Last April, UTA invited us to give a talk as part of their TEDx 2016 program. It was a great opportunity and a considerable challenge -we don’t usually talk to large crowds outside bars. After overcoming our stage fright, we managed to put this talk together and present the ideas behind this dream-project of ours: The Wild Detectives. Pardon our accent and hope you like it!
TEDx Talk at UTA
Why did we add a bar to our bookstore?
This painting is called La Tertulia del Café de Pombo which translates into English The Talk at Pombo Cofee House, something along those lines. It portrays some of the intellectuals that used to gather at Café de Pombo. The guy standing is Ramón Gómez de la Serna. He’s the guy who introduced the avant-garde to Spanish Literature with his own kind of short witty aphorisms, sometimes phillosophical, sometimes hilarious, slightly surreal like: “The most important thing about life is not to die,” or “Time tastes like dry water”…
This painting is a good example of how Coffee Houses became the places for intellectual exchange in 18th Century Europe. You put people from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise together, you serve them this new stimulating beverage and boom! they start talking to one another. In groups. Non stop. They have conversations in which ideas are shared, assimilated, processed… allowing new ideas to sprout. Author Steven Johnson suggests that Coffee Houses were crucial in the development of the Enlightenment. In a way you could say that Modernity was “brewed” in Coffee Houses all along Europe.
But is it coffee what they really drank in those gatherings?…
Well, it doesn’t look like, does it?
Let’s move on to some other significant places in space and time in which thinkers, artists and writers and, very important, common people used to gather sharing experiences and feeding each others’ story-tellings.
This is Davy Byrnes in Dublin. It became a literary institution during the late 19th century in times of the Anglo-Irish literary revival. James Joyce used to drink here at the beginning of the following century and here is where he brought his character Leopold Bloom in the Ulysses. And it seems that Samuel Beckett was also another regular customer.
City Lights Books, in San Francisco, a bookstore this time–and the mecca of the Beat Generation in the 50s and 60s. This bookstore appears in Kerouac’s novels, and most of Beat writers were published here. The name of the bookstore couldn’t be more accurate, City Lights has been–and still is– one of the most important beacons of counterculture and progressive politics in America.
This is Cafe La Habana in Mexico. Apparently, it is from here that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara planned the Cuban Revolution in the 50s. Some time later, in the 70’s, a young Roberto Bolaño conspired from these tables their plot against the Mexican literary establishment, along his fellow infrarrealist authors.
Café la Habana was renamed Café Quito in Bolaño’s Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Detectives), the book he wrote about those years of literary madness in Mexico.
Here we have Roberto Bolaño and his friend Mario Santiago around that time as fearsome Infrarrealists.
They look like a couple of friends peacefully enjoying some tacos but more than likely they are thinking about how to sabotage Octavio Paz’s next talk.
Ok, this is 2009, Austin. Me and my business partner Paco are enjoying a hot dog from Hot Dog King. You could say that we were big into The Savage Detectives considering the similarities with the previous image.
And in fact we were. Mexican author Juan Villoro says about that book that “The savage detectives are life investigators, inspectors of the experience.” We absolutely connected with that idea.
Paco and I met in Dublin in 2004. At the time we were two engineers with zero experience but very eager to gain some in this new city and its bars.
In 2007, while we were still living in Ireland, we made a road trip in the US. During that trip Paco was reading The Savage Detectives. He usually underlines the books he reads and I could see that he was underlining that book a lot.
Some months later, we travelled to Australia, and I finished up reading the book. I remember telling Paco in a bar in Melbourne, that I somehow felt safe that I hadn’t read that book when I was much younger because it could have changed my life. I was wrong.
During all those travels around the world, in all those conversations in countless bars, we always fantasized with the idea of opening the perfect spot, a place where the all the things we like could happen.
Paco was relocated in Dallas in 2008, and I in 2012 after 4 years in Austin. 8 years later since we first met, Paco and I were again in the same town. It was now or never.
So we did it. And that’s how our enthusiastic beer fueled conversations became a reality: we opened The Wild Detectives, our bookstore bar in Oak Cliff, Dallas in February 2014.
The Wild Detectives is the result of 10 years of friendship wishing for a space that could mix literary stuff and hanging out.
Our plan is clear: feed them culture, get them talking. All we do –our readings, our shows, our festivals, our plays– gravitates around that idea.
For example, ordering books: if you don’t find a book on our shelves you can order it from us. Once we have it, we’ll let you know, and instead of charging you with shipping costs we’ll get you a drink on the house once you pick it up. Quite cool, don’t you think?
One thing we didn’t like it’s that people use to come to the shop on weekends to work on their laptops. Maybe it was the books, the library feeling, I don’t know. We finally decided to switch off the Wi-Fi during the weekends, because weekends are about disconnecting. We want people to talk to each other, we don’t want people hiding behind a computer.
Conversation and human interaction, those are the raw materials stories are made.
Conversations are key. We wonder once if Hemingway, Faulkner or Kerouac had become Hemingway, Faulkner or Kerouac had they just sat behind their typewriters? No. They went out and lived. They probably drunk oceans of liquor in the process, but they certainly lived and then they used it all in their stories.
Conversation and human interaction, those are the raw materials stories are made. What we’re trying to do at The Wild Detectives is to provide the space that facilitates people to be part of other people’s stories.
Now let me ask you what are the conversations you remember most fondly, those that still sound as you had them yesterday and the people you talked to are still warm in your heart.
Let me tell you about one of mine. It was a summer night, with a couple of friends by the beach in the North of Spain. I was 20 and we had just come back from a trip to London. We talked about books we liked, I vividly remember a moment in the conversation in which we were talking about The Black Cat by Poe. We were so into the story that when a black cat turned up it scared the shit out of us. A very creepy moment to be honest. But I specially remember how we connected at a different level after that, how we ended talking about girls we liked and especially about those who didn’t like us enough. Those guys are still two of my best friends.
We started sharing ideas about books we liked and we ended opening up for a more intimate conversation. Maybe because Literature is mainly about life, and move from the book story to YOUR story is actually very easy. But we also felt connected by sharing something we enjoyed alone. Because unlike movies, or music, reading is not usually a social activity.
When reading, we miss most of the times the connection, the communion we feel when we share something we love with somebody. That’s why we think that having a conversation about a book or an author you love is almost as important as reading them. Books are so much better when you share them!
It’s also important to talk about these things, so that they don’t get neglected or considered special things for special people, not just books, also classical music, jazz or poetry. You heard people saying that guy read poetry, or that guys listens to classical music, like if it was something out of normal, we can’t let that happen to books, poetry and classical music are almost lost guys, and we need to bring that back!
But everyday life doesn’t foster these kind of conversations. Say you are in the office, and this guy asks you hey whats up? Did you watch the game last nite? Oh, actually not, I was reading Crime and Punishment from Dostievsky, and man, it is driving me crazy how this guy in the novel justifies the act of killing…
That wouldn’t work. The other person may just press the alarm button and start screaming. These conversations need its own space, its tempo, its foreplay in a way…
It’s in bars where we connect with strangers. It’s in bars that we are as eloquent as we get. We want our space to encourage people to have a drink and talk to one another, to open up and share ideas, to hang out smartly, to engage in a conversation that will open new realities for them. That’s what talking culture does. It opens spaces that weren’t there before. Because culture accumulates into more culture.
When you read a book, learn something, and then share it, that insight will spread and replicate through others. Reading is not just good for you… it’s good for all mankind!
In these Google times, voice worths more than information. Voice is how singularities are added to the stream of culture. Voice is experience distilled. We all have one and all of them are invaluable.
So read a book, have a drink and share your voice with all of us.