10 Must-Visit Independent Austin Bookstores
For those still enamored by the written word
By Sam Russek,
8:00AM, Sat. Jun. 29, 2019
The best way to learn about a new place is to find out what the people there are reading. What kind of books are they surrounding themselves with? Where do they go when they’re looking for something new to read?
Diverse, weird, and fiercely independent, Austin’s bookstores reflect the attitude of the city itself. From Lamar to North Loop, Burnet to Cesar Chavez, the following list collects booksellers of all kinds, all of which are unique to our town.
The most well-known of Austin’s independent bookstores, BookPeople has stood proudly on the corner of Sixth and Lamar since 1970. It was voted Best Bookstore in Austin by Chronicle readers for over 15 years and Publisher’s Weekly’s bookstore of the year in 2005. There’s something for everyone here. Enjoy coffee and pastries in their indoor cafe and browse two floors of books, knickknacks, and gifts. The location also hosts a range of book signings, from local favorites to former presidents.
Established in 1983, Resistencia Bookstore on East Cesar Chavez shares its home with Red Salmon Arts, a grassroots cultural arts organization focused on Native American, Chicanx, and Latinx literature. The founder of both, Raúl Salinas, was a world-renowned poet who served 12 years in jail for nonviolent drug offenses. He committed the rest of his life to social justice and uplifting emerging voices in indigenous communities until his death in 2008. This bookstore continues his work, stocking the shelves with emerging writers and frequently hosting poetry readings, open-mics, and film screenings.
Located on the corner of Rio Grande and West 29th, Malvern Books showcases writers and independent publishers. The owners named the store after the Malvern Hills in Medieval Middle English poet William Langland’s epic, The Vision of Piers Plowman, a lesser-known work comparable to The Canterbury Tales. The store hosts book and poetry readings, musical performances, and provides space for book clubs. Staff recommendations alone make the trip more than worth it.
Radicals in the 1970s environmentalist movement used the term “monkeywrench” to describe sabotaging machinery, be it literal machines or socio-political structures. Collectively owned and volunteer-run, this bookstore labels itself "anarchist" and doubles as a hub and social space for activists. This is the one-stop shop for anyone primed for revolution. The brick and mortar location on North Loop opened in 2002 and sells everything from Chomsky to Che. They show and discuss movies, host songwriting workshops, and advocate for “something radically different.”
Brave New Books
This is the yin to Monkeywrench’s yang: an anti-state, libertarian bookstore on Guadalupe. Stocking books on survivalism, government-involved false-flag terrorism, homeschooling, and family yoga, the store doesn’t shy away from conspiracy wherever it might be found.
Dubbed “the only feminist bookstore in Texas,” BookWoman settled on North Lamar in 2008. Originally named the Common Woman bookstore, based on the Judy Grahn poems of the same name, it was designed by a women’s collective to champion feminist and queer authors in 1973. Migrating from a small upstairs shop on Guadalupe to owner Susan Post’s house, the collective eventually dissolved and the store rebranded itself. Despite the changes in name and ownership, the store’s goal remains the same. Visit for the well-stocked bookshelves, posters, and T-shirts. Stay for the book discussions, author signings, and thriving feminist community.
Among other rare finds, Balcones Books on Hancock Drive near Perry Park is home to a first print edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The bargain shelves are eclectic and packed with books new and old. You’re just as likely to find a rare book on physics as you are a mint-condition novel by a well-known author.
This 7,000 square foot space on Burnet combines discarded books from Austin Public Library with community donations to recycle and repurpose books otherwise destined for a landfill. The books here are cheap, ranging from 50 cents to $2 each. All proceeds from this volunteer-run organization go to the Austin Public Library.
South Congress Books
The emphasis at South Congress Books lies in quality over quantity. Shelves are curated with vintage children’s books, original music posters, artwork, vinyl, and rare first editions. Owner Sheri Tornatore opened the store in 2011 when many other booksellers were closing their doors. The space is small, intimate, and feels like a personal library collected over many years. The books are far-ranging in genre and style, perfect for reader and collector alike.
12th Street Books
This bookshop specializes in literary first editions, small-press books, fine bindings, and books by and about Texas writers. Located on West 12th Street, the store is open Thursday through Saturday or by appointment.