Book Shopping

Something Lost, Something Gained

So: Borders is really and truly closing down with the few exceptions of some stores in the main city centres across the country. The one closest to me is/was at a shopping centre. With its forthcoming closure (merely days, I think) and with the closure of its sister store, another chain called Angus and Robertson, I realised that it left me without a close bookstore. The closest bookstore, any bookstore, be it chain or independent, would be either in the city or along my favourite shopping strip, Brunswick St, filled with eclectic bookstores and the best vegetarian eatery in the world. Despite the failures of Borders, I am quite sad that I won’t be able to pop in somewhere bookish to escape from the shopping crowds for awhile. Now, the only bookish place will be at large chain stores like Target and Big W.

At the moment, Borders is having a massive closing down sale. Everything MUST go and they truly mean it. Everything including shop fittings, shelves and furniture! Even wall decor are for sale. The stock was slow to receive a reduction. Even at 40% off the original price, their items were still so much more expensive than most places which is ridiculous. But over the last few weeks, it’s become 50 – 60% off and there had been some really good stock. I guess they’re really digging out the corners of the storeroom. So, while I’m sad that Borders is going, I’m pretty happy with my massive book splurge especially since I didn’t get a chance to go Book Town this year.

Presenting my book loot and also a some great bargains I found at the fabulous Brunswick St Bookstore.

Book loot!

From left to right, up and down:

  • Crimes Against Humanity – Geoffrey Robertson
  • The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea – Randolph Stow (highly recommended by Reading Matters – twice)
  • Death in Venice and other stories – Thomas Mann
  • Sadopaideia – Annoymous
  • Austerlitz – W. G. Sebald
  • Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman (I’ve been wanting to read this since A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook reviewed this and I found it by chance! On sale!).
  • The Beautiful and the Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald. I haven’t had the most luck with Fitzgerald but this edition is simply gorgeous.
  • The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle. I still haven’t read much Sherlock.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque. I won this awhile back from Reading Matters for World Book Night and I received it yesterday!
  • Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
  • The Sorrows of Young Wertherย  – Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
  • She – H. Rider Haggard
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot
  • The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  • Philosophy in the Boudoir – Marquis de Sade
  • The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir. It’s the new translation and I got it for a measly price of $12.95. Whoa!

So that’s my loot. I don’t think I would mind being locked in my room for a few months.

Advertisements

There and Back Again

Well, I’m finally back from my first solo trip overseas and, rather miraculously, I’m back in one piece and no major dramas! No lost passports, cards or luggage. I did get lost many times, particularly from train stations where my bearings were consistently wrong and stubbornly, I would only ask for directions once I realised that the place was taking much longer to get to than stated. I later learned that if I was certain that I was going the right way, it probably meant I should be heading in the opposite direction!

Over three and a half weeks, I travelled to Seoul, Vienna, Bratislava, Cesky Krumlov, Prague, Teplice, Auschwitz, Krakow, Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, Budapest and finally London. I loved all the places I visited but I especially loved Cesky Krumlov, an UNESCO listed town with most of their original buildings and castle preserved from Medieval times.

Cesky Krumlov

Everything was just so picturesque including its state forest where I went for a three hour (mostly downhill) bike ride – the first time I’ve been on a bike for nearly seven years! Somehow, I made it (except for three strenuous hills) and I only crashed once and it was into a fence five minutes away from our finishing point. It was either crashing into an old man hobbling along or the fence. I think I made the right decision. ๐Ÿ™‚ In Cesky, I also picked up two books from a charming little bookstore named Shakespeare & Co. (is this a chain?).

Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore in Cesky

Since my pack was so small (50 litres) and I wanted to travel light, I had made the decision to only buy books that were unique to that particular region. From the bookstore, I selected two books about the Czech Republic – one specifically on Prague and the other containing folklores from regions all over the Republic. Sadly, I only managed to find these sort of folklore books in Cesky Krumlov and so didn’t pick up anymore books until London.

In Vienna, I stopped by their National Library and famous State Hall. The baroque style hall was beautiful but it did somewhat empty of character and I was a little disappointed. Perhaps it was because the library was in the middle of being digitised which is fantastic but, nevetheless, the library was still stunning.

The State Hall - Outside

The State Hall with the bored security guard

Two level of shelves. The frecoes (?) on the roof were also stunning.

