Saturday in the Store: A Diary
An Hour-by-Hour Account of Independent Bookstore Day at Brazos
This past Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day, a nationwide celebration of booksellers and the people who love them. In what will be the first in a series of Saturday bookstore diaries, we asked our friends at Brazos Bookstore in Houston to keep a record of the highs, lows, and otherwise odd moments over the course of a Saturday in the store.
While opening the store, we fight through the throngs of people gathered outside, having camped out the night before to get exclusive independent bookstore day swag, now standing in a line that stretches miles into the heart of the city. (Just kidding. We stand around for a minute, eating croissants.)
First customer of the day arrives 20 minutes early and asks for a copy of The National Review, his voice wilting with apology as he swears it’s not for him.
Children flutter in for story time, while kids specialist Mary-Catherine recounts her nightmare from the night before, in which story time ceased to exist because we all got transported to her grandmother’s farm and there were no art supply stores nearby. (Happily, not a lot of barns in the middle of Houston…)
Story time desserts—lemon bars, blueberry muffins, pinwheel pastries—arrive. Dozens of small hands reach for them in a flurry. Moments later, platters are empty, and we staff members collect the crumbs on our fingertips.
Special guest stars arrive for story time: Gene Morgan (formerly of HTMLGIANT)! Our Random House kids rep, Brenda! Also, our favorite story time regular, six-year-old M______, shows up with her parents. We have a present for her, but it’ll have to wait, because, shh, story time’s starting…
Story time ends, and the kids get to work with crayons and paper, some cross-legged on the floor, others gathered around the table. They’re designing bookmarks for a contest we’re running, and the illustrations are all fantastic. In one, it looks like a house is flying on avian wings. In another, a treadmill seems to be eating a book. One little girl asks, “Mommy, how do I spell ‘Wilton Montessori?’”
With the families filing out after a colorful morning, we finally present M______ with her present: a Star Wars illustrated encyclopedia. “It’s Star Wars!” she screams, before composing herself and saying, “I have a present for Brazos, too.” The present? A drawing of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. Sometimes things work out.
A moment of rest in the day, between story time and the next event—so of course, we break out the Dyson [editor’s note: this is a brand of vacuum, not a regional whiskey], and then pose for some staff photos. Usually our marketing director, Ben, takes these photos, but not today. “Ben’s pictures always make me look fat,” a staff member says. “Make somebody else take it.”
The folks arrive from New Living, a neighborhood furniture store. They have a chair for us—the Brazos Book Nook, they call it. We break out sandwiches, chips, sodas. We take turns sitting in the chair.
As New Living and Brazos customers start to gather in the store to see the Brazos Book Nook, we hand the chair a microphone and say, “Why don’t you make a few remarks?” What follows is a speech more beautiful than anything we can recount here.
Customer: “What’s this?” Us: “That’s Hemingwasted, a coloring book we made for Independent Bookstore Day. It’s drawings of authors paired with some witticisms on drinking.” Customer: “So what do you do with it?” Us: “You color it. We’re having a drunk coloring party at two, if you wanna stick around.” Customer: “I’m horrible at coloring. [Beat] But maybe I’ll drink.”
Spotted outside, the first occurrence of a customer pausing before entering the store to take a selfie next to our new window art drawing of William Shakespeare, completed just yesterday by local artist Sara Hinkle.
During a momentary lull, one third of the staff absconds to the nearby used bookstore to buy romance novels (don’t ask).
Our drunk coloring party begins! In actuality, nobody is really drunk, though the beers have been unleashed from the cooler and now sweat in people’s hands. Customers, having equipped themselves with crayons and copies of Hemingwasted, sit cross-legged on the floor, or around the table at the front of the door, in the same places the children sat hours earlier.
One drunk artiste to another: “What’s the difference between peach and apricot?” The first drunk artiste holds the crayons in her hands, holds them up to the light, as though the crayons are translucent and the answer to her question is inside.
We receive a visit from a journalist and friend of the store named Christina, who comes bearing pro tips about how to train dogs in inexpensive and easy ways. When offered a beer, she refuses. “I only have time to either drink a beer or buy a lot of books,” she says, “and I think you’d rather I buy the books.”
“I’m gonna go crazy with her shirt,” one drunk artiste insists, scribbling madly on the page with a blue crayon. Has drunk coloring just taken a turn for the surly?
