By Claudie Benjamin

The new (and third) Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in Manhattan will open this March at 2736 Broadway, on the corner of 105th Street. A few notable features: The look and feel will be much like the other two branches of the community bookstore, but without cafes. Book events are being planned. Staff are chosen for outstanding customer service (commitment to being helpful, their ability to relate to customers) and because they love books. Much appreciated by customers, “staff picks” will be available online and among books that line the bookstore shelves to assist with selections about what to read next.

Asked if local authors will be highlighted, bookstore owner Dane Neller laughed. “If you mean New York writers, then yes, New York is the literary capital of the world. There are probably many writers who live right in the neighborhood.”

And, to that point, writer Jim Rasenberger, not only lives a block away, on West 106th Street, but once lived on 105th Street in the very building housing the new bookstore. “Funny coincidence,” Rasenberger said recently, “Just the other day my wife found a couple of old snapshots from the 1990’s, when we lived there. One of these is a view of the east side of Broadway at 105th.  You can see Rose’s Carpets, which later became a clothing store called Steps and is now to become Shakespeare & Co. It’s always interesting to see how spaces evolve over time in New York.”

In March, 2003, then living at his current address, Rasenberger wrote a New York Times article entitled The Old Neighbors in which he shared his enthusiasm for the exploration of details pertaining to “neighbors” some long gone, who once lived in the rooms occupied by current residents. Perhaps they, like the author, were intrigued by found or imagined traces of the past.

Rasenberger has published four nonfiction books and numerous articles in publications that in addition to the Times include Vanity Fair and Smithsonian. His subjects typically shed light on events with great historical significance that may or may not be remembered today. The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (2011) about the Bay of Pigs Invasion during JFK’s administration, for example, brings an analytical perspective with the benefit of knowing how events played out, Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter that Changed America (2020) describes the exceptionally colorful life of Samuel Colt, the inventor of the revolver, and highlights the impact of this invention on the desecration of Native American cultures and the opening of the American West. In his two earlier books, Rasenberger explores important and intriguing topics that are intertwined with history and hold ongoing significance and relevance: High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline, 1881 to the Present (2004) and America 1908: The Dawn of Flight, The Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T, and the Making of a Modern Nation (2011).

Vintage view of Broadway looking north by Jim RasenbergerRasenberger’s interest in writing about history involves Herculean research. The book on Colt, for example, engaged him in deciphering more than 1000 original letters written in 19th-century script. For his current project, he’s already read over a hundred books, along with piles of letters and other documents.

While Rasenberger’s books focus on events where the action takes place far away from Manhattan, some of his articles closely circle on changes to his home turf. In High Anxiety (New York Times, June 2007), for example, he wrote about a longtime resident who walked out of her way to avoid looking at the then-new glass high rises on Broadway at 100th Street. “I loved my neighborhood,” said Ann Shirazi, a social worker who’d lived around the corner from the Ariel site since 1974. “Now I can’t walk from 100th Street to Broadway because I cannot — I cannot — look at those buildings.”

Acknowledging resistance to change and personal preferences regarding architectural styles, Rasenberger believes New York is about change with sensitivity to preservation. “It’s not a museum; it’s a vibrant city, so change is inevitable. But it’s a better, richer city when we appreciate what came before us.”

Currently, Rasenberger is developing a new book. It’s about Jefferson and Adams. Much has been written about both men. However, Rasenberger’s perspective is different – revolving around and exploring “exceptionalism,” the distinctly American conviction that, for better or worse, “we are special.”  It is a theme explored in this book that runs through all of his books.

Rasenberger is thrilled that Shakespeare & Co. is opening just down Broadway from his home. “I love the serendipity that comes with browsing in a good bookstore; so different than buying online. A book catches your eye for some reason, and you find yourself drawn into a curiosity you didn’t even know you had.” Doing this in the company of fellow book lovers, says Rasenberger, makes the experience all the better.

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