“I think I am, therefore, I am… I think.” George Carlin

There it is, bottom row of the first bookshelf in the back room, Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures. I made it to page 68 when I was last in and though there is but one copy where last week there were four, one copy’s all I need in this exercise of self control- I don’t need to buy another book.

The venue is Gertrude & Alice , and it definitely makes the top five places I love in Sydney. Spilling out onto Hall Street, just a minute walk from Bondi Beach, it stretches two rooms deep with large communal tables, a busy coffee bar and shelves packed to the point of overspill. I went on a book binge yesterday and today’s my day off so like moth to a flame I’m back in the stacks, however a sobering glance at my bank account helped me pick G&A, this nook where I can sit comfortably for hours on end with delicious ginger-lemongrass tea and come back to books I’m cheekily reading off the shelf and returning at the end of each session.

I spent the weekend fitting lectures at The Festival of Dangerous Ideas around shifts at a Tiki bar serving pork skewers to city boys and tourists. Inspired by Tara Moss and Eva Cox, two generations of feminists and two strong, beautifully eloquent voices, I decided it was time for some mental gymnastics and hit up the Women/Gender/Feminism sections of Oxford Street bookshops. Though I promise to explore the ‘dangerous ideas’ espoused at the Festival in an upcoming post, today’s musings are more book related, and pragmatic.

You see, on yesterday’s literature high I went to four shops- Ampersand, Berkelouw, Ariel and the The Bookshop – and bought six books. What I realized on this magnificent excursion was that each was quite unique and my impressions were quite subjective. I believe that love-affairs with bookshops are deeply personal, and what will make me gasp, and ooooh and aaah, and spend my imaginary money on books that I have nowhere to store, is a reflection of my own romanticized relationship with books that is perhaps not shared by all- Although I assure I have great taste, really.

 If my reviews are going to be of any use to the provisional visitor, rather than the stalker seeking insight into my twisted mind, I’m going to need a few standardized criteria to begin reviewing shops effectively in my search for Sydney’s best bookshop. In essence I need to assess the following- can I get to the bookshop, once there do I want to stick around and if I do, am I likely to stumble on something I want and when I turn over the book am I likely to gasp at the price tag and write down the authors name for future Amazon.com orders (The horror!).

 Following from this I’ve put together a provisional list of 8 benchmarks for greatness which can be graded on a scale of 0-5, zero being rubbish and five being utterly brilliant; I’m happy to receive any further suggestions!

  1. Location?
  2. Am I lured off the street?
  3. One inside, does the shop have a strong linger/lounge factor?
  4. Can I find what I’m looking for/ is the collection comprehensive?
  5. If I’m browsing, how inspiring are the options?
  6. Are the staff friendly and well informed?
  7. Is the price reasonable/ are there good offers or promos?
  8. How well has it adapted to the need to diversify?
  9. Does it offer something unique?

These should provide a framework from which I can extrapolate on how the shop has pitched itself (from the graffiti mural at Ampersand to the erroneously signposted Children’s Bookshop in Lindfield), what it’s selling other than books (food, coffee, postcards, novelty telephones), whose buying and why and how the whole thing has come together.

I will then forgo any use of statistics to produce a final Peacock Rating that establishes how much of a frisson the place gave me, because this is my blog, and I plan to retain some of the luxury of espousing my own sentimental inclinations.

The wondrous places I will be reviewing so far include:

Gertude & Alice (Hall Street, Bondi)
-Ampersand (Paddington)
Berkelouw (Paddington/Newtown)
-Gould’s Bookshop (Kings St, Newtown)
Elizabeth’s Bookshop (Kings St, Newtown)
Better Read than Dead (Kings St, Newtown)
-Lindfield Children’s Bookshop (Lindfield)
Kunokuniya (George Street)
-Dymocks (George Street)
Ariel: on the Rocks and Ariel: Paddington
-The Constant Reader (Crow’s Nest)
Moir’s Bookshop (Lane Cove)
-The Bookshop (Darlinghurst)

Further suggestions are eagerly awaited…


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