Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Calendar Days 4-10: Where To Find Great Books

It seems I've missed a few days in the old advent calendar. I am so sorry. I can't apologise enough. December is crazy, as you all know, but this week's been crazier than crazy. All of a sudden I find myself at the helm of a new business venture. It's a curious fork in the career road, but a wonderful one nonetheless, and I'm so grateful for it.

Something else I'm grateful for is our team of tradesmen. We've found the loveliest people to fix our various bits and pieces. One 
of these much-loved tradies was here last week rewiring some power points. He spent an hour poking around the corners of our house before coming to find me. "I saw those books of yours beside the bed," he said. "Oh?" I said nervously. "Which ones are those?" (Between you and me, I was slightly scared by what I might have left there.) "Those business books," he said. "And the inspirational ones too. I like those books. They're much better reading material than that architecture tripe you usually write." 

It was hilarious. (I think it was tongue-in-cheek?)

"Quite right!" I said. "I can't imagine why I put my name to such fluff, really?"

So here, for all you lovely lit-wits, is a little advent post about books, inspired by our highly educated electrician. There are also lots of tips on buying books, supplied by The Library's wonderful readers. Thank you so much for sending in your kind comments this year.  I know I've said how grateful I am, but a heartfelt thank you once again.


A recent post on this topic had lots of readers talking. Bookstores? Book Depository? Even a librarian wrote in to me offering her opinion. (I love librarians. Don't you? They deserve more credit.) 
This is what The People said:

Recommended by several readers. I've never used it but it's supposed to be an excellent Australian search engine that compares prices for major bookstores and online sources. I've started to investigate it and it is very good. I can see I'll become a Booko convert.

Another great site recommended by many of The Library's readers. This is an online Australian/NZ online bookstore and it often has the cheapest prices around – plus free delivery!

Offers free shipping worldwide. Good if you just want one book. Also offers 11,000 free ebooks. Some people lament the fact that Amazons owns Book Depository. (This worries me too.) So I'll leave you to make up your own mind. 

Heywood Hill in Mayfair is a remarkable London bookshop that has stood the test of time. So many serious book lovers I know are devoted to it. It sells new books but it's really famous for its old and antiquarian books as well as its themed catalogues. Specialities are literature, history, architecture, biography and travel. At the moment, the store is selling – with a little help from the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire who is a Heywood fan – special limited edition boxed sets of the re-issued Nancy Mitford novels. (Nancy worked at Heywood for a period.) The five novels have been designed fit snugly into a beautiful blue box, with "Love from Nancy" printed in gold on the top and on the back of each. There's also an interview with Deborah Devonshire on the website – great reading. Debo and Andrew bought many of the books in Chatworth's library from this magnificent place. The store can also find you obscure books in most categories, and is happy to post them across the world.

One of the best loved and longest surviving independent bookshops in London, .John Sandoe in Chelsea is revered with an almost religious zeal by so many book lovers, including many writers and celebrities. In fact, it seems to have attracted a rather famous clientele. Regulars have included Mary Quant, Keith Richards, Lucian Freud, Dirk Bogarde, Tom Stoppard and Edith Sitwell, (who was in love with Mr Sandoe), plus Katharine Hepburn was chased out by accident one day when they thought she was a stray homeless person. The location – in Chelsea – may have helped its reputation, and the credit Mr Sandoe offered was probably appealing too – but it's the books they come for. And oh, what books they are! I particularly love their garden list. What a list. Far, far more than just a bookshop.

I went to our local library last Friday to return some books. It's one of those glorious, old-fashioned libraries where there's no exterior shoot so you have to go inside to drop off your borrowed books, which of course means borrowing more books while you're there. Furthermore, the system is still a card one: no computers here. I borrowed AS Byatt's Possession and Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears. But I couldn't have easily borrowed the entire biography section. Libraries. Take the time to rediscover them. (PS The State Libraries of Victoria and New South Wales are amazing places. Their architecture alone is worth a look.)

The Hill of Content. Readings. Avenue Books. Even tucked-away places like Lesley McKay's beautiful bookstore in Woollahra, Berkelouw's outlet bookstore in Bowral, Domain Books in South Yarra, Rosetta Books in Maleny and Jeffrey's Books in Malvern are all worth the trek. I also love newcomers such as Coventry Bookstore in South Melbourne. Independent bookstores are often run by people with passion, and they're great at recommending good reads. You know how bartenders are trained to sum up a person's choice of drink when they walk in the doors? Well, most independent booksellers are trained to do the same thing.


