It’s a community space, haven for collectors, performance venue and political hub. It’s all of these things—and a bookstore.
It’s not enough to simply house books anymore. Instead, independent bookstores in Austin have nestled into niches, attracting local bibliophiles to experience something unique.
Although the future of brick and mortar bookstores is unknown, in Austin there are many independent bookstores that continue to succeed. BookPeople, for instance, is the largest independent bookstore in Texas. But many more businesses have continued to crop up in Austin, proving that bookstores still hold relevance here.
Below are some of the bookstores that give this city character and feed the literary lovers who live here.
5th Dimension: Trailer-trove of Treasures
It should come as no surprise, although certainly a delight, to find a book truck hunkered down in Hyde Park. Yes, a book truck. The newest addition to the Austin bookseller scene, 5th Dimension is a mobile retailer that opened its doors only a few months ago in November 2014.
Unexpectedly spacious, the truck is filled with science fiction, fringe and fantasy books. Co-owner Sukyi McMahon said a collection of 100,000 books was bought in one place from one source, and they have continued to add products from local vendors for purchase. As a vendor with a limited physical space to keep products, the business owners opt to regularly trade out books. This way, Sukyi noted, people can return regularly and browsing will remain illuminating.
Typically found at 43rd and Duval
South Congress Books: Curiously Curated Collection
This storefront in the heart of South Congress values books as collectible items, boasting rare and unique pieces across a large range of genres. The space itself is small, with bookshelves that create three-walled nooks perfect for contemplative browsing. Search amongst popular recent titles and intriguing books you’ve never heard of from a century ago.
A friendly bookseller said the stock is selectively curated for quality condition and content by the owner, setting South Congress Books apart from other used bookstores. Although most of the collection consists of used or novelty items, new titles are selected from The University of Texas Press.
1608 South Congress Avenue
Malvern Books: Open Space for Creative Minds
Malvern Books, opened in October 2013, is situated north of the UT campus and beckons passerbys with a funky blue neon sign. The store space is open and welcoming. Bright hanging lamps of different shapes light up the room, shining down on sturdy wooden furniture, including a long hefty table where book clubs are welcome to meet.
Malvern’s stock is composed entirely of poetry and fiction works, all from independent presses. Many are actually translated from other languages, offering guests the chance to access works previously unknown to them or difficult to find.
Poetry readings, novel readings and even open mic events invite a communal atmosphere between local and independent artists.
613 West 29th Street
Brave New Books: Unique Perspective
“This is a literary town—and a highly political one,” Brave New Books’ self-proclaimed owner/manager/janitor/counselor Harlan Dietrich said. Established in 2006, Brave New Books is uniquely suited to certain aspects of Austin’s persona, including its individualistic streak, political seat as Texas’ capital and even its eccentricity.
According to Dietrich, Brave New Books specializes in “suppressed information,” meaning they cater to people who want to learn about the proverbial flip side of the coin, or things that those in power may not be telling them.
A meeting room attached to the basement bookstore houses author events, video screenings and even plays. A Bitcoin ATM rests next to the front desk and Illuminati card decks sit next to the register (local game maker Steve Jackson, also the creator of Munchkin, published these in 1995).
1904 Guadalupe Street
Monkeywrench Books: Collective and Community Space
Monkeywrench Books defines itself as a radical bookstore, offering books of a political or ideological nature, preferably from independent presses. One element that makes this store unique is how it is run: there are no bosses, managers or supervisors. Instead, Monkeywrench Books is a non-profit collective, entirely organized by volunteers and collective committees. This unique situation has suited it well and it has persisted in Austin for the past 13 years.
In addition to radical literature, the space is used as a community meeting place, as well as to show documentaries and host author presentations. The business name comes from the social activist practice of industrial sabotage in the early 20th century, in which workers would throw a monkey wrench tool into a machine to break it.
(Note: as of this writing, Monkeywrench has been sporadically closed for renovations. I recommend you call before you go.)
110 E North Loop Blvd
Independent in Austin
Bookstores, especially those independently owned, are worlds unto themselves that give you the opportunity to dip inside the subsets of culture that exist within your city. Not to mention, the owners are almost always there, allowing you the privilege to ask advice and pick their brains. While away an afternoon in one of these independent bookstores entirely unique to Austin.
@erinmayyyy wants to know:
What is your favorite independent bookstore in Austin?