Bloomsbury Books (Ashland, Oregon)
[the Auckland version did not serve coffee – but it's where I found
a complete set of Child's English and Scottish Ballads ...]
It’s hard for me to walk through the central city any more without seeing the ghosts of lost bookshops on every side.
In Elliott Street, there’s the memory of Vintage Books, a beautiful little second-hand bookshop one floor up, in a building which was torn down and then built up again in the same place: not so much thin air, then, as the shadow of thin air. And yet I can still work my way down its aisles in my mind: poetry on the left – that’s where I found a two-volume joint edition of the works of sixteenth-century poets Giles and Phineas Fletcher one day – the central table for new books – that’s where I picked up a six-volume Everyman’s edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire a few moments before a man came panting in off the street and begged to buy it off me, explaining that he’d been looking for it for years.
Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
“So have I,” I replied curtly, planking down the $12 it cost on the counter. I’ve often thought how much better a person I’d be if I’d let him have the book that day. It was true, though. I had been looking for it for years. And I did start reading it as soon I got home. All the same, what a bastard! Not a bastard, perhaps: just a collector - with all the unscrupulous connotations that entails ...
Plato: Collected Dialogues (1961)
Further down, on Lorne Street, there’s the corner that used to be David Thomas’s Bookshop, where – among stacks of other tomes – I bought an old shop-soiled edition of Plato with a missing title page (which I still have) for $5. Opposite it, there are the second-floor rooms which housed Jason Books for a time. But the Jason Books I remember best was run by a man called Richard Poore, in a little cul-de-sac in High Street.
Helge Kokeritz, ed.: Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: A Facsimile Edition (1955)
That’s where I found a facsimile edition of Shakespeare’s first folio lying face down on the floor, priced at $25 or so. It’s also where I discovered a scruffy old cardboard box full of large black books which turned out to be a complete set of Burton’s Arabian Nights, all sixteen volumes of it: ten devoted to the translation proper, six of the ‘Supplemental Nights.’ That one cost me $150, and even though I only really needed the last 6 volumes, I’ve always been grateful to the bookseller for not being willing to break up the set. It would have been complete madness to abandon the other ten volumes there in situ. I can see that now.
Richard Burton, trans.: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (n.d.: c.1940s)
What’s left? There was a time, not so long ago, when one could start off at Downtown, then travel up Queen Street veering from second-hand bookshop to second-hand bookshop, all the way up to K Rd – beyond that, even: to Symonds Street and Allphee Books. Now virtually all those treasured landmarks have gone. They survive in the form of old bookmarks, leaved into odd volumes of my book collection.
Rare Books (interior)
There are a couple of exceptions. Anah Dunsheath’s Rare Books still has its premises on High Street, for the specialty trade, but for the most part it does its business online. Back in the day, when it was open more often, that was an essential stop on the way: not least for the discount tray nearest the street. It was in there that I bought my first copies of the strange, erudite, yet somehow maddening works of Frances Yates.
Trevor C.: Rare Books (exterior)
And then, of course, there's the new-look Jason Books. Maud Cahill, who runs it, has transformed it from the chaotic, dusty treasure trove it used to be into a highly organised, beautifully arranged showroom for both the rare and the rank-and-file among books: both (after all) are essential to the true bibilophile.
Jason Books (interior)
It now lives behind Freyberg Square, in O’Connell Street. It’s well worth looking through. Perhaps my most dazzling find there in recent years was the three volume edition of Emily Dickinson’s collected letters I’d been longing to own for so many years: ever since I first used to browse through its pages in the stacks of Auckland University Library, in fact. Maud has an amazing eye for such things: almost every time I go in there seems to be some mouthwatering treasure waiting for me.
Some other examples? Let’s see – Jeffrey Masson’s own annotated copy of the ten-volume Ocean of the Streams of Story (a first edition); Maurice Duggan’s copy of W. H. Auden’s T. S. Eliot Lectures: Secondary Worlds; Vladimir Nabokov’s exhaustive, eccentric four-volume translation and commentary on Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin … plus all of those biographies and history books and novels and other (generally Mylar-covered) objects of desire.
I wish I could still spend my days wandering through those lost bookshops, squandering my money on their flotsam and jetsam, but I think that they’re still there somewhere: certainly in memory, but maybe, also, in the realm of the Platonic archetypes, waiting to lure me in again – Bloomsbury, Vintage, David Thomas: and all the 'new' bookshops that have gone, too: Borders, Dymocks, Parsons.
It’s best to be thankful for what you have, though. I feel very grateful for Jason Books - and, just down the street from it, for Unity Books, too. Long may they flourish.
Glenn M.: Jason Books (exterior)