Arts & Culture News

Where Is Dallas' Iconic Bookstore?

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Neil Gaiman once wrote that "a town isn't a town without a bookstore." Certainly Dallas is not without bookstores, from the occasional Barnes & Noble to the plethora of used bookstores to the precious Wild Detectives. But as digital media continually narrow the scope of a person's interaction with the world, giving you only click bait and "recommended for you" selections, a bookstore should be much more than your neighbor's castoffs or the literati's top picks.

"Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own," wrote Charles Scribner, one of the 19th century's greatest publishers.

It's not that people in Dallas don't read; Half Price Books reports some of its biggest sales in the Dallas markets. There are countless book clubs on seeking additional members, and the continuing education writing programs at Southern Methodist University and local community colleges fill up quickly. Like many of cultural efforts in Dallas, the push for a greater book culture is grassroots, rather than civic.

"Texas is not big on its appreciation of the arts and of reading and writing," says Thea Temple, the executive director of the Writer's Garrett. "It's just not that supportive of it. If you don't take my word for it, take a look at the funding for the institutions, look at the cuts that are happening, look at the libraries and how underfunded they are. This is not my interpretation. Texas puts its money where its values are."

With Book People in Austin, not to mention the Texas Book Festival, and Houston's smaller staples, Brazos Bookstore and Kaboom Books, it seems that Dallas is the furthest behind. Perhaps this could be linked to the lack of a downtown university or our struggling library system.

Earlier this year, the Friends of the Dallas Public Library appeared before the City Council to demand more money for the library, which at the beginning of April was "the most poorly funded public library in the United States," the group's Karen Blumenthal said. At the beginning of 2014, Dallas ranked 37th in a survey of the literacy rates of the country's 77 largest cities.

One of Half Price Books' initiatives in Dallas to promote literacy is to donate books to schools that have desolate libraries. Doyle Thomas says she's shocked when she visits schools in the Dallas Independent School District to find how empty some of the school libraries can be. "We need to get books in children's hands if we expect them to grow into lifelong readers," she says.

But that prompts the question of how to strengthen the infrastructure of the small but growing literary scene that exists today. In just a few months of its existence, Wild Detectives has given a home to disparate members of the Dallas literary community, from authors to readers. But without a bigger shell for the nascent scene to grow into, will the seeds being planted now ever take root? For writers like Tierce, Dallas leaves something to be desired.

"There aren't very many writers in this town," she says, counting off a few on one hand. "That's great for my ego, but it doesn't make Dallas a great place to live as a writer."

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart