My/Your Favorite Books:

Open-Mic Nights, Cult Classics, and the Personalization of Loving Something Before It Becomes Cool

By Sage Webb


Last week, Liz posted about a birding book and how sometimes the big presses do just get the worms. Her review got me thinking, especially because I’ve grown a bit weary of seeing mostly *crawdads and normal people* on what feels like “every” book platform and in every bookstore. In no way do I want to denigrate what Delia Owens and Sally Rooney have achieved. Truly: go them!


But I remember being a stupid kid sleeping on couches in Irvine, California, in the ’90s and having a buddy rave about how he’d seen Gwen Stefani and No Doubt playing locally “before they got big.” This guy also bragged about how he’d liked Dave Matthews before anyone knew who Dave Matthews was.


For me, finding that “underground” book that rings true in all the right places has the same sort of effect. As someone lucky enough to live near a great listening room (Galveston’s Old Quarter Acoustic Café), I get to enjoy hearing Texas (and beyond) singer-songwriters share unique, moving, authentic material. (History buffs, take a listen to George Ensle’s “Christmas Truce of 1914.”) The Old Quarter also offers vibrant open-mic nights, with local musicians baring their souls in an intimate, supportive environment of fans who seek out the opportunity to enjoy the esoteric. Regardless of what’s on the playbill, a night at the Old Quarter provides a complete experience: maybe a dinner with friends on the sea wall, a stroll down the old Strand, sitting and chatting in the café with a Topo Chico before the show, a companionable performance with solid music that no one can call canned, and the obligatory after-show walk to discuss lyrics, melody, and the meaning of eternity. “Discovering” that other-side-of-the-bestseller-list gem offers me the same thrill.


When I find a gorgeous, under-recognized book (perhaps with an interesting story behind it), I feel like I’m somehow in on a secret. The book becomes a little more “mine” because I share knowledge of it with fewer fans. The accident of discovery personalizes the work for me. And when I fall in love this way, I (is it paradoxical?) feel compelled to tell other biblio-fans about this thing “I” found. With a smaller following, the book takes on the feel of a cult classic, with we as its loyal supporters forming an “in crowd” around it. I suppose in some ways that’s why I do Read Local® and why I can’t wait to read a San Antonio author’s debut novel that is sitting in my P.O. box right now.