Seven Texas Indie Booksellers on Their Favorite Books of the Year (So Far)
What Lone Star bibliophiles are reading this summer.
It’s a tough time to be an independent bookstore. Amazon continues to dominate the market: According to the American Booksellers Association, the retail behemoth now accounts for 75 percent of all online sales of physical books and 65 percent of e-book sales. A staggering 80 million Americans — that’s nearly two-thirds of households — are members of Amazon Prime, double the number from 2015. Few can resist the allure of free two-day shipping, low prices and a limitless selection.
Yet indie bookstores endure. “We’ve only been open for five weeks, but it’s amazing the number of people who’ve walked into the store simply to say, ‘Thank you,’” said Bill Clark, co-owner of Literarity Book Shop in El Paso. “We didn’t even realize how strong the demand was.”
Amazon has recently started opening brick-and-mortar stores, to tepid reviews. Even the world’s biggest e-retailer, it seems, is powerless to conjure up that warm, fuzzy feeling many of us get when walking the aisles of a local store, where you can curl up in an overstuffed chair with a book that unexpectedly caught your eye, meet an author at a reading and chat with fellow bibliophiles.
In honor of the first-annual Texas Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, we asked booksellers around the state to tell us about the best book they’ve read so far this year. Their selections are diverse: bestsellers, works in translation and young adult fiction, among others. What they had in common was an unmatched enthusiasm, a sense that they had all the time in the world to share a story with a stranger. Where else can you find that these days?
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
“Angie Thomas is one of the best voices right now in YA [young adult literature]. The Hate U Give is a fresh, new and authentic voice, not just a pulled-from-the-headlines story, but a real and accessible story. The book is about a girl, she’s 16, who is basically straddling two worlds — the poor black neighborhood in which she’s grown up, and the largely white world of the private school she’s going to. It deals with everything: family, racism, police violence, coming of age and finding yourself. This is a book I just like to make sure goes into people’s hands.”
“News of the World just came out in paperback, and the author lives here in San Antonio. The descriptions and imagery were fabulous, and you could really tell she did her research on children who were abducted by Native Americans and the difficult transition they had after returning to their families. It’s been compared to Lonesome Dove. I gave the book to my mom, who’s 87 and a journalist, and she thought it was fabulous. We talked about how different life must’ve been in the 1800s before everyone had access to the news. We share books all the time.”
—Nancy Gebhardt, event planner
The Twig Book Shop
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
“Exit West is both a love story and a timely book that delves into the refugee crisis. It’s the story of a young couple who are refugees from a country that’s never named. The author does this really cool thing where he brings in magical realism — in this world, there are doors you can choose to escape through, but you don’t know where you’ll end up. I read this book right after the presidential election, and it’s amazing how relevant it turned out to be. Fiction like this can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it.”
—Abby Fennewald, director of marketing
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, translated by Samantha Schnee
“I’m going to throw you a curve. My favorite thing of the year are the books from Deep Vellum Publishing out of Dallas. They’re a literary nonprofit and they publish English-language translations of international writers. Texas: The Great Theft is a novel based on the 1859 Mexican invasion of the United States, which not many people know about. I’m not going to say anything more about it. Just read it!”
—Bill Clark, co-owner
Literarity Book Shop
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
“This book is not my normal fare, but I absolutely loved it. The writing style, the character development, the mix of personalities and history… [sighs happily] The author blends historical facts with the story of a man under house arrest. He’s confined to a hotel, and all he sees is what comes in and out of the hotel, from after the Russian Revolution through the 1970s. It’s wonderfully written and he has a little bit of humor. The characters are so endearing; you just want to wrap him up and take him home.”
—Julie Green, manager
Front Street Books
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
“You’ve seen the movie Up, right? This book reminds me of the little old man in that movie. He’s an old curmudgeon stuck in his ways, a grumpy old man basically, whose wife was the light of his life. The book is set in Sweden, and a new family moves in from Iran, and they don’t get along at first. If they park in the wrong spot, he takes it to the HOA — that kind of thing. In the end, it’s a book about community and finding out that there’s more to a person than you might think.”
—Dallas Bell, owner
Burrowing Owl Books
My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump
“The book is about a married couple in France who live an ordinary life. But suddenly everyone in their town starts avoiding them, and they don’t understand why. It’s a story about being ‘other,’ and it has a lot of surrealism. This is a story that speaks well to what’s going on today with immigrants and prejudice. It’s also rather gothic, has elements of literary horror and is just a really great read.”
—Lori Feathers, co-owner and book buyer