Kim Malcolm’s Aurora Books: Filling a Community Need

One of her fondest childhood recollections, Kim Malcolm told me last week when I interviewed her at her new bookstore in San Miguel, was of visiting bookstores with her father when she was a young girl growing up in southern California.

“All my life I’ve been a voracious reader,” she said, “and I have very romantic memories of spending time with my father in bookstores. It was almost the only time we were together because he worked so many hours. He would take me to Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena, and it was always the best hour of my week.”

Now, today, at age seventy and retired from a long career in government in the California Bay Area, Kim is the happy and proud owner of a brand new English-language bookstore here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, called Aurora Books.

Kim in her new bookstore, Aurora Books

Was this a dream-come-true for her? I asked her.

“Well, in a way,” she told me. “But I never really imagined that I would actually open a bookstore because I’ve never run a business nor thought I would. And then this whole vision just happened seamlessly and organically, only in the last two years.

“I simply believed that San Miguel needed an English-language bookstore. I’ve traveled to lots of different countries and I’ve found English-language bookstores in as far-flung places as Tunis, Tunisia; Istanbul, Turkey; Antigua, Guatemala; and Hanoi, Viet Nam. So if those places can sustain a bookstore business, I felt sure San Miguel can. We are such an important literary center in this part of the world.

“Coincidently, this space opened up recently, and it was perfect for my vision of what I would want in a bookstore – lots of light, a good complement to the other small businesses here, and a place of community for San Miguel residents.”

Kim with a new customer

A little like American author Ann Patchett, who famously opened a bookstore of her own in Nashville, Tennessee, Kim is not only a bookstore owner now, she is also a published author. Her memoir, A Country Within, vividly recounts her experience working with refugees in Greece. I asked her to talk a bit about this:

“In 2014 I decided to take a leave of absence from my work and do a six- month, around-the-world trip. When I came back, I quit my job and became nomadic for most of seven years. During that time I found myself on the island of Lesbos in Greece, when dozens and dozens of boats were coming to Lesbos’s shores every day with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

“I was so moved by what happened on the island, how local people were taking care of these refugees who came with nothing – hungry and cold and traumatized – that I ended up spending about eight months in Greece, working with the refugees and being a part of their community. So I wrote about that and how life-changing it was for me in A Country Within.”

Kim also writes an exciting travel blog, which has taken me to places I’ve never been and had never thought of visiting. I asked her to tell WOW readers about her blog:

“Because I had no plan when I set out on my world travels – I often decided where to go on the spur of the moment – the blog began as a way to share my whereabouts with family and friends and make them feel confident that I was safe.

“And then it turned into something more important to me. It became a way of thinking about the world and what I was seeing. It gave me a way to analyze or organize my thoughts and my feelings and make connections in my thinking. I paid more attention when I knew I would write about something. It’s not a travelogue, it’s impressionistic. You don’t need to be a world traveler to be entertained by it.”

Of course I needed to ask Kim, who turned seventy only a few months ago, for her thoughts on the aging process and on what she sees as the advantages and disadvantages of getting older:

“Well, I try not to think about the disadvantages – such as my ankles and calves hurting from San Miguel’s cobblestones! But the advantages are that I feel emboldened to take some risks that will enrich my life and help me to keep learning and keep me connected to my community – whether that’s my community in San Miguel or the community of the world. That’s what my traveling has taught me: I am part of a giant, more-than-seven-and-a-half-billion human community.

“This bookstore has already made me feel younger because my brain is working overtime. I see my job and I see this bookstore’s role as providing the community access to books that readers and critics agree are wonderful books, well written, important stories, stories that broaden our perspective on the world and our own lives. So every single book in this bookstore is one that I have either read or want to read or is loved by large numbers of other readers.

“The most important thing about aging for me is that I feel more confident now than ever to jump in with both feet. I’m also confident that if this doesn’t work out, I’m lucky enough to be able to switch gears and try something else.”

