Where should I buy my book?

I was asked today where a friend should buy books, secondhand and otherwise. It goes without saying that if you have a local secondhand shop, that is the place to go for a browse, but supposing you don’t, or you are looking for something specific that  you know you have to go further afield to find.


Booksandcollectibles is the best site online to find a collective of Australian sellers – not only Australian, but certainly forming the core of their database. It was set up in the late nineties to serve the Australian bookselling community and although it has grown past that, it keeps its homegrown feeling. It is a simple, not flashy interface sitting between the seller and the customer.

Biblio is the best of the international collectives. It isn’t the biggest, but it is big enough for most purposes and it’s certainly the one I go to first. It has a clean interface, it is an independent organisation run by people who really care about books and those who love them. So if you care about that sort of thing, who is running the business you are buying from and what are their values etc etc, this is absolutely a first port of call. I don’t understand why it is that they don’t have a bigger share of the pie.

ABE  is not a site I recommend anymore as it is owned by Amazon.


As far as new books go, if you are in Melbourne you have some nice choices of shops, but if you must buy online I have no good options for you. We – living in Switzerland without English shops – do shop online from time to time and did use The Book Depository. I was one of their early supporters as they offered a choice to shopping at Amazon, including free shipping, which is so attractive to Australians, of course. But like ABE, the predatorial Amazon has bought The Book Depository too.

For anybody trying not to support Amazon, a good option for online purchase of new books at the moment is Wordery. It is independent, at least for now.

If anybody has other suggestions for new and old book shopping, please leave a comment!





Books as investment

Long ago as a teenager, I decided to sell my collection of first edition Mary Grant Bruces and Ethel Turners. I sold them to Reg O’Connell for $50. They’d cost me almost nothing, having been picked up at opshops. One could argue I’d made an nice profit.

But that wasn’t the point. You really should buy books because you like them, not because you think they are going to make you money. The Rare Book Monthly has a really interesting article about books as investment which I thoroughly recommend. It comes, of course, to the same conclusion.

My apartment in Geneva is covered in bookshelves, we have thousands of books here. Almost none of them are worth more than a dollar or two, but we love being surrounded by them. In fact when I tried, on one occasion, to suggest replacing a much loved series in the most tatty paperbacks with a nice hardcover set, I faced rebellion. ‘But these are the ones I first read, they are the ones I value.’ The value, in other words, has nothing to do with money.

So when we talk of books as investment, whilst the financial adviser is looking at whether it is better to buy a book or a share, a human being should be looking at emotional investment and emotional gains. I’d say that matters at the highest and lowest ends of the market. Buy the first edition 1945 in dust-jacket for thousands of dollars because of how it will make you feel, not because you hope it will perform better than mining shares. Buy the tatty everyman edition in the opshop for $2 because it reminds you of your first time with the book. Books should be about feelings. Should you happen to end up with a book that turns out to be a financial windfall, that’s not even the icing on the cake.




The latest closure of libraries in the UK

While Australians worry about the impact that local conservative politics is having on its country at the moment, being over the other side of the world I continue to marvel at the policies of the Tory govt in the UK. One of the least civilised of its many methods to make poor people pay for the rich – aka austerity – at the moment is the closure of libraries. This has been going on in a way that evokes stories we would otherwise think of as science fiction set in a barbaric future. I had been under the impressions that it was happening largely in regional centres which have more poor people to pay for the lifestyle of the city’s bankers as well as for the paypackets of the Tories themselves.

Most recently, however, there is this; first read the consultant speak:

“The change programme seeks to ensure Imperial War Museum can continue to respond to challenges and opportunities, build on our successes to date, improve and update ways of working across the organisation and reduce IWM’s net expenditure by £4million per annum to account for changes to funding and increases in pension contributions. IWM aims to achieve the expenditure change by reducing costs and increasing our income through further commercial activity.”

They added: “The consultation period for the organisational restructuring element of IWM’s change programme has now begun. We are working closely with those who may be affected by the change proposals and will continue to do so until the end of the year. Any announcements regarding changes at IWM will be made early next year (2015).” http://www.thebookseller.com/news/imperial-war-museum-library-threatened-closure

Want to know what that actually means? It means they are going to close the Imperial War Musuem’s library and 60-80 people are going to lose their jobs. That’s what ‘working closely with those who may be affected’ means. Sacking them with a Christmas card.

And what better time than in the year which has been marketed as the anniversary of WWI?

