Tuesday, July 6, 2010

One Little Bookshop

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.


Gondal-girl said...

nice post Damon - nothing cosier than books - reminds me of one of the last gorgeous individual bookshops on Charing Cross Rd, I can't recall the name, but it stocks only art books and has a brilliant roaring fire in the grate, very cosy indeed...

Gondal-girl said...

cosy. reminds me of art bookshop in london on charing cross road - can't recall name, only quirky art monographs and roaring fire in grate...cosy indeed...all that is missing is egg nogg

markwilliamjackson.com said...

Love the independent bookstores, I once described large chain bookstores as having the feel of shoving a wet fish down your trousers, sure you might be curious but you end up feeling strange and uncomfortable.
My favourite is Better Read Than Dead in Newtown, if they don't have it they'll get it and they know their books, I don't get the slack-jawed teenage look if I ask for something that isn't Stephenie Meyer.

danielsmith said...

Faux-perky ... nailed it! I feel sorry for people who are forced to act like this, and contempt for whichever witless HR people came up with the style.

Damon Young said...

GG: Eggnog. You know, I don't think I've ever tried that.

MWJ: Having often put fish into my pants, I know exactly what you mean. (Favourite metaphor of the week.)

DS: They like your contempt. They welcome it. Keeps them sharp. /Heat

Leah said...

Hey Damon, long time.

My grandparents opened Cosmos bookshop on Acland street shortly after they migrated to Australia, originally to supply the growing community of European migrants with books in their mother tongue. It's changed hands and moved shopfronts a couple of times since then and is, of course a Readings now. Back then Cosmos was a very small, beautiful and intimate bookshop like the one you describe; it was also a gathering place for the community and people stopped in to chat and laugh, even if they couldn't afford any books or vinyl that week. As you can imagine, I have wished many times that it wasn't sold!

I really just wanted to say nice post, close to my heart. I agree with you about the warmth, the mystery and charm in "old" bookshops which still retain an authentic atmosphere, rather than the, impersonal and mercenary chains. Yes, just a shop... but also an experience.

love to you Ruth and the little folk.

Damon Young said...

Leah! Lovely to hear from you.

I didn't know your folks ran Cosmos. In this light, I'm glad you agree. It suggests that bookshops aren't just cynically doing 'cozy' for the customers; that they appreciate it also.

We'll have to have you over for lunch or something.

Leah said...

Good to reconnect Day.
I have a really awesome story about Cosmos and my grandfather which I will tell you sometime! I am living in NSW these days, so lunch might be tricky lovely though it does sound :)