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Store manager Jane Moser strolls in the back room of Brazos Bookstore, thumbing a stack of specially ordered titles for its devoted customers. Above her hangs a framed black-and-white photograph of Tom Wolfe, one of many authors who had recently signed his latest for long lines of customers at this hub for the city's bookish sort.
If numbers tell the truth, Houstonians love a good read. In this city, bookstores--mega to mini, specializing in genres from out-of-print to best-seller--number more than 60 strong.
Customers Bought the Bookstore
Three of several independent stores reflect the city's love of books, including Brazos Bookstore, 33 years young at 2421 Bissonnet. Specializing in literary fiction, art, and architecture, Brazos also stocks children's books and literary journals. The store keeps a sharp eye out for rising Texas authors and schedules author events.
This pillar of literature nearly toppled a few years ago. In 2005, dreadfully in need of a miracle to keep the doors open, its own customers stepped forward.
"Twenty-five regular customers joined together and bought Brazos, " Jane says, still brightening up at the mention. "It's now owned by its neighborhood. The story of that sale makes me feel good about the city of Houston."
They Love Mysteries
Just down the street at 2342 Bissonnet, the mystery-lover clientele of Murder by the Book remains similarly devoted. What a great store for a rainy day, with its stories of Russian moles, cloaked London sleuths, and puzzling crimes. Houstonians who crave cryptic twists to plots head to this playfully creepy mainstay.
When she opened the shop in 1980, "Only New York was doing the mystery store, " claims Martha Farrington. It feels friendly and a little spooky at the same time. Martha's Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Archie, snoozes in a chair beside the True Crime section. Scattered like clues here and there are ravens, bones, vintage poison bottles, and deerstalker hats.
More than 25, 000 books of espionage and romantic mystery find short shelf life here. Devoted customers quickly pluck the works of Martha Grimes, James Patterson, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Texas's own Sandra Brown and Kinky Friedman. Add to those names Dean James, the store's former manager, who now is a writer and winner of two Agatha Awards for short story and nonfiction. He's built his own fans among longtime customers.