And her words of wisdom from her new vantage point?

“I would just say, if you find a need in the world that you think you can fill, a void that’s important and meaningful to you, even in your seventies or eighties, you can do it. I’ve never run a business. I never expected to run a business. It’s just poco a poco, I’m finding, learning as you go along. You just do it. And you learn from your mistakes.”

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Answers to Questions About Aurora Books

Is Aurora Books the only place in San Miguel that sells new best-selling English language books? Yes mostly. There are other shops that carry used books (Tesoros, Mercado Sano, and a tienda on Insurgentes across from the Biblioteca), local author titles (Tesoros and Camino Silvestre), and Spanish language books (Bellas Artes and Tesoros). Spanish language children’s books are available at Vortice on Hidalgo near the Jardin.

How do you choose the books?  Every book has been researched and almost all are best sellers and loved by readers as well as critics. We carry a few quirky books – for example, those by Roz Chast and Maira Kalman.

Are your prices lower than Amazon Mexico? They are at the time they’re priced.

Do you buy and sell used books? We buy used books in excellent condition for 40 pesos each and resell them for 50-100 pesos. We only buy books that are likely to sell quickly because of limited space.

Are some of the books remainders? Yes. Because of the high cost of getting books to Mexico, we look for ways to keep prices down.  A few arrive a little tired and are discounted.

Can you order books for me? Yes, but if we can find it cheaper than the price on Amazon Mexico, it may take a month to arrive.

Are all of the books new? Yes, except those in the “gently read” shelves.

May I make a suggestion? Yes, please!

16 thoughts on “Kim Malcolm’s Aurora Books: Filling a Community Need”

  1. Every community should be blessed with “Kim’s”- special people who care about their community and the world at large- and live their lives accordingly.

  2. Bonnie, As usual I loved your blog post about Kim’s new San Miguel Bookstore, Aurora! Kim had written me of her desire to do this and of course, we know she does what she promises! So happy there’s now an English-language bookstore in San Miguel. I look forward to getting my books there once I’m able to return, probably not until next February. I always love reading your SMA news!

    1. Thank you, Sher! Always good to hear from you. You’ll love Kim’s little bookstore — it’s so cozy and inviting. I’m sure she’ll do very well — and keep us all happy with delicious new books.

  3. Bookstores are a dying breed in my area, and even libraries have closed, swallowed up by the Government bodies that sell the land to property developers.
    Sadly, many don’t care because they read on their tablet or Kindle.
    It’s refreshing to read that there is a community that really still loves to read “real” books and that Kim has filled the niche and fulfilled a dream. It’s also wonderful to know there are people out there, who don’t look for the reasons to “not” get involved in something, especially because of their age.
    I love the enthusiasm!
    Thank you, Bonnie, for finding these people and telling us their story.

    1. Dear Loula — Although we’ve never met, and you’re way out there in Australia (where I’ve never been), I feel closely connected to you, for which I’m very grateful. You always “get” what I’m striving to convey in my blogposts (perhaps between the lines), and that heartens me. Thank you so much!

      1. The amazing contribution of the internet- blogs and emails- transcend distances. I rarely find someone I can really connect with and that first item I read by you, which I literally stumbled across, on Jacarandas and Salisbury, was so beautifully written, and I just “felt” who you were. I just had to read more of your thoughts. Thank you so much for welcoming me and brightening up my day each time you post.

  4. Dear Bon,
    I love bookstores, so I think anyone who opens one is giving their community a great gift. Being a lifelong reader and traveling the world are excellent recommendations for curating books. Based on what you write and from her picture, Kim has spirit to create her own bookish community for those she serves. I’m sure she will be successful and wish her all the best.

    1. Kim certainly has what it takes, Paul dear! How I wish, now that you’re retired, you can come here for a visit and see her sweet little bookstore. You’d LOVE it! — BB xx

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