The First Austin Bookstore Crawl
This combo self-guided tour and scavenger hunt gives readers a new reason to seek out local lit sellers
You wouldn't expect Austin's first bookstore crawl – a literary spin on the social pilgrimages usually reserved for pubs – to be the product of a University of Texas astronomy course. But the brainchild of English department students Hillary Sames and Walden Hagelman wouldn't have found life without them meeting in an obligatory science class. "We sat one chair apart until maybe the last two weeks of class," recounts Hagelman, "until I scooted over a chair, and said, 'Listen, do you want to be friends?'"
The invitation was enthusiastically accepted, and the two stayed close while Sames took a self-described "hiatus" from Austin, during which she had an internship with a sci-fi/fantasy book publisher in New York. There, she worked alongside Ellen B. Wright, who had just founded the Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl as a new way to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day (the last Saturday in April). Wright suggested that Sames bring the idea back to Austin, given the city's reputation as a literary hub. So she did, realizing that in Hagelman, Sames had the perfect partner-in-crime to help realize her bookstore crawl dreams. "Hillary pitched this idea sort of vaguely at 11:45 at night," Hagelman recalls, "and I went home and looked it up and was like, 'What actually are we talking about?'"
On the sheer number of and homegrown enthusiasm for its independent bookstores, Austin can give Brooklyn a run for its money. The big difference? Distance. "[In Brooklyn] you can walk to all of them," admits Sames. The Austin Bookstore Crawl – which includes 14 stores, including all five Half Price Books locations – spans more than 14 miles from north to south. While it will take an intrepid voyager to hit every store, the founders see the geographic range as a bonus. "It allows people to see Austin in a way they haven't before," notes Hagelman. "Each [bookstore]'s doing different work for the community."
And that's not just in terms of locations but genres. Austin Books & Comics, Dragon's Lair Comics and Fantasy, and Tribe Comics and Games are there to satisfy your superhero and sci-fi needs; Brave New Books and Monkeywrench Books are sparking curiosity and keeping Austin radical; BookWoman is a proud hub of feminist and queer community action; Malvern Books and Balcones Books entice visitors with poetry and rare finds; Half Price Books delivers amazing used book deals; and BookPeople has held the title of Texas' largest independent bookstore since 1970. Sames and Hagelman hope the Bookstore Crawl will coax readers out of their comfort zones. "Booksellers everywhere are kind of the same," explains Sames. "They just like talking about books, about books that excite them. I feel like bookstores in general are safe places for everyone."
It's easy as pie to join the April 29 festivities: Just visit any of the local stores. Sames and Hagelman have upped the ante, though, by giving "crawlers" a shot at a grand prize if they visit and complete scavenger hunt tasks at three or more stores. The truly committed, who hit every store, get five drawing entries for the grand prize: about 30 books and comics from the participating booksellers, at least $200 worth of gift cards, and assorted T-shirts, bookmarks, notebooks, and bags.
How will Sames and Hagelman spend the day of the crawl itself? Traveling store to store with a friend ("a mom friend – our biggest fans," clarifies Hagelman), but there's not much else they plan to do except enjoy the hubbub. "I think we're just going to celebrate," says Hagelman, with a laugh. "Just go to each one and go, 'There's our poster!'"