May 11, 2011 | French

Idlewild Books, for Foreign-Language Fans

This Chelsea bookstore radiates genuine book love.

I love bookstores and have spent a lot of time in them, but until a Google search earlier today, I had never heard of Idlewild Books, despite its foreign-literature specialty.

I need to get out more.

Chelsea: No Shortage of Cabs to Take You Places

Chelsea: No Shortage of Cabs to Take You Places

Located in Chelsea, Idlewild is about three years old, the creation of owner David Del Vecchio, who (I read online) previously worked at the United Nations.

To get there, I took the number 1 subway to 18th Street at the tail end of rush hour, exiting to find a sea of cabs still floating down Seventh Avenue. Chelsea is an exciting, varied neighborhood, the first place I lived when I moved to the city.

From its 19th Street location, Idlewild offers not only books but also language classes, in French, Spanish, and Italian.

When I arrived, there was a Spanish class going on in the back room. I eavesdropped, just a tiny bit. And soon was dying to join in.

Idlewild, for Your Book and Language-Class Needs

Idlewild, for Your Book and Language-Class Needs

But French. I reminded myself I was there for French. I am currently living in a state of Romance language confusion, with my Spanish under assault. Today when I spoke to one of my neighbors in Spanish, I translated “with” as avec instead of con.

I find that weird. That is such a basic thing to mess up, and my Spanish is usually so much sturdier than my French. I expect this to be a temporary problem, but it is embarrassing when I am actually talking to someone. 

Although I haven’t tested it, I like to think that if I spoke Spanish for, say, five minutes or more, the walls between languages would become impermeable again, and I would stop dropping French into the middle of my Spanish sentences. 

Okay, back to Idlewild. I like when you can get help at bookstores. And knowledgeable help is even better. Paige, an employee at Idlewild who showed me around, was clearly a book lover herself.

An Impressive French Selection

An Impressive French Selection

Street View from Idlewild

Street View from Idlewild

There were numerous French titles; I believe Paige said they have more than a thousand. Many options for children as well as adults. Overall, way more French than I had expected, considering I had just had a disheartening time locating businesses that still sold French titles in actual retail stores.

Of the various phone numbers I found online this morning for French-book-selling New York stores, four were dead ends.

The Librairie de France store had closed, I already knew (in 2009, after 74 years in Rockefeller Center). Two other numbers I called yielded a “This number is no longer in service” message. For a fourth store I tried, a woman picked up and said wearily, “I’m sorry, honey, you have the wrong number.” 

Charm Being Radiated

Charm Being Radiated

At Idlewild, they answered. So I went. I must say, hardwood floors and good books are a winning combination. Very seductive.

Although I went to Idlewild primarily to browse, I was also half-shopping for myself.

Specifically, I want to buy a book in French, one that was originally written in French (i.e., not a translation), about New York or set in New York. It can be fiction or non-fiction, but my preference is that it be set in the present, or in the fairly recent past.

Also, it doesn’t have to be super-easy, but it would be good if it weren’t 1,000 pages. 

If anyone has suggestions, I would be grateful.

At Idlewild, French for the Wee Ones!

At Idlewild, French for the Wee Ones!

The difficulties I had today finding French-book-selling stores surprised me. I don’t mean to suggest that Idlewild is the only place in New York one can buy books in French, but considering the number of French speakers here, I was surprised there weren’t more options.

In college I spent a lot of time in a Harvard Square bookstore called Schoenhof’s, which had shelves and shelves, and then more shelves, of foreign-language books. I just checked online to make sure the store still exists; it does. I guess places like that are not typical, however, since its website says it offers “the biggest selection of foreign books in North America.”

When I left Idlewild at 7:30, a new Spanish class was starting. The students looked happy.

Walking around these days, I am constantly on the lookout for signs with French words. They are so easy to find on the streets of this city.

Just a couple of blocks from the bookstore, for instance, I came across Le Singe Vert (The Green Monkey), on Seventh Avenue. It is a cute French bistro I have never noticed before.

Le Singe Vert (The Green Monkey)

Le Singe Vert (The Green Monkey)

French Bistro Fare at Le Singe Vert

French Bistro Fare at Le Singe Vert

Above is a piece of its menu. I get a kick out of les burgers. Somehow the article les just seems a bit too elegant to accompany hamburgers. 

Comments (3)

Katherine • Posted on Thu, May 12, 2011 - 3:09 pm EST

I am devastated! I had no idea that Librairie de France had closed!  They also had a great Spanish language book selection in the basement. How disappointing! However.. Idlewild sounds great, I will definitely check it out next time I am in NYC. I love that they have remnants of the old Idlewild airport!  This place is a gem!  Owner must be a real New Yorker.  Can’t wait to go see it. Thanks for posting this!

Ronda Murdock • Posted on Thu, May 12, 2011 - 8:19 pm EST

Bonsoir Ellen,

Un grand MERCI for your visit to the FIAF Haskell Library this evening. I have reflected a little more about your quest for books on New York written by French authors and offer you the following suggestions.

Beigbeder, Frédéric. Windows on the World.
Cruchaudet, Chloé. Groenland Manhattan. (graphic novel!)
Meurice, Stéphane. Chroniques d’un Le goût de New York / textes choisis par Jérôme Neutres.
Français à New York : ma grosse pomme.

Also discover the website for French speakers all about New York - and in particular, their section on books:

I hope you will find an interesting read amongst these choices.

Lisa T. • Posted on Thu, May 12, 2011 - 9:28 pm EST

Rizzoli ( is one of the most beautiful bookstores in NYC and has a small but decent selection on contemporary non English fiction (workbooks too).

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