So, I’ve been lax where discussing independent book stores is concerned. Amazon has made me completely unwilling to leave my house and risk encountering crappy selections, deal with parking and endure as kids half my age sneer at my selections because I’m obviously too pedestrian for them to waste their time bothering to make eye contact with me as I spend Mr. Oddbooks hard earned cash on the very things that permit them to have a job in the first place. (Yeah – I hate shopping at BookPeople. There! I said it. Most arrogant, unpleasant staff ever. If I wanna be mocked by weird kids with poor taste, I’ll review another Tao Lin book.)
But Mr. Oddbooks and I decided the best way we could spend our Fourth of July would be to go a bookstore and we chose South Congress Books.
Oh, I very much like this store.
You know how bibliophiles talk about loving the smell of books? And you go into a book store and all you can really smell is dust? Used book stores, I fear, have come to represent the smell of old books – musty dustiness. In South Congress Books, you get to smell that gorgeous aroma of books, of softened pages, crisp mylar, and a vague under note of vanilla, possibly nutmeg – something sweet and edible. The real smell of beloved, pre-read books, not the smell of mustiness.
The store is also a huge departure from most used book stores. Sometimes you want a store that is a hot mess because you want to dig through piles in the hopes of finding an under-priced gem. But sometimes you want a store that has done the work for you and separated the wheat from the chaff. South Congress Books is a small store and gorgeously arranged. So organized that my inner organizational pedant wept. One of the reasons it can be so organized is because this store is particular in what they stock. You go into a used book store and you expect to see the usual shelves of Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz and endless copies of the same romance novel. Not at South Congress Books. Here, if there is a King on the shelves, it is because it is a first edition, not because dozens of people decided to get rid of their copies of Duma Key at roughly the same time. Their eye to selective book acquisition means one could spend hours in this small store because every title is worth picking up and flipping through.
I did not see a single copy of Eat, Pray, Love in the entire store, not even in the signed books. It felt good.
I’m not kidding. The selection is astonishing. Guys, the cats here at Chez Oddbooks have had a rough couple of months. Kidney failure, thyroid problems, urinary tract infections, a weird spell of sneezing blood that we never got figured out despite numerous vet visits. That kind of devotion to elderly and defective pets costs money, money that in a just and decent world would be spent on books. I had to tell Mr. Oddbooks we had to go before he was really ready and I studiously avoided certain sections of the store (the metaphysics section would have wrecked me financially had I looked in serious depth) once I ascertained there were titles I really wanted and had to put back on the shelves because I chose to keep the cats comfortable. And the cats are totally not grateful and there were, like, seven books I had to leave behind. Goddamn cats.
So, instead of owning this copy of Dr. Johnson’s Doorknob, I just have to go to bed at night knowing that Cicero Cat’s metabolism is working well again. If you want a good look at all the books I had to leave behind, here’s my small Flickr set of the pics I took that day.
This is Sheri, one of the co-owners. She told me about a strange series she read by Andrey Kurkov. She hooked me up with the second book in the series, which is awesome because it will remind me to order the first book. If it’s odd enough, I am sure to discuss it here. She also worked at Half-Price Books and listened calmly as I shared the horrors I faced at the Round Rock store, what with all the bats, rats, urine soaking from the men’s bathroom into the break room and that black stuff that may have been mold but was probably something far worse. Most frightening building I’ve ever worked in. But enough about me…
Here’s what we ended up with that magical day:
Kings of the Road: A Cartoonumentary of a Life on the Road by Ragnar
Penguin Lost by Andrey Kurkov
Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr by Jean-Paul Sartre
The Murder of Marilyn Monroe by Leonore Canevari, Jeanette van Wyhe, Christian Dimas and Rachel Dimas with foreword by Brad Steiger (this one is gonna get discussed here for sure)
Oval Office Occult: True Stories of White House Weirdness by Brian M. Thomsen
Dessous: Lingerie as Erotic Weapon by Gilles Neret
Smothered in Hugs: Essays, Interviews, Feedback, and Obituaries by Dennis Cooper
And of course, our selections are in no way representative of the bulk of the books in the store. The art and photography sections, in particular, were amazing.
The only drawback I found to the place is that being on South Congress there were a lot of looky-loos wandering around, which happens when a shop is located on a street with a lot of foot traffic, and it happens even more in the heat of the Texas summer when people are looking for a place with sweet, merciful air conditioning as they make their way to the BBQ and beer trailers. And if one has to discuss the traffic of people who just wanted to look around in order to find a drawback, then that means there probably isn’t one.
Next time I go I will have a large wad of cash with me. Mark my words, I will not go back into South Congress Books without some serious bank because it was just too painful to leave behind books that were so clearly meant to come home with me. Sigh…
2 thoughts on “South Congress Books, Austin, Texas”
OH MY GOD. I absolutely adore Kurkov’s books. Amazing, slightly off center from the world in the way that the best recent Russian fiction is.
I hope I can read this soon. I need to put a moratorium on taking review submissions because I really want to start reading all the great books I have on hand. I had never heard of Kurkov before so with your rec I am really looking forward to reading it.