Sunday, June 25, 2006

Threat to Civic Health Averted, for Now

We see that some gray-hairs with disposable incomes have foresworn forming yet another caravan of geriatric Harley riders and instead plunked their money down to buy Brazos Bookstore, the Rice University-area landmark that’s gotten a good deal of publicity mileage in recent years for being the last, or one of the last, independent bookshops in Olde Houston Towne. Or maybe the last “literary” book seller, something of that sort.

We at Slampo’s Place are longtime promoters of independence, of local ownership, of locality, and thus we’re comforted to know that Brazos Bookstore will be keeping its doors open after the departure of its founder/owner.

Yet, to be honest, upon reading of the bookstore’s reprieve we couldn’t recall exactly when we had last visited the place, much less made a purchase there.

We’ve always found the atmosphere at Brazos Bookstore to be a bit chilly and contemplative, at least for our tastes, more like a gallery or the Rothko Chapel (an interesting place for about five minutes---six, tops) than the musty, cluttered bookstores of our youth, with the fat-assed doyens eyeing you from behind the counter. (It’s not that the workers at Brazos aren’t nice or helpful---they are, and more importantly they always leave you alone when you want to be.) Browsing amid the mausoleum-like quiet and open space of Brazos Bookstore makes us feel as if we’ve wandered into a quaint little museum devoted to a mummified High Literariness---Susan Sontag spoke here! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Not being a member of the “literary community” and never having nursed even the small, fleeting desire to rub our chin in the company of the sort who think writing can be learned in a “writing program,” we’ve found that we can usually satisfy our book longings at the public library, or, if we absolutely must pay, at Borders or through Amazon. It’s usually cheaper at the latter two, we’ve noticed.

In other words, we’ve always liked the idea of Brazos Bookstore more than the reality.

Still, it’s good that people with literary aspirations and pretensions, as well as those well-put-together older women from Southhampton, have a place to go to see and be seen and buy $95 architecture books. But we think one of the new owners of Brazos Bookstore overstated the case when she said, according to the Houston Chronicle, “To lose [the bookstore] would be a real blow to the civic health of the community.”

It’d be much more of a blow to the community in which we dwell (the reality-based one) if, for instance, the Borders at the shopping center a couple of miles from our house shut down. It’s the literary hub of Meyerland, my friend, and we’ve noticed that a scene of sorts has taken root there at the coffee shop, which at almost any hour of its operation is packed with all strains of humanity---suburban moms pretending to read their latest purchases, high school kids instant messaging, college students doing homework, mouth-breathing older guys battling brainy Asian kids in chess, etc. It’s diverse, too---young and old, black, white and brown, etc.

Come to think of it, we can’t recall ever seeing a black person at Brazos Bookstore.

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