Words by Charlotte Guest, Publishing Officer at UWA Publishing.
Amid the white noise of retail at Christmas, the only kind of White Christmas we get here, it can be difficult to know where to look for gifts. When advertising is rushing at you like you're in Times Square, how can the genuinely valuable rise above the cacophony of rubbish?
Clearly we think books make excellent gifts, so in the lead up to Christmas we've decided to feature one WA bookseller a week and tell you exactly why you should source all of your festive goods from them.
Each Friday afternoon we will upload a feature interview with our Bookshop of the Week, followed by seven days of sumptuous Instagram photos and a few reminder tweets. If you don't already, follow us at @uwapublishing.
Our first feature is on Bookcaffe in Swanbourne. I caught up with Emily Paull, bookseller, writer, reader and all-round literary advocate. Here's what she had to say...
Tell us the story of your bookshop: how, when and why was it established, and how has it changed since then?
Bookcaffe has been around for about twenty-one years, and it’s something of a Western suburbs landmark. We get tons of people who come in and remark how much it’s changed: that’s because we love to play around with the layout of the shop and if we don’t move the furniture about once a month we get very cagey! The current owner, Rose, has had the shop for almost a decade now, and I have been here for the last three years or so. I feel like I live here.
Over time, the cafe has grown, and for now, most of the books have retreated upstairs. This is the nature of the beast! Bookselling is a labour of love and we are on the tail end of a bit of a retail slump in WA, but intrepid booklovers need not fear. While the quantity of our stock may have decreased, the quality has not.
What makes your bookshop unique?
Our bookshop is a little bit of an Aladdin’s cave. When you come in the doors, you’re actually stepping into our busy cafe. But then you turn the corner and come upstairs and the first thing a lot of people notice is that it smells fantastic in here (that would be our candles.) Then, of course, you get to the books. Right now there are so many great books we want to showcase that the front counter is buried! Some days I call out ‘Hello!’ to a visitor and they can’t even see me.
The other thing that makes our store special is the rapport that customers and staff have built over the years. We see some customers almost every week, and that really gives working here a feeling of home.
What is your take on the current climate for independent bookselling in Australia?
I’m really no expert, but from what I’ve observed as a frequent patron of bookstores is that there are a few independent bookstores in Australia who are really starting to do some exciting things. There’s something you get from being a patron of an indie bookstore which you can’t get online and you often don’t get at a big chain; it’s hard to quantify, but sometimes this can be as simple as having a bookseller who you’ve bought from a few times recommending you a book you’ve never heard of before and then that book becomes your favourite. Or maybe you come along to a book club and meet a local author. It’s these extra-mile type experiences that make indie bookselling a delight to be a part of, and I really enjoy brainstorming new ideas for things we can do in store. It’s my sincere hope that indie bookselling will prosper in the next few years, because to lose our indies would be a tragedy.
What are the most popular genres in your store? Have you noticed any changes over the years or have book-buying trends remained consistent for you?
We sell a lot of cookbooks, coffee table books, architecture and design books and history books, but my pet favourite genre is fiction, in particular historical fiction or Australian literary fiction. I’m also quite proud of the selection of short fiction titles we have amassed over the last twelve months. I think in general our book-buying trends have stayed the same as they always have been, but an enthusiastic recommendation from a bookseller can go a long way!
What’s the most bizarre question a customer has asked you?
Oh gosh! There are too many to name! People often confuse fiction and non fiction, and of course there’s the old chestnut about wanting a book with a blue colour that was in the store a month to one year ago and no they do not remember the name. I think perhaps the strangest one is when people ring up wanting to know the phone number for the Barber next door.
What’s the juiciest thing you’ve overheard in your bookstore?
Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
In your opinion, what qualities make a good reader?
Someone who is not willing to be influenced by arbitrary categories. It really grinds my gears when people are not willing to read something new because the author is, say, a woman, or from a country that they don’t know much about, or because the story is ‘too sad’ or because they don’t like short stories. I very rarely come across this anymore, thank goodness, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to get some fabulous books into the hands of people who are going to totally surrender themselves to a good story, or an important story, for an hour or two.
What is your vision for the future of Bookcaffe?
I’m going to keep doing the best I can to support local authors, and connect readers with the vibrant literary community we have in this state. In 2016 I’m planning more events than ever, so the literary community should keep their eyes peeled. Details of this sort of thing appear in our newsletter.
List your top three tips for someone wanting to open their own independent bookstore.
- Take risks. The safe books are lovely, but the ones that fill a niche can set a reader’s heart alight.
- Support local writers and they’ll support you.
- Staff your bookshop with people who love to read. Enthusiasm can be the difference between a best seller and a book that sits sadly on the shelf.
Bookcaffe is located at 137 Claremont Cres, Swanbourne, and can be reached on (08) 9385 0553.