An older customer—glasses hanging around his neck, trim white beard—narrows his eyes when asked whether the special order he came in to pick up will be all, or whether he wants to browse around a bit too. “I oughta have my fucking head examined,” he growls, full volume, “but I guess I’ll shop around.” A tad aggressive? Perhaps—but at least self-aware about the addictions of the bibliophile.
A different older customer, after acquiring a stack of books in his fragile hands, sits in a chair near the remaining drunk artistes and begins to read.
It becomes clear the older customer has fallen asleep. The remaining drunk artistes color, undaunted.
Like the dozing customer, we the staff begin to drift off. Most of the drunk artistes have left, and for the first time in hours, the store is relatively quiet. Our remaining customers are sedate too—too many mini-sandwiches and bags of chips have been eaten, too many beers have been drunk. It feels like the hours on Thanksgiving after you eat the meal, when you sit in a coma on the couch, watching the game—except, in the bookstore, there is no TV to watch. Fun fact about books: They are not TV. They do not have moving pictures.
Romance novels are read (don’t ask).
Nobody jots anything down in our Independent Bookstore Day diary. Everybody is too tired.
Re… oh, the hell with it. Just assume “repeat” every minute until—
Sara Hinkle arrives with her husband! Just yesterday, Sara completed artwork on our windows—a portrait of Shakespeare on our west-facing windows, and seven lines of words/phrases he invented on our north-facing windows. There is wine and cheese on hand. Sara chats with friends and family. Elsewhere in the bookstore, conversations happen and plans are hatched, for tonight’s final event—a literary showdown that challenges four local authors to write a piece of flash fiction on the spot based on a prompt we provide.
A romance novel is spotted on the back counter, our Groucho Marx bookmark inside.
We scour the store for legal pads in case one of the readers for the evening wants to write analog. (Spoiler alert: we only found two.)
Our first contestant, Ann Weisgarber, arrives. We spot her because she enters the store as if it were a singles mixer: bubbling with nerves but excited enough. She confesses that tonight will be her first literary showdown but seems to relax when she discovers we have the paperback version of her book, which even she hasn’t seen yet! “The authors are always the last to know,” she says.
Chris Cander appears. She’s our second contestant this evening. A loyal twitter follower, she has coordinated her outfit to match Shakespeare window art, sporting a tee with a bust of The Bard saying “This shit writes itself.” We smile.
Matthew Salesses, our third contestant, waltzes in and greets his competitors. They form a small triangle between the counter and the front door (there is much handshaking), leaving us to wonder where, oh where, is our fourth contestant, Mr. Mike Freedman?
At exactly 6:30, Mike Freedman slinks in carrying a can of Dr. Pepper, his hair still wet from the shower. Us: “Where the hell were you, Mike?” Mike: “You said 6:30,” unmoved.
Events Coordinator Ben wrangles “the talent” and leads them to the front table, now clear of the construction paper from the morning and the crayon shavings from the afternoon. This is where our chosen four will pen and type the pieces that will guarantee one of them a $300 donation to the charity of his or her choice. The confidential prompt is distributed to the writers. They have 30 minutes.
Poet, Inprint blogger, and self-proclaimed teacher’s pet Erika Jo Brown uses her adorable cat-eye glasses to sidle up to folks and ask them questions about the day’s festivities. Her questions seem harmless enough (“What has been your favorite part of Independent Bookstore Day?”) but one can never be sure…
The main event begins! Or, the time that Brazos gave center stage to McKettricks of Texas: Garrett, a romance novel with a strapping cowboy on the cover. Ben reads to the audience: “Garrett McKettrick wanted a horse under him, a fleet cow-pony like the ones bred to work the herds on the Silver Spur Ranch. But for now, anyway, the Porsche would have to do…” The prompt? Complete Garrett’s story: How did he get in this Porsche? What has happened to him?
Fifteen-minute stretch as our judges—Inprint executive director Rich Levy, Houstonia Magazine’s arts editor Mike Hardy, and Giuseppe Taurino, assistant director of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program—sequester themselves. Meanwhile, people drink.
Rich announces the winner: Matthew Salesses! (Note: his sensual writing about centaurs will not affect the amount of our donation to Asian American Writers’ Workshop.)
Happy, tired, the remaining Brazos staff closes doors for the evening. Goodnight moon, goodnight Houston.