On a recent visit to New York City, Brick’s Kristen Scott took a short stroll down Prince Street in Lower Manhattan to the buzzing independent bookstore McNally Jackson. She toured the upper and lower levels—wandering through the classic literature, getting caught in the chapbooks, and bantering with staff. A café latte, some new friends, and a shiny new book later, she left feeling deeply satisfied. Kristen interviewed the bookstore’s publicist, Matt Pieknik.
Brick: To start off, can you tell us a bit about McNally Jackson?
Matt Peiknik: McNally Jackson Books opened in SoHo just over a decade ago, first as McNally Robinson Books, which is a Canadian bookstore (our owner, Sarah McNally, is Canadian). When I’m asked what we specialize in, I tend to smile and say, “everything.” Our literature is organized geographically, so that you can tackle the Russian greats all at once, or linger in Latin America. We also have a pretty comprehensive poetry collection, as well as art, photography, architecture, and a lot of periodicals. We host events here five nights a week with both emerging voices and literary titans—everyone from Ben Lerner to Neil Gaiman, from Jacob Wren to Donna Tartt. We also have an espresso book machine that prints titles on demand.
Brick: Tell us about your patrons. Who comes to visit?
Matt Peiknik: Our patrons are a mix of faithful neighbours and tourists from all over the world, so the store has this unique feeling: simultaneously local and cosmopolitan. New Yorkers who’ve been coming here since day one rub shoulders with Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift, and we attract readers who are into classic and contemporary literature, and with niche tastes, too.
Brick: What’s your favourite thing about the store?
Matt Peiknik: Without question, the staff. We each have extremely distinctive and idiosyncratic tastes, but we’re all terrifically well read, and pretty irrepressible about sharing the books we like. It’s neither a group of people nor an environment you can find anywhere else.
Brick: Amidst all of the negative press about bookselling, can you tell us something inspiring that has happened at McNally Jackson?
Matt Peiknik: My gosh, tons of great stuff is happening all the time! Last year we hosted Karl Ove Knausgaard in conversation with Zadie Smith, and the line for the event extended several blocks. Upwards of five hundred people showed up to hear the Norwegian author. It was amazing to see his books having such a terrific impact.
A close second would be seeing how a bookstore really does help support and shape a reading culture. We’ve been heralding Elena Ferrante here for a few years, and so its excellent to see what’s happening now: her popularity is matching, and sometimes exceeding, authors who are much more in the cultural mainstream. There’s no doubt in my mind that bookstores help feed phenomena like these.
Brick: We’re thrilled that Brick is sitting in the “centre of Manhattan’s literary culture,” as your website puts it. What do you think of the magazine?
Matt Peiknik: Brick, to my mind, is one of the most consistent, and consistently surprising, literary journals around. Picking up a new issue is like sitting down to a new Almodóvar or Kiarostami film: You don’t know what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t really matter, because you’re in good hands, and you trust you’re about to be taken somewhere worth going to. So it is with Brick.