HOUSTON – Many fine bookshops are scattered throughout Houston. They’re generally quirky, rambling places that offer much to stimulate the mind and quiet the soul. Among their stacks, you can pluck out-of-print books from overstuffed shelves or root out gems from curated collections.
Below, we list a few of our favorite independent Houston bookstores. Happy reading friends!
Becker’s Books: “No frills, just books”
Becker’s Books is 29 years old. It’s not the oldest bookstore in town but it already feels kind of timeless. The “stacks”-style bookstore, which sells secondhand, antiquarian and out-of-print books, is 3,500-square feet of nooks, crannies and labyrinths stuffed with tens of thousands of books -- best sellers, flops and everything in between.
Here, in this bibliophile’s paradise, you get the sense you might happen upon just about anything – that is, if you’re willing to dig. It simply cannot be overstated. There are books everywhere – stacked on shelves, packed in boxes, and piled high on nearly every conceivable surface. The massive hoard is subdivided into so many sections, I lost count. Throughout the shop, there are stools and ladders for climbing, some worn chairs for quiet contemplation and an amiable staff with an encyclopedic knowledge of the bookstore’s vast inventory.
Sure, the place is a little musty and a tad disorganized, but the narrow, twisting aisles yield the most fantastic surprises – there, you can ferret out that pulpy paperback or hardcover history book you didn’t even know you needed until you laid your eyes on it. You might find a striking edition of an old favorite or an intriguing title by an author you don’t even know.
It’s an incredible, incredible thrill to browse for books here. During a recent trip, I stumbled upon a signed 1981 edition of Ray Miller’s “Eyes of Texas Travel Guide,” and a hardcover copy of “The Fault Does Not Lie With Your Set: The First 40 Years of Houston Television” – not the kind of books you’d find at Barnes & Noble. I’d know. I’ve looked.
7405 Westview Drive, (713) 957-8088, beckersbooks.com.
Quarter Price Books: “Headquarters for thinkers”
Quarter Price Books, at Shepherd Drive near Lexington Street stocks about 25,000 rare and vintage books. They fill the whole shop. They’re on shelves, in boxes, on tables, at the front desk; there are hardcovers and paperbacks; fiction, history and art. The sight, upon entering, of so many books is simply exhilarating.
The shop is a solid, slow-paced, respectful place where a strung-out city dweller like myself can while away a Saturday afternoon following a whirlwind workweek. It’s a bit curmudgeonly too, which I absolutely adore -- a sign outside the shop reads “Unlearn Stupidity And Distractions. Read More Books.” If I could underline, boldface, all-cap and circle this, I would.
Browsing at this bookstore can be pleasurably disorienting. The shelves have a logic all their own. Handwritten cards stuck here and there offer some guidance: Written on them are phrases like “The Best Literature In The World” and “Books of Proven Merit.” It’s all very validating.
3820 Shepherd Drive, (713) 520-5009.
Brazos Bookstore: “Houston’s premier independent bookstore”
If new, sleek books are what you seek, proceed to Brazos Bookstore at 2421 Bissonnet Street. It’s a sweet, tidy shop that stocks a carefully curated selection of contemporary and classic literature, poetry, art and architecture monographs, and the like. The mood inside is always serenely calm. The shelves here are meticulously ordered and the books, thoughtfully displayed. The staff is soft-spoken, knowledgeable and quite discerning.
Though the inventory here is is somewhat limited, I’ve never walked away with less than two new books in hand. The thing is, there’s no filler here. Every single title seems like a worthy prospect.
It’s worth noting that Brazos Bookstore opened back in 1974, primarily as an art and architecture bookshop. It is the hub for Houston’s literary scene. Through the years, it has hosted dozens of literary heavyweights, including the likes of Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, and Molly Ivins. Back in the day, Larry McMurtry, Edward Albee and Donald Barthelme were regulars.
2421 Bissonnet Street, (713) 523-0701, brazosbookstore.com
Murder By The Book: “One of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstores”
If you’re hunting for clues and diversions, make your way to Murder By The Book, the city’s oldest independent purveyor of mystery literature.
Opened in 1980, the independent bookstore on Bissonnet Street near Kirby markets itself as ”one of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstores.” Step inside, take a look around, and you’re inclined to believe them. There are books everywhere. The store stocks over 25,000 books -- new and used, hardbacks and paperbacks, first editions, collectibles, mystery magazines, and more. It’s gloriously niche and and a real thrill to browse.
2342 Bissonnet Street, (713) 524-8597, murderbooks.com.
Blue Willow Bookshop: “West Houston’s favorite bookshop”
Located in an unassuming strip mall at the corner of Dairy Ashford and Memorial in West Houston, this charming shop has been a bookstore since 1973 and boasts an large inventory of children’s books and adult fiction.
Blue Willow Bookshop opened in 1996, replacing the beloved Musabelle’s Books after the retirement of its owner-founder, Musabelle Naut. Since then, Blue Willow Bookshop has served as an anchor for Houston’s literary community, just as Musabelle’s did for 23 years.
The bookstore is an inviting space, warm, comforting, a balm from the chaos that is life in Houston. Hundreds of author signatures and several quotes line the walls. There are rocking chairs and tables and a thoughtful collections of titles carefully curated by the Blue Willow’s kind, bookish staff.
14532 Memorial Drive, (281) 497-8675, bluewillowbookshop.com
Kaboom Books: “Houston’s least eponymous used bookstore”
This bookstore in Woodland Heights near Downtown Houston is a paradise for stack surfers who enjoy getting their hands dusty skimming through used books. Harboring over 100,000 books sorted into 84 sections, Kaboom is a floor-to-ceiling maze of organized chaos. And it rewards the treasure seekers who love the hunt for a good book as much as sitting down with one.
If you’re lucky, you might happen upon Oliver the bookstore cat. When he’s not busy surveying his empire, he enjoys snoozing in boxes and potted plants.
3116 Houston Ave #6736, (713) 869-7600, kaboombooks.com
Our list is by no means comprehensive and we’re actively seeking recommendations. Where do you go to browse for books in the Houston area? 📚 Share your favorite bookish haunts in the comment section below ⬇