Recycled Reads in Austin, Texas

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

The ever devoted Mr. Oddbooks took me to a used book store on my birthday (my birthday was back during the summer, but you all know I run behind on things) and I didn’t have particularly high expectations. The store, Recycled Reads, is sort of a compromise store. You see, a few years back Austin still had Friends of the Library Sales, but some morally anal blowhards ruined it for everyone. One of the few benefits of being a volunteer on behalf of the library is that when the annual sales come around, you get to have first pick of the books. No one really abuses it and even if they did abuse the privilege, first pick means something different to everyone. My first pick sure ain’t gonna be someone else’s first pick.

It’s a small perk, a very small one when one considers the sheer hell of running the book sales for the library. All the screaming kids, all the assholes with scanners beeping up the place as they try to find stock for their online book stores, all the people asking for bulk discounts or special discounts, the mess and the dust. Yet someone made a fuss about some elderly women holding back a few books to buy after the sale and it resulted in such a mess that for a while, if I recall correctly, the Friends of the Library disbanded for a bit. They sure stopped the annual sales at Palmer Auditorium. Recycled Reads is what came after the annual sales ended. Not sure what the difference is since it is still volunteer-run but I guess now there are cameras to make sure no one there sets aside a completely trashed copy of some old school best-seller? No idea, but given my experiences with library sales, I expected Recycled Reads to be a complete shit hole filled with book sellers beeping up the joint, dust everywhere, and at least one kid with a smelly diaper toddling about.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
The outside did not fill me with confidence. It looked like it was going to be some hole in the wall. And yeah, strip malls, bleah…

But the store was much larger than the outside would lead one to believe. It was pretty well organized and nary a beeping shopper to be found. Clean, too.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12

The store was having some sort of steam punk thing going on.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12

I am not really that interested in steam punk, as a genre or as an aesthetic but some of the displays were visually interesting.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
I was interested in buying this little piece of art but was stymied.  The store was not authorized to sell these pieces and advised me to take a card and contact the artist. Funny but ultimately stupid story: I took the card next to the piece and contacted the artist. The man I contacted had no idea what I was talking about. He was a painter, not a maker of miniature vampire hunting kits. I went back and checked the picture I took of the section and sure enough his cards were placed right next to the little kit. But stuff gets moved around in this place, as other pics will show. A shame, really, but perhaps I should just try to make something like this myself.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
The store was far better organized than a regular library sale.  However, no matter how well-organized it may be, it’s hard to discuss a store like this because the inventory turns over every few days or so, even including the books that are not part of the library culls. The public donates books to this location – lots of books. I saw several people bring in boxes of books when I was there. Like, entire trunks of cars full of boxes sorts of drop-offs. While I was there, the fiction section was blah but I found a dozen or so history books that had to come home with me. Among them were a biography about Madame C. J. Walker, a book about a man who stalked Queen Victoria, a biography of Horatio Alger and a biography of Jennie Churchill.

Mr. Oddbooks also found a lot of books about naval history and doing stuff with boats. As a person who grew up then subsequently lived her life landlocked, I have no idea, but he seemed to like them.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
The store had a nice collectible section, but you will be hard pressed to tell because I took some really crappy pics with my phone. Sorry about that.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
The store also had a pretty good selection of sociology and cultural studies books but because everything in life invariably photographs terribly and is awfully staged when I am behind the camera, all you can really see is the misplaced copy of Jane Smiley’s Moo. I snagged a Cornell West title, One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race by Scott Malcolmsen, Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin, Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society by Peter McWilliams, No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City by Katherine Williams, and The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
I do feel some regret about not purchasing The New Glutton or Epicure.

Recycled Reads, 9/20/12
Mostly, it’s a brightly colored store with art and some seating, most of it less than comfortable. I have some more blurry pictures here if you are interested. But you really can’t ask for amazing seating in a place where the hardcovers are all $2 and the softcovers are $1. A friend of mine got a vintage and evidently very expensive collection of Mark Twain books for about $50 at Recycled Reads. I did not luck into anything like that but we did leave with 42 books for $90.

The hours are extremely limited. They are only open Thursday through Sunday, 12-6. But you know, cheap books and supporting the library system in Austin. So there’s that.

I didn’t really fall in love with this store but, again, the stock turns over so frequently that I could go there next Friday and think it is the best place ever. So checking it out if you are an Austinista or just visiting would be worth it if you land there on a day when they have stocked the sections relevant to your interests.

South Congress Books, Austin, Texas

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

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.
South Congress Books, Austin, Texas

Oh, I very much like this store.
South Congress Books, Austin, Texas

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.
South Congress Books, Austin, Texas
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.
South Congress Books, Austin, Texas
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.

South Congress Books, Austin, Texas
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.
South Congress Books, Austin, Texas

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…

Domy Books, Austin, Texas

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

It’s been over a year since I wrote about an independent book store, which may seem like a long lapse for the average person. But I kind of like not leaving my house often. If I’m not taking a cat to the vet, buying groceries or subject to fire evacuations, I pretty much like staying home. And since we moved to the suburbs, driving into Austin seems like Death Race 2000. So even though Domy Books is less than 20 miles from my house, I hadn’t been in three years or so.

