Friday, August 18, 2006

The thrill of the hunt! Part 1

Since February 1977, I have headed into Sydney's Central Business District (CBD) for Thursday "late night" shopping, as it used to be called when it first came in (and the concept of extended shopping hours was still quite the novelty).

I had just started a three year, full-time course at the Guild Teachers College, now long since absorbed into Sydney College of Advanced Education and then the University of Sydney.

Where did I head on these great nights of exploration? Bookshops!

Do you remember when Sydney's CBD was filled with a wonderful array of second hand, new and/or quirky specialist bookshops: the orderly A-Z Bookshop, where I first discovered UK and US printings of the animated Star Trek adaptations; the Sydney Book Exchange (where I once found cheap mint condition copies of "Starlog" magazine, #1-24, alongside stacks of plastic-sealed kinky porn); tiny, subterranean The Pocket Bookshop, with a lone cardboard Dalek silently guarding the top of the stairs (not being able to descend them, I suppose); Mary Martin Bookshop (where I tried for a job in 1980, but Mrs Martin turned me down 'cos she knew I was awaiting a permanent teaching position); the wonderful Galaxy Bookshop (now in its fourth location, and still going strong); New Era, near Chinatown, where I found cheap, new Star Trek "Fotonovels"; the wonderfully messy, split level Gould's Book Arcade; the original, poky, little upstairs location of The Land Beyond Beyond in the Crystal Palace Arcade, above the original, amazing Ava & Susan's Records; Hoyt's Entertainment Centre Bookshop, which carried movie tie-in stuff I'd never seen anywhere else before (but that shop eventually turned into a Granny May's collectibles store, and then a Baskin-Robbins ice-creamery); eclectic Abbey's; and the fascinating media section of the Tank Stream Arcade Bookshop; to name just a few. Sigh...


Why did I commit to a traditional weekly pilgrimage - which continues in almost-unbroken pattern, to this very day? Well, going on a hunt for books every Thursday night is the most effective way I still know to ensure one sees new books as they are released. Sure, one can order in books, so long as they are new or in-print, but there's no guarantee it won't come in elsewhere while waiting in vain - sometimes prepaid. And sure, one can order via Amazon (hey, the new Amazon re-sellers' market is amazing - finally I can track second hand books internationally - by title or author, or publisher, or even a vague, half-remembered description!) Or one can try one's luck with eBay (but that's another blog entry entirely).

Nothing beats the thrill of the hunt. Even better if you find something that you had no idea you were even looking for. Nothing used to beat that feeling of walking down the steps of the A-Z Bookshop, glancing to their Star Trek section across the room, and realizing that an additional (red) spine could be discerned on the now-very-familiar shelves of second hand books. Yes, it was 1980 or 1981, and I'd just spied a rare, early edition of Bantam's "Spock Must Die!" by James Blish.

And, for bitter-disappointment-turned-to-ecstacy, practically nothing beats the night I was in Galaxy Bookshop when David Gerrold's brand new "The Galactic Whirlpool" had been put out on the shelves. Anticipating it from a few sample chapters in "Starlog", I picked up the Star Trek novel - quickly swapped it for the least-damaged, most-pristine copy... when all the lights went out, and we were floundering around in the dark!

Shayne McCormack, the then-manager, announced something like, "I'm sorry everyone. The till isn't working and I'll have to ask you to put down your books and leave the store. As there would only be another hour of trading, it's unlikely we'll be back up and running again tonight, so I'll see you next time."

Luckily, I'd swung back past the shop about 20 minutes later, and they'd been able to restore power and reopen after all - so I grabbed my copy of TGW anew and hastened over to pay for it.

Creating a traditional weekly pilgrimage - and sticking to it - quickly made me known to the various owners, managers, and shop assistants. Without even asking, sometimes they'd order something in for me, figuring I'd want it. Or they'd hide something especially fun under the front counter and surprise me with their thoughtfulness. I am grateful also to the other stores that have sprung up to keep me commuting the distance into the CBD just to buy books (and toys, DVD, and everything else): Comic Kingdom; Kings Comics; Borders; Angus & Robertson; Dymocks; and so many more...

The Internet really takes a bit/lot of the fun out of hunting for new and used, must-have, collectible books. I'm not complaining because, through the Internet, I've found some of my most important collector's items. But there's something to be said about the good ol' days of knowing only that a new science fiction media tie-in title is due, but you've only heard rumours as to title, author, cover art, blurb, size, due date, and so on.

Now if only I can find time to actually read everything I've bought over the years...


De said...

Now if only I can find time to actually read everything I've bought over the years...

I think we all have this particular problem :) I was looking over my bookcase last night and realized that over half of the books in there hadn't been read.

Therin of Andor said...

Yes indeed!

Happy memories of the Book Barn at Berrima, run by Berkelouw's. I was first taken there in the early 80s. Middle of winter, wonderful couches provided to sit around the huge heater, and I find a bargain or coveted item every time I go. They also have a coffee shop attached now.

And nothing better than a large second hand bookshop where *everything* is lovingly filed in alphabetical order. It's how I found my first edition of Helene Hanff's "Apple of My Eye" (in Greenwich Village, NYC, in 1992) and several books in a great shop that only recently closed(?) in Belgrave (in the Dandenongs in Victoria).