In this bookshop guide, Katy Dycus takes us on a tour of some of the best bookshops in the US city of Dallas, Texas. If there’s a bookshop that you think others should visit in a particular city, further information about contributing follows this article.
When you think of Dallas, what comes to mind? Big Tex, the Dallas Cowboys, the Kennedy assassination? What may come as a surprise is that Dallas has become a literary city in its own right, and independent bookstores are leading the way forward. Their carefully curated book selections and knowledgeable staff make book-buying much more than a transactional experience. What’s more, each of these bookshops has a hand in the larger book world, their reach extending far beyond the city of Dallas.
My first pick, Deep Vellum Books, is the outgrowth of a successful publishing house, Deep Vellum Publishing. This small, not-for-profit editorial is now the largest publisher of translated literature in the US, in addition to publishing English-language books. Publishers Weekly says that Deep Vellum has grown ‘into one of the most significant American independent publishers of translated literature of its time’.
The brick-and-mortar shop is located in the Deep Ellum neighbourhood of Dallas. Home to over 30 live music venues in the space of only a few blocks, the mural-filled streets literally buzz with energy. Deep Vellum takes its name not only from the neighbourhood in which it resides, but also from the word ‘vellum’ (from the French ‘veau’), a thick parchment made from calf skin, a staple of European bookmaking for centuries. Today, it is still used for making high-end books.
Image Credit: Deep Vellum interior. Photo by Linda Stack-Nelson.
When I stopped by the shop in September 2022, I was greeted by Deep Vellum’s founder, Will Evans, who was off to a meeting with Dallas city council. One of Deep Vellum’s books, The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City by Jim Schutze, was chosen for the city-wide book club ‘Big D Reads’. The book deals with the history of race and racism in Dallas, from slavery through to the Civil Rights movement, and it examines desegregation efforts in the 1950s and 1960s.
Deep Vellum’s commitment to community engagement is truly unmatched. So is their pledge to publish the world’s best and most diverse literature from around the world. When I was in the bookstore, I was looking specifically for a collection of Asian poetry to gift a friend for her birthday. Ashley, the bookseller on duty, guided me towards the poetry section and outlined the thematic content of several book options, until we settled on Raised by Wolves: Poems and Conversations by the Taiwanese poet Amang, translated by Steven Bradbury.
‘I think what makes Deep Vellum most special as a store is that we’re focused on books that might otherwise get overlooked,’ says Linda Stack-Nelson, Deep Vellum Book’s Assistant Manager. ‘Marginalised authors, small presses, experimental and genre-bending books—we want readers to be able to find something with us that they couldn’t find otherwise. The weird is always welcome here.’
Not only did I leave Deep Vellum Books with a poetry anthology for my friend, I also walked away with Love in Defiance of Pain: Ukrainian Stories, an anthology by 20 prominent Ukrainian authors, with proceeds going towards humanitarian aid for Ukrainians impacted by the war. The New York Times gave it a spotlight in this article.
Located in a renovated 1940s Craftsman home in the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff, a quirky neighbourhood of Dallas, Wild Detectives serves up wine, coffee and cocktails as well as a carefully curated book selection consisting of literature, poetry, graphic novels and Spanish-language books alongside vinyl records. You’ll even find hardback copies of Wild Detectives’s comic book, Reading Quirks: Weird Things That Bookish Nerds Do!
‘One of the things that distinguishes WD from other places is how many various things we can be for different people,’ says Javier Garcia del Moral, owner of Wild Detectives. ‘For some, we are a bookstore, for others a bar or a venue, and for others a place to go hang out and drink coffee, which is a fantastic compliment because it indicates that we serve a diverse group of people. This is one of our constant missions: to increase access to and the availability of certain things for everyone.’
Image Credit: Wild Detectives interior. Photo by Kathy Tran.
The bookstore bar venue is living up to its mission. On any given night, you could step into a Shakespeare performance in the backyard, a jazz or blues concert, a poetry reading (WD hosts Inner Moonlight, a monthly poetry series) or a Spanish book club. At Wild Detectives, Spanish language roots run deep. Not only does the bookshop take its name from Chilean author Roberto Bolaño’s masterpiece, Los Detectives Salvajes, but a variety of Spanish-language offerings are always on hand for Spanish-speaking bibliophiles and bilinguals in North Texas (including WD owner Garcia del Moral, a Spaniard, who owns the tapas bar Sketches of Spain down the street).
