Monday, March 27, 2023

My Favourite Vintage Bookshops: Ponsonby

Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937 / 1993)

The story is of Wednesday, half-sister of Ronald Gilfillan, a comfortable conforming New Zealander with "a quarter-acre section neatly fenced". Having consulted Madame Mystera, a fortune-teller of Freemans Bay, and been told that fortune, lovers and children are ahead of her, Wednesday takes a ticket in a lottery. She wins £25,000.
- Joan Stevens. The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965. 1961. Rev. ed. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. REED, 1966.

Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937 / 1989)

One of the nicest things about Wednesday's Children - for an Aucklander, at any rate - is the vision it provides of our lost city of the past.

I remember, for example, a daring weekend sail in my father's family-sized 16-foot yacht out into the Hauraki Gulf. We ended up landing on the far end of Browns Island, the only portion which can be safely approached from the sea, due to the skein of reefs that surrounds it.

We had to scale a fairly steep cliff to emerge out into the open fields, the ones which look so attractive from a distance, but which turned out to be quite swampy when experienced up close.

After that the wind got up, and we couldn't make it back through the outgoing tides at the head of the harbour. We were forced to anchor the yacht off Mission Bay and row our way forlornly by dinghy to shore. My father sailed the boat back to his mooring in Ngataringa Bay next day single-handed.

So when I read about Wednesday Gilfillan's residence on Brown's Island it immediately struck a chord. Mind you, I wouldn't fancy rowing out there in a tiny dinghy on a regular basis - but it's by no means an impossible feat.

And then there's Wednesday's part-time gig as a fortune-teller in Freemans Bay. Robin Hyde's descriptions of its tight-packed streets and working men's houses certainly allow her to channel her inner city-beat reporter. Has it changed much? Profoundly, I fear. Which makes her pen-portrait even more valuable.

It's nice to know that there are still a few vintage bookshops in the glitzy surrounds of Ponsonby / Grey Lynn. How they manage to survive is beyond me. But I suppose there must be enough people out there who savour the unique odour of mould and bookdust to keep them in business. All power to them!

Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937)

The Open Book

The Open Book
[201 Ponsonby Road, Auckland]

I remember once coming up to the counter in this shop with an armful of books, only to be asked: "What is it, exactly, you do?"

I must have looked a bit bemused, so the owner went on to explain that she found it very difficult to square such very disparate purchases with one another.

John Clute & Peter Nicholls, ed.: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1999)
Clute, John, & Peter Nicholls, ed. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 1979. 2nd ed. Contributing Editor Brian Stableford. Technical Editor John Grant. Orbit. 1993. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 1999.

I think I had, on that particular day, located a nice paperback copy of John Clute's magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, to which I was proposing to add a rather sumptuous edition of The Holy Qu'ran:

The Holy Qur-ān: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary. Ed. Mushaf Al-Madinah An-Nabawiyah. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali et al. Saudi Arabia: King Fahd Holy Qur-ān Printing Complex, A.H. 1411 [= 1991].

"I teach Creative Writing at Massey University" was my rather lame reply. I could see her still shaking her head as I left, though. How could the same person be equally enthusiastic about Science Fiction and the intricacies of Arabic culture?

I remember that one of the kinder reviews I received for my poetry collection Chantal's Book, some twenty years back, referred to me as "a literary magpie, gathering together his shiny objects with a remarkable eclecticism." The author was James Norcliffe, whose recent novel The Frog Prince I've just lately written about for Landfall Review Online. I hope I did it justice.

He did rather hit the nail on the head with that "magpie" analogy, though. I do like to collect pretty objects and ideas and put them together. You could call it mosaic - or even collage - if you were inclined to be charitable. If not, you could simply refer to it as lack of focus.

Never mind, it works for me. "The world is so full of a number of things / I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings" and all that ...

Herman Melville. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Ed. Walter E. Bezanson. New York: Hendricks House, Inc., 1960.

The shop has now changed hands. I still find the odd bargain in there, however. The above edition of Melville's Clarel was certainly an exciting addition to my collection of Melvilliana.

I'm still not quite sure why the copy of Tuwhare's Ralph Hotere-illustrated Sapwood and Milk I found there was quite so reasonably priced, but perhaps they're less rare than I thought. In any case, I didn't think about it: just bought it (my motto as a bibliophile).

