A book lover’s Narnia

The Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Thingshas contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, photography, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. Though the guest posts are not always by fellow bloggers, the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest author is Deepa of Deepa’s Kaleidoscope. An engineer by training, but a writer at heart, Deepa writes fiction and on social issues with equal parts passion and reflection, which results in a unique perspective on a particular topic. Currently based in Melbourne, this guest post is a result of her exploration into the bewitching world of the many bookstores in the city. An exploration that has just begun and one, I suspect, is a never-ending one. :-)

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so they say. This morning, I found a sweet little image that said, ‘The way to a woman’s heart is through a bookstore’. And if you’re here reading this blog post in the middle of your workday, night or while on the road, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, the saying probably applies to you too!

Melbourne, where I am currently based, is well-known for its Arts Precinct, a part of which also includes the Literary Arts. And when we think of literary festivals and fundraisers, how can books be far behind? Walking through the streets of Melbourne, you would be pleasantly surprised at how you encounter a bookstore every 2–3 blocks. Some of them are the typical run-of-the-mill kinds boasting of sales and specials, some are steeped in history and every one of them has a story behind it!

Melbourne Bookstores 1There are departmental store chains that have book sections and then there are independent book stores. While the former are, by and large, the same from city to city, it’s the latter type of bookstores in Melbourne that interest me. It is fascinating how each little bookstore is set unique by its little trinkets, handmade labels, doodles on the wall, crafts displayed, the staff’s personal touches, and the overall ambience within the store. It is probably also what makes the bookstore owners extremely possessive about their territory. Photography is heavily frowned upon unless you have the owner’s permission.

I didn’t realise it back then but when I think about it now, these little personalisations in bookstores seem geared towards reminding you of your childhood. Storytelling events at The Little Bookroom make it magical for kids, complete with actions and craft time. As an adult, even I felt entranced by the narration. A beautiful way to introduce children to reading, don’t you think?

Some stores like the Dymocks, a huge independent bookstore, also houses a café and a restaurant within the bookstore and allow you indulge in a hot cup of coffee, while you stroll around. Like departmental stores, it has escalators within the three-storeyed structure, but everywhere you look there are books and more books ! Check out the elaborate chai latte they serve, complete with honey, cardamom and cinnamon spiced tea and the filter! It was sheer bliss. Imagine stretching out on a cozy armchair with a novel in your hand and the chai! Starbucks doesn’t even come close!

Melbourne Bookstores 3- Chai Latte

Photo: melbourneliterary. sutromedia. com

Photo: melbourneliterary. sutromedia. com

If you’re a fan of crime fiction and love the blood, gore, courtrooms and the thrill of a psychological chase, and if you’re in Melbourne, then leaving the city without a visit to Kill City would be a crime in itself.

Largely famous for its huge collection of crime fiction, it’s a haven for aspiring authors and crime/law case researchers. Most libraries have sections of fiction, thrillers, travel and such. Kill City, which also sells second-hand books, goes a step further. Check out the categorization in the picture below (The owner didn’t let me take a picture, so I had to do with one from the net)

Melbourne Bookstores 5-Kill City

Photo: melbourneliterary.sutromedia.com

The owner told me how, sometimes, he has found boarding passes, letters, business cards within books and simply left  them there for the next person to find! He likes to say that it is his way of connecting people!

Source: http://melbourneliterary.sutromedia.com

Source: melbourneliterary.sutromedia.com

And then there’s Kay Craddock. They call themselves an antique bookstore. However, judging by their book collection, they’re anything but. The interiors can give you the jeepers though. Dozens of owls stare at you from every nook and cranny. Their favourite genre is Sci-Fi and fantasy. The owls that remind me of Harry Potter, instantly fit!

And then there are stores designed to attract a specific target audience. Like the Hares and Hyenas, which I hear are geared towards the gay and lesbian population. Incidentally, they also host events and boast of the biggest collection of IVF and fertility related books. Someone also told about a bookstore called Syber’s Books, but the owner supposedly has cats (with an ‘s’) running around freely in the store, and apparently they can get crazy! So for now, I steer clear.

Back in Minneapolis and even now in Melbourne, all the libraries — huge ones with endless shelves of books, magazines and audio/video material are all accessible to the community for free! You heard me right! I have even rented 30 items at a time, thanks to government budgets for the literary arts. That’s one thing I love about these cities. But what astonishes me is that many of these bookstores also thrive simply on donations and charity projects. It is the owner’s passion for books and his dream of having more people read them that keeps these alive. There are more on my list that I need to check out (There’s one called Curtin House, a theater that’s been converted to a bookstore but holds shows too!), but so far its been a fun exploration!