There were secret doors hidden amongst the shelves. ๐Ÿ™‚

The stunning upper level. I love how the light just hits the statue.

The beautiful roof frescoes. I could have just laid on the ground to stare at them.

While I managed to pop into various bookstores (Budapest was absolutely peppered with great little bookstores), I didn’t do anything else too bookish. However, I did manage get my first snow experience! That’s right, I’d never seen snow until I went to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Not a bad place to experience your first snow. ๐Ÿ™‚ The mountains were absolutely stunning and the place was pretty much deserted since it was in between seasons.

Tatra Mountains - The frozen lake

Tatras - that odd thing sticking out is the old ski jump

And, of course, my first snowman ๐Ÿ™‚

Another highlight from my travels would have to be meeting other bloggers in London. ๐Ÿ™‚ I met the lovely Claire (Paperback Reader), Kim (Reading Matters), Polly (Novel Insights) and Sakura (Chasing Bawa. Also, thanks for the Pocky! They were a great sustenance during those long queues :-)) a few hours after reaching London at Waterstones cafe and, although I was a little tired and sleepy, they provided me with such a warm and friendly welcome and weren’t short of suggestions or handy tips! ๐Ÿ™‚ Unfortunately, I forgot to take some pictures. The next day, I met Another Cookie Crumbles, who took time out from her busy schedule, and we had more scones and tea at Harrods and sat talking until we were asked to leave since Harrods had closed half an hour earlier!

In total, I spent nearly five days in London and it was nowhere near enough. The days just flew by incredibly fast and I didn’t manage to do half of what I wanted. I’m suspecting I may have dallied away the time in the many bookstores I disappeared into. I loved Charing Cross and found great little second hand bookstores including one that stocked second hand Persephones. Persephones! I also spent a couple of days tracking down the bookstore. My silly map (although to be fair, it was a bus map) didn’t have Persephone’s street on it and I didn’t write down directions. When I finally found it the next day, I was elated!

At last! Persephones!

I went a little crazy in the store and would have bought far more books if I had more room or the muscles to carry them. I was more than thrilled to find that they had a special on if you bought three books. I also bought some of their lovely postcards and a bag. Ah, if only there were more stores and books like Persephones (especially in Melbourne :-)).

So: my final holiday book loot. I did have to buy an extra bag in the end but nothing terribly extravagant.

Holiday Book Loot

  • The Adulterous Woman – Albert Camus (this was waiting for me at home).
  • Odour of Chrysanthemums – D. H. Lawrence
  • Through the Wall – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (I’ve been wanting to read this since Novel Insight’s review)
  • The Tooth – Shirley Jackson
  • The Feminine Mystiqueย  – Betty Friedan (this was also waiting at home).
  • Sweet Valley Confidential – Francine Pascal. Yes, I know but I couldn’t help it (I’m looking at you, Another Cookie! ๐Ÿ™‚ ). It’s also a gift for a friend.
  • Two Prague Stories – Rainer Maria Rilke
  • 22 Czech Legends – Alena Jezkova
  • Frost in May – Antonia White
  • Farewell Leicester Square – Betty Miller. A lovely gift from Another Cookie Crumbles.
  • The Carlyles at Home – Thea Holme
  • There Were No Windows – Norah Hoult
  • Miss Buncle’s Book – D. E. Stevenson
  • The Blank Wall – Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
  • Miss Ranskill Comes Home – Barbara Euphan Todd

Bookmarks

I also got two bookmarks. Quite restrained, in my case. One from Prague and another gifted from the lovely Claire. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ah, Persephone

And finally, the Persephone bag which I love. I think I had the whole Persephone experience. ๐Ÿ™‚

Finally, I managed to only read two books: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson which I absolutely loved although it was quite disturbing and What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. I still have a mixed reaction to that. And now, what should I read next? I obviously don’t have enough books.

The Downfall of Borders

The news that the company that owns two large bookstore chains in Australia had gone into voluntary administration last week came like an expected cold, hard slap, particularly since it came the day after Borders in U.S. also revealed that it was going to administration too. Red Group, who took over Borders a few years ago, also owns Angus and Robertson, one the first and oldest bookstore chains in Australia.

