Paperchain Books (or why are all the good bookshops on the other side of the lake?)

Last week I had late lunch with a friend in Manuka, and as usual we stopped by Paperchain Books.  There’s a whole heap of great bookstores in the Manuka/Kingston area, at least more than can be found in the city centre and in the northern suburbs, and a visit to Paperchain is pretty standard for any trip.

There’s lovely displays of remainder/discounted books near the front of the store, which I always check out for published theses and humanities reference books, but there’s wonderful range throughout even at full prices.  Unlike some larger stores, Paperchain books manages to balance books, atmosphere and even impulse buy items with bookish charm.  There is a small section of graphic novels near the big art books, but you’re more likely to find Grant Morrison’s The Filth, a boxed copy of Whispers of the Heart, and good oldies like Tintin and Asterix than you are to see the shojo and supernatural romance manga that inhabit other non-speciality stores.

General fiction and genre fiction is separated from more academic books by a well-stocked Children’s section.  The rear of the store is raised by a few steps, and although the large displays of cookbooks appeal to a lot of the foot traffic in Manuka there’s well managed philosophy, classical history, and language shelves.  It’s easy to lose hours just up there, ogling the Cambridge History series.  There’s currently a nice long table near the cookbooks, with comfortable chairs, so you can settle down there in the shady comfort of the store and just read.

If you’ve met me in real life, you’ll know my antipathy towards Borders as a bookshop.  It sells books, sure, but it doesn’t feel like a bookshop to me, and seating is one of these places where it stands out.  In Borders the seats don’t feel relaxing.  Maybe it’s the lighting, or the huge openness of the floorplan, or the cluttering shouts that come from the coffee shop there.  All that I know is that at Paperchain Books I can be surrounded by arms and legs, and still be happily comfortable and settled in a wooden-backed chair.  There’s more to bookstores than books and fittings, and Paperchain Books understands that.

On my trip there, I picked up two books I’d been saving up for for a while (Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones and Factotum by D.M. Cornish) and one I hadn’t expected to love (Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by J.T. Petty).  It didn’t help me knuckle down and push onwards with the Anabasis in my reading queue, with the pretty cover art and nice new book smell about them.

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