Tales in the city – victoria
AS A retail centre, Melbourne has long lured Sydneysiders south on shopping trips to its laneway fashion boutiques. But as befits the second city to be dubbed a UNESCO City of Literature (after Edinburgh), its central business district is also strewn with book emporiums.
Why is Melbourne such a readers’ paradise? It might be something to do with the weather. As summer fades and balmy autumn nights signal the shift towards chilly winter, there’s nothing more comforting than the thought of settling down with a book next to a log fire in a St Kilda cafe. Here are five of the city centre’s best booksellers.
Let there be light
Fly By Night Books, 413 Elizabeth Street, (03) 9329 5115
Even acclaimed authors face the indignity of being remaindered but at least they can take solace from being marked down at this pleasant corner shop. There’s lots of natural light and homely staff recommendations hang on a “washing line”. The discounted stock is surprisingly intelligent, ranging from non-fiction such as Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland to fiction including Nicholas Drayson’s Love and the Platypus. Books commonly retail for $10, though some go for $3.
Rating The key to looking bright at a discount rate.
Kill City, 119 Swanston Street, (03) 9663 3741
Crime writing has never been more popular (think Underbelly) or respected. This basement bookshop, however, is decidedly old school, with a maze of pine shelving stacked high with pre-loved books. There’s a general section at one end and a crime section at the other – you can easily identify the latter because it’s painted blood red. The crime stock is a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, from true-crime works to classic 1959 aquatic mystery Death Wears Fins.
Rating The ideal joint to get your crime fix, doll.
You think, therefore
Hill of Content, 86 Bourke Street, (03) 9662 9472
Fortunately for believers in the soothing power of literature, this 1922 institution has survived the many ups and downs of life in the book trade. Its stock resides in dark timber shelving above burgundy-coloured carpet, imbuing one with the sense that the book is as supreme a form as it ever was and shall ever be (iPads notwithstanding). The Hill is a thinking person’s general bookstore, with a healthy selection of both fiction and non-fiction, including a good range of titles on Melbourne’s history.
Rating Worth visiting for the therapeutic paper-scented environment alone.
Crazy about vampires
Of Science & Swords, Strand Arcade, 250 Elizabeth Street, (03) 9663 4774
This bookshop’s owner is agnostic on the question of whether science fiction is better than fantasy – he stocks both genres in his compact specialist store. “There’s been a big surge of interest in what they call contemporary paranormal,” Jonathan Tan says, referring to the sub-genre that feeds on the vampire craze. The shop’s plain, pared-back interior contains hundreds of imaginative works, including popular recent releases such as Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan and Flirt by Laurell K. Hamilton.
Rating The perfect place to discover what the supernatural-lit surge is about.
Metropolis, Level 3, 252 Swanston Street, (03) 9663 2015
You’ll find this cool emporium in an icon of Melbourne’s offbeat urban style, the so-called “vertical laneway” of Curtin House. Its stock is focused on the visual, covering art, design, photography, fashion and architecture. The interior is a work of art in itself, a long, airy space with decor inspired by nature, including Indian wedding wreaths. It’s as interesting to watch the shoppers here as it is to browse the books.
Rating Vendor of that rare commodity: something for the friend who has everything.
The good word
Be honest, my fellow Melburnians — you don’t think of Sydney as a bookish place, do you? However, back in October 2007 a small cluster of Sydneysiders protested outside the New South Wales Parliament in an unconventional manner: by clutching a book in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other. It was part of a grassroots campaign to reform the state’s liquor laws so Sydney could gain some intimate bars in which one could be unashamed to be found reading. But that was then. Now that Melbourne-style small bars do exist in Sydney, where do you go to stock up on appropriate reading material to accompany that cheeky chenin blanc? Here are five CBD bookshops from which to select a vintage volume.
Basement Books Henry Deane Plaza, 2 Lee St, (02) 9211 7726 Cavernous bookery in an underpass next to Central Station. It stocks remaindered books at attractive prices, but this isn’t one of those fly-by-night temporary shopfronts.
It’s a vast space with coloured lightbulbs, multicoloured carpet, and row after row of books bearing yellow discount stickers.
Rating Perfect for picking up an easy read en route to train or plane.
Elizabeth’s Bookshop 343 Pitt St, (02) 9267 2533 Cheerful second-hand bookshop with timber shelves painted a jaunty forest green. Enter by passing the statue of a cat bearing a platter of boiled sweets.
It’s a rare example of a classic used-book emporium, with impressive depth across all genres. There’s even a nook devoted to graphic novels and comic books.
Rating Good place to find a stimulating biography of a hitherto obscure subject.
Kinokuniya 500 George St, (02) 9262 7996 Above the streets in the TGV shopping mall, Kinokuniya is a Japanese take on the American chain bookshop. There’s a wide cross-section of fiction and nonfiction, and lots of natural light from the windows overlooking the venerable Queen Victoria Building. The cooking section is particularly well stocked, whether you’re looking for hands-on cookbooks or beautifully photographed food porn.
Rating The place to find inspiration to tackle an exotic new cuisine — Korean, perhaps, or vegan.
Galaxy Bookshop 143 York St, (02) 9267 7222 Big, plain, well-lit shop below ground level, packed with rows of science fiction and fantasy works. You can tell how hot vampire fiction is by the entire aisle dedicated to paranormal romance and horror. Books of successful Australian SF&F writers are tagged on the shelves, and on one wall there are photos of international authors who’ve passed through the shop.
Rating Allows you to explore the question: am I more science fiction or fantasy?
Abbey’s Bookshop 131 York St, (02) 9264 3111 Also facing the Queen Victoria Building, Abbey’s is two floors of books with an emphasis on the practical and nonfictional. Head upstairs to check out the impressive foreign language section, with aisles of books in German, French and Italian; and small selections in more exotic languages such as Tagalog and Icelandic.
Rating Its selection of dead-language books is worth browsing just for the novelty of encountering Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh and The Cat in the Hat in Latin.
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Sydney Harbour YHA, 110 Cumberland Street, The Rocks. From $128 a night for double rooms, (02) 8272 0900, yha.com.au.