Open books, open minds: Literarity invites curious readers to explore


Sergio Muñoz

Literarity is owned by Bill and Mary Anna Clark, a husband and wife duo.

Elenie Gonzalez, Staff Reporter

In a digital age where iPads and Kindles are often used to read the latest books, there are still those who prefer to pick up the traditional paperback or hard-cover book.

Books have the ability to transport readers to different worlds, and through their pages expose readers to countless amazing experiences.

This is what Bill and Mary Anna Clark, a husband and wife duo, had in mind when they decided that is was time for them to open up their own brick and mortar bookstore. They opened Literarity Book Shop, located at 5411 N. Mesa St., this past summer. Literarity is a play on the words literature and rarity, and they specialize in books that are rare and hard to find.

Starting the 1980s in Los Angeles until their move to El Paso in 1993, the Clarks have been creating their own library of solid literature by collecting books from various bookstores over the last 30 years.

Upon walking into Literarity, one will find this store is unlike any bookstore in El Paso. It truly feels like walking into someone’s private home library.

“This is a store for people who love books,” said Mary Anna Clark, whose mother helped in the founding of her hometown library in northeastern Arkansas. “We make it more homey so people can come in and relax and take the time to browse.”

The store, which opened July 5, may look like it has a small selection due to its size, but the Clarks have tens of thousands of books from their collection ready to shelve.

They like the fact that it is a smaller store because it holds a truly curated selection. It is a place where the owners offer select books that are different, interesting and hard to find–unlike other bookstores.

“We’re more of a shop for curious readers and for people who love to browse,” said Bill Clark, a former journalist and writer. “We have a lot of books that are not in stock at Barnes and Noble, we have a lot of books that are out of print. We have collectible books. We have fine leather bindings. We have many books that are not readily available at other stores or online.”

A unique aspect of Literarity is that the Clarks are passionate about the books they sell. They have a lot of knowledge and love to take the time to talk to visitors about books and ask questions about what they like to read, hoping to direct them to discover something they may enjoy reading.

“We are people who love books and are willing to spend time with our visitors to find out what kinds of things they like, their interests, past books they’ve read and what they are reading now,” Bill Clark said.

The Clarks are always eager to welcome new and frequent customers into their bookstore. Their intention is for customers of all ages to walk in with curiosity, discover new or unheard of titles and leave a lasting impression, along with a book that will expand their minds.

Upon the opening of the bookstore, they have found themselves making many new friends along the way. Other avid readers like themselves, including UTEP students and professors, have become frequent visitors to the store. This has inspired the Clarks to host events and readings featuring UTEP professors as well.

UTEP English Professor Brian Yothers is one of the many professors from the community who often visits the store. He believes that it is one of the most exciting places in the city for those who love books and have an interest in literature, the arts and the humanities.

“It’s very important for our community to have a place where books are available beyond the latest crop of bestsellers, and it’s particularly important to have a space where books are cherished,” Yothers said. “I’m excited by the fact that the proprietors are looking at ways to bring the community together around literature in the manner of bookstores like City Lights in San Francisco that have become cultural hubs for their community.”

Being an expert in literature himself, he knows a good book when he sees one. And being a regular at Literarity, he knows the Clarks have one of the best collections around.

“I appreciate the fact that the owners themselves are book lovers and most especially lovers of literature and poetry,” Yothers said.

Each section of the shop has its own special place. From poetry to travel to the film and TV, each bookshelf contains Scrabble pieces that spell out the genre of the book selection. And this store contains every selection imaginable, including a small collection of vinyl records.

The Clarks opened Literarity, not only to fulfill a dream, but also to create a place in El Paso that creates a hub of ideas and a place where they can bring people together to explore those ideas.

“There’s a sign on our back wall that says ‘Open Books Open Minds,’” Bill Clark said. “Books inspire people, they introduce you to other worlds, other cultures to help you understand other people, and books are more important now than ever.”

The couple, who used to spend every weekend in bookstores while they lived in Los Angeles, are now spending nearly every day in their own bookstore.

“The fun part about this store is the in the way we designed it, we hope to encourage people just to browse,” Mary Anna said. “You may come in looking for something specific, but you may find that little gem you didn’t know existed.”