Feature: A Booklover’s Guide to Auckland’s Emporiums

Bring your Green Dolphin Bookmark and Pop in Dear Reader, to where an Open Book’s not Hard to Find: Jessica Thomas’ gruelling pilgrimage to Auckland’s bookshops

What better joy is there than curling up with a book? I would argue: buying them. Ask me to go clothes shopping or worse, shoe shopping, and you’ll find me in the foetal position huddled between Austen and Dickens, threatening suicide by papercut. Suggest a trip to The Green Dolphin, The Hard to Find, or Poppies, and I’ll happily trade house slippers for loafers and occupy as many hours as you’ll give me perusing, perambulating and picking up my weight in paperbacks.

There are almost as many books about books as there are books themselves; there are books on writing, book on authors, books on what you Should Have Read and Why, books critiquing other books, books about another reader’s experience of reading a book, and how to guides for reading one hundred books in a year. We of the bibliomanic race appear to have a fixation not only with reading but reading about reading and learning what we ought to have read. These formidable lists of classics give me anxiety; what time I’ve wasted reading Anne of Green Gables when I should have been reading the Aeneid or the Complete Works of Trollope. Nothing does a better job of alleviating these fears than to go and buy the books I feel obligated to read (and a few that I actually want to), and then ignore then on my shelves while I re-read The Secret Garden for the millionth time.

For such guilt-assuaging, and later -inducing, activities, I head to one of the many splendid second hand or independent bookshops scattered over Auckland. Come with me for a frolic along literary lane to my favourite stores – then go buy some yourself. Amazon is the devil and it’s killing bookshops. Fight back with pre-loved paperbacks.

Dear Reader: Lucky (or perhaps unlucky) me, the Richmond Rd resident Dear Reader is literally a two-minute walk from my house and ten or so seconds from the café where I spend most of my mornings writing. The moment you walk inside, you’re ensconced in warm lamp lighting and surrounded by that intoxicating smell of new books. The staff are helpful but not the kind to hawk-eye you while you browse. But ask for a recommendation and you’ll be piled high with titillating titles sure to satisfy that second cousin four times removed who’s coming for Christmas lunch and for whom you feel obligated to buy a gift, though you’ve never met them in your life. I have actually heard a woman asking for such a book before and she left with all anxiety allayed, beautifully wrapped and beribboned book in tow. I do the same minutes later, my step and wallet both considerably lighter than when I went in.

The Open Book: If I can stomach the walk up Richmond Road to Ponsonby, I dodge the almond milk cappuccino-wielding yummy mummies in their Lulu Lemon paraphernalia and find refuge in The Open Book. The seven rooms of books, free tea, resident typewriter, and plentiful seating make sojourning here for a few hours utterly blissful. Rather than suffering through the perpetually unhelpful eney-meeme-miney-mo, I arrive at the counter laden with five pre-loved paperbacks, a Folio Society edition of Don Quixote, and an anniversary edition of Dickens, and my eyes only water slightly at the overall price, rather than the tag attached to each volume. They have such treasures here, though, that I toss responsibility (i.e. rent, food, power bill) into the wind and swipe my card with all the abandon of Maria running over the singing hills of Salzburg. I need that second hand first edition of obscure fiction that only I have heard of. Hayden- who is zen enough to not be bothered by the battle of bookshops vs Amazon- sits behind the desk either hunched over his laptop or reading in such a relaxed manner that it makes me want to work there (even though I’ve worked in enough bookshops to know that the reality is not so sweet as the concept. Read Diary of a Bookseller if you need to have any such romantic illusions shattered swiftly with a side of black Scottish humour). I leave him to crunch the numbers and leave with my wallet lighter and the promise of escapism in my pocket- preferable to a pay check any day.

Hard To Find: Located for so long in the repurposed Chinese laundromat, the Hard to Find Bookshop is not hard to find if you’re a reader. Once I’d discovered its existence, many a subsequent Sunday found me dragging my mum into the car (and then my own sorry ass onto a train) over to Onehunga to visit this historic, watershed bookshop. (Please do not go here looking for watersheds. Or books about them. I don’t think they actually exist.) From the rare to the recent, any book you desire is easy to find if you’ve got the time, anti-histamines and the determination of an early settler. Though the shop has left behind the Escher-like staircases of Onehunga and relocated to St Benedict’s St, none of its magic – or magical stock – has been lost. You will find books on books, books on reading, books on historic voyages to find books, books that were written and you’re glad, books that were written and you wonder why, books about how to read, why to read, and what to do when you’re reading too much, conveniently placed beside the book on irony. What you will not find is your afternoon, your pocket money, your dignity, or the way to lug ten boxes of books home. Embrace your fate, booklover. ‘Tis the cross we have to bear.

The Green Dolphin: Every Wednesday morning, I meet a friend of mine in St Kevin’s Forte Green where we sit high up and survey the indies and suits in their beanies and ties, umming and ahhing over the spectacular range of donuts and freshly baked bread. Having hashed out all our problems over coffee, she refuels with cinnamon and sugar and I traipse down to The Green Dolphin and solve all my woes with a few treasures from the sales table. I’m generally feeling pretty vulnerable after having spent an hour listed all that’s wrong with politics, society, and the rising price of breathing, and I’m in the need of a hug. At the Dolphin, comfort comes in the form of a few Famous Five adventures and something about gardening. The latter reminds me of simpler times while the other lets me dream half-seriously about ditching Auckland and escaping to the country to raise chickens and make jam. Coincidentally, they have books on the subject of pickles, preserves and soap making. However, jam no matter how delicious and preservative-free is not sufficient to lure me away to a place where the ratio of livestock to bookshops leans considerably in favour of the former. I totter away, Enid Blyton weighing down my bag with all her talk of scones and lashings of ginger beer, content to dream (for now) of nights spent on the heather and spotting smugglers.

Jason Books: What student hasn’t trudged down the stairs to this little wonder to see if they can find their textbooks worn and less fiendishly expensive (No? Just me? Okay then…) Who’s Jason? After some high quality, intensive investigative journalistic work (I asked at the counter and googled) I found out instead that the underground room in which the shop is situated once held a Turkish bath, when Chancery Chambers was first built in 1924. Jason’s came in 2011 but is already a fairly historic site to those of us who love a good bookish bargain. If you don’t want harassment or pushy sales people, this is your Shangri-La. Silence and that smell of old paper, Church-like reverence, and the echo of that magical something that all good bookshops have, surrounds you as soon as you enter those double doors and hit the new arrivals shelves, the gardening books, and soon, the counter where yet again I part with more money than I thought I could afford.  

Unity: Chaos, crowds, tables, teetering towers, turnstiles, and – perhaps most intimidating – the challenging collection entitled ‘brainy stuff’ which is conveniently (or perhaps purposefully) placed next to the children’s section, which is all I feel I ought to be reading when I find nothing to interest me among the titles intended for clever people. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, this shop is the definition of my pinterest-home and will forever be the standard to which my future library will be held. The staff chat cheerily among one another behind the counter and are quick to hop out and help me to the well-stocked history shelf where, after fossicking for a few minutes, they pull out the exact book I wanted but couldn’t find. Apparently superpowers are a prerequisite for working here. Which I, sadly, do not possess though I have the weakness that’s meant to go along with it: inability to walk past the Unity window without stopping, blocking everyone while I stare open mouthed at the covers on display, my arms already filled with, yep, books. And still, I go in. I’ll eat noodles tonight. Whatever.

Poppies: My fondest memories of childhood ballet are the post-class forays into this historic store. Previously located in Remuera in the old horse stables, it has recently moved to Howick where its shelves continue to serve voracious readers young and old. If I sound particularly nostalgic here, it’s because this bookshop was balm to the relentless posture correction and posterior clenching of the previous hour. I would slouch on beanbags and cushions reading about prima ballerinas, wipe away the tears of failure, sit up straight and perform my plies, tondeaus, and rom de jambe, one hand on the junior fiction section. The shop also holds a fabulous collection of my other kryptonite – notebooks. What better place to sell journals than a shop filled with the shiny achievements of those people who got their random scribblings out of the bottom drawer and into the hands of publishers. Tony, the grandfatherly figure of every book you read as a child set in a bookshop, is a delight and will natter away about books, book events, and the Writer’s festival which he helps to organise. There’s no book he can’t find for you, no title he can’t guess no matter how obscure of frankly incorrect your approximation. (“It had a blue cover – or maybe it was green – and there was a woman on the front holding a spear, or maybe it was a man on a horse. Anyway, it was set in Sweden, or Switzerland, or was it Swaziland? Something starting with S, and it was about this person who did something to do with the Berlin Wall. Or Nazi Germany.” True Story.) Tony, bless him will inevitably bring you up the copy of All the Light We Cannot See and send you away with a smile and complimentary bookmark.

Bookmark: This is the quintessential get-lost-in-a-bookshop bookshop. On multiple occasions, I have entered this labyrinth with friends after lunch for a ‘quick look’ and emerged to find myself twelve kilos heavier, in the dark, alone, and with no money left to get home. But an excellent copy of Alice in Wonderland from the coveted glass cabinet. They will kindly take unwanted books off your hands, providing you with ample currency to spend on new books- and on re-purchasing the books you suddenly realise you can’t let go of because X title got you through some very hard times and the damp stain on the cover a relic of the tears you cried over your favourite boyband breaking up. Specialising in, well, everything, this shop is a testament to the power of literature to transport us to all the paces we ever wanted to go- with a few sidesteps into places we didn’t. (I’m looking at you, Voyages That Ended Badly.) For those of iron will (or with particularly strong-fisted friends), visit Bookmark, leave with your bag (*gasp*) empty and hop (or be carried) across the road to the library where you can gorge yourself guilt free on as many titles as you want. (And then spend about the same amount in overdue fees as you would have on books in the first place. Seriously. Just buy the books).

Happy reading.

Honourable Mentions:

The Booklover, Milford

The Woman’s Bookstore, Ponsonby

Time Out, Mt Eden (particularly recommended due to resident cat)

Chapter, Mt Eden

Novel, Jervois Road

Dominion Books, Jervois Road

The Village Bookshop (technically Matakana but they have books so… Road trip?)

The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop, Ponsonby

Paradox Books, Devonport

Arcadia Books, Newmarket

The Book Exchange, Glen Eden