Oline H. Cogdill

The heartbreaking news and photographs show the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston and the surrounding areas.

But the news and photos also show us the spirit of people, of complete strangers coming to the aid of another. A truck driver rescued. People carrying what means the most to them—their children and pets. Volunteers from across the country who want to help.

So most people might think that reading a book is the last thing on anyone’s mind. A novel pales next to having your home and most precious possessions underwater.

But Houston bookstores also are proving that they are more than a place to buy a book, but are vital parts of their community.

Many of Houston’s bookstores seemed to have had little damage during Harvey, but, of course, are closed and have canceled events.

But these stores want to reach out to offer a bit of refuge.

That’s because brick and mortar stores do what online shopping cannot—care about the community and the residents. People aren’t just faceless customers but friends and neighbors.

McKenna Jordan, owner of Murder by the Book in Houston, reported on the store’s Facebook page that it “has a few damp places where water came in, but it is minimal compared to what we expected.”

On Monday the store opened, not to sell books but to offer a bit of comfort.

Murder by the Book, at top, offered free coffee, cookies, charging stations, Wi-Fi, and restrooms to anyone who came by. Free books also were available.

“No need to buy anything. Come visit, let us know you're OK, and take shelter from the storm. We'll be doing the same thing all week for those who can't make it,” Jordan wrote on Facebook. “Please pass this along for those who have lost electricity, or who just need a break from sitting home in the rain.”

The homes of all Murder by the Book staff are dry and have power, Jordan reported. “We're, of course, all still watching the weather, and have a few rough days ahead, but so far we feel very fortunate. Stay safe, be kind, and we hope to see you tomorrow." Of course, Jordan stressed that no one should venture out unless it is safe.

Jack Reacher also will be on hand to greet people at Murder by the Book. No, not the character in the novels, but Jordan’s dog, who was named after Lee Child’s character.

“Those who came in were SO appreciative of the coffee and being able to get out of their houses. We've all been feeling a lot of cabin fever. I expect for us to have many more in [rest of the week]. So many people are still unable to leave their immediate area,” Jordan wrote in an email to Mystery Scene.

Murder by the Book still has on its calendar appearances by Louise Penny, Tess Gerritsen, and Craig Johnson.

Book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness reported that Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston canceled its “signature poetry event of the year.” But the store’s Facebook page said, “We stopped by the shop, and all is well. We are very lucky. We continue to keep our bookselling friends and community in our thoughts and hearts.”

Before Harvey, the Galveston Bookshop in Galveston cleared its lower shelves of books and canceled upcoming events. According to Shelf Awareness, the store was “dry, undamaged as of Saturday afternoon.”

Brazos Bookstore in Houston also canceled its events, including Customer Appreciation Day. The store stated on Facebook that it “might have to retitle [the event] Hurricane Appreciation Day.” September author events remain on Brazos’ schedule, including Attica Locke’s signing for Bluebird, Bluebird, scheduled for September 13.

Katy Budget Books in Houston reported on Facebook that the store will make its decision day by day whether to remain closed.

Richard Deupree, manager of Katy Budget Books, told Shelf Awareness in an interview that “A crisis like this brings out the best in people. Utility linemen working to restore power in blistering winds and driving rain, risking their lives so others will be more comfortable. People from Louisiana (they call themselves the Cajun Navy) working their way to Houston as we speak, with small boats in tow to help with search and rescue. Neighbors helping neighbors...

“Ironic is it not: out of catastrophe comes unity."

Photo: Murder by the Book montage courtesy McKenna Jordan.