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5 Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores to Visit This Bookstore Day

Online retailers just can’t match the human touch of these local shops.

By Michael Hardy August 3, 2014 Published in the August 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

From left: Carl Jung’s Red Book, Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer, Ange Mlinko’s Marvelous Things Overheard, Susanna Gregory’s Murder by the Book, and Women of the South

Whether you’re looking for a beach read, a coffee table book, a bedtime story for the kids, or just something to fill the shelves—as interior decorators say, nothing furnishes a room like books—Houston has a bookstore for you. Here are five of our favorites:

Founded in 1974 as Musabelle’s Books, the Energy Corridor–area store became Blue Willow Bookshop after Valerie Koehler bought it in 1996, but she kept the store’s lovely oak shelves and maintained its commitment to the best in YA and children’s lit, including Shaun Tan’s new picture book Rules of Summer [pictured]. But don’t overlook Blue Willow’s other offerings; the store carries a strong selection of contemporary fiction and non-fiction for adults as well.

For decades, Brazos Bookstore—which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a party honoring founder Karl Kilian—has been Houston’s premier destination for visiting authors, a venue for Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Edward Albee, and hundreds more. This cozy Rice Village-area shop specializes in art and architecture, travel, cookbooks, literary journals, and poetry, counting among its selections UH professor (and current Guggenheim fellow) Ange Mlinko’s excellent 2013 monograph Marvelous Things Overheard [pictured]. 

Across the street from Brazos lies another venerable Houston institution: Murder by the Book, the city’s best purveyors of mystery and detective fiction. Contemporary novelist Susanna Gregory—best known for her protagonist Matthew Bartholomew, a 14th-century Cambridge-based investigator—even inadvertently named one of her most recent medieval mysteries after the shop [pictured]. 

If you’re more interested in psychological mysteries than criminal ones, the Jung Center’s small but well-curated bookstore is the place for you. In addition to books by and about the great Swiss psychoanalyst—including a facsimile of the master’s gorgeously illuminated Red Book [pictured]—the store includes a broad selection of psychologically themed literature and self-help manuals. 

For a great Manhattan-worthy used bookstore, forget the chains and head to Spring Branch, where Becker’s Books has quietly been drawing bibliophiles since 1994. The cavernous 3,500-square-foot store boasts an inventory of a half-million books (compare that to Brazos’s 15,000), stacked from floor to ceiling along its warren-like passageways. Although it specializes in rare volumes like Women of the South [pictured] and offers book repair services, there are tomes of every type and at every price point here. 

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