It’s like Starbucks, with arguably better coffee and unarguably better food. It’s like the bar on Cheers, the neighborhood joint where everyone knows your name. It’s one of the showcases of what the local poet Greg Brownderville calls the BAD (acronym for Bishop Arts District). It’s in Oak Cliff, Dallas’ Brooklyn, our borough on the other side of the river.
It’s The Wild Detectives bookstore, flourishing in a city not noted for literary concerns, where an evening featuring local writers Ben Fountain and David Searcy can bring a crowd that tests the fire laws and fills the small frame house at 314 W. 8th Street from front to back and top to bottom.
It’s the brainchild of Javier García del Moral and Paco Vique, two Spanish civil engineers who fetched up on American shores, del Moral in Austin, in 2008, and Vique in Dallas, in 2009. When del Moral moved to Dallas in 2011, they started planning The Wild Detectives (the name comes from Roberto Bolaño’s 1998 novel Los Detectives Salvajes). It opened at the end of February 2014. Against all odds, it remains not only in business but also healthy.
The store has a comforting ambience and an odd—for this city—selection of books, with not a lot of popular or lowbrow things. Forget self-help and romance; I saw Jonathan Franzen there but certainly not much else in the bestsellers categories. But it has no lack of European and Latin American work, in translation as well as the original languages. I raced to the poetry section, which contains some familiar names (Mark Strand, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, Kenneth Koch, Marilyn Hacker) and plenty of more obscure ones. There are racks of LPs, some from the psychedelic ’60s, some of cool jazz (Ornette Coleman, Stan Getz), and long oak tables. The space combines order and a sense of inventive chaos. Searching for a word to describe the conviviality, I thought in German rather than Spanish: Gemütlichkeit!
It is not a temple of commerce. This will never suit someone who demands the variety and predictability of Barnes & Noble. The shelves are stocked with more than 2,000 books, a mere pittance. You won’t go there to find something you need, but once you start browsing, you’ll probably find something you decide you want more. Serendipity, which is the bibliophile’s greatest joy, is the principle of operation.
On weekends, the tempo changes, when the store has declared itself a wireless free zone (“Because weekends are about disconnecting,” says a wall sign). The older technologies take over, technologies like live conversation and silent reading. Because The Wild Detectives provides such a warm, well-lighted place for people to meet, gather, eat and drink, talk, think, and write, it feels like a privilege rather than a restriction.