Yes, it came out of nowhere that two ubiquitous, Goliath retail chains has been bought down on its knees but, really, those who frequently pop in to have squiz around can’t really be all that surprised. The stock is uninspiring, overpriced and usually always above the RRP, staff were usually rude, blase, or run off their feet, and the arrangement of books frequently made me dizzy (this last part might just be me). A couple of years ago, I posted a rant about Borders and I suspect that many of their little faults have all become one huge mess.

 

Yes, the store’s design was well decked out and it really did looked inviting but I rarely bought anything from there. Exceptions were their sometimes fabulous coupons they would send out in their weekly emails. I always waited for their 30-50% off ones but it really irritated me that they would force us to print out the actual coupons when they didn’t actually need it. They scanned their own plastic barcode up at the register. Not really saving the environment.

Another concept I never really quite understood was the store’s ‘mission’. Did they want us to buy books, meet friends, grab some magazines/stationery/DVDs/music, or grab a coffee? I understand that they wanted to create a welcoming and comfortable environment for customers to be able to settle down to browse their potential purchases and to do so without any pressure but I think they did that a little too well. People treated the store like a library. They would grab a book or magazine, settle down at the cafe at the back and flip through it therefore damaging the product (I don’t know about anybody else but when I buy new books, I like them pristine!), then they see their friends or decide that their train is due to arrive and then rush off without making a purchase. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone snoozing on one of the couches!

The biggest criticism regarding Borders is, of course, the way they stormed into Australia around five years ago and pushed out other smaller, independent bookstores. Borders seemed to have thought that bigger was better and I think we were all seduced by its shininess and newness. I know I was. It was a haven filled with books – a basic bibliophile want. But I suppose they forgot that bibliophiles also know their books and know what they want. Not rows and rows and only rows of the latest top thirty. After awhile, we crave something of substance, of some individuality, quirkiness or eccentricities found in the best independent stores. My love relationship with the chain ended in 2009 when they didn’t have any Camus, de Beauvoir or Sartre in stock when I wanted to use my gift card. A store that large that finds room for a cafe and rows of imported and overpriced magazines but none of the most influential and well known authors had certainly lost its way for me.

Like the Starbucks giant that came, conquered and then disappeared, Borders have also been felled in a similar way. Too big, too fast, too much. Except this time, unlike Starbucks, I’ll be sorry to see it go. Yes, Borders had its faults in term of quality and service and yes, I did end up skulking back in time and time again with discount coupons in my hand but really, if something had to dominate retail space, I would much rather it be books.

The future of the book industry has never been clear, particularly for the past decade but I still think that the ‘old fashioned’ bricks and mortar bookstores will prevail despite a new mammoth bookstore taking over the world. Will it go down the way of Borders in half a decade’s time? It is certainly rather dire times for book retail but right now, I’m just shouting a little hurrah for those independent bookstores that have withstood the onslaught of such a large corporation.

Other interesting viewpoints, largely debating online vs offline purchasing:

Finally, here’s a clip from the wonderful Black Books where Bernard and Manny competes with Saga books:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEvDfZJlp5E

Watch for 2:29. ๐Ÿ™‚

New Books & Stuff!

Well! So much for my self-imposed book buying ban for a few months. I got two more books from the book depository with ridiculous prices:

  • The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • Agnes Grey – Anne Bronte

I’ve always been interested in the manifesto and Oxford cover simply sucked me in. I’m surprised at how thin it is but I think it will make for some interesting reading. Perhaps not something for the train though. With Agnes Grey, I think I’ve completed my collection of the Brontes with the exception of Shirley and the fantasy tales of Angria, neither of which I’m particularly all that interested in.

Not too much happening on the reading front lately. I’ve been enjoying Jude and it’s all quite sad and poignant. I’ve made a semi resolution that for next month and perhaps in July too, I will try to read only my own books. They’re piling up but it seems that I can never get to them because of the constant stack of library books demanding to be read before their due date. My copy of Jude was bought five years ago and I have only now gotten around to reading it.

But the one thing that’s taken up most of time this week is the finale of Lost! I’m a little forlorn because it’s my favourite show. This isn’t really a complete random topic because the show had such a strong connection with literature, especially obscure and significant works not to mention various philosophical texts. The narrative devices used during the series was also constantly inspiring. It was very good story telling. After the finale, I’m no closer to understanding what the Island was about but I really did enjoy it. The score by Michael Giacchino was also simply amazing. I’m prowling the forums watching the fierce battles between die-hard Jate, Skate and Suliet fans. Ye-es!

