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Friday, August 12, 2016

National Bookshop Day! August 13

I'm lying in bed posting to the world on my little iPad. And it's early on the morning of August 13 and it's also Nation Left-hander Day, so I win on both counts. Go southpaws!

Famous lefthanders? Off the top of my head, Leonardo Da Vinci, though he may have been ambidextrous.  Also, looking it up, I see so many others that I need to choose just a few. President Barack Obama. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Albert Einstein. Bill Gates. Charlie Chaplin. Michelangelo. Marilyn Monroe. Angelina Jolie. Two of the Apollo 11 astronauts - Armstrong and Aldrin. Joan of Arc. Benjamin Franklin... I can't find any writers so far, let me know if you know of one. You notice how many creative people are on that list? I think it's to do with the right-hand side of the brain, the creative side, which is linked with left-handedness.

On this day was born Cecil B DeMille, who gave us so many spectacular films. I believe his crowd scenes were the best, because he was known to stop an extra and say things like, "So, why are you crossing this marketplace in such a hurry? Maybe you're going to get your sandal fixed and are in a hurry because you need to get home to cook dinner for your little boy..." He treated them as actors, in other words. Individùals. 

On this day died the amazing Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix. He did some of my favourite paintings of the Romantic era. Scenes from history. Scenes from fiction. Horses! Oh, wow, those horses! And one cheeky bit where he slotted himself into the painting "Liberty Leading The People." He's the young man with the tall hat, carrying a gun, next to Lady Liberty. 

Liberty Leading The People by Eugene Delacroix. Public Domain.

And now, to the book shops. In no special order, some of my favourites over the years. To keep it simple, I'll mainly stick to Melbourne. 

Cosmos bookshop, where I went as a child and a teen, in Acland Street, St Kilda. Still there, though now it's on the other side of the road and has become a Reading's. I remember taking up skating as my sport in high school, though I never did get the hang of it, just so I could walk home through Acland Street, buy a gelato and browse in Cosmos. It was a small family business, though these days I don't recall seeing the same staff twice in a row. But I don't go as often. And it us much bigger in its current location. 

Sunflower Bookshop, in Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick. That, too, had two locations within a few shops of each other. The owners, Brian and Noreen Ormsby, were my favourite booksellers when I was in my early twenties. Brian would show me a book, exclaiming, "You've got to read this!" And he had good taste - he introduced me to the works of Tanith Lee, among others. In later years, the shop was bought by a mother and daughter - the daughter once showed me one of my own books when I was shopping for the library - and thereafter, promoted them all. They moved out and the shop was repainted in dull charcoal grey. It lasted a long time and one of the staff was a teacher-librarian who did a great job with the children's books, probably just as well, as the shop itself was too depressing in colour for my taste. However, it specialised in Judaica, which made it handy when I needed a new Bible, my mother having appropriated the old one I was given as a child, and I even got one with Hebrew in one side, English on the other, very useful for looking up what the Bible really said in any specific passage! How disappointed all those YA fantasy novelists would be to find out that their half-angel heroes/heroines were not based on a word in the Bible that actually means ,"distinguished men." 
Anyway, the shop is still there, but has become another of my favourites- 

The Avenue bookshop. It was renovated, the depressing charcoal grey is gone and there's some wood panelling among the shelves. The place is full of air and light and once more a bookshop to enjoy browsing in. And the loyalty card is great - you can even get points for a gift voucher, something other shops don't do. They actually gift wrap  the gift vouchers in boxes! The window still has a children's section, which is nice. 

During my teens, I had a favourite secondhand shop, way up in Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD. Penn's bookshop is long gone. It was one of those bookshops right out of The Neverending Story,  where you could buy 19th century editions of the classics, some of which I still have. And they were cheap! How else could a schoolgirl on only a little pocket money afford them? 

The closest I can think of now is Syber's. Actually, there are two Syber's bookshops, run by a husband and wife, David and Penny, but since David moved his out of St Kilda, I haven't seen it again; you have to go there, you can't just wander in, and I don't have the time. So I'm thinking of Penny's shop, right opposite Windsor Railway Station, just down the road from the classic Art Deco Astor Cinema. I can browse, buy and catch a tram home. There's usually a cat in the window or near it, as Penny keeps her pets with her. I must admit, I'm more likely to browse the SF and fantasy paperbacks, but there are quite a lot of traditional secondhand bookshop books on the other shelves. Not quite Penn's, but as close to it as you can get these days. 

