellers and an $1200 monthly rent spike, according to a source close to SAVAGENYC.
Freestanding book racks in front of Skyline's storefront have long stopped passersby dead in their tracks, with titles ranging from the sublime ("LSD Orgy" and "Memoirs of a Beatnik") to the ridiculous ("Touch Me: The Poems of Suzanne Somers").
In addition to offering obscure paperback editions by Beat poets and counter-culture superstars like Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke, Skyline also served as a one-of-a-kind dime-store novel destination, where a thirty bucks or so could yield a year's supply of hard-boiled noir.
"There was no greater Sunday afternoon than going to a movie at Film Forum or The Quad, followed by a trek to Skyline Books for unbelievably weird books," said Skyline customer Zach Elton on Thursday, aghast at news that another NYC institution was folding."Why even live here anymore?"
Recent window displays revealed a vintage paperback edition of Jim Thompson's "The Grifters" selling for $200, next to a sinister-looking hardcover edition of Aleister Crowley's "Magick Without Tears".
Inside the store, art, photography and Modernist first editions offered no less temptation than their cheaper sidewalk counterparts, and careful inspection of the store's back recesses revealed nonfiction categories proffering Military History, Heraldry, and Occult. "[They're]a testament to the bizarre reading habits of some mysterious New Yorkers," says the store's website yesterday.
On upscale West 18th Street, Skyline's seedy, offbeat presence has remained one of the neighborhood's last bohemian holdouts, outliving diehards like Academy Books and Revolution Books, amidst an encroaching tide of big-box chains like Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy and, of course, Barnes & Noble.
Punk rock icons Richard Hell, Patti Smith and Thurston Moore were regular customers at Skyline, as were '60s-era subculture stars like Gerard Malanga and Huncke, the male-prostitute junkie poet whose sordid memoirs have earned him posthumous status, in France, as Genet's successor.
Abigal Hoover, an employee at the store since 2005, recalls the time Richard Prince (whose "Marlboro Man" photograph sold at Sotheby's in 2007 for a record-setting $3.4 million) dropped by to snag a 1961 Grove Press edition of William S. Burroughs's "Naked Lunch", for $300K.
"There was a post card from Burroughs inside the book, written to Bowles from the Hotel El Muneira in Tangiers, where Burroughs wrote 'Naked Lunch'," says Hoover.
"It's probably one of the most valuable Beat books ever sold. By comparison, 'Ulysses' last sold at auction for around $700,000 ," Hoover adds.
Skyline's scheduled shuttering comes on the heels of last April's curtain call for Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, a 42-year-old West Village institution venerated for its pre-Stonewall status as the world's first serious gay and lesbian bookstore.
And last week saw another close call for New York book lovers: the near-demise of Left Bank Books in the West Village. Fortunately, Left Bank owner Kim Herzinger averted crisis by snagging a last-minute lease on a neighboring storefront, at a monthly increase of $1500.
Skyline says goodbye at the end of a decade in which NYC book hounds watched helplessly as institutions like Librarie de France, Posman Books, A Different Light and Collisseum Books closed amidst competition from online booksellers and rocketing rents.
Unlike those stores, however, Skyline had real NYC personality, chutzpa and attitude, from its original artwork by Patti Smith to its transgender manager, to its black-leather-and-chrome Warhol Chair, used to display teetering stacks of art books pertaining to the Pop artist.
A recent article cited the new term "Copenhagenization" to describe cites taking a cue from the Danish capital's progressive culture---will the opposite of that insightful term soon be "Manhattanization"?