Brazos Bookstore was founded in Houston in 1974 by Karl Kilian. In 2006, when Kilian announced he would retire and shutter the bookstore, 28 local supporters collectively bought it to keep the Houston literary hub alive. Here, we talk with General Manager Jeremy Ellis about Brazos’ patron saints, Banned Books Week, and midnight Haruki Murakami parties.
How would you describe Brazos Bookstore to the uninitiated?
Brazos Bookstore is curated, creative, and inviting. We specialize in literary fiction, poetry, art, and architecture. The store is clean and uncluttered, with always-changing displays. We also have the Brazos Treehouse, an area dedicated to exceptional books for children. I joke that we’re a “smarty pants” store because it’s true. Our staff is pretty high-minded when it comes to the books they personally love. We don’t carry everything, but we welcome everyone.
If Brazos were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
The patron saints of Brazos Bookstore: Donald Barthelme, Joan Didion, and Valeria Luiselli. They have blessed us with inspired, unusual, and innovative works that fuel our imaginations.
We organize our work around one key principle: share your love of books all the time. Our individual interests and passions create a chorus that hopefully all our customers can harmonize with.
The best example of this is our store manager, Mark Haber. Mark loves Latin American fiction. Loves it. Customers showing any inkling of interest in anything south of the border get his full attention and enthusiasm. He made bestsellers out of Sergio Pitol and Guadalupe Nettel. There are customers who visit the store just to find out what Mark is reading and buy it. The #CultOfMark is real.
Which was your favorite event and why?
When I came to Houston to take over the store, I had a crazy idea: to celebrate Banned Books Week, I wanted to install a printing press in the bookstore for a day so customers could make prints from banned books on their own. I called up the only Houston letterpress I could find online and set up a meeting. One month later, they arrived with beautiful broadsides of quotes from banned books and the printing press. This year, we’ll do it for the fifth time. It’s become one of our most popular annual events.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
We are connecting with Houston’s young creative class of designers and artists, who all love print. They come to look for great objects as much as unique content. They are turning out for midnight Murakami parties, Hemingdays, and other random events that celebrate books and literature. We see a lot of people turning off their screens and tuning into books.
What are some of the bookstore’s top current handsells?
The #CultOfMark is currently reading The Door by Magda Szabo; over the past month, we’ve sold more than 50 copies of this Hungarian classic. Store book buyer Keaton Patterson has been putting copies of Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin in the hands of every customer showing even a vague interest in Gulf Coast history. And Liz Wright, our kids’ books specialist, has been extremely enthusiastic about Uncovered, a new memoir by Houston author Leah Lax.
What is your ideal busman’s holiday?
I’ll work for free in the Academic Bookshop (designed by Alvar Aalto) in downtown Helsinki, Finland. It’s an extraordinary space with an amazing assortment of books. If they send me tickets, I’ll be right there.Karen Schechner is the senior Indie editor.