Are there bookstores that have fascinated you too?

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50 thoughts on “A book lover’s Narnia

    • Thank YOU, Deepa.

      Ever since I read about/heard about Melbourne’s bookshops I have been wanting to visit this city. When I’ll do that is the big question. So I decided to live vicariously through your explorations. So, ya, I’m selfish that way :-P :-)

  1. A three storeyed bookstore that houses Caffe and with a specialty Chai Latte… I moaned in pleasure just READING about it… I guess, they’d have to boot me out of the place if I ever manage to reach there…

    I agree, the way to my heart, goes via books….One of my everlasting wish, is to built a house full of books (probably a mansion, like Elinor in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart)…but since I can’t afford both at this time, I’m ready to settle for a simple study instead.

    Next stop…Melbourne… :)

    • :) The good part about these is definitely that they let you spend the entire day there reading, chatting, drinking/eating without having to buy books. Its a very satisfying feeling! I so much relate to your wish :) I dream too of having a huge mansion full of books. But Melbourne is way too expensive! And buying books here and having to leave them behind because of weight constraints when I go back to India would be tantamount to sacrilege! So I stick to libraries for books and bookstores for mental pleasure! :) I am glad you enjoyed the post Shraddha!

  2. First things first. I am jealous with a big J. So many bookshops that I have not seen, entered, sampled the books, browsed, read… And such lovely bookshops too. Unlike you, I like cats so I will go to Syber and I also like owls so even Kay Craddock gets my vote. But my favourite has to be Kill City. And you know what, we are having “Crime Fiction” as the topic for this Sunday’s TSBC :-)

    Deepa, thank you so much for this post and I absolutely loved it. Maybe we can have a part 2 after you have visited some more of the bookshops :-)

    • LOL. I wouldn’t have visited so many if not for this post. So – thank you! If you want to buy books from Kill City then perfect! The only sad part about this one is they have minimal seating :( And there’s only so much of reading you can do standing! I wish I had so much money in the world that lets me buy books without a second thought! I would fill Rapunzel’s tower to the top with books then!

  3. Wow! I wish I lived in Melbourne…this post is like a reader’s delight..and Agree with S…I AM JEALOUS!!!

    loved loved loved the way you have written it, put in pictures and definitely made a whole lot of people want to read so much more

    • Thank you R’s Mom! :) I am glad you liked it! I am not a wanderlust per se, but I have stayed/visited in a few cities and so far I do like Melbourne! Not just for the bookstores. Its a lively place. Very much a metropolis like Mumbai – if you’ve been there. I’m doing another piece on freelance artists here and Christmas – there’s a lot going on. Don’t know if its just the timing or this way all through the year! You should visit!

    • Thanks Jas! It is! :) What particularly feels nice is the amount of physical space being dedicated to books. Big bookstores are endlessly stocked and the smaller ones have so much charm built into them. Nice to run into you here :) Yep, am doing another piece on events too. I haven’t been in places where such events have happened at this scale, so its all new to me. Maybe someone who’s been here long enough might think what’s all the hype about!

  4. Wow, I would love to be locked up in a bookstore. I loved the lovely libraries in the US. You can be lost for hours, borrow as much as you need, read all periodicals and magazines. It used to be my favorite haunt. These days, in India, I am subscribed to an online library. It is pretty efficient and considering how much my son and I read, it saves me loads of money too :). The way to my heart is surely through a good book! Nice to see you here Deepa. Good choice for a guest post, Sudhagee. I can see you almost wishing that you were teleported to Melbourne :).

    • :) Hehe! Yeah wouldn’t that be amazing! That’s the good part about bookstores that don’t make it mandatory for you to buy in order to read! Melbourne is pretty expensive – cost of living is way more than US or India. Plus I don’t want to buy books and have to leave them here when I go back. I learnt my lesson there coming back from US. So I stick to libraries for reading. But you should have seen me inside Kill City. Would have reminded you of a salivating dog! I will bother you someday soon for details about the online library! :)

  5. wow!!! first of all, Deepa, I really really envy you!!!! As Sudha says, “Jealous with a BIG J” what wouldnt I give to have such bookstores to go to. of course, I wouldnt ever want to leave! and to think that my husband spent years in Melbourne, and never went to any of these!!!!
    And sudha, wonderful guest post for you.. yes, i remember i owe you one! maybe in the new year :D

