The Infinite Library: Choctaw Books (Jackson, Miss.).

faked by Monday, February 2nd, 2009


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.

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7 Responses to “The Infinite Library: Choctaw Books (Jackson, Miss.).”

  1. Oh man this is a delight. I haven’t been to Choctaw since I was in college—I gotta go next time we’re in town!

  2. d-ashes says:

    I really miss that place. I consider it an honor that I’ve almost been killed by a falling stack of books in there not once, but twice.

  3. Pinky says:

    I’ve never been!! When we come down next, will you take me there?

  4. brd says:

    My oh my, how beautiful this is. It reminds me of a little shop I used to frequent in Morgantown, WV, where a I got my first copy of Kobbe’s Complete.

  5. Jack Butler says:

    Wow, a copy of The All-Girl Football Team? I presume the LSU edition? Incredible. And naturally I’m delighted to know some of my books are there (and grateful to you for spreading the word). And Airships? People had no idea what they had, I suppose.

    The fact that Airships was inscribed to a friend does not surprise me, but it saddens me. I imagine most authors know the slight melancholy that comes when you find one of your books that you inscribed to someone you thought was a) a friend and b0 perceptive. You don’t know whether to be sad that people you cared about became so desperate that they needed the few pennies they could get, or sad that they had so little sense of who you actually were and so little perception that they didn’t value the book.

    Choctaw sounds like a wonderful place.

  6. gorjus says:

    Jack, I’d written you a blurry postcard/Polaroid about what books were there, which is far too earnest to ever send. Not having your address at hand saved you!

    I’ve never seen a copy of Jack’s Skillet there, but I only go once every few months. I get into bad trouble there—like a bar with exotic beers and rare whiskeys, I wake up feeling like all my limbs don’t quite fit, seeing what’s in the bed next to me. For the sake of poetry, I didn’t list all the Barry Hannah books they had—all the same cheapy Vintage paperback, with those terrible covers—but they were all inscribed to the same person. It kind of broke my heart, a little bit, but: as you say, you never know who’s needing to cover a few debts here and there, or who was just tossing all of momma’s books out after she passed.

    Back to the list—there was word there was an uncorrected proof of J4C there, going for seventy bucks American; I didn’t see it, and purposely steered clear for a few weeks, for fear I would have to nestle it up on the shelf. I’ve gotten several hardback version there for friends or, more recently, my brother-in-law. This paperback was a new one on me, and I was tickled to find it. I need to stop having multiple copies of books, though; I worry it is uncouth.

    I did leave Mr. Smith with 3 Nightshades and a Miss Little Rock: but I suspect he has a cloning machine in the basement, where he churns out rare Butlerana for the fans and collectors.

  7. Shelley says:

    Besides my moms Gumbo, this is another very good reason why i need to get myself back to Mississippi for some visitin’. Sounds like an absolutely wonderful place!