Independent bookstores

A Trip to the Henry Miller Memorial Library

We were so thirsty. 

Two of us had flown from Austin to San Francisco the day before, where our best friend picked us up in a Google-rented Chevy Impala. Three girls reunited, we drove for hours that passed like seconds, stopping for oysters and champagne in a tiny restaurant that floated off a dock in the middle of the Monterrey Bay.

After lunch I hung my body over the edge of the pier, looking straight to the bottom of the sea. The sun was warm, so we peeled off our jackets and screamed that we couldn’t believe we were here. What a California day, with children running like the sandpipers on the beach.

Prairie Lights

This photo is by Ebb and Flow Photography, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-license.

This photo is by Ebb and Flow Photography, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-license.

Written by The Austin Review Staff 

Prairie Lights is a lot of things. It's the color of bookstores I was dragged into as a kid in a town colored and weathered the same grey as Iowa City. It's also, like the town that holds it, at once charming (the walls feel close and there is something almost about everything) and well-worn (the stairs have clearly been climbed by a million (or, you know, all three) Iowa Writers Workshop students on the way to decades of readings).

A man in a peacoat and I dance the familiar dance of Middle Western politeness around each other, each struggling to get out of the other's way as we brush the books with our eyes and look for we-know-not-what. The way people stand in front of bookshelves everywhere in the world is reenacted here like ritual. Above my head, authors (who have been on my to-read list for a year) chat about the bar they're going to later, and I am looking at the books they wrote tucked in the Poetry corner of Prairie Lights' lower floor. It's surreal. It's a dream.

 And this is the dream of every bookshelf spectator, staring at a row of un-cracked spines: Reading titles with the knowledge or hopeful expectation that their authors are making jokes above them. That when they get home and hold the object in their hands--some dollar amount worth of paper--that everything could be about to change.  

The poet says: You can't turn a corner in this town without running into a poet. And I think about the cadence of the sentence, about the sentences surrounding me, about the coffee shop up stairs full of literary journals and coffee cups on antique saucers and unconventionally beautiful grad students falling in love with books and each other and writing papers or notwriting papers.

After a reading, writers stand around drinking rosé to celebrate. You know, celebrate writing; a celebrating that feels strange in this place only for its total lack of strangeness.

Welcome, Malvern Books!

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The Austin Review wants to welcome the city's newest independent bookstore, Malvern Books. Located a block west on 29th Street off of Guadalupe Street, it is easy to stop in and peruse their inventory. The staff are still unpacking boxes, but plenty of books are already up and available. They'll gladly stop what they are doing to chat with you about books. The place has the atmosphere of a coffee shop--iPod-playing music, warm wood accents on the wall, but minus the coffee--and will offer plenty of literary events in the future. If you want to be the first to read the next great up-and-coming authors, this is the place to shop. All of their books come from small, independent presses and their focus is on emerging voices. Their grand opening is November 22nd with a poetry reading at 8:00 pm.

New Orleans: A City of Literary Indulgence

Written by The Austin Review Staff

New Orleans is more than just oysters, Sazaracs, and jazz. It is a city built on legend, history, and the art of storytelling. Some say the city is haunted. Walking through the French Quarter and Garden District, a sense of timelessness certainly haunted me. I could feel the stories told, and yet to be told, oozing from the cobblestoned streets and Mississippi River air. As Tennessee Williams put it:

“Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour--but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands--and who knows what to do with it?”

I now see why this bohemian city attracts so many of the greats. Around every tight corner I expected to find writers Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Scott F. Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Rebecca Wells, Anne Rice, Euroda Welty, and more.  And not just the famous, but every local I spoke to had a story to tell, whether of the dead buried underneath the streets or of the time Bill Murray and Jessica Lange smoked cigarettes and sang from their mansion balcony.

Faulkner House Books 

Faulkner House Books 

Just as the city loves stories, the city loves books. Amidst the bourbon bars and cafes, quaint independent bookstores are scattered throughout, like the old prints and books store, Librairie Bookshop. When purchasing an early edition of Catcher in The Rye for sixty-five cents, the storekeeper told me he’d been working there for over thirty-five years. I remarked: “Wow, you must really love books.” He gave me a sly smile and replied: “It wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t love books.” I also found Crescent City Books and the Garden District Book Shop to be lovely. Yet, I spent most of an afternoon stepping back in time at the historical Faulkner House Books. This small space now lined with wall-length bookshelves used to be the home of Faulkner himself. It was here that he wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay.

Walking on I came across the tribute statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the lead character of John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces. The statue stood in front of where D. H. Holmes Department Store used to be, the very place the character has a commotion-causing fit in the beginning of the novel.

Carousel Bar

Carousel Bar

Before long the city brought me to the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar. While sitting at the slowly-revolving bar, I found myself pondering the world from various angles, like so many great writers before. In fact, Truman Capote was practically born in this place, as it was here his mother went into labor. True to his roots, Capote spent much of his life holding “high court” at Carousel Bar.

In the dim light of the evening, I took a leisurely stroll down Frenchmen Street. I saw a professional woman sitting behind a typewriter on the walkway. I inquired about what she was doing, only to discover she writes customized “smut” for $20 a piece. She was booked up at the time, so I was unable to make a purchase.

There is no place like New Orleans, and there is nothing like being surrounded by a world that celebrates stories.

True to form, the city offers an annual literary festival, known as the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. The 28th annual festival will be held in March 2014.