    • LOL. I thank Sudha for putting the topic of this guest post into my mind. Otherwise, I might have missed out on a few myself. Kill City is right on my street. So I love going there! Does your husband read a lot? Mine doesn’t. He only visited a couple with me. The rest was all on my own. I guess it also had something to do with this being a new city for me and so the thrill of exploring was there! I have stayed in Mumbai for a large portion of my life and haven’t been to many bookstores. Could probably count them on one hand! Same with MN. That was probably because it was much a laid-back town and dependent on private transport. This place makes it easier for me to be up and about!

    • Thank you Aakanksha :) Maybe not ones that let you roam around for free and allow drinks inside, but I am guessing Mumbai too might have its own share of eclectic bookstores. I am guilty enough of not trying to explore those more while in Mumbai. But now I am curious!

    • Aakanksha, good to see you here after so long.

      Mumbai did have a unique shop in Lotus Book Store in Bandra, a bookstore entirely devoted to films, plays, musicals and scripts from all over the world. It was a wonderful place and one day without warning, it just shut down in the late 1990s/early 2000s. There were indignant pieces written in newspapers and then all went quiet. I don’t know if it reopened again.

    • I wish I could say the same Bikram but this place is freaking expensive! How I wish I had all the money in the world to not worry about spending on books (among other things!) – But that being said, you should try and visit sometime. Dymocks is fun too though its more commercialized. I loved The Little Book Room. Very much a children’s fantasy! Kill City tops the list for me!

  6. You seem to be having so much fun. And don’t I join the list of those who envy you! The best one I liked was the Owl one. Like Sudha, I love them too and wouldn’t mind one looking down at me from the corners. But Syber’s is no-no. I am mortally afraid of cats.

    I remember one bookstore in Chandigarh called The Browser’s, which had this wonderful library attached to it. And yes, you could carry a cup of coffee to one of the tables and spend the entire day there, reading the books. For members, they had a unique scheme: you pay a certain amount as monthly membership fee and were allowed to borrow books not exceeding the amount from their BOOKSHOP! Brand new ones. And once borrowed, they were put in the library section and could be bought at a discount ranging from 10,20. 30 or even 50% depending upon how old the book was. I had gone berserk borrowing and buying from that place. This was way back in ’99. Wonder if it still exists and in what form.

    • Well, I don’t have a full time job right now! I am in a new city where loads of people walk on the roads unlike where I stayed in US, the weather is balmy, public transport’s amazing! Yep, you’re right :D Am having fun! He he! Me too – terrified of cats!

      That sounds like a lovely bookstore Zephyr! Don’t you love it when bookstores make it easier and affordable for people to buy and borrow? We need to make conditions favourable for people to read more!

  7. I LOVED this post, for obvious reasons. :) A peek into a booklover’s Narnia it is, indeed! That reminds me, I haven’t read the Narnia series. :( I have caught a few glimpses of the movies, though, and they did look lovely. Got to catch up with them soon now.

    Loved these glimpses into quaint bookstores in a place that is so distant from where I reside. I am always fascinated by bookstores in the places that I visit, and this post satisfied that curiosity of mine. :)

    LOved, loved, loved what one of the bookstore owners had to say about connecting people through his books. Such little bits and pieces in pre-loved books fascinate me to no end, too. I wrote about it here: http://thegalnxtdoor.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/of-the-magic-of-second-hand-bookstores/

    Blossoms is presently my most favourite bookstore in Bangalore. There is an entire area dedicated to booklovers in this city, too. I have been thinking of doing a post on them, too, but have somehow never gotten around to it. I should.

    BTW, on a related note, thought you and your readers would enjoy this post I read yesterday and loved: http://traveholic.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/angel-in-disguise/

    • “Connecting people through books” reminds you of Helene from 84 Charing Cross Road, right?

      I did pay a brief visit to Blossoms when I was in Bangalore last Februrary, but did not have time to explore the full shop, because I went er… berserk in the stationery section :-)

      Thanks a lot for the links as well, TGND. Will go through it leisurely.

