Monday musings on Australian literature: National Bookshop Day (Belated)

Saturday 11 August was National Bookshop Day here down under but I decided to delay writing about it until this week’s Monday Musings as it seems a worthy subject. However, Lisa of ANZLitlovers and Louise of A Strong Belief in Wicker did their posts in a more timely way.

National Bookshop Day is a new concept here. In fact this was its second year, having been inaugurated last year by the Australian Booksellers Association. Its logo is “celebrating bookshops in the community” and its aims are, I think, both celebratory and promotional, regarding bookshops, literature and, more generally, culture. I guess it doesn’t take much thought to work out why they feel the need to have such a day, what with the internet ‘n all?

I like this comment from Bite the Book, the blog of Pages and Pages* bookshop in Mosman, Sydney:

The internet makes it easier for everyone to find what they are looking for but what a boring place the world would be and how uninteresting our lives would be if we only ever found what we were looking for. As much as I enjoy reading the next book from one of my favourite authors there is nothing quite like that feeling of reading a book you found from left field through a recommendation or the serendipity of finding it on a shelf.

I like this because it recognises that there’s no turning back the clock. Technologies change. The three-volume book gave way to the single volume, paperbacks brought book-buying to a new level, and now e-books are on the rise. The point is they are all books and one thing remains the same: People continue to read. A day that celebrates this while also promoting one of the places that we readers love the most can only be a good thing. Browsing an online store, while possible and getting smarter, is nothing like browsing a bookshop surrounded by other booklovers and by books of all shapes, sizes, colours and contents.

I’m embarrassed to say that, unlike Lisa and Louise, I did not get to a bookshop on THE day, but I do go to bookshops regularly. Bookshops have had a tough time in the national capital over that last few years with significant chain stores disappearing view: Collins, Angus and Robertson and Borders. Just two chains survive, Dymocks and QBD. It’s good to see them survive. Chain bookshops** have their place after all, but they are not my bookshops of choice. My favourites tend to be independent stores, particularly:

  • Paperchain – has the best remainder table I know, as well as other great books of course, and many author events
  • Electric Shadows – has a particular focus on film, media and the performing arts as well as a good selection of Aussie lit, and also has author events
  • Smiths Alternative – has books you don’t always find elsewhere including a good selection of translated fiction, and in line with its alternative, socially-conscious vibe, holds a variety of events in fiction, poetry and music
  • National Library of Australia’s Bookshop – is the one I frequent the most. It’s in a beautiful building belonging to our premier literary institution, specialises in Aussie literature,  and offers a generous discount to Friends of the Library. And there’s a gorgeous cafe across the foyer. What’s not to like?

Just for the record, I have recently bought books from a bookshop (the National Library one): Luke DaviesInterferon psalms (book of poetry, for me), Robert Newton’s When we were two (YA novel, for my nephew), and one I won’t name because it is a gift that hasn’t been bestowed yet.

Did you, if you’re Australian, attend a bookshop on National Bookshop Day? I’d love to hear about it. And, if you’re not Australian, is there something similar where you are? Are bookshops in your area thriving?

* On National Bookshop Day, Pages and Pages donated $1 for each book sold to the Indigenous Literary Foundation. Many bookshops held events, offered discounts and prizes. Let’s hope, for all their hard work, they attracted some new customers to their fold.

** My favourite chain in Australia has to be Kinokuniya. Its depth of fiction, from many nations, is simply hard to beat – but we don’t have a store in my city.

22 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: National Bookshop Day (Belated)

  1. I’m envious! In Italy most books are – obviously – in Italian! In bookshops I always go to the international shelf and am mostly disappointed. Though I’ve managed to have my own book included in a couple and that’s a thrill. I bought ‘An Imaginary Life’ and ‘Olive Kitteridge'(sp?) the last time I stumbled upon a used bookshop in Milan – David Malouf is so brilliant.

    But I have to confess I also love receiving my Amazon packages.

    • Fair enough too Catherine. Online stores are an amazing boon for people without access to good bookshops, either due to remote location or a foreign language location, or to having mobility problems. We are so lucky!

  2. I didn’t even know that it was bookshop day on Saturday, but on Friday I visited three bookstores in search of “The Third Policeman” by Flann O’Brien as present for the persons whose house I have been minding for the past five weeks. Why that particular book? Well, B & B are keen bike riders and the O’Brien novel features bicycles in a remarkable and quite bizarre way, so I thought they might enjoy it.

    Anyway, I tried my luck at a good remaindered book store where I recently picked up a copy of one of my all time favourite books for $10.00 (you can’t have too many copies!), then tried the best second hand bookshop in Melbourne, City Basement Books, who thought they may have had a copy, but couldn’t find it. I knew I could get a copy at Readings bookstore in Carlton for $10.00 as I’d done a bit of research online, but Carlton is somewhat out of my way, though it is easy to get home from there. I finally found the book at Readings on their famous bargain table, where in the past I have found some wonderful books.