Wild Detectives has even hosted dozens of authors as part of the Hay Festival; they’ve presented voices like local author Ben Fountain and literary giant Salman Rushdie. This year’s forum included panels on topics as diverse as ‘Free speech in Cuba with Cuban journalist and writer Carlos Manuel Alvarez’ to ‘Culture clashing and literature with US author Zain Khalid, English-Spanish translator Lizzy Davis and Peruvian novelist Jeremías Gamboa’.
Most recently, Wild Detectives has started a campaign called ‘Banvertising’, standing with ‘Texans for the Right to Read’ and ‘Freedom to Read Foundation’. According to WD’s website, they’re taking ‘real, negative quotes from the people who are trying to disqualify books’ and using ‘their hateful words to promote those same books they’re trying to ban’. Why? Because books centred around complicated themes like race, conflict and sexual orientation are being banned from schools and libraries, and WD wants to do its part to keep them in circulation.
First, what is an ‘interabang’? It’s an unconventional punctuation mark used to combine the functions of the question mark (an interrogative) and the exclamation point (a bang, in typesetting lingo). The word, according to Interabang booksellers, ‘suggests the search for knowledge and the excitement of discovery’ – the primary reasons we read.
Interabang, on Lovers Lane, is your friendly neighbourhood bookseller with a wide selection of books to choose from. It hasn’t always had an easy existence, however. Brian Weiskopf, Interabang’s Business Manager, told me that the first store, established in 2017, was destroyed by a tornado. ‘But we reopened the shop within a month,’ Weiskopf says. ‘We obviously had to rebuild our stock, but because of that happening to us, we knew what to do when something like the pandemic happened. We had done curbside service before.’ Interabang staff were able to direct customers to shop with them online and place orders, and books were shipped directly from the distributor. ‘Those books we did have in stock we could bring out to folks in their car,’ Weiskopf says.
Image Credit: Interabang interior. Photo by Lewis Parry.
You can get to know more of the bookstore’s dedicated staff through their daily recommendations on the shop’s Instagram. I was equal parts stunned and elated when I saw, on the shop’s feed, that writer Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove) had casually dropped in to sign a few copies of his new book, The Winners.
Interabang’s event schedule is impressive with a near-biweekly lineup of author talks and book signings. Ann Patchett was the first, and since then Interabang has hosted a range of writers from New York Times bestselling novelists like Amor Towles (A Gentleman in Moscow), to children’s book authors, art historians, politicians, professors (the shop is located five minutes from Southern Methodist University) and chefs-turned-cookbook authors. Interabang offers up a selection of events as diverse as its books on display.
Just as important as bringing authors in is Interabang’s decision to look outwards. Each year, the bookstore partners with ‘United to Learn’ to enhance campus libraries across 47 Dallas Independent School District primary schools city-wide. Its mission to bring literature to the local community doesn’t stop at the city limits either. Lori Feathers, co-owner of Interabang and book critic, authors the essay series ‘In Context’ for Literary Hub’s Book Marks. She created the podcast, Across the Pond, with Sam Jordison, to discuss the most anticipated fiction on both sides of the Atlantic.
And just last year, Feathers launched a new book prize that brings attention to small, independent presses in America and Canada. In five years, it’s awarded more than $80,000 to small publishers. According to Feathers, as quoted from the Texas Standard, ‘such an effort is important because the book industry is dominated by just five publishing conglomerates – soon to be four. And their concern is more about market share than literary quality – or taking chances on new authors.’
The three bookshops on this list live and breathe the Cicero quote, ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’ These spaces are the soul of an increasingly literary Dallas, and they are interdependent in a lot of ways. They support one another, take turns hosting events and even ‘share’ authors. They feed Dallas residents culture and encourage thoughtful exchange around the city and beyond.
If these bookstores could talk, they would say, ‘Come visit. You are always welcome here. As we say in Texas: Y’all means all.’
Note: This bookshop guide gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Thank you to Deep Vellum, Wild Detectives and Interabang for kindly giving permission for the use of these images.
Banner image credit: Crop of Wild Detectives interior. Photo by Kathy Tran.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit, then this is your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a regular feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.
Bookshops could be academic, alternative, multilingual, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, secondhand outlets or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too and are particularly keen to feature cities outside of Europe and North America.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 150 words per bookshop, detailing why each place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.
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