The Peculiar Joys of Book Stalking

I’m not a big shopper. I know some people are energised by it. Not me. Maybe I’d like it more if I could zip through malls on a suped-up Segway, but as it stands, shopping sucks the joy out of my marrow.

Unless we’re talking about book shopping. Now there’s a blood-pumping, spirit-lifting outing if there ever was one. Show me a bookstore and I sprout Tinkerbell wings.

I Like Big Bookstores (I Cannot Lie)

My first foray into Barnes & Noble was in December 2013. (We don’t have palatial bookstores in Australia.) Let’s just say the trip involved a lot of slobbering and a leash and harness, and they weren’t for the dog. Seriously though, I recommend a couple changes to their operations. First, B&N should ditch the boring doors they currently use and replace them with pearly gates. Second, every customer should be greeted with a riff from Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The Lure of Independents

The Poet’s Chair

Despite the hot-n-heavy hyperbole above, what really turns me on is an independent bookstore. Who needs palatial when you can enjoy unique and unconventional? San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore has all that and more–namely history. It was the spine of the beatnik movement, which is reflected to this day in its off-beat, anti-establishment, stick-it-to-the-man offerings. (No rampant adolescent vampire tomes, nor a copy of Fifty Shades to be seen. Thank the Lord for small mercies.) There’s a whole floor, a bright attic, devoted to poetry. The dignified Poet’s Chair sitting by the window says it all.

My Aussie hometown of Brisbane lacks slick B&N styled bookpalaces, but it does offer a host of gorgeous independents. I return often to Riverbend Books at Bulimba (where the vibe is awesome and the coffee is g-o-o-o-d) and Black Cat Bookshop in Paddo. Black Cat is a dogged champion of local writers and the little guys on the literary scene, so I will support them evermore.

Second-Hand Haunts

The only thing that can a compete with a quirky independent is a, *pant-pant*, good second-hand bookstore. Oh lordy, I can have some fun in there! Here’s how: Like all serious book hunters, I go equipped: GoodReads app locked and loaded. This allows me to target my TBR (To Be Read) list, which currently holds a scant 463 titles, many of which are out of print. The longer the book has been on my list, the great the thrill of discovery. I’m talking ecstatic murmuring and victory laps of the store, book held high.

If nothing turns up on my solo reconnaissance tour of the stacks, I grab the owner and rattle off a few obscure titles. His face lights up (after he’s recovered from the shock of being grabbed). “No one’s asked for those books for years. Let’s have a look.” I have to confess: part of the fun is making the owner feel valued. While we search, he tells me he read this one while recuperating from chemotherapy or how years ago his first love interest dissed that one–and that was the end of that crush. Funny,isn’t it, how revisiting old books dislodges long-buried memories and stirs the shadows in the soul.

Pavilion of Women (Book Readers Club, 1957)

When we find a title from my TBR list, I go all prickly, as if I’d picked up an old tin can, blown off the dust and discovered it’s a lamp–an oil lamp, waiting for its sides to be rubbed.

On my last visit to Corelli Books in Mooloolaba, I gave Di, the lovely and knowledgable owner, a real work out. Of five or six titles, I came away with three–a jolly-good result for a day of book stalking, hey-what? Amongst the spoils of the hunt was this gorgeous find, Pavilion of Women by Pearl S Buck. Isn’t the cover fabulous?

Its GoodReads status has been upgraded from TRB to CR&LI (currently reading and loving it). The pace is dignified and old-fashioned, the setting evocative. It conjures up cinnabar and the spicy scent of rosewood furniture. Ah, there’s nothing like reading about traditional China to make me appreciate my freedom to have big, unfettered feet.

I think it’s time to schedule another book hunt. Now where’d I put my pith helmet?

Have you had any exciting finds on recent book hunts? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear about it.


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