Domy Books, 9/20/70
But Mr Oddbooks urged me to haul my carcass out of the house and off to Domy we went. Domy Books is an alternative arts and culture book store and art space. Perhaps it is a good thing I can’t go there much because when I do go, I spend unseemly amounts of money. It’s a visually appealing space.

Part of one of the art exhibits on display currently.
Domy Books, 9/20/70

I don’t know from art, however. I mostly go for the books.
Domy Books, 9/20/70

So many beautiful books.
Domy Books, 9/20/70

Domy Books, 9/20/70
It’s one of those spaces where you can never look enough. I feel like I never have enough time to get a handle on all that is on offer there. And I think I don’t look as much as I should because just a quick scan can cost me a couple hundred bucks. A deep look would likely require a bank loan.

The manager, a friendly and very knowledgeable man named Russell, turned me on to a couple of new strange writers and when I told him I maintained this site, he even offered to do a weird book tour for me if I gave him a heads up so he could organize it. I definitely plan to take him up on this offer once I have gathered sufficient money to take another Domy splurge. I guarantee you there is no way I would have the strength to go on such a tour and not, and forgive the rude parlance, blow my wad.

So Austinites, I heartily encourage you to check out Domy. It’s a place to find ‘zines, high and fringe art books, fringe graphic novels, amazing photography compendiums, vinyl collectible dolls, alt culture non-fiction and local art. Russell was laid back and let us look, while offering help or comments when needed. It’s definitely a place where long-term browsing is allowed and encouraged. So visit if you can and if you can’t, you can shop online. I’ve got more pictures of the store on my Flickr account – just click on one of the pics above and wallow in the pretty art and pretty books.

And oh yeah, here’s what I bought (and I am only linking to them on Amazon because what I purchased does not appear to be on the Domy web store):
Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum by Nicholas Tromans
Encyclopaedia of Hell: An Invasion Manual for Demons Concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race Which Infests It by Martin Olson
Burn Collector: Collected Stories from One through Nine by Al Burian
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler
True Norwegian Black Metal by Pete Beste

Brave New Books, Austin

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Okay, I have to admit I buy the bulk of my books online. Not only do I find what I am looking for but I also don’t have to deal with disapproving glances from hipper-than-thou clerks who can barely restrain themselves from sighing as they see if they can order David Icke from the distributor. There are locally-owned book stores in Austin, Texas, but I’ve come to dislike BookPeople because they harass me to check my purse every time I go in (I could be naked and carrying a change purse and I’d be asked to check all my belongings at the front desk). Ever since FringeWare died a decade ago, I haven’t had a local store that I really like, a place where I can get my odd topics on without being subject to snerts for displaying a lack of intellectual snobbery or apparently being such a crime risk I have to leave my wallet, check book and car keys with a stranger in order to have the privilege of shopping.

So when Mr. Oddbooks discovered that Brave New Books has been operating in Austin for 4 years, I was annoyed that I had not heard of them, but I am also a hermit so it comes as little surprise. Dubious, I agreed to check the place out and am glad I did. In fact, I was so pleased that I may start trying to visit other small book stores around Texas and beyond. Or I may not. I’m a notorious flake. But you never know.

Brave New Books stocks titles that would appeal to those of us with interests in the fringe, lunatic or otherwise, as well as maintaining a nice little DVD section. The store also runs films in a back room, and hosts discussions on relatively diverse topics. On Saturday, July 24, there will be a discussion about the Templars and Christopher Columbus. Leaving my home two weekends in a row seems arduous to me because the only thing I hate worse than leaving my house is leaving my house, but I may well try to attend.
Brave New Books, Austin, Texas

I asked the owner, Harlan Dietrich, to tell me what book in the store he felt I needed to read. Because he is not the indiscriminate conspiracy nut that I am, he recommended The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve by G. Edward Griffin. I had heard some buzz around this book but am sometimes mentally lazy, preferring to read easier, more salacious sorts of books (evidenced by the ones I selected on my own and by the bulk of what I review here) and likely would not have purchased it had he not recommended it.

I also purchased:
War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race by Edwin Black
The Illuminati: Facts & Fiction by Mark Dice
Apocalypse Waiting To Happen, The Plagues That Threaten Us All by Dr. John Coleman
Liquid Conspiracy: JFK, LSD, the CIA, Area 51 and UFOs by George Piccard
And, best of all, the last copy of 9-11 Descent into Tyranny: The New World Order’s Dark Plans to Turn Earth into a Prison Planet by local hero, Alex Jones, whom I sometimes mock, but love nonetheless.

And though I am linking to my Amazon account via some of the above links, I only do so when the book I purchased there is not on Brave New Books’ online ordering system or if I know I got the last copy and linking to it could cause the store some hassle. So you can shop there even if you don’t live in Austin – browse the site’s selection as well as their events section. It appears that this store, unlike some of the other independent book stores in town, is contributing to the community with free lectures and a space to watch films. Though I am laughably the worst person to be encouraging community involvement since my own community mainly involves simply the two levels in my own home, I think such engagement is to be lauded and supported. There was a lively political discussion taking place around the front desk while we were there, and the whole vibe of the place just suited me. I encourage you to shop there.

Brave New Books, Austin, Texas