Of Tsundoku and second-hand bookstores in and around Melbourne

Second-hand books are an underestimated resource. To start with, reading them is good for the environment. Based on that argument, I guess digital books are even better, but they don't provide the same tactile satisfaction that a printed book gives and I have to admit that I am very partial to printed books. Well let's be honest here - they are my not-so-secret vice. They are crammed into every available bit of shelf space around the house and I keep collecting them.  And yes, most of them are still to be read, so they fall into a category known in Japan, as 'Tsundoku', which means buying books and letting them pile up unread.

That wasn't always the case.  There was a time when I wouldn't touch any book that wasn't fresh-off-the-press, still reeking of printing ink and binding paste  That was an expensive attitude, but it  saved me from accumulating a hoard.  There was also a time when I wouldn't buy a new book until I had finished reading the one at hand. That was a very long time ago - it's a very dim memory now.
My favourite city bookstore - the Melbourne Theosophical Society Bookshop - Their second-hand section contain often contains literature, history, psychology, comparative mythology and art books, though the main collection is made up mainly of esoteric books.

One lunchtime many years ago, I watched a co-worker deeply engrossed in what looked like the tattiest book on the planet. That shocked me, as the bookshops were filled with cleaner, flashier versions of the same book and I knew that expense was not a consideration in her choice. So we got talking and as she took me on a quick walk through of the pages, "defaced" with insightful and sometimes acerbic comments in the margins, it became clear to me that in addition to the text itself, she was being treated to a fiendishly funny parallel commentary and she knew it. Then a "bookmark" fell out of the pages - a shy, tender letter to someone who clearly never received it.  Ashamed at our voyeuristic delight in the reading that sad little, sepia page, we began to speculate . Who was the previous owner of the book? What became of him? Why did this well-thumbed volume - one that hinted at a life deeply lived - wind up in a second-hand bookstore? We could never know the answers to these questions, but what that experience did was make me aware of fact that a second-hand book can offer momentary glimpses into other lives - lives that included the enjoyment of a good book and in that, we were kindred spirits.

Since then, I began to ferret around second-hand bookstores, opportunity/thrift stores, weekend markets and garage sales, looking for books that interest me. Since that means mainly literary fiction, I have been very lucky in my finds. For some reason, even new versions of the classics and fiction that does not fall into the  "bestseller" or "chick lit" or "popular fiction" category is relatively inexpensive even in large bookstores and discount bookstores. Don't get me wrong -  I enjoy fossicking through large stores as well, preferably those with a good coffee shop attached -  but for me, there is nothing more satisfying than a slightly dog-eared, somewhat dis-coloured, pre-loved book.

Sadly, many second-hand and antiquarian bookstores can no longer survive the competition from large international franchises.

At least in my nick of the woods, Victoria, Australia, some of the best second-hand bookstores seem to be in regional cities. My favourite bookstores are to be found all over the state -  serenely resplendent on the shores of a lake, tucked away from street view in a city basement, deep inside a former church and down city and suburban by-lanes, jostling between cafes, pubs, spice shops and pharmacies. Here are some of them:
Barwon Books - Queenscliff. Housed in an old church, the shop closed down recently and will be replaced by a gallery and print works.

The entrance to City Basement books - Flinders Street - one of my favourite city haunts

Inside City Basement Books

Book Now, Bendigo - another wonderful regional bookstore

Hill of Content Bookshop at the Paris end of Bourke Street. Be sure to check out their first floor as well

The Paperback Books - a little gem on Bourke Street

Paradise bookshop, Daylesford - another regional bookshop that's well worth a visit

Sinbad books in Carnegie - An amazing place, chock full of second-hand, new and antiquarian books. If you want something, Rashid is sure to find it for you. He found me a Folio Society version of 'The Tale of Genji' - it's lavender and gold binding is a visual treat.

A book franchise manned by people who love books and know their stock. Be warned, because the books are brand new and  most are $10 each, you can emerge with a VERY large stash without intending to.

 These are a few of my favourite bookstores. There are other sources for good books, not to mention weekend markets, but I shall save them for a future post...


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