There's all those science fiction bookshops I used to love - gone, gone, gone! Minotaur is still there, bigger than ever, in the Melbourne CBD, but it now makes its money mostly from pop culture stuff and comics. It feels too commercial to me and I mostly only go there now for something specific I can't find elsewhere. It did start as a smaller, more personal shop in an arcade. No longer! 

There was a wonderful shop called Space Age Books, where fans used to gather every Friday before the Melbourne SF Club meetings. Unfortunately, too many of them were just there to socialise, not to buy. But I bought. And it was the place where famous writers would come for book signings and to meet their fans after appearing at a convention. I met Frank Herbert of Dune fame there, and it arranged a one-day con with Harry Harrison as the guest. 

It died, eventually. The elderly owner is still around, retired, attending the occasional convention. He was one of a bunch of young men who started local fandom in the 1950s; one of that group went into politics and became our Arts Minister in the 80s. He was still doing a fanzine! 

After a few years of being something else, the site became Slow Glass Books, also a wonderful SF bookshop. It didn't last long; the owner, Justin, did open a shop in the suburbs for a while, but now only works online and at conventions. 

Another SF bookshop in the city was Of Science And Swords - small and delightful, it was in an arcade. The owners were brothers. They knew their stuff. I'd wander into the shop in the mood for hard SF or space opera and get good advice. One of the staff, Christopher Ruz, is a writer. We follow each other on Twitter.  The shop moved to bigger premises, but didn't last long there. It's gone too. The last time I entered, there was a pop culture shop that didn't sell books at all. 

Fan and writer Chuck McKenzie started a fabulous bookshop, Notions Unlimited, out in the seaside suburbs. It was so very like Slow Glass, I made time to go there. There were comfy chairs and tables, and a regular game playing group. There was a bay for small press books, which form much of Australia's local SF publishing scene. Everything else you can buy is either from overseas or Fat Fantasy Trilogies. 

Gone, alas! I think it lasted two or three years. I bought a lot of related non-fiction there. 

Finally, for today, my favourite bookshop of all: Collected Works, in the Art Deco Nicholas Building in the Melbourne CBD. It's run by a poet. It sells classics and books on everything from architecture to anthropology, but there's a spec fic bay, where I discovered how many writers famous for other things wrote horror fiction and ghost stories - Rudyard Kipling, D.K Broster, even sweet Edith Nesbit,who wrote those charming children's books, such as Five Children And It. Who'd have thought it? I've found a collection of Louisa May Alcott stories, the kind of blood-and-thunder ones she had Jo write in Little Women, and books of mythology and several bios of the Inklings and even Alice B Toklas's book about her adventures in France, complete with recipes, including the one for hash brownies. (The owner admits he tried that once, in his youth, out of curiosity). 

So, do you have a favourite bookshop,you'd like to share?

And happy Bookshop Day! 


Unknown said...

I had no idea there were so many talented left-handers! It's sad that so many book shops closed down over the years. I loved them when I was young, too. I bet if I went back to my home town, there wouldn't be one left. But I'm pretty sure all the libraries would still be there! Have a great weekend!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, there are far more gifted left handlers than those I've mentioned! Those were a few I picked out. The bookshops that have closed have mostly done do because rents tripled, especially in the CBD. When a landlord wants to get rid of a tenant they triple the rent and replace them with someone who can pay far more because they're running something more profitable. A bookshop in St Kilda was booted out by such a landlord; the last time I heard, that site had been empty for a few years. Serve the landlord right!

Ah, libraries! In the UK they ARE closing them down - and I believe the Governator was closing libraries in California also. In my own country, it's school libraries in state schools that are getting the flick to save money in staffing as "they do it all online these days anyway!" Private schools don't have to do that.

A latte beckons said...

For what it's worth, I'm left-handed too :)

My favourite bookshop is Brown and Bunting in High St, Northcote, which is a lovely second hand book store.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Aha! Another gifted left-hander! Thanks for that, Kate! Must check out that bookshop next term break. I suppose I can get there by tram if it's on High Street?

A latte beckons said...

Yes, it's just a skip and a step from the tram line.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds good! Next holidays, then. Maybe we can meet for a cuppa afterwards.