Until October 3, aboard the Lilac Steamship docked at the Hudson’s Pier 25, you will find the Floating Library. The creators call it “a space for critical cultural production by pushing boundaries under the open skies that are conducive to fearless dreaming.”
Books populate the rusty, swaying decks, from the shipmaster’s stateroom to the officers’ mess, in shelves and stacks, artfully placed, enticing. The books are Easter eggs, inviting exploration, some appearing where you least expect, like a thick copy of Moby Dick reclining in a hanging net like a body in a hammock.
The library hosts special events almost daily. Down a narrow corridor, you might find a group of poets talking about oligarchy and social revolution, or a bookbinder giving lessons on how to make a book out of paper and string.
Across the ship, readers lounge on mattresses and chairs, books in hand. All mobile devices must be powered off. The Floating Library is an analog experience. Swaying in the water, bumping against big rubber fenders that keen against the dock, the Lilac smells sweetly of rust and rot, of the saline Hudson and time gone by. Like a library, it is peacefully quiet. The only racket comes from the loud, intrusive music of the mini-golf course across the pier, another dubious amenity of the city’s suburbanization.
Onboard, though roped to the city, you are yet away from it. The 1933 lighthouse tender is a floating artifact, a lovely ruin through which you are free to roam, peering through portholes and poking into musty rooms washed in river light. On the bridge, you can put your hands on the wheel, read nautical maps, and admire the antiques, including a pair of engine order telegraphs made of brass and porcelain by the Durkee Marine company of Staten Island, long defunct. A sign says “Do not touch,” and it’s hard to obey, your hands itching to pull the level for “full steam ahead.” But the Floating Library is, after all, a slow space.
Ample research shows that reading on paper, not on screen, is better for your brain, and that reading slowly improves concentration and reduces stress. To read onboard a boat, in the cradle rocking of the river, is an ideal way to slow down and tune in.
The Floating Library is the Lilac’s final event of the season. Visit soon, before the books are put away and the steamship is locked for the winter.
Jeremiah Moss is the award-winning author of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York (vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com). His writing on the city has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Daily News, and online at The New Yorker and The Paris Review. He has been interviewed in major newspapers around the globe.