A weekend trip to the Collins St Dymocks reminded me of why I rarely go to mainstream retail bookshops: they don't sell the books I want to buy. (Though they did stock Distraction, which was a nice surprise.)
On top of this, the atmosphere is stifling. The staff are often helpful but sometimes not quite 'all there'. (Anyone who's worked in retail knows why.)
In Melbourne, Readings continues to be my book-browsing mainstay. They backed Distraction right away - stocking and publicising it generously. And they have a fantastic range.
But I was recently very impressed by The Paperback Bookshop, up the top of Bourke Street. It wasn't only the range (which was excellent) or their hospitality (which was warm and intelligent, instead of faux-perky retail polish). It was also the aesthetics of the shop itself: it's beautiful.
All bookshops have their beauty, of course - bookshelves are sexy, charming or just colourful. But this little bookshop has an intimacy to it - the shelves are all around you, as if it were a small, private library. It gives the impression of being someone's own retreat, where you can fossick for paperback nuggets. It suggests personality.
The economical layout adds to this. The tiny shop makes excellent use of space: turns, nooks, crannies. This intensifies the feeling of fossicking: there's gold just around the corner, past the 'Books on Books' shelf, before 'Autobiography'. There's an atmosphere of mystery or treasury, like a good second-hand shop.
Yes, it's just a shop. Money changes hands. But this little room takes the virtues of some fine books - curiosity, discovery, intimacy - and lets you walk inside them.