Shame, UK. Shame.

Japanese WWII plans for Australia

Talking of taking over countries, as we are, whilst watching the Ukranian situation, we have a pictorial history of Australian bank-notes which includes the notes the Japanese intended to use in Australia when they took over. They were in New Guinea at the time and some combination of a compulsive need to be organised and a sense of being on a roll, I guess, led them to have these printed. Ouch. It really brings home how touch and go it all was.

hilarious bookshop signs spotted in Melbourne

On a trip to Melbourne earlier this year, I spotted these signs – I think they were at Basement Books, but I can’t swear to that.

bookshop signs in Melbourne (2)

The seller has put the spine away from the customer desperately hoping to discourage the browser from wanting to pick up the book….but clearly this wasn’t sufficient, and so this next hilarious sign.

bookshop signs in Melbourne (1)

I love that. I love the fact that being buried alive wasn’t discouraging enough, nor even ‘romance’ in red, so that there is this final addition hastily added in pen ‘bad’ above romance. Beautiful!

Reminiscences by ‘our’ Judith.

A little while ago a Pioneer Books publication was released to the smallest of fanfare. I believe the shop cat got extra cream that day. My father loved to plan book launches. Indeed, as a rule, the finest details of the catering for the launch might be determined before the book was even written. A date would be set. Invitations issued. Now. Let’s write that book. Without him, things have changed.

Our latest publication is a very modest book of personal recollections of her life with books by Judith.

Crabb, Judith
Common: A Life Among Secondhand Books
(Oaklands Park SA: Pioneer Books: 2011) Hermit Press Pamphlet number 3. Wrappers pp. 64 $15.00

Here is an extract:

I grew up within a mile of my birthplace, in a narrow inner suburban street which had a hotel at its western end. My father cycled in that direction every week-day morning and it was some years before I learnt that it was not his place of work. He was, in fact, spending his working life at the GPO, first as a messenger boy, then a postie and then a mail sorter, until a government initiative enabled returned soldiers to be educated beyond primary school so that they could enter offices. I cannot blame my father for my career in books. Perhaps my mother, who subscribed to The Australian Women’s Weekly and The New Idea and read to me from an early age, is the culprit. Two books remain in my memory from these early years: The Polka Dot Tots and McDuff. I used the latter to astound the neighbours with my advanced reading skills. I was very good at this, provided I was careful to turn over only one page at a time and synchronise my recitations with the pictures.

I did not begin to read until I started school, and I didn’t find it a push-over. I remember the primers of which I greatly approved. I wasn’t the only one. A friend of mine was relieved to find that there were families that didn’t get into fights and threaten to kill one another. I had no traumas in my back-ground but I do remember a pet dog that the boy in the primer owned; I never did get a dog. I’m not sure if my primers were secondhand. As I have two slightly older cousins, they may well have been. Certainly I am not conscious of new books entering my life until I began to get pocket-money. At the infant school I remember lining up at the teacher’s desk before the morning bell, a real bell on a tall stand. The idea was to read a page and get it stamped; the catch was that if you made a mistake you went to the end of the line to practise for the next try. I got stuck on the word ‘that’. I went to the end of the line, worked my way up again and got stuck again; back to the end of the line and nowhere near the desk when the bell went and all bets were off.

Click here to order

Greta Garbo really did want to be alone…

Who is Vicki Baum, I wondered as I was listing her Falling Star. I should have known! She was a best selling novelist in her day, with her works regularly being made into movies. I guess her biggest claim to fame is as the author of Grand Hotel, which led to the following anecdote.

VICKI BAUM REFUSED ADMISSION Vicki Baum, who wrote “Grand Hotel.” has an interesting story to tell about it. She says: “Fame brought me many things, money, the ability to travel where I wanted to go when I felt like it, a lovely home, cars, and such-like. But my fame was not enough to let me watch Greta Garbo in her part in “Grand Hotel.” “When they were shooting the picture, I tried to sneak in to see her. I had always admired her, and thought I might be allowed to watch her at work. I just caught a glimpse of her yes. she was even more beautiful than I had thought–when a can came up to me and asked, ‘Who are you?’ “‘I am the author of the picture,’ I murmured, taken aback. ” ‘Miss Garbo doesn’t want any one on the set, and you know it,’ he said. “You had better get out of here quickly.’ And out I had to go.” (Launceston Advocate 5 February 1938)