For such a small city, Wellington is well provided with second-hand bookshops, the three best of them being all within a short walk of each other. Each, as it happens, represents a different, very recognisable type. One is the kind of large, well stocked, well organised emporium that somehow mildly depresses the spirits; there is something about it - the layout, the scale, the lack of character? - that drains the pleasure from perhaps finding a book you want. The actual finding is, after all, only a part of the second-hand bookshop experience at its richest. And something much more like that is offered by the other two shops of the three. One has a relatively small stock, attractively displayed and clearly chosen with care. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, and you know as soon as you walk in that you're going to enjoy your visit and will very probably find something you wanted, or happen upon a new discovery. This is the type of bookshop exemplified by an establishment that I've often mentioned before - The Bookshop in Wirksworth, a small shop that I have yet to leave leave empty-handed.
And then there is the third bookshop, which offers a perfect combination of chaos and order, quantity and selectivity, logic and eccentricity. It's one of those shops whose contents spill over onto stands and trestle tables outside - tables laden with so much interesting stuff that on my first visit, today, I didn't get far across the threshold. The very first volume I picked up outside was the Everyman Sir Thomas Browne (Religio Medici, Urne Buriall, etc.), which turned out to be one of many Everymans, including Hazlitt's Table Talk, Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico, and even a volume of Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Also outside were, to name a few, the Oxford Standard Authors Matthew Arnold, Richard Holmes's Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, Richard Aldington's Portrait of a Genius, But... (a biography of D.H. Lawrence, first edition) and a collection of Richard Ellmann's essays, A Long the Riverrun. All of these were going for a song.
By the time I had finished my outdoor browsing, I could do no more than glance at what was inside, but it looked immensely promising and bountiful. As if to prove the point, one of the very first books to catch my eye was Butterflies of New Zealand, written and illustrated by W.B.R. Laidlaw (1970), a snip at $12NZ. Reader, I bought it - and I'll certainly be returning to that bookshop.