Hone Tuwhare: Sap-wood and Milk (1973)
Hone Tuwhare. Sap-wood and Milk. Illustrated by Ralph Hotere. 629 of 700 numbered copies. Dunedin: Caveman Press, 1973.

Dominion Books

Dominion Books
[230 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay, Auckland 1011]

Latest news: "Dominion Books,which has been selling secondhand books at 230 Jervois Rd in Herne Bay since 1986, is finally closing down at the end of May 2023. Between now and then I am selling all stock at $3 per book, or as big a bag as you like for$20. I am no longer buying any books. I am clearing out my entire stock. Thanks to loyal customers after all these years."

Many years ago my father used to take me to a second-hand bookshop called "Dominion Books" - not unreasonably, as it was then located on Dominion Road. It was owned by a certain Mrs. Brazier, mother of soon-to-be-famous singer Graham Brazier.

It was a gloomy, fascinating place, full of obscure tomes in almost-unreachable corners. Or at any rate that's my memory of it. I'm not quite sure when she sold the business, which then moved to Jervois Road in Herne Bay, but I imagine it must have been back in the seventies sometime. Or perhaps the early eighties [1986, it now appears].

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Obras completas (1969)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Obras Completas. 1951-1957. Prólogo de Francisco Monterde. 1969. “Colección Sepan Cuantos …”, 100. Ciudad de México: Editorial Porrúa, S. A., 1977.

So that's the reason for the rather anomalous name of this fascinatingly out-of-the-way shop, which still seems to specialise in obscure treasures hidden in odd corners. Take the book above, for instance. Who on earth would be interested in the complete works - in Spanish - of a seventeenth-century Mexican nun?

Well, me, I'm afraid. My PhD thesis was on Versions of South America in English Literature, which took me all the way from Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) to Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School (1978).

Along the way I spent a lot of time poring over Nobel-prize-winning poet Octavio Paz's classic work on Mexican Culture, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). Paz also wrote extensively on Sor Juana de Asbaje - notably in his other great prose work Sor Juana: The Traps of Faith (1982).

This profoundly gifted young polymath, Sor Juana, occupies a position in Mexico somewhat akin to that of Murasaki Shikibu in Japan - or, for that matter, Katherine Mansfield in New Zealand: the one indisputably great, mysterious genius at the heart of an entire literary tradition.

William Plomer, ed.: Kilvert's Diary (3-1-23)
Francis Kilvert. Kilvert’s Diary: Selections from the Diary of the Rev. Francis Kilvert, 1870-1879. 3 vols. Ed. William Plomer. 1940. Rev ed. 1960-61. Illustrated Edition. London: Jonathan Cape, 1977.

Here's another nice purchase from Dominion Books. I have a perhaps unreasonably aversion to abridgements of classic books. It wasn't until I was able to find all three volumes of William Plomer's edition that I could really settle down to reading Kilvert's diary, which I found very entertaining indeed.

Christopher Ricks, ed.: The Poems of Tennyson (1969)
Christopher Ricks, ed. The Poems of Tennyson. Longmans Annotated English Poets. London & Harlow: Longman, Green and Co, Ltd.. 1969.

This one was the real prize, though. I spent a long time searching for this particular edition of Tennyson, from the Longman Annotated English Poets series. It's true that there's a later, three-volume second edition, but the sheer audacity of including Tennyson's complete poetry in one massive volume was the main reason I had to have this one. And there it was! - one fine day in the poetry section - straight from Bill Pearson's collection, as it turned out.

It is, in other words, always worth having a glance in Dominion Books. The stock there does, admittedly, tend to linger on the shelves, but you never know what might have walked in just the day before ...

Ink eats Man: Dominion Books (2010)


Roger Allen said...

The three volume edition of Kilvert's Diary is still an abridgment I'm afraid.
Kilvert's widow is thought to have cut parts before it passed on to a relative, who submitted it to Jonathan Cape. The poet William Plomer made a transcript and returned the manuscript, intending to publish a complete edition eventually, but it was destroyed in the London Blitz. The owner of the manuscript gave three volumes away to friends and then burned the rest. Plomer said he "could have strangled her with his bare hands".

Dr Jack Ross said...

Yes, you're quite right about that. I suppose I meant that it's all of Kilvert's diary that we'll ever now be able to read -- but still just a selection from that lost whole ... a pity, because it is one of the really great diaries.

Farrell said...

