In recent years, the opportunities to safely visit bookstores, to listen and to learn from professional booksellers, have been limited. This has made things difficult for independent publishers like Europa because it is in conversation with booksellers that we take the temperature of American readers and gauge how successfully our publishing programs are landing with the readers who count. Rather than let our connection with booksellers languish even longer, at Europa we've recently decided to get back out on the road and to start listening and learning again.

Texas was an obvious choice for a short bookstore tour not only because it boasts many fine bookstores, but also because it is emblematic in many ways of large swathes of this country. Somewhat unsurprisingly, what I encountered while planning this trip were a great many guffaws, grimaces, and supercilious grins from industry colleagues when I gave Texas as my destination. What I encountered during my trip, on the other hand, were pockets of real resistance, dynamic, highly sophisticated, foreword-thinking bookstores dedicated to inspired browsing, bright repose, community, and, often, progressive politics.

When Bookwoman opened in Austin 47 years ago there were over 100 feminist bookstores across America. Now, says owner Susan Post, there are about a dozen, and only four that have been in business for as long as Bookwoman. The closure of so many stores committed to the Struggle doubtless has much to do with pernicious forces like high rents, competition from online retailers, and thin margins. Nonetheless, I can’t help feeling it’s no coincidence that of those four surviving feminist bookstores founded in America in the 1970s, one is in Texas. Because in Texas they have never forgotten what has now dawned on the rest of the country: that the Struggle is not over, it never was, and it likely never will be.

Interabang’s first location in Dallas was destroyed by a tornado in 2019, and its new location opened right as we were all learning how to open doors with our elbows. It was a shaky start, but I visited the store on the day of its fifth anniversary, and, with an inventory supercharged by the inspired buying of Lori Feathers, a store full of well-wishers, a staff of personable and passionate booksellers, and ownership committed to both the store’s existence and to the retention of its booksellers, this impressive, independently minded indie store looked to me like it was in Dallas to stay.

Across town, in Deep Ellum, an historically rich and culturally diverse neighborhood of loft housing, funky watering holes, and live music venues, is Deep Vellum bookstore, boasting an impressive, well curated selection of translated and independently published titles. In the Bishop Arts neighborhood of Dallas there’s the redoubtable Wild Detectives—bookstore, bar, hang-out, yard, community hub, with a world-class restaurant down the street; the small but delightful Poets Oak Cliff Bookshop; and only a short drive away, the family- and kids-lit-forward Whose Books.

The bookishness doesn’t stop at Dallas city limits. In Fort Worth, there’s Barber’s Books (new and used and haunted) and, in the splendidly decadent former Denton opera house, Recycled Books offers first editions, used books, magazines, records, and…weird stuff.

Heading south in the mind-muddling July heat I stopped in Waco at a biblioasis called Fabled Books. They were readying a front table display while I was there featuring books from every country in the world.

Austin is everybody’s favorite Texas exception and perhaps that took a little bit of the shine off the city for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptional bookstores in Austin, but I was expecting them and being proved right is never quite as interesting as being proved wrong.

BookPeople is the granddaddy of Texas bookselling. Opened in 1970, it’s a three-story emporium representing the full depth and breadth of book retail. An almost unbroken thread of staff recommendations at eye-level provides the store’s superb through-line. Reverie Books in South Austin is an exemplary, beautifully designed neighborhood store that also has the makings of a first-rate destination store with its inventory of quality bestsellers mixed, sometimes provocatively, with titles by LGBTQ and feminist writers and books by independent presses and writers of color.

I stopped at Jenny Lawson’s wonderful, new(ish) Nowhere Bookshop in the Terrell Hills neighborhood of San Antonio on my way to Houston and got some terrific recommendations from booksellers.

I’ve always found the owners of Blue Willow Books in Houston to be sympatico whenever I run into them at Winter Institute and the now retired BEA and seeing their store in person was a real treat for me. Their booksellers’ enthusiasm for authors, their customers, and the store itself was contagious.

Everything about the recently remodeled River Oaks branch of Barnes & Noble in Houston was impressive, from the tasteful furnishings to the title selection to the smart and friendly booksellers. If more Barnes & Noble locations get the River Oaks treatment, American readers might indeed get the national chain they deserve.

Houston’s Brazos Books is one of America’s great destination stores. It deservedly enjoys a national reputation among discerning readers thanks largely to its commitment to literature in translation and independently published books. Across the street from Brazos, Murder by the Book is one of the country’s few remaining specialized mystery stores and to judge from the expert bookselling I witnessed while there, it’s future is assured.

“The good bookstore sells books, but its primary product, if you will, is the browsing experience,” writes author and bookseller Jeff Deutsch in his recent book In Praise of Good Bookstores. If Deutsch is right, and I suspect he is, one store that I visited in Texas stands out.

Malvern Books is a cool, sober, spacious store with few display tables. Most of the inventory is on the walls, spine-out. There is a formidable Poetry section and even a Poetry in Translation section. Most titles in the store are published by local or indie presses, written by local authors, or are in translation. New Directions, Graywolf, Wave, Transit Books, Cinco Puntos, Deep Vellum all loom large in the store; New York Review of Books has its own corner; the few corporately-published books available in the store are not the same ones you’re likely to see marketed onto the bestseller lists. At Malvern Books, the browsing experience—that hallmark of a good bookstore—is of the superior kind.

I would have liked to meet the person responsible for such a marvelously well curated bookstore, and to thank him for the minutes I spent browsing the shelves of his store. But I didn’t get the chance while i was in Austin, and, tragically, Joe W. Bratcher III, the owner and founder of Malvern Books, passed away not a week after my visit to his store. In lieu of thanking him in person, I dedicate these few words to his memory, to his unique kind of resistance, and to the inspired browsing experience at which Malvern Books excels.

Michael Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Europa Editions.