Wednesday 24 January 2018

Bookshops Again

I'm happy to report that the second-hand book trade continues to thrive here in Wellington. All of the three bookshops I wrote about two years ago are still very much in business – indeed one of them (the second of the three in my original post) has expanded and moved into larger premises. The first continues to be the well stocked, organised emporium I remember – and when I dropped in a couple of weeks ago I was happy to find a volume of Bernard Malamud short stories on its scrupulously alphabetical shelves (Rembrandt's Hat, of which I found at least three stories – The Silver Crown, Man in the Drawer and The Letter – rather wonderful).
 The third bookshop – the one with the outside tables – is still a joy, but seems a little more orderly than it was, with fewer random elderly volumes sprinkled about outside. Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico was still there though, and I noticed two stout volumes of Mrs Earle's once popular Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden (a work that later lent its name to a characteristic John Betjeman poem). Looking around the inside again, I realised that the huge stock is actually pretty well organised, once you've cracked the eccentric classification and unexpected juxtapositioning.
 It was in a coastal suburb of Wellington last week that I experienced a truly, sublimely disorganised bookshop, one where the owner seems to have spent decades cheerfully buying anything at all that comes through the doors and, some while back, to have given up on any serious attempt to organise it. However, after a while, I realised that the fiction section – despite the fact that the volumes were mostly piled up on top of each other in heaps rather than shelved – was broadly alphabetical. Buried in the Ws (for how long?), I found a battered 40-year-old Penguin of Angus Wilson's Late Call, which I am now reading with great pleasure. 
 Wellington really is a fine city for the lover of second-hand bookshop browsing – considerably more rewarding and enjoyable than London these days.


  1. Thanks for the tip! I long for those types of bookshops - the disorderly ones piled high with old books - and they've pretty much dried up here in the United States. I never thought one of the great pleasures of my life would simply disappear, but I guess that's the lament of anyone who sees a treasured custom or habit rendered obsolete by the "march of progress."

  2. Yes indeed, Foose - and it's mostly to do with the mighty internet, but for which this blog (and all others) would not exist and we wouldn't be having this conversation. Swings and roundabouts, as ever...

  3. Dear Sir Ness, today in January in London a red admiral basked in the sunshine on my back doorstep before flying off. This seems very early to me. But you,as I understand it, are a butterfly specialist - an elopedopterist as they sometimes say (like the great Vladimir Nobukov) - and I would be interested to know if this is a rare event or just something that butterflies do. Thanks, NBR.

  4. A Red Admiral is always a wonderful thing to see, Newman - and they can turn up at any time. In some years, sightings have been reported somewhere in the UK for every single day - I don't think that can be said of any other species.
    In Wellington, Yellow Admirals were absolutely everywhere - prodigious numbers - and Monarchs to be seen even in the city centre. Missing it already...

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