The legendary Choctaw Books in Jackson, Mississippi, is one of those places that truly define a town. While Oxford has the clean and bright Square Books, all windows and staircases and gleaming paperbacks, it’s somehow more fitting that the state’s capital have a dark and mysterious little nook jammed thick with ancient and rotting tomes, bookplates signed with quill pens.
Over the years, I’ve scoured the North Jefferson building and come up with signed copies of The All-Girl Football Team, battered and moldy Reveilles from the 1930s, a tiny hardback volume of Dame St. Millay’s poetry, a quickie kiddie book about Blondie by Lester Bangs, and paperback copies of Jujitsu for Christ (one nestled on the shelf above, betwixt a clutch of Nightshades and Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rocks). In other words: the world. If you have a favorite, it is here; there has never been a time when I didn’t find something special, although rarely it’s what I was looking for at the time I entered the store.
For instance, I was heading in on this particular trip to purchase a copy of Jujitsu for Christ for Lula’s stepfather, a true lover of Southern fiction and dweller of New Orleans, who was deeply excited when I told him of the book at Christmas. I settled for a paperback copy—which I’d never seen before—and a good clean Little Rock, but he’d beat me to it, already wading through Jack’s Skillet, the rest of the Butlerian oeuvre piled on his nightstand. The thing is, I glance through the Southern stock in the front of the store fairly often, and I’d never before seen any of those books on the shelf before—not that combination—as I know for certain that I’d bought the last Hawk Gumbo and Nightshade there, just a few months before, and:
Listen, that’s the thing about Choctaw. It’s like a living, breathing creature—it changes. Just like there wasn’t any Buddy Nordan this time, there was a battered copy of Airships, inscribed lovingly from the author to a person who appeared to be a long-lost friend; there was a stack of Rolling Stones from 1988 in the back, all Janet Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney; there was the first-edition Eudora I accidentally stepped on while reaching for a copy of I Cannot Get You Close Enough. Choctaw Books is glorious in its tumbling infinity.
Read this now decade-old article about the intelligent and kind proprietor, Mister Fred Smith, an alumnus of Millsaps, and lover of books. He has been mighty fair to me over the years, always friendly, and never ceases to tease me when I am buying less then six or ten books at a time. If you have not yet done so, and you have the ability, go there this week. You can spend five dollars or five hundred. It is that kind of a place. Just be prepared to stay for a while.
Mash on this button if you want to see those Polaroids a little bigger and glance around the shelves.