COAS: My Favorite Bookstore and Mother of My Home Library
COAS My Bookstore
Just behind the U. S. Post Office in a downtown Las Cruces mall is Coas Bookstore. In this modest building at 317 North Main Street with kind of cute 1960s style pueblo architecture hides the most magnificent book store I have ever had the pleasure to browse in at length. The establishment contains the Southwest's largest inventory of chiefly used but also new books and it is the mother of my own home library that I will share with you presently. It, too, is awesome; I hope you will agree.
I first learned of Coas My Bookstore in 1998 when I moved to Las Cruces to teach at a local high school. During our first meeting, my colleagues in the English Department were happy to share their knowledge on many helpful topics and someone mentioned Coas. She explained that a customer could take used books to the store and earn credit to trade for other books there. This was very intriguing to me because I had a mini library in my classroom with more edgy reading material than what was available in the school's library. It seemed like a good idea to change the selection for my students and frequently was ideal. The price was certainly right.
I entered the building through the mall carrying a cavas bag of books that I had bought at garage and yard sales that I no longer wanted. The clerk inspected my offering carefully seperating them into two piles. Those Readers Digest Condensed volumes that looked so nice on the shelves but were rarely read, I learned, were worthless. Still, I was handed a receipt in the amount of $32.00 and was directed to the stacks.
Gentle friend, when I say that it was like falling through the hole in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, I am not exagerrating! At first I just walked through the building astounded at the sheer volume of books. There was room after room after room of books--books from floor to ceiling, countless books.
(Illustration by John Tenniel from Alice in Wonderland)
Many sat in piles waiting to find their places place on the shelves.
A Reader's Heaven
I put the bag that held the burdensome unwanteds and my thermos of hot tea on a handsome wooden table so that I could look around in earnest unencumbered. Following the handwritten notelike signs on the bookcases, this Alice learned that there were individual rooms devoted to almost every subject imaginable.
Yes, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and the Jabberwock were there as well as every single enchanting or villainous character in the literary world that l could think of. I decided to search for kind of obscure books, ones that I had enjoyed when I was younger and had lost when I loaned them to people who had no doubt set them aside unread.
I reached way back into my reading memory and thought of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman and found it along with several of his other writings. The paperbacks were only three dollars a piece. Okay. I thought again. How about The Palmwine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola? My God, there it was. The Hawkline Monster, Tex and Molly in the Afterlife, Another Roadside Attraction They were all there.
The Humanoids by my college professor, Jack Williamson? Yes! Wampeaters, Foma, and Granfalloons. I couldn't think of a book that I didn't find. Children's literature? The Phantom Tollbooth, The 100 Dresses, Caddie Woodlawn, Ellen Tebbits. All of my favorites were there and many surprising discoveries to explore further. I had to make some hard choices that day before settling up at the front desk. But I would be back.
Collecting books is a cheap and enriching hobby.
And I was back--every single week for four years. This was my routine: I woke up each Saturday morning and attended the garage sales I found posted in the newspaper. At each, I bought the books that I thought Coas would trade with me. Las Cruces is just a few miles from an interntional border and there is large university so the population is educated and varied.
There was an amazing array of castoff books that I found in the tattered boxes people laid out on their front yards and I bought them for often less than one dollar and sometimes for a little as a dime. Coas would give me much more than what I paid for a book in store credit. I learned which books were valuable and which were not. There is a big difference between editions of the same book and a dust jacket in good condition greatly enhances its value. One signed by the author is always nice. Art books are big money.
More about the Store
Patrick Beckett, an archaelogist, founded Coas in 1984. It began as an archaeological publishing firm and eventually broadened into a community bookstore.
Coas Bookstore is family owned and staffed. Service is unparalleled and special orders are no problem. They report that business is good these days because people are looking for ways to economize and exchanging books is a way to indulge in reading on a budget. The store receives over 1000 books per day so the selection is endlessly various. Coas also features scheduled popular reading activities for children including occasional book giveaways.
Customers' trading accounts used to be kept on index cards in a file cabinet but now people can monitor their store credit online. And although the trades are only made physically at the Coas store, the business boasts free shipping within the United States on its very informative website linked below in my sources.COAS Bookstore is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Come browse a little in my home library.
My classroom's library was very nice and the students enjoyed my offbeat taste however as can be expected it was controversial and I had to have students' parental permission slips signed. What I really gained from my favorite bookstore is my own personal writer's library that I am very proud to show off. I am a little reluctant to lend. It is the library of an educated lifelong reader with very discriminating taste leaning heavily toward science fiction, modernism, postmodernism, Latino literature especially magical realism, art, theatre, Southwest, and erotica.
I noticed as I researched that the name of the store is now simply Coas Bookstore. It formerly read Coas My Bookstore as you can see in the pictures. I liked that part of the business' name, "My Bookstore," because it gave me a sense of proprietorship.
When I die, if there is an afterlife, I want this place to be my mansion framed by that Mighty Architect on High. Here is my little piece of paradise on earth courtesy of Coas, truly my bookstore.
This is only the fiction part of my book collection the majority of which were found, of course, at Coas. I built the shelves myself last summer and I love them so much. It was like I went from being a book hoarder with my stashes piled promiscuously on every single flat surface or hidden away in drawers to a refined lady with an impressive and carefully selected home library.
Because I am also an artist it was important that the shelves look tidy and so they are not arranged alphabetically nor according to the Dewey Decimal System. They instead are sorted with my own method and that means divided by whether they are hard or paper back, gathered according to sizes, and then each shelf is alphabetized. I have some authors's collected works together size not withstanding, such an F. Scott Fitzgerald shelf, John Irving section, and the Kurt Vonnegut canon with criticism.
My favorite thing to do when I am a guest at someone's house is to look at his books. Would you like to take a peek at mine? Here is the row at eye level and I would say it is representative of the others. My children have liberal access to any of the books and so you will notice a couple out of order but I will reshelf them by and by.
Thanks for reading.
Sources for Facts and Images: