Alibi V.27 No.50 • Dec 13-19, 2018 

Culture Shock

The Literary Life

Organic Books opens up shop in Nob Hill

The Brewers
The Brewers’ Organic Books is a full on family affair.
Eric Williams Photography
Through the picture windows that look out to the street near the intersection of Carlisle Blvd. and Central Ave., two members of the family-run bookstore—Steve and Max Brewer—and I watched the foot traffic ambling by on a chilly December morning. Many passersby stopped to peer into the windows of the newly opened shop called Organic Books, and a few poked their heads in to inquire about a certain text, or just to chat. A local author stopped in to drop off a few extra copies of her freshly printed novel and an electrician wandered in from the back to give an update on a newly replaced breaker box. As we stood and idly talked over the recently installed counter, it was hard not to pump the breaks on the pace of life and settle into the relaxed tempo of the place. The atmosphere—morning light, freshly painted walls and abundant palm trees on every ledge not already occupied by a curated stack of books contributed to the out and out pleasantness of one of Nob Hill's newest additions.

An easy pace sort of comes with the territory—reading by its nature is slow, leisurely, requires a little bit of contemplation and quietude. Or at least that is how it looks from the outside, peering into the storefront from the sidewalk. “I read something that said that running a bookstore is the most over-romanticized line of work of all,” Steve laughed. “The physicality of it was surprising to me. I imagined I would sit here and visit with people and read all day, but hey—if you sell 100 books, you have to get 100 more on the shelves now.” Even as they joked about the drudgery of running a register or moving hundreds of heavy boxes full of hardcovers, the joy of seeing this dream realized is palpable.

Much of the inspiration for the shop came from Kelly Brewer, who “has spent much of her life in bookstores,” according to Steve, and is an editor with long held dreams of creating a business with her family. In addition to Steve, Max and Kelly, another son, Seth, and his partner, Jalila, are also all hands on deck at Organic Books. It was this time last year, when Max was in town from Seattle, that they started kicking around the idea. “We're all book people,” Max said. “Dad's a writer, mom's an editor, Seth's finishing school, I used to be a librarian. … We have a lot of book love and a lot of book experience.”

To heel, there was a dearth of shops like this one in the neighborhood. Aside from Bradley's Book—the legendarily well curated pop-up at Winning's—the area has only seen bookstores shutter in recent years, not open up shop. And people were craving real, physical books. “There's a lot of sensory delights in a real book,” Max continued. “It's shorting it to say that it's just a bunch of letters in a row. It's a physical object, too. And people come together around books. I don't know anybody in this town, but now I'm meeting people. You can buy a book on Amazon and read a review, but that's not the same as talking about it with your neighbor.”

Organic Books
Organic Books looks out onto Carlisle Blvd, near the corner of Central.
Eric Williams Photography

A foundational aim of Organic Books is to facilitate those kinds of discussions. “We don't want to just be a store,” Steve said. “We want people to want to hang out here.” “It's interesting,” Max dovetailed with that thought, “that books are still valuable after you've read them, but not to you as much. … It's more valuable to give it to someone else so you can talk about it.” It's so true—that to share a book that you love with someone amplifies all you've experienced within those pages. “People will bring us their whole collection,” Max said. “It's really astonishing just how much people want the books to be read—they don't want store credit or anything like that, they just want them to not be sitting in a garage.”

Through that process of exchange, Organic Books creates the opportunities to discover, creating an experience of “being around book people, … finding things you've never seen before, browsing,” as Max put it. The model of the business leaves a lot of room for that; the shelves are stocked not just with carefully selected used books, but also scads of new works from local authors. And that's it. “It's a model I've never seen before,” Steve said—and he's kind of an expert. He's written dozens of books, naturally followed by book tours that have taken him to shops all around the country.

The presence of places like Organic Books become increasingly valuable. Literal mom-and-pop shops that welcome conversation, invite you to take a seat, browse and discover new authors, stories and worlds in the cozy storefront out of the cold. Meanwhile, they also bolster the local literary scene through curation and by hosting events nearly every weekend. These include an upcoming talk on Wednesday, Dec. 26 at 6:15pm by local author and illustrator Betsy James, a close friend of Ursula K. Le Guin, followed by a new documentary on Le Guin's life at the Guild (3405 Central Ave. NE). Many more follow throughout January (stay attuned to the shop's Facebook page, @OrganicBooks)

“Books should just be a part of life,” Max said. “You shouldn't have to go out looking for them—it should be more like, oh, I stumbled through a book today.” And thanks to people like the Brewers and places like Organic Books, books remain an everyday part of the life of Albuquerque.

The shop is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm at 111 Carlisle Blvd. SE.