Tuesday, January 31, 2023

My Favourite Vintage Bookshops: Waikato

William Fisk: George Catlin (1849)

Raglan - for those of you who haven't been there - is a scenic little town on the West Coast known mostly for surfing and beaches. It also boasts a rather interesting second-hand bookshop. In My Good Books opened some ten years ago. It's still going strong - albeit under new management, and with a new name: Well Read Books.

But what, you may ask, is the connection with American artist and traveller George Catlin, pictured above?

George Catlin: The North American Indians (1844)
George Catlin. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, Written During Eight Years' Travel (1832-1839) amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America. 1844. Introduction by Marjorie Halpin. 1965. 2 vols. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973.

Well, I was in the shop a couple of years ago when I noticed a considerable pile of books about Native American history and culture over in one corner. I chose a few - most notably the ones pictured below - to come home with me.

Angie Debo. A History of the Indians of the United States. 1970. Pimlico 174. London: Random House, 1995.

As I lugged them over to the owner of the shop, I commented that someone must have sold her their entire Native American collection. "They're mine, actually," she replied.

John Ehle: Trail of Tears (1988)
John Ehle. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. 1988. Anchor Books. New York: Random House Inc., 1989.

Which sparked a conversation. She said that she'd only creamed off a few of her books on the subject. In particular, as a direct descendant of George Catlin, she had a lot of material related to him, including a first edition of his classic Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians. All that she'd hung onto.

Charles C. Mann: 1491 (2005)
Charles C. Mann. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 2005. 2nd ed. Vintage Books. New York: Random House, Inc., 2011.

It's always nice to meet a fellow enthusiast for some fairly recondite area of study. Native American culture is certainly something that fascinates many people, but it seemed to surprise her not only that I knew who George Catlin was, but that I already owned a copy of his magnum opus (only as a Dover reprint, mind you, but those can be very useful at times).

James Wilson: The Earth Shall Weep (1998)
James Wilson. The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America. New York: Grove Press, 1998.

All in all, we had a great old natter. I was able to reassure her that her books would be going to a good home, where they would be read and appreciated, and congratulated her on her courage in feeling able to part with so many of them.

She mentioned that much of this downsizing was due to the fact that she was looking for a buyer for the business, so it came as no great surprise to hear some short time later that her shop had closed.

What did come as a surprise was the news that it had been bought, and would soon be reopening. I've visited it a few times now in its new guise, and am glad to report that it's still a delightfully unpredictable bookshop, with unexpected treasures to be stumbled upon.

Well Read Books

Well Read Books
[2 Wallis Street, Raglan 3225]

Here's one of those treasures. I wrote a post a year or so ago about the great Scottish writer James Hogg. Well, it was in Raglan that I found a pre-loved copy of his classic Gothic thriller The Confessions of a Justified Sinner in the wonderfully comprehensive Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of his Collected Works:

James Hogg. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Written by Himself: With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Editor. 1824. Ed. P. D. Garside. Afterword by Ian Campbell. Chronology by Gillian Hughes. The Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg. 2001. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

I suppose that it must have been abandoned by some international visitor: Raglan is, after all, an important stop on the tourist itinerary for surfers and adventurers generally. This guarantees a steady supply of new books, as well as a constantly shifting audience of readers.


Browsers Books
[298 Victoria Street, Riverbank Lane, Hamilton 3204]

Just a short drive across country from Raglan, in the heart of the region's capital, Hamilton, you'll find the delightfully eclectic bookshop Browsers.

It's hard to count up all the books that I've purchased from them. I suppose one of the most dramatic finds was a copy of a three volume edition of The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë which had been presented to her old school by the editor, and then (presumably) callously culled in some subsequent library purge:

Charlotte Brontë: The Early Writings (3 vols, 1987-91)
Christine Alexander, ed. An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. 3 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987-91.
  1. The Glass Town Saga, 1826-1832 (1987)
  2. The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 1: 1833-1834 (1991)
  3. The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 2: 1834-1835 (1991)

I've written a post about that one, too.

Another, equally unexpected find was a multi-volumed edition of the Complete Essays of Aldous Huxley. Or rather, vols 2-6 of the set (I subsequently located volume 1 online). You may well ask why anyone would want such a thing, but I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Huxley's writing, ever since I first read The Devils of Loudun and Crome Yellow as a teenager.

Aldous Huxley: Complete Essays (6 vols, 2000-02)
Aldous Huxley. Complete Essays. Ed. Robert S. Baker & James Sexton. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000-02.
  1. 1920-1925 (2000)
  2. 1926-1929 (2000)
  3. 1930-1935 (2001)
  4. 1936-1938 (2001)
  5. 1939-56 (2002)
  6. 1956-1963, and Supplement: 1920-1948 (2002)

In any case, it looks great on the shelf, and given that his essays have probably lasted better than his fiction, I'm glad to have it to dip into.

Just as the Raglan bookshop benefits from a constant influx of beach-loving visitors, so Browsers is indebted to the staff and students of Waikato University and Wintec for a good turnover of books. Retiring - and itinerant - academics often have shelves of books they need to get rid of in a hurry, and there can be some real treasures among them.

Hamilton is a great place to visit at the best of times: the gardens, the art gallery, but the bookshops - both new (Poppies) and second-hand - are really the icing on the cake: so far as I'm concerned, at any rate. Long may they prosper.

Next: back to central Auckland!

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