    Melbourne used to be full of bookstores, but a lot of the chain stores and independents are gone. Still, there are yet some good shops in or close to the CBD – Readers Feast, Readings, Dymocks and any number of second hand stores..

    • Thanks Anne for commenting. I’ve read At Swim-Two-Birds, and would like to read The third policeman one day, but older books like that can be a real challenge to find! I reckon the mark of a great bookshop is a great bargain table – one of the reasons I love Paperchain. I rarely come away without something in my hands.

      I hear Readers Feast closed and reopened again. Is that right? Great news I reckon.

      BTW, what is the all-time favourite you bought?

  3. I can’t say that I miss the chain stores that have gone. I used to get very frustrated on the rare occasions when someone would give me what I really want for a gift – a book voucher – but it would be for one of those chains and I would wander round and round in vain looking for something worthwhile buying. For me, the book shops that matter are the indie bookshops that are staffed by people who read books, not chains that are staffed by marketing types who only care about best-sellers and by bored 18 year-olds who haven’t read a book since school. And the good ones are still here in Melbourne, and they’re not hard to find.

    • Ah, Lisa, careful what you say! My daughter worked in Angus and Robertson for a few years. She knew her books – and the store manager, who left to go work in head office in Melbourne, also knew her books. She and I had great conversations, and she’d keep me up to date with the new releases.

      Also, the manager of our local Collins store was a great book reader. She went then bought an independent store in town, Dalton’s, and is now I think at the National Library bookshop (but still running .

      Still, I know what you mean. I do generally prefer the indies for the reasons you give and we have some great ones here too.

      But, do you have Kinokuniya in Melbourne? It does have its place — and I love their stationery!

      • Well, Sue, I don’t mean to offend anybody with my thoughts about the chains, but honestly, the ones I’ve come across here have been a disappointment. Let’s just say that their idea of literary fiction (Jodi Piccoult) and mine, is different LOL.
        I’ve never heard of Kinokuniya … maybe it’s here, but it’s keeping a low profile if it is!

        • You know me, I was teasing a little … but it is a bit of a case of individual shops in chains sometimes being managed by knowledgeable people and having young people, like my daughter, preferring to work there as a part-time job than in hospitality. Their literary fiction range, and their range in less populist non-fiction, is more limited I agree … but they have a place, I think.

          As for Kinokuniya, if they’re not in Melbourne, do check out the big store opposite Town Hall in Sydney (next time you get there, of course!). It’s an international chain, out of Japan.

          It’s a truly wonderful store. It has one of the biggest, best literary criticism sections I’ve seen, for example. It has a wonderful range of translated fiction. It tends to offer depth in authors rather than just their latest. And so on.

        • Oh does she Matt? Has she left NLA? I saw her there a little while ago. When I first saw her there (at the beginning of this year I think) she said she was still doing online Daltons. Is she still doing that?

          You could say hello to her for me, except she doesn’t know me by name I think. I know her name of course from her Collins days, but to her I’m just one of the customers who keeps running into her at different places!

  4. Great post Sue- I knew it would be of course. Thanks for the honorary mention. Collins still exists BTW, we have one here. I think Kinokuniya only has the one Sydney shop, I’m not aware of any others at least.

    • Thanks Louise … that’s good to hear about Collins. I wasn’t sure whether it still existed in some places. There are no more in Canberra; we have only one Dymocks now (where we once had at least three).

      Oh, and you’re welcome re the honorary mention!

  5. I intended to go on Aug 11 but didn’t as other things came up.

    While I find exactly what I’m looking for when I go to an internet bookshop (well most of the time–some books just can’t be had)I often am directed to books I didn’t know existed.

    While there’s still nothing better than hanging out in a bookshop, I avoid the big chains due to the noise and the crumbs. Being “surrounded by other book lovers” is to me, a negative.

    • I can’t understand why you didn’t make the effort Guy … A weekend jaunt to Australia would have been jut the thing!

      I agree, though, that serendipity can work online too … And more dangerously. So easy to click away while sitting in bed on a cold rainy day!

  6. Reader’s Feast did close and reopen, which was good news as they are an excellent bookstore. The favourite I purchased was “Mockingbird” by Walter Tevis. I also found his first novel “The Hustler” at the same bookshop for the same price. I’ve never read it, though a film was made of it back in the 1960s, starring Paul Newman.

    • Thanks, Anne … funny how one reader’s favourite author, another reader has never heard of, though I have a vague feeling you have mentioned “Mockingbird” before. I know the film “The Hustler” but like you didn’t know the book, which is not surprising I suppose since I’m not familiar with Tevis!

  7. Hardly anyone has heard of Walter Tevis these days, though three of his novels were made into films in the 60s and 70s. “Mockingbird” remains my favourite as I recently reread it for the umpteenth time, and loved it as much as ever. I wrote a review of it on my blog the previous last time I read it.

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