I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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There are millions of books in existence, both in and out of print, books that we grew up with, books that have inspired us, books that have taught us, and books that have allowed us to escape. As I write this now I am sitting in a house surrounded by books, boxes full, shelves, they are stacked on window sills, and in corners, when people come to my home for the first time they inevitably ask if I have read all these books. No, I’ll respond, I have read a number of them, others I’m working towards, and others are collectible, they’re purpose is to sit on the shelves and fulfill me in ways that only old, or rare, or fascinating books can.
I have books that I brag about with people, when the topic comes up. I am proud to say that I have them sitting on my shelves, that I can stand there, slip the book off the shelf, and open it, and to not only be invited into a story, an idea exclusive to that particular book, but to know that someone else touched them, the signed books I have, for example; knowing that Chuck Yeager touched a copy of The Right Stuff that is resting on my shelf, that Michael Chabon asked my name as I stood above him, a first printing of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay outstretched towards him, and many more.
When opening a bookstore one of the decisions that you have to make, one of the decisions that I made—though it was easy for me—is what type of bookstore do you want to open. Specialty used bookstores, bookstores that have a general focus on genre, are what the general public is looking for today. That doesn’t mean that you cannot carry other genres, but it does mean that the limited space you undoubtedly have needs to be filled with books that your store specializes in. When owning, and operating a used bookstore you become more than just a bookseller, you become an expert, and the community develops expectations of your expertise, and your focus, your ‘specialty,’ becomes their guide.
Mystery, Sci-Fi, and Horror are some of the most popular specialty bookstores, and a lot of the time, when you focus on one of the three, you’re walking not only into a bookstore but into the mind, and the unique passion of the owner, the employees, and the patrons.
I specialize in Fiction/Literature, which sounds like a fairly broad specialty, and ultimately it is, but when I saw fiction/lit, and though I do carry Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi, Photography, Art, Science, Cooking, Psychology, History, Religion/Spirituality, Children’s, and more I make the space for the Chabon’s, the Capote’s, the DeLillo’s, the Woodrell’s, the McCarthy’s, the Mitchell’s, the Nabokov’s, the Nichols’, the Stegner’s, the Wolfe’s, the Miller’s, the Hemingway’s, the Olmstead’s, the Percy’s, the Salter’s, and more, and more, and more, and all the Mystery’s the Art’s, the Children’s, the Psychology’s they all will have a certain literary foundation. CommuniTea Books focuses on books that are well written by authors that bleed feeling, and piercing desire onto the page.
There are authors that we refuse. Authors, too, that could be considered literary. I know this may sound high-brow, or snobbish, that the act would pigeonhole me, and CommuniTea Books with bookstores that the average person would otherwise despise. We’re not high-brow, or snobbish, and that’s again solely because I cannot stand pseudo intellectual depreciation, I believe it’s ridiculous to judge another human being by their vocabulary, their intellect, their interests, and how they express themselves. It’s utterly ridiculous. “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I believe that fiction brings people together, and the environment that inspires that meeting, that community, with literature at its foundation will open minds.
I prefer fiction/literature because of the way that it makes me feel: reading it, being surrounded by it, creating it, and there is, of course, a degree of alienation to my prerogative, but, again, it’s my prerogative, and I have an image of a bookstore that does maintain a standard, but the standard includes the inclusion of everyone, as long as they are willing, and people involved that help to make others feel welcome.
I think it is dangerous when open a used bookstores to not have a focus. If you are thinking about opening a bookstore, and are considering the attempt to not focus on a particular concept, or genre, I urge you to reconsider. I’ve had this conversation with many people. Those, like me who have been in the process of opening a used bookstore, those whom have already opened a bookstore, and those whom just have an opinion, most people understand, or come to understand if they had not before, that selecting a specialty is incredibly important; the argument that is often made, or that I often hear, at least, is one regarding Borders or Barnes&Noble or Hastings or Half Price Books, the argument is that none of these chain bookstores have a focus. And that’s not accurate, each of them has (or had) a focus. When you walk through the aisles at CommuniTea Books you’ll often, you will most definitely discover books that you would never see at Barnes&Noble, why is that – do you think? The majority of the books I have are literary, authors like Daniel Woodrell or Richard Bradford or Bob Shacochis, they’re works are incredibly brilliant and important, so why would you find them at CommuniTea Books and not Barnes&Noble? Barnes&Noble has a similar focus to CommuniTea Books, we both provide more space for Fiction than anything else, but Barnes&Noble focuses on Commercial Fiction while I focus on, CommuniTea Books focuses on Literary Fiction. Borders, Barnes&Noble, Hastings, and Half Price Books all have (or had) a focus, each of them focuses on Commercial Fiction—Half Price Books tends to be more relaxed with their used book decision making, and will often include works of Literary Fiction, but if the choice came between an author or a title that is Commercial vs. Literary they would choose Commercial 100% of the time, and that’s because that is their focus.