Kia ora Jack, bibliophile supreme.
Just an addendum to the Dominion Books story. After Mrs Brazier became too weak to manage the stairs, Graeme ran the shop for several years until his mother and he both died.
Grame held court rather than ran the book shop. Robust quotations from Dylan Thomas followed idle queries about the creatively priced ex-library Ryan's Māori dictionary in the window.
The Brazier shop's Balmoral Shops life continued for decades after Dominion Books' move to Herne Bay.
I thought the original Dominion Books belonged to History Dept Bill Holt, his brother, and Heather, the present owner.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Thanks Farrell,

That's a fascinating addendum, I must say. I think you're right that Dominion Books belonged initially to the Holts (judging from a long account of the process I overheard the present owner giving some not-very-interested visitor on one occasion -- it wasn't so much eavesdropping on my part as being unable to avoid taking in at least some of the data on offer).

I did wonder if the Balmoral shop had continued after the migration of the Dominion Books name, so it's good to have that straightened out finally.

Graham Brazier had a brief gig as poetry reviewer for the NZ Herald, and one of the few pieces he actually completed (heavy with Dylan Thomas, Fairburn, and other favourites of his) was a wonderfully positive review of Jan Kemp and my "NZ Poets in Performance" anthologies. It showed such generosity of spirit that I've had a soft spot for him ever since ... I was very sorry to hear of his death.

Richard said...

I am much into Hyde's books. Especially 'Wednesday's Children' which I think is one of the great things. The Starkie (is it that name?) novels are great also (one is introduced by my lecturer and de facto friend D.I.B Smith who officiated at the publication of one Jack Ross's 'Nights with Giodorno Bruno', also a fascinating book.) I have those, or some. Haven't read 'Check to Your King'. I didn't finish but had as a library book 'Dragon Rampant', I think her last major work which is fascinating but written in a way to be disconcerting. Haven't' a copy but in the obsessive bibliophile tradition ('...books to the death!') I must add it to my own amassment...more tawdry but also growing...

I don't know the diarist, but that looks like a great strike.

I used to go to both those book shops. I also went to the Dominion Road book shop circa 1999 or perhaps earlier. (It was there when Ron Riddell had his shop almost on the cnr. of Dominion Rd and Balmoral Rd. Mrs. Brazier, one time I turned up, told me all the details of her plans to put her works on line. I was looking for books for myself and possibly to buy and one time Graham Brazier was urging me to buy books by Brecht who, at the time, I 'knew all about', but I think then or another time his mother saw me looking at their display of Nazi Books! There are collectors of them. I, as a book seller, had had requests for wants (once I sold a relatively rarish English language edition of 'Mein Kampf' for $100.00, Ebay wouldn't let me list it). But I wasn't interested in it myself at the time. Only in making a possible resale somehow. Anyway they were at least still there in 1994. I am sure it was there 1995-6. Then my mother got quite ill and Ron moved to K'Road. And I didn't go down to see the Dom Rd shop. I did notice it was not there later on, not sure when.

Dominion Books I visit a lot usually when I go into the Hard to Find. I am terrified it will be shut. If it does, there is almost nothing the point if all Second Hand book shops closed I probably would very very rarely go into the inner city or anywhere much as I spend hours in them. Scott Hamilton, telling me of David Jones got me interested and the poetry section at Dominion Books used to be in the middle aisle. I walked down, a book fell off -- it was 'In Parenthesis' by Jones. Later I knocked a large book off it was a pretty much complete book of poetry by Holderlin, trans. by Hamburger. with German on the verso and English the recto.

Great story of your father and the yacht trip. It was a stroke of genius by Hyde to have herself on an imaginary Island in an imagined story. I've been in places where quite educated people know nothing of Hyde. They know Mansfield et al, of course say Sargeson, Frame etc...but often not Hyde.

Dr Jack Ross said...

*Dragon Rampant* is rather eccentrically written in parts - dialogues with the grass, etc. - but I agree with you that it's well worth taking the trouble over: what a story! It's probably my favourite among all her books, in fact. Like you, I never managed to get to the end of *Check to My King*. I must go back to it some day ...

Richard said...

Dragon Rampant I didn't finish as at the time it was a library book. The style was unique, and the book strange but I must dip into it. I also want to study her long poetry book, Nadath which I have. I've never read Check to My King but I would say it is worth knowing, at least reading. So far the best by her for me are Wednesday's Children and the two Starkie books...But I might get a surge of interest and read more of DR and her journalism...And her bios. (I read a kind of bio that was good) I have a bio of her and some other NZ writers to read....