I have been home from a month in New Zealand for exactly 47 hours of this writing. Christopher Robin and I traveled there to see his brother and family, and while we were there we saw a world of wonders, including a whale and dolphins and seals, glow worms (best to know less than more) and seas so pale turquoise blue I cannot find the right word to describe it. We also sadly saw the ruined center of Christchurch, and ate way too much, as one does.
But the rarest, most lovely treasure I discovered in that blue and green land was that vanishing thing called a “bookstore.” Remember those, my American friends? That friendly little shop that sat on the corner, selling used books and paperbacks and seven new titles? Remember that place in the bohemian section of town where they sold New Age books, and the neighborhood that supported an African-American store, a Women’s Books store, AND the biggest used romance store in the city?
I had no idea this breed still existed, but I offer you the proof. Of course I browsed them all, and even when I told myself to stop buying books because they are heavy and we have a weight restriction, I couldn’t stop. I mean, really–what writer could resist? At the store above, a tiny hot shop on the main drag of Kaikoura, South Island, I found an out of print copy of the entirety of Captain Cook’s journals. With index. It only weighs seven pounds. In my own defense, I was going to leave it, but CR said, “Oh, go on. When will you ever find that again? Every time you read it, you’ll remember this store.” He was right.
This one was in Oamaru, where it was beginning to spit rain and in five minutes more, poured so hard that we ducked into a Victorian tea room next door, where we ate scones and drank pots of tea served to us by a girl in a Victorian uniform. The rain fell sideways, filling the streets, obscuring the old church across the street. My sister in law, a Glasgow native, kept saying in wonder, “I don’t know where I am! It’s England!”
Unfortunately, the shop was closed for lunch. It was packed with New Zealand things I wanted to explore, but alas, I didn’t get to go inside.
This New Age shop in Nelson had TONS of things I wanted to browse, but CR was not as enthusiastic since we had been kayaking and hiking and walking and touring for three days and he was starving, so I settled for a photo. I liked that there was a man nearby, playing a hand carved drum, his beard flowing down his belly.
This is the last one, a shop in Devonport, a neighborhood in Auckland reached by ferry. There really isn’t much to the village shops–it is the kind of place you would go with your friends to have lunch, then wander around the galleries, maybe have your feet done. There were tons of bookstores there–I counted three before we left the ferry building! I found a stationary shop and bought a fountain pen, and at this store, I found some obscure history texts, plus a used copy of a novel called Wife 22 that I promptly read that night .
This is not even the tip of the iceberg in the photos I shot of bookstores, and I find that I miss their presence very, very much. I love to pick the books up and open them, and smell the time in their pages. I love to see the note someone wrote, long ago in a spidery hand, in the pages of the history book. I love that I would never have found that novel except that day, that place. I love bookstores like this, all the little ones and all the big ones, so many of them gone now.
Do you think they will ever come back? Are there still bookstores like this in your town or city? What’s your favorite–alive or moved to the Great Bookstore Land in the Sky?