Thursday, 28 June 2012

Delicious words served on paper...

Oscar and Friends Booksellers, 35/277-285 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010, Australia

I am completely addicted to reading all kinds of literature. I am also rather partial to a bit of technology and depend on my range of i-Gadgets to survive the perils of modern life. However, I have not introduced two of my greatest passions to each other and they remain as two separate love affairs. In other words, I am yet to fall for the beguiling charms of the eBook reader.

Call me old-fashioned. Label me out of touch. Go on, hit with me with your best insult, I can take it. I remain defiant in my love of real-life books and I refuse to budge. You won't find a Kindle nestled in the depths of my handbag, or a Kobo peeking out of my clutch. I'm devoted to paper.

Ampersand Cafe and Bookstore, 78 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW 2021, Australia

Admittedly, e-Readers provide some urgently needed extra room in fit-to-bursting handbags and spare a few blushes on the tube when reading Fifty Shades of Grey. They are sleek, chic, and store a magnitude of McEwan, heaps of Hemingway and acres of Allende. But, despite the benefits, I still prefer delicious words served on paper rather than on a screen and I'm concerned that the beautiful book will soon be in danger of extinction.

Book-love, I just can't get over it. Books feel comforting in your hand with their just-printed intoxicating scent and the crisp sound the pages make as you turn the page is inimitable. They have beautiful, embossed covers that tempt you like new clothes on a rail, and create an orchestra of colour and height when lined up on a bookcase. Books are very personal; they can be adorned with a carefully crafted note to complete a gift, a simply scribbled date that automatically marks a place in history, or even by the style in which they are read. Are you a front page folder-over? Or does the mere sight of such destruction make you want to cry out in protest? Maybe you have a special bookmark, postcard, or old photograph that you use to keep your page and transport it from book to book, author to author. In comparison, all e-Readers look identical.

Pegasus Books, Shop 204a Left Bank Cuba Mall, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand

Then there are the bookshops themselves; whether polished stores selling the latest new releases, second-hand havens packed to the rafters with historic gems, or a fantastic combination of the two. In my opinion, nothing beats exploring the hidden treasures in a bookshop and finding rediscovered novels from centuries gone by, that new best seller that everyone is talking about or even better, stumbling across a book with a mysterious note on its inside cover. On my recent travels, I picked up a deliciously battered old copy of Stephen King's classic 'IT' in Endeavour Books in Kaikoura, New Zealand. It is literally falling apart; the cracked spine hanging on to the contents for dear life and the pages yellowing at the edges from years of exposure to light. The note reads:

'Dear Shelvin. Thought you might appreciate this book to add to your horror collection. Good luck with your future plans. I await to hear the stories of your trips to Egypt. Enjoy Auckland. You have shown much personal growth this year. Remember - life doesn't put things in front of you that you are unable to handle. Go well, Ms Mallinder.'

I am haunted by that note and itching to know who the devil Ms Mallinder is, how Shelvin fared in Egypt and Auckland and if he continued to grow personally. (For those who have read the book, I am also haunted by that terrifying clown brought to life by King's extraordinary storytelling).
Endeavour Books, 8 West End, Kaikoura 7300, Canterbury, New Zealand

We all need a place to indulge our passion for paperbacks, somewhere peaceful and just that little bit special. So, to add some weight to my evidence in the case of Humble Book vs Gargantuan e-Reader, I've handpicked some of the unique bookshops I love where you can while the hours away over a good book...

Gertrude and Alice Cafe Bookstore

46 Hall Street, Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW 2026, Australia

Named after Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, this is a slice of heaven discreetly nestled on Hall Street a few minutes walk from the beautiful but brash Bondi Beach. The owners were influenced by their backpacking years spent in Europe, and their dream of combining good books and good food has come to life in this charming bookstore crammed with fiction, non-fiction and collectibles. Comfy sofas, ladders leaning nonchalantly against the generously full bookshelves and plenty of browsing space provide solitude away from the surf-crowd. The stylish cafe serves modern, restaurant-quality food that will keep you here much longer than you expected. I visited here many times when I lived in Sydney and made a welcome return back in March this year. I stayed much, much longer than I planned...

Shakespeare and Company

37 rue de la Bucherie 75005, Paris

Probably the world's most famous bookshop, I aptly fell in love with Shakespeare and Company when I visited la ville de l'amour a few years ago. An independent bookstore on the Left Bank that is as rich in history as it is in books, it serves as a regular bookstore, a reading library and a literary events space. It has a distinctive yellow front, with Shakespeare's head on the sign and books in wheelbarrows out front, from which I selected my purchase. The books are piled beautifully over two floors - the ground floor is open and crowded, with cool Parisians and tourists alike, and stacked with new titles. The upper floor is reserved for second-hand volumes and it was up here in la bouquinerie where I stopped for a moment to soak in my surroundings, breathe in some of the history and lay down to read within the serenity for quite a while. Magnifique.

Ampersand Café and Bookstore

413 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2020, Australia

Based over two gorgeous sites in Sydney, I've chosen the Surry Hills branch as my favourite although I frequented the Paddington branch just as much. It's in this haven of tranquility that you can ponder over an old favourite or get to know an antiquarian book while drinking delicious coffee or eating gourmet food. There's even cocktails and live music and Sangria on Sunday afternoon and why ever not? There are cafe-style tables to eat and read on downstairs, or a library-feel area on the upper floor where you can sink into a comfy chair or perch at a communal table and chat to some fellow literature lovers. Not simply a bookstore but a Surry Hills institution.


12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9LP

Escape the hustle and bustle of tourist-heavy Covent Garden and transport yourself anywhere you desire in the world - care of this amazing travel bookshop. You can't move in here for maps, travel books and accessories and it's a global adventure in itself just to browse the shelves. In additional to the essential Lonely Planet Guides, there are maps that plot every inch of the earth, photography and illustrated books that provide breathtaking images, and modern travel fiction that acts as your backpacking buddy. Grab a coffee from in the in-store Sacred Café and let your chosen purchase take you to a far-flung destination.

Skoob Books

66, The Brunswick, off Marchmont Street, London, WC1E 1AE

Time Out once described Skoob as 'a temple for secondhand books', and it is here that I pray to the God of reading. Housed on the Marchmont Street side of The Brunswick, Skoob is a 2000 square foot space crammed with over 55,000 of London's broadest selection of titles including modern fiction, classics, academic books, art and photography and specialist collections. It is warm with bespoke lighting and knowledgeable staff who blend into the background rather than disturb the quietude. If you're also a shopper, check out the bookstall on a Saturday in The Brunswick itself - be warned, you could find yourself perusing for a while and so may need to fuel up at the surrounding Farmer's Market.

So, in my eyes there is no real contest between e-Reader and real-life book - the paper edition wins hands down. I hope you are intrigued enough to check out any of the above, or perhaps you have your own favourite place to browse and choose a hidden gem. You may find a special note of your own - something I bet you wouldn't encounter within an e-Reader case.
Shakespeare and Company
Gertrude and Alice


  1. Oh I'm with you, proper books all the way! Wait until you come up to visit, and see all the books in our dining room, Mark despair's whenever I come home with any new books, and says can't I give one away for every one that I buy. But I can't bear to part with any of them!

  2. Looking forward to it Gem, always love nosing around other people's book collections! I'm the same, we've run out of room on our bookshelves and even though I do book swap sometimes, I find it hard to part with them! Thanks as always for taking the time to read. xx