I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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Imagine walking up to a bookstore: there is a patio out front, three or four tables, with umbrellas, sitting in one a young woman with a book in her hand, there’s a notebook on the table next to her—she takes it with her, everywhere she goes—a ceramic cup of tea, not uniform, it’s unique, the closer you look it might seem unusual even, in fact everyone outside, sitting on the tables has a different ceramic cup, she looks up a moment, at you, but not, she’s looking through you, she had read something that’s intrigued her, you can see it in her eyes, her red hair—you only just noticed—catches the sunlight drifting from behind the Royal blue—or Prussian blue, even—building with cream trim, you realize then that she’s not looking at you, she’s looking through you, and your attention is redirected to an older couple walking slowly past you with paper cups, and plastic lids, a steam quickly rises from an opening in the lid. There’s a sign, along the sidewalk, the wind has caught it, and it’s swaying back, and forth, CommuniTea Books, the sign reads. A picture of an open book with the pages spread at the center, and the outline of a teacup resting on the pages. BOOKSTORE, a rusted metal sign reads, it’s resting on the roof, above the porch.
At the door you notice, in the window to your right, on display several books: some are old, others just look cool, or have that unique collectible feel. You notice a First Printing of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, another First Printing, this one is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Oh, is that who wrote that, I always seem to forget that, you think to yourself.
There’s a couple handfuls of an assortment of children’s books, art books, cooking, and books that you didn’t make heads-or-tails of. The swing on the porch to your left is caught in the wind, it’s empty, and you scan the porch—taking it all in.
As you open the door there are two small square tables in front of you, but not directly, the tables create the illusion of a hallway, at the center of the store leading towards the back door. On your right a small room with three small round tables, one is empty. A man in formal wear, his jacket is hugging his chair, he has a computer in front of him, and there’s a teapot behind it, a ceramic mug on the table--his right handed, you think. Surrounding the room, from floor-to-ceiling, are bookshelves, they have been built into the walls. The room to the left is much larger, and again, surrounded with bookshelves—floor-to-ceiling. Five or six tables rest at the center of the room, most are full. People are reading, studying, talking, and almost all of them are drinking tea.
The two small square tables in front of you are staked, and displayed with books, they look new, and without checking the title you take one and look for a mark: a small red dot, or a black line on either the top or bottom of the pages, near the spine. You find one, Remainder books. As you put the book back on the table you try to remember where you first heard about remainders. You browse the titles on the tables, you love the prices of remainder books, because they’re all brand new, but only $3-5 each. You scan the store, creating a mental image, a panoramic reminder. There are two large, dinner tables in the ‘hallway’ ahead of you, between you and the back door. They too are stacked, and displayed with remainder books. All the books on the shelves are used. The remainders are on tables, while the new books are all located to your left, in the large room where the art, photography, and cooking books are also found.
You stand in line on the opposite end of the large room to your left, the tea menu in your hand is almost overwhelming, you scanned each item, at first looking for something appealing, and then only to count the choices, you stop counting and start making some kind of deduction--more than 80!, you think. There are Black Teas, Green, Herbal, Japanese, Flower, Middle Eastern, Mate, Chinese, Matcha, Russian, Chai, White, Infused, Oolong, Pu Erh, Rooibos, and Ayurvedic, as well as a small selection of coffees, and smoothies, and there tea smoothies, even. You can’t decide between a Sweet Orange Mate Smoothie and an Aged Pu-erh, aged 25 years.
This isn’t our typical bookstore—you think.
As you sip on your tea you notice, for the first time, stacks of books under the tables, and in corners, there are standalone bookshelves in one of the rooms with books stacked on top, a pair of French doors are propped open letting the air in from the side patio, outside. While your browsing leads you to a small set of stairs leading upwards, inside is the children’s department. Several kids are huddled together in a circle, one of them appears to be reading to the others, in the opposite corner a mother is reading to her two small kids. A papier-mâché tree is built in to what looks like was once a closet, and a couple kids are playing while another sits inside, on the second level, reading to himself. The area of the children’s section astonishes you, at first. You remember, of course, that this small Hill Country town is particularized by its schools.
While you’re browsing the shelves, in Fiction/Literature, you happen upon the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, and are stunned, you had almost forgotten, because you haven’t seen this book in years. Removing the book from the shelf you put it in your hand next to High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, A Piece of My Heart by Richard Ford, and The Sea by John Banville. Stunned by your find you take another lap around the store skimming Non-Fiction: History, Science, Psychology, Business, Religion, Reference, the books on consignment, and the books by local authors.
As you make your way back to the register you notice, for the first time, the television in the upper corners of the two front rooms, one is showing a TED Talk: Sir Ken Robinson is talking about education, you’ve seen that talk, a few times, the other television is showing a documentary: I AM written and directed by Tom Shadyac. There’s no sound but you notice that a few of the patrons have identical headphones on and are looking up at the screens. That’s cool, you think, you must be able to rent headphones to watch, and to listen!
You pay for your books, ask for a little more hot water, and head for the front door. Instead of walking back towards the street you stop, and sit on the swing, still empty, on the porch to your right. Sitting you sip, again, on your tea, and open Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart. You haven’t read it. It’s Ford’s first book, and is otherwise nearly impossible to find.
The red head is still sitting at a table on the patio, as you sip at your tea, you watch her a moment, and she looks up, and through someone standing at the entrance whom is creating a panoramic memory of the facade before walking towards the front door of CommuniTea Books.