    • Grrrrr! And to think I spent a month and a half in Bangalore and never knew about it! I’ve to keep that in mind for next time! Am glad you enjoyed the post TGND! I haven’t read Narnia myself but I watched the first movie, it was breathtaking! I can so relate to what you say about quaint bookstores and their charm. Second hand books that way all have a story don’t they! :) I’ll read your post next! I love the feel of those old books plus, they have memories too. Like in childhood when we used to buy old Tintins and Tinkles from underneath a train bridge! :) That’s something I miss with Kindle, but then both have their good and bad! If you’re a reader, I guess you just love all forms!

  8. It was wonderful and nostalgic reading your post on Melbourne bookstores. I had been to the city about five years ago. Sadly, I did not have much time to visit the bookstores. The few that I stepped into, I do not remember the names. But, I do know that there are bookshops in even the small suburbs – very attractive and friendly owners/staff.
    Yes, Melbourne is very expensive. However, travelling by public transport was easy. Now, after reading your post, I want to make another trip – just to see the bookstores.
    The community libraries are amazing. Sydney, too, has some amazing bookshops. If you get a chance, please go.
    And Sudha, since when did you start liking cats????

    • Neena, I’ve always liked cats. Actually I’m in awe of them and their attitude. Agreed that dogs, especially like your four legged, are more approachable, there is something about cats that make them irresistable. :-)

      • I’m glad I could take you down memory lane Neena :) Yes, some of the famous ones are in the suburbs. I haven’t gone exploring those by myself yet. So far, been walking around the city! It seems safer with all the people walking around :) I would be in Sydney this new year but only for 2 days :( But I’ll keep that in mind for next time! That’s another habit I am trying to inculcate – if I stay in a city more than a week then I got to check out local stuff too and not go all touristy! :)

  9. Wow ! So many bookstores.. I am really envious.. Bookstores in India are few and far and books are just crammed.. very few have good seating facilities..and even fewer would be spacious enough for you to enjoy browsing in peace.. I also dreamt when I was small to get stranded in an island with lots of books and food.. coz that was all I wanted :)

    • The problem with giving too much of seating space is that every person would probably come in for his share of airconditioning! :D Melbourne city library is an unfortunate target in that sense. With a stream of backpackers in the city in summer, libraries have become loud and boisterous. There are incidents of laptops being stolen and such. Anyway I digress. I am glad you liked the listing and descriptions! You should try and visit sometime! :)

  10. Great read, Deepa. I so am adrool. I am thrilled about the few Landmarks, Crosswords, and the Oxford Bookstores that we have here, and I enjoy a good Sunday out at the second hand book markets. This looks like an absolute treat. Thanks for adding one more thing to my to do list.

    • Thank you Subhorup! Yes, of the bookstores in India I have liked Landmarks and Crosswords too. Its nice how they let you stroll around and even read a bit in there. I haven’t been to Oxford though. I wish there was more money, space, intent, interest and everything that goes along with it to increase readership back home!

  11. What a lovely topic for a guest post. Bookstores are such a wonderful place to get lost in. My idea of heaven would be shelves after shelves after shelves of books in an ancient, majestic setting like a massive cave buried underground somewhere and only the worthy that are able to solve the clues gain entry – kinda like the lost library of Alexandria.

    My favorite place in Singapore where I lived briefly and the US happens to be the library system. You can spend hours reading, researching and no one bothers you. The membership fee for the library in our city is $10 for 5 years (they take the $10 to offset the library card making charges). The library here is run mostly by volunteers and state/city endowments. It is one facility that sees me every week with a big bag in my hand :)

    • My idea of heaven has always been a bookstore, Meera and your description just fits my idea :-) I wonder why community libraries do not work in India. Each suburb/node/locality in every city should have a community library.

      And $10 for 5 years? I think I just combusted due to jealously.

    • Thank you Meera! All credit for the topic goes to Sudha :) I love your idea of heaven! :) Wonder what hell would turn out like though, :( because I doubt I’ve been good enough to make it to heaven :D :P I love the concept of libraries in these countries which provide such services for little or no cost. Being able to read is a blessing. More people should be endowed with it! Community libraries should be more common!

  12. I loved the quote in the beginning… way to my heart is a bookstore…
    Thanks for bringing in this… grt to know a different side of Melbourne..
    Dymocks– Not to be missed for the book and the coffee together…

    When I was in Oslo, I too loved exploring the reading side of it… it was fun.

    • I can’t take any credit for the quote :) But I loved it too! Am glad you enjoyed the post! Reading transports to you a different world even by itself. But when external factors like seating, coffee and the general ambience lend a hand, its bliss! :)

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