Clean and serene. Those are the two words which immediately sprang to mind when I walked through the doors of Brazos Bookstore in Houston. The store is a thing of beauty--mellow lighting, dark-wood bookshelves, and clear, concise section labels. The other striking feature of the store--and authors are going to love hearing this--is that books are displayed face-out whenever possible. The ratio of spines to covers definitely tilts in favor of the latter at Brazos. It's a thing of beauty and will bring tears to the eyes of every author who knows the sweaty desperation of trying to get his or her book noticed by bookstore browsers. So, thank you to Jeremy Ellis and his staff for designing the store with these "in yo face!" kinds of displays.
It's just down the street from Rice University and there's a definite vibe of the collegiate and intellectual--but without any of the elbow-patch-wearing, pipe-smoking stuffiness. Brazos is another one of those independent stores which exudes powerful pheremones of book-lovin'.
The second thing I thought as I started to browse the displays was: I could drop a lot of coin here. In fact, Brazos had so many good books on display, I ended up taking three books to the cash register rather than limiting myself to just one, as I've done everywhere else on the book tour. (See below for my picks.)
I was at Brazos to read from Fobbit due in large part to the efforts of my good buddy Brett N.--who, until yesterday, was a longstanding e-buddy. Brett and I first "met" when we were contributors to the online consumer review site Epinions, back in the days just before the internet bubble peaked and burst. Brett is a wickedly funny writer who's churned out a number of screenplays over the years, so I was happy to finally meet him in person and pick his brain about the movie world.
When Brett learned I'd be heading to the Lone Star State for the Texas Book Festival in Austin (my panel with Ben Fountain is tomorrow at noon in the Senate Chamber for those of you who can make it), he got unnaturally excited and contacted the good folks at Brazos to see if they'd be interested in having me stop by for an event before I headed to Austin. Things worked out nicely and so last night, I found myself sitting at a table just in front of an awesome paper-art display of burning books (in honor of Banned Books Week), reading the first few pages of Chapter Two where Lieutenant Colonel Duret is simultaneously dealing with a "failed suicide bomb event" at a dusty intersection in Baghdad, his incompetent company commander Captain Abe Shrinkle, and the pounding migraines brought on by the memories of his brother-in-law who died in the World Trade Center attacks. I always enjoy reading this portion of Fobbit--even though I have to stop midway through the action because the chapter is just too long to read for even the most patient set of ears. Joining Brett in the front row at the reading was another Epinions friend of ours, Dwight M. It was great to have this kind of support from one of the first internet communities to support my writing (way back in 1999--aka, the Cro-Magnon Era of the internet).
As I mentioned, I didn't leave Brazos empty-handed. I walked out of there with three new books which I've been dying to add to my library: "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket, The Distracted Preacher by Thomas Hardy (part of Melville House's Art of the Novella series), and John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. The latter is a title from my publisher, Grove Press, and with its sumptuous cover, deckle-edge pages, and multi-colored ink inside, it's a thing of physical beauty. No ebook could ever do Norfolk's novel justice. If you're going to fully appreciate this book, you have to buy the hardcover edition, folks (and I'm not just shilling for my publisher--I really am in love with this book for its own sake). But it's not just the physical object of the book which is a work of art; take a look at the plot synopsis:
1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft and John Sandall and his mother are running for their lives. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, John's mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as the rich dishes rise from the pages, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter John's mother dies. The Feast is John's legacy. Taken as an orphan to Buckland Manor, the ancestral seat of Sir William Fremantle, John is put to work in its vast subterranean kitchens, the domain of Richard Scovell. Under the Master Cook's guidance, John climbs from the squalor of the Scullery to the great house above. There Sir William's headstrong daughter Lucretia defies her father by refusing to eat. John's task is to tempt the girl from her fast. But as a bond forms between them, greater conflicts loom. The Civil War will throw John and Lucretia together in a passionate struggle for survival against the New Order's fanatical soldiers. Ancient legacies will pull them apart. To keep all he holds most dear, John must realise his mother's vision. He must serve the Feast.