Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Dymocks Wellington franchise bookshop has gone into receivership. I’m sad about that. It was big and spacious with comfortable armchairs. It was well-stocked, especially with coffee table books, which was probably one of the reasons for its failure. Travel, art, garden and culinary interests were splendidly covered. There was a large paper-back fiction section, history books galore, a range of good science and technical and excellent racks of biographies. If they didn’t have a book in stock they would get it if it was available. In other words, an old-fashioned bookshop, trying to compete with the chains and niche boutiques. I launched my memoir This Piece of Earth there.

The name Dymocks carries resonance for me. When I was a boy I loved Richmal Crompton’s William books. During the war and after they were re-issued by the Australian publisher Dymocks in cheap editions with red covers. Birthdays and Christmases saw my collection steadily increase, each with that strange name on the spine. I was accustomed to publishers being booksellers - Whitcombe and Tombs in Christchurch and Pauls Book Arcade in Hamilton spring to mind. So in my first visit to Sydney I entered with delight Angus and Robertson’s large bookshop. A few streets away I stumbled across Dymocks – not as big but still a treasure trove of Australiana. I spent a happy day in both shops.

I’ve always explored bookshops, new and second-hand, indeed it is a good way to judge a town. In my first visit to Gisborne when I became a school inspector I discovered a shop that had hardback editions of Conrad’s novels still priced at 2 and 6, half-a-crown. The University Bookshop in Dunedin has long been a favourite. The size of the English sections of bookshops in Tokyo was a revelation – in one there were over four shelves solely devoted to Melville. Blackwells in Oxford was like entering a time-warp.

Book-shops should be like garden centres; places to meander and browse, contemplate purchases and toss up about choice. They are different from a library. There every book is available for lending whereas in a bookshop they are there to be bought and possessed. The scent and sight of new books excites the senses and the mind. What pleasures lie between the covers? The passing of Dymocks leaves Lambton Quay the poorer. I regret that.

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