Bookstores

National Bookshop Day

On Saturday 10th August, it was National Bookshop Day here in Australia. Admittedly, my visits to bricks and mortar bookstores have decreased these past few years – not because my interest has waned or my purchases have moved online but because I simply no longer buy as many books. One of the perks (or curse) of working in a library is the amount of books, magazines and DVDs you mange to accumulate on your account and before you know it, you have reached your limit. It may also be the fact that I no longer have as much room to store the books at home – for now.

As a belated celebration, I thought I’ll highlight my two favourite bookstores in Melbourne. The first is the Brunswick St Bookstore. It’s a great little store filled with a great selection of books. There are comfy chairs towards the back for you to sit and flick through books. The second is Readings, an independent chain in Melbourne. My favourite store is its original location on Lygon St. It’s a big space, filled with a large range including books, CDs and DVDs. I always find something new and interesting here. I especially love the dark wooden shelves and the attached ladders to reach those higher shelves. Readings also produce the cutest little bookmarks featuring a cartoon-style portrait of well known authors that you can take with you. Most of all, I think the reason why I love these two bookstores the most is because they both stay open until 10-11pm which makes them a great destination after you’ve finished dinner and dessert!

Where are your favourite bookshops?

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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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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 🙂

Another highlight from my travels would have to be meeting other bloggers in London. 🙂 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! 🙂 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 Mystique  – 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! 🙂 ). 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. 🙂

Ah, Persephone

And finally, the Persephone bag which I love. I think I had the whole Persephone experience. 🙂

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. 🙂

The Disillusionment of Borders

I was going to title this post ‘The Rape from Borders’ but perhaps it might have been a little too extreme.

Having received a gift card for my birthday (hoo-rah!) for Borders, I was no doubt in a hurry to spend it – even after all the books I’ve recently bought. I went in after uni and decided I might settle for the 3-for-2 promotion to get more bang for my buck. Well, the selection was dismal and that idea was soon forgotten.

So I proceeded to browse through the stacks, and because I actually had money to spend on whatever I wanted (kind of) I looked at each shelf carefully rather than skimming. I started at ‘A’ and by the time I got to ‘C’ I was suffering neck pains and feeling quite nauseaus from constantly squatting down to the see the very bottom shelf – where all the good literature happened to be shelved. The placement is horrendous and the short shelves makes browsing annoying. Skimming is fine, but it makes it hard work for browsing.

I found a few books I would have liked to get but the prices Bordesr charge is riddiculous! Prices have obviosuly been inflated. I would rather go buy from independent bookstores at those prices.

The final disillusionment came when I looked for several books and authors – M.J. Hyland, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre – (yes, I was probably slightly too optimistic) and found that they were not stocked by Borders. I think I found one extrememly tattered copy of Sartre hidden away on one of the bottom shelves.

I was never particularly fond of Borders but now I don’t think I’ll be able to shop there again. They were pretty good for the more popular reads but with such bad placement, inflated prices and lack of stable literature (not too mention somewhat rude service) I don’t think I’ll go there again after the gift card has been used. I finally understood why some  bloggers and friends say they feel slightly ‘dirty’ shopping in Borders. It’s back to independents and Book Markets for me!

Note: the Borders I went to is located in central Melbourne so you would assume it’ll be the premiere of all Borders…

Fascinating Bookstores

I stumbled across a marvelous site that features bookmarks and bookstores.

http://www.miragebookmark.ch/most-interesting-bookstores.htm

What I would give to live or work in many of these salacious places. I’m going to add these places to my “bookish-places-to-visit” list. It’s pretty comforting to know that the love for books and the buildings housing them still play such an important and special part today despite of the onslaught of the digital entertainment.