A Book Town Adventure

Today, I finally got to go along to and explore the annual Book Town event at Clunes, Victoria. A friend and I have been trying to get ourselves there for probably the last two or three years and we finally made it! After a brief detour where we got onto the wrong freeway and were actually heading towards the opposite direction, we found our way towards the sleepy town of Clunes for some book gorging. We just hoped it wouldn’t rain.

We finally arrived in Book Town after an almost two-hour drive and not without some anxiety that we would get lost. We arrived bright and early because we had to leave in the early afternoon to head back to the city. Friends couldn’t believe that I would actually get up so early on a Sunday, drive two-hours just to buy old books. As we made our way to the town centre we passed a little Shetland (at least I think it is) pony in somebody’s front yard!

Since we ย were so early, people were still setting up. We were expecting more stalls but I guess the threat of rain pushed stallholders inside as a precaution.

What I found most impressive were these little sign holders decorated around the area. We wanted to snatch some and take them home with us but we resisted.

It’s a bit scandalous what they’ve done to the books but I suppose, at the very least, they’re being put to good use now and where people can admire them in a new light. From the moment we parked the car, we spent a solid four hours browsing through all the stalls that were there without getting tired or bored. We only stopped for lunch because we were famished and tired from our heavy packs. There were plenty of great stalls with a great selection but not as much literary fiction as I had expected. I did manage to pick up some great buys and bargains. It was lucky that we bought along backpacks to carry our purchases but they were very quickly weighed down. It was pretty funny seeing others in the morning also carrying empty backpacks around and then seeing them lugging it back to the car in the afternoon. There was a great atmosphere and it was quite fun to be surrounded by other bookish people who had travelled to Clunes for the sole purpose of pouring over books.

Here is my haul:

  • Iron in the Soul – Jean-Paul Sartre
  • The Marvellous Land of Oz – L. Frank Baum
  • The Rape of Venice – Dennis Wheatley
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  • Paddington Abroad – Michael Bond
  • Agatha Christie Crime Collection: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, They Do It with Mirrors, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead – Agatha Christie
  • The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
  • Thank You, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  • The Wedding Group – Elizabeth Taylor
  • Full House – M.J. Farrell
  • The Chequer Board – Nevil Shute
  • No Highway – Nevil Shute
  • On the Beach – Nevil Shute

All were fantastic bargains. The last three Nevil Shute books were only $2 each so how could I resist? He is the author who wrote A Town Like Alice which is on my TBR pile. I was pretty excited to find some Virago in great condition. They were so clean and pristine. My most favourite finds were retro-ish editions of Western Front, Paddington and, of course, Land of Oz.

Some of the books are quite old and as much as I love brand new, pristine books I also love the history behind a old, well-loved book. I especially love those that ‘feel’ well thumbed through. Little markings like inscriptions, dates and even name plates adds that little something to the books.

Final Delivery Before Christmas

Well, the shopping centres here have been opened for 36 hours since yesterday (23rd) morning and have closed today at 6pm. This is to accommodate those last minute gift buying frenzies. I went along to one of the shopping centres and it is startling how terrifying the Christmas rush crowds are! I managed to pick up some books even though the last thing I ever need is more books. Those poor trees.

I got:

  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

The mail also started coming through too since there has been a postal strike on for the last several days. Two of the books from the lot I ordered from the Book Depository have come through today’s post before the holiday break.

  • Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

I am most excited about Our Mutual Friend. Book Depository has been speedy in their delivery but I’m always dismayed the books turn up a little battered. They’re not as bad as the ones that appeared from Borders though. I’m always meticulous when picking out new books and even the slightest dents and bends puts me off. I like to do the damage to the books myself, thank you very much.

All in all, a nice little Christmas gift to myself.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Book Splurge

Hmm, I have somehow ended up buying $75 worth of books from Book Depository. My reasoning is that they have free delivery and they now sell in Australian dollars. They are also much cheaper than books here. I’m just a little bit worried about incurring possible good taxes, of which I know nothing about, but it seems to be ok with other customers. It’s not like I’m importing thousands of dollars worth of books.

The titles I got are:

The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (Surprisingly, I’ve had a hard time finding this in stores here).

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins (I’m in the process of collecting Collins’ books – and reading them, of course).

Now I just have to wait until they arrive. No more book buying for me for awhile, I think.