By RJ Newell
Meet the “down and dirty, high-brow,” community-owned bookstore that wants you to have a good time. Serving Houston, TX for 43 years, Brazos Bookstore has evolved with tenacity, humor, and grit.
Brazos Bookstore aims to make classic, academic, or otherwise high-falutin books accessible and fun for even the most reluctant readers. “We sort of joke that we are ‘down and dirty highbrow,’” says manager Benjamin Rybeck. “We like smarty-pants books, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Lovers of translated works may already know that there are countless gripping, entertaining, and life-changing stories to be had in this medium. But for many, words like “translation” or even “literary” exhume a dusty, even arduous first impression. This is why the staff of Brazos Bookstore have dedicated themselves to injecting fun into literature for newcomers. Here, there’s a special joy in discovery.
“It’s important to find ways to remind readers that these things are fun, even if they’re a little daunting at first.”
As a supplement to author drop-ins, release parties, and various off-site events, Brazos partners with coffee houses and local breweries for weekend happy hour events in-store. At one especially memorable event, Rybeck recalls a Murakami release party where readers engaged in a lighthearted game of “Pin the Kafka on the shore.”
“The irreverence is a key part for me,” Rybeck says. “Books ought to be fun.”
COMMUNITY OWNED, COMMUNITY LOVED
Brazos follows a somewhat atypical model for an independent bookstore, and that has worked in its favor.
In 2006, Houston residents worried that Brazos was facing an imminent close. A large group of readers came together in a push for the store to continue. Today, Brazos Bookstore has more than two dozen co-owners, all of which are local community members dedicated to keeping the party alive.
“A lot of lip service is given to the idea that bookstores should be a community space, and we are a living, breathing embodiment of that,” Rybeck says.
The leadership arrangement is unique and free flowing: “There’s not a lot of hierarchy. We make the store that we want to make and we feel best reflects the community around us. The whole thing feels…like a bunch of friends coming together to make something that’s interesting to us, and we hope will be interesting to other people.”
Upon entry, readers immediately gain a sense of what’s new, what’s popular, and what the staff hopes they will discover. “A good bookstore can only survive if it puts the personality of the staff front and center,” Rybeck says.
What you won’t find at Brazo’s Bookstore is snobbery.
“There’s [an attitude] you sometimes find in independent shops…of the high fidelity sort of model. And that’s the opposite of us,” Rybeck says. “Nobody should ever leave this bookstore feeling condescended to. We want to create a warm and open community around books, and that comes from not being snobby.”
So leave your highbrow worries at home and visit Brazo’s with an open mind. If you’re looking for a truly good time, this friendly bookstore is waiting to show you.