When I walked into Interabang Books—Dallas’ newest independent bookstore—for the first time, I felt like I was walking into an art exhibit. My eyes were immediately drawn to the wall in the middle of the store adorned with a retro, comic-book-style mural of a man and a woman talking on telephones. Then, I was struck by the wall to my left. It was lined end to end with colorful spines, and I wondered how long it would take me to peruse every row. The wall on my right featured crisp white shelves, showcasing several selected titles with their covers facing out. Each one looked like a curated work of art.
The store’s aesthetically pleasing nature makes sense, considering one of the masterminds behind it, Jeremy Ellis, was an art history major at Texas State University. Now, he brings his artistic eye to the store. He painted the mural and changes it out every few months.
Ellis has been a part of Texas’ independent bookstore scene since 1994. He started off at Taylor’s bookstore in Dallas, then moved to BookPeople in Austin where he was the marketing director, and later worked as the general manager of Brazos Bookstore in Houston. After nearly five years in Houston, Ellis was looking to move back to Dallas, which was lacking a full-service independent bookstore at the time. When he met Lori Feathers, now Interabang’s co-owner and book buyer, and Nancy Perot, who had long had an interest in community-centered bookstores, the three teamed up. On July 1, 2017, Interabang opened its doors. Now, the 5,000-square-foot space houses about 16,000 titles.
Since it’s begun, Interabang has brought in a series of well-renowned authors for signings and readings. Author Ann Patchett spoke at the grand opening, which garnered a crowd of about 500 people. It’s only fitting Patchett christened the space—she’s sort of a symbol of success herself in the world of independent bookstores. In 2011, she opened up one of her own, Parnassus Books, in Nashville.
Some might wonder how indies can thrive in an era of Amazon and e-readers, but the independent bookstore movement has gained ground in recent years. Though they were once closing across the country, since 2009 they’ve grown in number by 40 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association. Staying relevant is all about evolving, Ellis says. Good bookstores reflect their community. At Interabang, the staff is always adapting to what patrons want, listening to them and checking sales reports to find trends. “The real product of an independent bookstore is the staff,” Ellis says. “You can get the same collection of pages from just about anyone, but you might not be able to find that collection without going to the individual who recommended something that you really loved. No algorithm can do that.”
With that in mind, I went around asking Interabang’s booksellers what books they recommend right now and why.
For teens, Melanie Thompson, the children’s events and marketing coordinator, recommends Wicked like Wildfire by Lana Popovic. “You’re going to want to visit Montenegro after reading this book,” she says. “Its gorgeous and ancient cultural setting provides a brilliant tapestry for this mysterious drama of mothers, sisters, and possibly witches to play out. Delicious to read in so many ways.”
Jack Freeman, digital marketing coordinator, loves poetry and non-fiction. For poetry, he recommends Fast by Jorie Graham, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. “This is truly ambitious,” he says. “It gets at truth with a capital-T, without being pedantic. It does what poetry tries to do: makes you feel not alone.”
For non-fiction, he recommends The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú, a memoir out Feb. 6. Cantú, a Mexican-American, spent four years as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. “You can tell what an empathetic writer he is,” Freeman says. “He’s writing as a human being who has been exposed to human suffering.”
Tyler Heath, inventory assistant, recommends Heartbreaker: Stories by Maryse Meijer. “These stories are uncomfortable and stay with you the next day like a hangover,” he claims. “Not for the faint of heart.”
Tom Blute, events coordinator, recommends Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. “It’s the third in the trilogy, and it’s a modern Russian spy thriller,” he says. He’s quick to note Matthews himself worked for the C.I.A. and included a lot of insider information in the book. It’s a wonder how he got so many details past the agency’s redacting committee.
And finally, Carlos Guajardo, store manager, recommends Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. “On a Greek island, two wealthy young women encounter a handsome Syrian refugee, whom they endeavor to help, with disastrous results,” he says. “Perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, and Saul Bellow.”