Category Archives: Bookshopping

The Canberra Booktrack

There’s been several versions of the Canberra Booktrack pamphlet released, detailing the independent, local booksellers in the area.  There’s some good ones that are just a tiny bit out of the way, and they’re really worth a visit.

Now, there’s a website, which is exciting for information’s sake, but I imagine for anyone with web-capable phones this makes the list a lot more accessible.The one thing the website seems to lack when compared to the pamphlet, is a map of all the stores at once.  Since they’re listed alphabetically rather than geographically, it may take a bit of clicking around to find the store closest to you.

I haven’t visited every store on the list yet, but I hope to.  I blame some of the stores closer to my home, for occupying my time (and wallet) more often than not.  We can’t compete with bigger places like Melbourne for choice and price, but we don’t do too bad here either.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that local independent bookstores aren’t included by default – they must join the Booktrack to be included – and there’s still a lot of other awesome book and comic stores in Canberra to hunt down that aren’t mentioned in the guide.  I’ll try to visit and cover some of them here in the next year.


Summer and seasonally inappropriate media

Ah.  You can tell it’s December here because the sun is hot, the cicadas are chirruping, and there are bright coloured winter themed picture and recipe books glittering in snowy northern hemispherical glory alongside displays of beach-towels and light summer holiday reads.  I can tell it’s an Australian Christmas just from checking my email inbox.  There’s shilling posts describing top ten lists of Tim Winton novels and beautiful copies of Shaun Tan books.  I’ll never know exactly why Australian books get such plugging beside all the Christmas-themed stuff while Australian films tend to falter in the discount bins and Iron Man box-sets twinkle in shrink-wrapped and vacuum-packed plastic glory.

I like to believe, because I have a self-indulgent faith, that in Australia’s commemoration of good old commercial Christian values, we tend to think a bit more about what we read.  Sure, there will be wrapped copies of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and John LeCarre under most trees, but there’s this huge brand power in Australian literature and publishers that our music and film and even game publishing industries simply do not see a jot of.

It’s easy to forget in Australia, with all the American and British media that we are inundated with on our televisions and in our ear buds (and I love those shows and albums, so I’m not being critical of them here) that our bookstores are surprisingly full of Australian authors.  It is only really noticeable when you travel somewhere internationally, walk past the bestsellers list at an airport store, and realise that a lot of familiar names are missing.

We’ve got a far smaller publishing industry and back catalogue compared to the other two big source countries of our pop culture.  We produce far smaller print runs, and our books cost more.  We spend some of the highest retail prices in the world for new paperback novels, and part of that is because we’re willing to pay those prices for local literature made with pretty good quality paper (compared to pulpier mass-market paperbacks).  Even with all this, some Australian books are hugely popular.

I do not get very much into the Christmas spirit, but I love the yearly reminder that there is a strong appreciation of Australian voices and local culture (particularly indigenous).  I also take delight in each and every recipe book I see that doesn’t discuss roast dinners and heavy puddings, and every children’s book that has a distinct lack of snow.  I don’t dislike wintry Christmases, it just feels odd to see so much snow being thrown about the place when the days are swelteringly hot.

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.

Beyond Q: Bookshopping delight

Xenophon’s been a tougher read than I expected, so no book reviews quite yet.  But recently I have had the chance to head back over to one of the best secondhand (best of any really) bookstores in my city.

Beyond Q (previously known as Lawson’s) lurks downstairs in the Curtin shops.  First you come across the highly populated discount table, then through a glass door lies small displays of locally made jewellery and art, some indie published books depending on time and whimsy, and the smaller nifty pocket-sized books, all clustered in delightfully busy order around some shelves and a wooden side-table.  Across from these, forming the entryway into a small corridor, are backpack sized lockers and the sales counter.  The area tends to get cluttered with cardboard boxes and plastic crates of yet-to-be-priced or sorted stock.

Then, the store opens up.  Beyond Q is huge, and uses the underground floorspace to great effect.  Tall shelves everywhere, and to my personal delight sections specifically dedicated to archaeology, anthropology, mythology, indigenous Australians and Australian history.  Most of the sections, though secondhand, have better stock than the largest retain bookstores in the city centre.  Prices aren’t as cheap as some sources online, but they are decent and the books are always worth the cost (and then some).

Tucked away behind the sales desk is the cafe, where evenings of music and other gatherings are held.  One wall is floor to ceiling packed with all the iconic Penguin Classics line, orange and blue and green and beautiful in various stages of fraying decay.  I am maybe perhaps in love with this place, and the furniture in the cafe (and the glass display cabinet with exciting folios and Australiana, and the nearby ‘new arrivals’ stand) is just icing on the cake.

This last time, I was good and frugal.  Like every visit, I ogled some of the older and higher priced books in my favourite sections, and was then elated to find very cheaply priced pulpy and well-worn copies of some Flashman novels.  I’ve never gone there and walked away empty-handed.  If you get the chance, though I know most people never end up in Canberra, do make sure you visit this bookshop.

Bibliomania strikes again!

So there’s this person, genetic relative, with a car.  She called me this morning to suggest that I fill some bags up with books again.  How could I resist the call of musty old paper?

So began the far more frantic and amusing Sunday afternoon at the Lifeline Bookfair.  Towards the end of the final day, it becomes a bit of a free-for-all.  People fill bags with books for discounted prices (and why is it that you need a $3 secondhand book discounted?  I mean, Bookfair prices have remained quite low compared to the increase in retail and secondhand book prices in the last ten years).

I was duped at least twice by hoarders’ piles looking like actual stock.  I’m not sure if these people are bibliomanic like me, or just the circling vultures of Ebay hobbyist booksellers, but they don’t usually bother me.  It’s all money for a good cause, after all.  I was bothered today.  I apologised and went to move on, but the hoarder actually engaged me in conversation.  As I heaved my grean bag along, he complained that some people had their entire piles taken away.  All that hard hoarding work undone!  I held my tongue and moved on to another table, but inside I was a little baffled.  Surely at a charity fair like this, if you came to get so many books you might bring an accomplice.  Or even – and this is done more often than you’d think – asking a volunteer staffer to help you box and secure your bulk purchase.  Perhaps he was only talking to me because he saw the fervour of the bookmad in my eyes?  If so, I must feel flattered that someone of my own species recognised me for what I am.

Despite the decreasing stock, I picked up a lot.  I was mainly scavenging for two friends today, and I brought a good haul for them both.  But I also turned up some books and pamphlets on megaliths, Neolithic birth/death iconography, and some smutty and pulpy ‘archaeology’ and ‘forensic’ that I’ll be working through and reviewing here soon enough.

Highlights were the amount of children themselves hoarding clumsy armfuls of books, the announcer trying to discount encyclopedias to a price that would appeal to a society with ready access to wikipedia, and the very satisfied smiles on some vinyl enthusiasts faces.  There was a frenzy, but a bookish frenzy.  People rushed and apologised politely when their bags brushed up against each other.  Awkward smiles were exchanged as two shoppers reached for the same book.  Perhaps people who read books simply have more decorum than your average discount shoppers and bargain hunters.  Or perhaps in Canberra we just breed docile bibliophiles.

I am wholly exhausted now.  Tired and stretched out on our sofa, surrounded by piles of books that I really should get around to sorting and cleaning.  But I think first things first, I’m going to start reading.