Books editor Clay Smith surveys what the September 11 attacks have done to several local bookstores' sales.
"What's a serial killer who's killed 12 women to a madman who killed 6,000?" Willie Siros, the owner of Adventures in Crime & Space Books, asked me recently. He didn't really need me to answer that question, thank God, but his ability to ask it is an indication why sales of mystery books have dropped precipitously since September 11 at the local science fiction, fantasy, and mystery specialty store. Who cares about fictional mayhem when there's so much of the real stuff to ponder? Sales in September were down 50% at Adventures from September 2000, though August sales were up 3%-5% from last year. "When Dell announced all of their layoffs, we had our worst April ever because people just went, 'Whoa! If Dell's laying people off ...' It was one of those indicators that people get weird about. But September was just sucking wind," he reports. Some authors who had planned to read at the store canceled their book tours or had their tours canceled by their publishers. The fall crop of mystery and fantasy titles has thus far proven to be lackluster, Siros says, with no new titles from store favorites J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Neal Stephenson, or Bruce Sterling to boost traffic. "For the fantasy and science fiction people, escapist literature is escapsist literature," Siros says, but that's not enough to keep the store in the black. What does Adventures need in order to survive? "For people to behave normally," Siros says, and buy some books... Just six blocks north of Adventures, Book Woman was having a good day: bell hooks had just been confirmed for a November 1, 7pm, reading. Book Woman owner Susan Post says she experienced an initial drop in business after September 11, but the trend hasn't lingered because "we're not really about any specific book. People are making a concerted effort to come here," she told me... BookPeople customers are going "straight to the source" according to marketing director Jeremy Ellis, by snatching up all copies of the Koran and books about the Middle East. "Bin Laden's using the Koran as a weapon," Ellis says, and "most of the people who shop here are spiritually minded, that certainly arises from our history."... But don't go to BookPeople tonight if you were planning on attending Adam Gopnik's reading; he's staying in New York... Carol Hanbery MacKay, an associate professor of English at UT, uncovers covert revolutionaries for women's advocacy in Creative Negativity: Four Victorian Exemplars of the Female Quest. She'll be at Book Woman on Friday, October 19, from 5-7pm... Funny man Owen Egerton, one-third of Mr. Sinus Theater, will be reading from and signing his novel Marshall Hollenzer Is Driving at Borders North (10225 Research) on Saturday, October 20, at 2pm... Local mystery maven Jan Grape has published her first mystery novel, Austin City Blue (Five Star Mysteries, $23.95), whose heroine is a female APD officer. Grape wanted to have her book-launch party at the Police Academy, where she attended training for research purposes, but they don't exactly allow parties there, so the launch is at Dart Bowl (5700 Grover) on Sunday, October 21, from 3-5pm. Check out www.jangrape.com for more info... Former San Antonio resident John Phillip Santos, author of the cultural memoir Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (1999), is at work on his next book, The Farthest Home Is in an Empire of Fire, but he's coming to Austin to give a lecture titled "Can We Remember When We Forgot Aztlan?" on Thursday, October 25, at 7pm, in St. Edward's Ragsdale Center, Ballroom A. Call the Texas Fine Arts Association, who is sponsoring his visit, at 453-5312 for more information... Bud Shrake has a new novel, Billy Boy (Simon & Schuster, $24), set in Ft. Worth in the early Fifties involving an initially hapless young golf caddy. He'll be at Barnes & Noble Arboretum on Friday, October 26, at 7pm... Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott will give a reading on Friday, October 26, at 8pm in the Jones Auditorium at St. Edward's. Call 416-5809 for more info... Chris Offutt, author of The Good Brother, Kentucky Straight, and Out of the Woods, will speak at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center in Kyle on Monday, October 22, at 7:30pm. Call 512/245-7681 for more information... Southwestern University is hosting Russell Banks as part of their Writer's Voice series. Banks will speak on Tuesday, October 30, at 7:30pm in the Alma Thomas Theater. Admission is free, but you need to make reservations by calling 512/863-1561.