"Get your lit together": That's the motto of Grawl!x and the whole idea: an informal get-together held every few months, open to all, and headed by Matt Nixon, a bookseller at the Booksellers at Laurelwood.
The most recent meeting of Grawl!x was on August 1st, but it wasn't inside the Booksellers. It was at Muddy's Grind House in Midtown, which is where Nixon and others introduced deserving but overlooked new titles that have won their enthusiasm. And no, the books weren't necessarily bestseller material. But yes, you can go ahead and label Grawl!x "a book thing." Nixon does.
Inspired by the publishers' reps who visit the Booksellers to promote forthcoming books, Nixon inaugurated Grawl!x (comic-book-speak for what would otherwise be an unprintable expletive) this past May on National Independent Bookstore Day, and he plans on holding it on a quarterly basis. Don't think of it, however, as a one-man show. It's very much, in Nixon's words, "about community":
"While I recognize the value I bring of having the inside scoop on off-the-beaten-path new and upcoming titles, Grawl!x is about people sharing the books they've recently read and found remarkable. We start with show-and-tell for everyone to share what's blown them away before I run through my roster of books."
What does Nixon look for in the books he features? "Books that I've fallen in love with or books that punch me in the face," he said. "Books that make me want to say, 'Oh shit!' or books that floor me in some way. But they're all books that I've found outstanding — intellectually, emotionally."
In addition to Grawl!x, Nixon has another book thing going. It's a book club held once a month inside the Booksellers and featuring well-known titles that members (everyone's invited) have yet to read, Nixon included. Which is why the club's called ICYMI — In Case You Missed It. The next meeting of ICYMI is Wednesday, August 12th, at 7:15 p.m., and the book for discussion is Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, which the Booksellers has discounted 20 percent for club members.
The book club launched a few months ago with Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, followed that up with Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and based on the sales of Breakfast of Champions, Nixon is seeing interest in the club increasing. How do members decide on the books to read? "We plan two months in advance, and I ask everyone to bring ideas," Nixon said. "As we grow, we'll refine the process, but it's certainly not me dictating. It's collaborative."
It also comes in the spirit of DIY. According to Nixon, "I'd never been in a book club, but I said to myself, why not? I read like a shark, always looking for the next new thing. But ICYMI is a 'forced pause' — a way of going back to read what people have been telling me for years that I need to read and never have. That's appealing." So is the interaction with fellow readers with their own catching up to do. As Nixon told the Flyer:
"The Booksellers is an independent bookstore, and we can do these types of things. I can ask myself: How can I have more interaction with people who love books the way I do? Learn from them, share with them? Nicole Yasinsky and Macon Wilson, the Booksellers' marketing team, were in love with the idea of a book club and Grawl!x too. They said, 'Let's do it!'"
Nixon grew up in Louisiana, but his mother moved to Memphis when he was 8, and he remembers visiting Davis-Kidd (the store now known as the Booksellers at Laurelwood) as a boy. He's been in Memphis now for four years after spending most of his adult life in Atlanta, and he has 15 years' work experience as a communications professional. In addition to his job at the Booksellers, he's director of communications for the Community Legal Center of Memphis. And maybe that explains it: Nixon's ability to communicate his love of books is palpable, infectious.
"I had free time and thought a couple years ago, I want to work in a bookstore. I got hired at the Booksellers, and it's like the shoes I've been looking for all my life. I'm like, ahhh. It's exceeded all my expectations. But I want to clarify: Grawl!x and ICYMI are about the community. I aspire for them both to join the growing list of cool, local things in Memphis to do."