It’s not just an intellectual experience, it’s a sensory one as well. The smell of used pages and bound leather is the first thing you notice when walking into a small bookstore. Next comes the skip in your heart when you lay your eyes on so many books stacked on top of one another, each promising an escape to a different world. The employees are always quick to help with their knowledge of almost every book in the store, and if all goes well, you’ll walk out with a book if your hand.
Americans have been watching independent bookshops around the corner disappear. In Austin, however, not all of them have put their closed-for-good signs up. In fact, some have sprung up within the past decade. While BookPeople and Half Price Books are the best-known independent bookstores in town, there is an abundance of specialized bookshops with their own niche audience. Today we take you to four of them.
The latest book store to join our literary town is Malvern Books, founded by Joe Bratcher in October. It specializes in literature and poetry from small and independent publishers, including a selection of translated books. The spacious room includes wooden shelves set against the walls and a few large tables and chairs, with books strewn about.
“It’s not just a bookstore,” Bratcher says. “It’s an atmosphere.”
Bratcher’s intention was to create a comfortable and welcoming space where clients can relax and be surrounded by books, with no pressure of buying. Equipped with a knowledgeable staff that loves literature, Malvern Books draws in people who are curious about what’s being written and not pushed by corporate publishers.
“We carry books you don’t see anywhere else,” he says.
The store also serves as a meeting place for book clubs. Literature enthusiasts are encouraged to bring in their hot cup of coffee and discuss their favorite books, as well as any issues or debates they might bring up.
Originally from Austin, Bratcher spent the past few years selling books at different book fairs. He noticed that people were interested in the idea of small press books and saw there was a market for it in Austin. Bratcher has handpicked all the books on display and stands behind every one of them.
“I’ve visited many bookstores across the U.S., and I can say we have the best selection of small and independent presses in the country,” Bratcher says.
A number of events take place every month, including poetry readings and musical performances. On top of being a bookstore, Malvern Books is a community space for poets, writers and book lovers alike.
Malvern Books: 613 W. 29th St. 512-322-2097, malvernbooks.com. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon-6 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.
Brave New Books
Brave New Books is both figuratively and literally an underground bookstore.
Located in the downstairs suite of a light-blue Chase building on the Drag, the store got its name from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” It was founded in 2006 by former UT student Harlan Dietrich, who wanted to have a place on campus for discussions that challenge the status quo.
The bookstore specializes in suppressed information, revisionist history and alternative health. It focuses on agorism as its main philosophy, which stresses the importance of alternative strategies rather than politics to achieve a free society.
“People who come by are looking to understand ideas,” Dietrich says. “Their needs aren’t filled by the mainstream news.”
On top of books, the store sells shirts, bumper stickers and health products.
Brave New Books is also active in showing off the latest technology. It’s the first bookstore in the world to accept Bitcoin, a digital currency that is not controlled by a single repository but rather a peer-to-peer payment system, making it a decentralized currency. It also has a 3-D printer, which has been used to print half a gun. Printing whole, functioning guns is illegal.
The small bookstore has coffee makers, tables and chairs for customers to hang out. There’s a small conference room in the back for events, which include book-signings, discussion panels and movie screenings. Ron Paul spoke there in 2008.
“Bookstores are moving toward specialized niches,” Dietrich says. “We’ll keep seeing them pop up.”
Brave New Books: 1904 Guadalupe St., Suite B. 512-480-2503, bravenewbookstore.com. Open Noon-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-6 p.m. Sundays.
The brightly lighted warehouse space seems fitting for the stacks of tightly curated books sold at Farewell Books. Its stock is filled with books on art, design, architecture and literature. In addition, it has a small art gallery for visitors to enjoy.
“We speak to the arts, music and literature community,” says Mikaylah Bowman, who co-founded the store with Travis Kent in February 2013.
Farewell Books is a progressive new and used bookshop. It shares a building with five other businesses, including a vintage clothing store adjacent to the bookstore, a food trailer in the back and a coffee shop.
“This is a meeting place for artists and thinkers to hold events,” Bowman says.
Farewell Books has hosted literary meetings, book release parties and film screenings in the past. All upcoming events are posted on Facebook and Twitter.
The space was originally taken up by Domy Books, where Bowman and Kent were both employees. When the owner made the decision to close, they took matters into their own hands. With only two months to start their business, they raised money through a Kickstarter project and started over completely.
“The name is sort of a nod and a wink,” Bowman says. “Printed books are going out of style, but we want to keep it alive.”
As a customer gets ready to pay for a thin book on art, he reminds Bowman that the store is an amazing place for Austin.
“We’re providing a platform for ideas to be shared,” Bowman says. “Customers can meet artists, be introduced to literature and see art that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Farewell Books: 913 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-473-2665, farewellbookstore.com. Open: Noon-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-7 p.m. Sundays.
The birth of Texas’ only feminist bookstore is unclear: The owner, Susan Post, estimates it was around Christmas 1974. At the time, she worked as a volunteer, but took on the busy job of owner just two years later.
What started out as a collective called the Common Woman became something much bigger. BookWoman moved around town a few times before finding its spot on North Lamar Boulevard in 2008. It is now a full service bookstore, with Post personally making special orders.
The store sells more than books — bumper stickers, shirts, mugs and cards. Although its focus, reflective in its name, is women, there is a place for everyone at BookWoman.
“There are resources for many people in the community, not just women,” Post says. “After all, men have sisters, mothers, daughters, wives.”
Many different types of events take place at BookWoman, from a monthly women’s spirituality series to the more common poetry and literary readings. Post wanted to create a space where the community could really engage in these readings, listening intently to the participating authors.
“When we have a poet or author read their stuff, we’re all living and breathing it together,” Post says.
Post is at the store every day, listening to customers to help them find what they want. Recently, a woman visiting from out of town asked if Post had anything for her Jewish book club. Not only did she have the perfect fit, but she proceeded to call the author and get the woman’s book signed. The author even agreed to Skype in to their book club meeting when they discuss her work.
It’s that close relationship with the customers that keeps Post’s tenacity going.
“This is my gift to Austin,” she says.
BookWoman: 5501 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-2785, ebookwoman.com. Open: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-6 p.m. Sundays.