Book recommendations are a tricky thing. They're similar to when people set you up on a blind date. You hope the setter-upperer has good taste. The best thing is to look for people who have the same taste as you, and who have loved books you've loved. Chances are, they'll have read other books you'd like, too. Other great places to find ideas are here. (Pic of Vogue: The Editor's Eye book launch from Barney's)

Jennifer Byrne's First Tuesday Book Club
Did you see the '10 Books To Read Before You Die' episode last week? It was an unusual choice of books.

The New York Times 
I don't set much by the NYT's bestseller lists, as they're supposed to be 'rigged'. (Shhh. Who said that?) However, their book reviews are splendid. It's the reviews that are really revelatory.

The Guardian London 
As with the NYT, The Guardian is full of intelligent discussions. It's often quite witty too. And not afraid to pull punches. Or hair. At the moment there's a story by Bret Easton Ellis about how "Kathryn Bigelow is overrated because she's hot", another list of the "100 Greatest Novels Of All Time"and a rather scary photo of EL James and her story about Ikea and fish and chips.



  1. I have enjoyed Hatchard's since I was a child. Wonderful staff who know their books and will track books down for me when I lack the time to do it.

    1. Hatchard's is wonderful, isn't it? Another 2 bookstores I forgot to mention are Daunt in Marylebone High Street and Waterstone's. The former was once a travel bookshop that has now diversified to all genres. Has the most incredible mezzanine level. Waterstone's is a chain, of course, but there was one around the corner from where we used to live in South Kensington and I loved it. Sadly, it's closed, but there is still one on King's Road that I pop into whenever I'm in Chelsea. Thank goodness for Hatchard's and these great old bookstores! xx

  2. Oh the joy and bliss of a brown paper parcel tied up with string arriving in the post
    from Heywood Hill......sadly they seem to have given up the string recently.

  3. By the way the Devonshires own Heyood Hill.

    1. That is SO interesting. Have they always owned it, I wonder? You are a font of information Bumble! xx

      BTW Loved your last post. Saw you had 'Bright Young Things' on the table. Must buy that. It looks so good.

  4. This is such an informative post and those books look amazing! I hope you're having a wonderful weekend!

  5. Lovely list Janelle - but your Electrician needs a whack over the head!! Can't believe anyone would ever say anything like that about your beautiful books! I try to balance online buying (and use booko, which I love) with local book shops. Melbourne does the good bookshop so well. Another for your list is Books for Cooks in Gertrude St, Fitzroy. Fabulous resource of old cookbooks and new. I can spend hours in there! xx

    1. I think he was having a dig at me Heide... He's a lovely guy; very sharp sense of humour. And anyway, I don't mind a bit of humility!

      Books for Cooks is great, isn't it? Another one for cooks and gardeners is the bookshop in Notting Hill that's opposite The Travel Bookshop (the one featured in the Julia Roberts film). I can't remember its name but used to only sell garden books before branching out into cookbooks too. Has the most impressive list of titles. Lots of London cooks go there to browse. It's perfect because after you've finished you can pop across the road to the Travel Bookshop and browse there too.


  6. Dear Janelle
    So good to see Heywood Hill is still thriving - and how interesting Bumble's info that the Devonshires now own it! With all the books the Mitford family and friends have produced over the years, or things written about them, there could almost be a specialist store just for them! I guess a limited market - but an enthusiastic one.
    Can recommend Paperchain book store here in Canberra. Not huge but good variety and always happy to order in. Also they have lots of interesting book launches with authors promoting and signing. Two I've been to fairly recently - Maggie Alderson and Maxine McKew, both really good: interesting, illuminating and entertaining. Also love frugal fossicking in Op. Shops and fetes (another great source of old cookbooks - I collect Elizabeth David, Simca and Julia Child in particular). There can be treasures the dealers have overlooked. Lifeline Book Fairs of course are brilliant. Have to confess to ordering more expensive new books through Amazon if there's a big price differential.
    John Sandoe sounds wonderful - look forward to visitng next May. Isn't Jennifer Byrne's Tuesday book club great! Missed it last week because I was in Sydney for Bryce's funeral. She was there and lots of other writers, most not so well known.

    Totally agree with Heidi above about your books! Your latest on Paris was our bible last June. You introduced us to so many places we loved that we'd never have thought of visiting, especially the grand mosque.

    Another superb post, as usual. With best wishes, Pamela

  7. So lovely to hear from you Pamela, but please don't comment if you're insanely busy with Christmas activities and writing. I do understand.

    Bryce's funeral looked like it was a celebration as much as anything, which is wonderful to see. Lots of interesting people seemed to go - Julie Gibbs, the prime minister... He clearly inspired writers and business people alike.

  8. Gosh, another fascinating and illuminating read, Janelle. I'm an avid Book user - it also includes Fishpond and Book Depository in its searches. I adore Fullers ( Hobart. One we enjoyed in Sydney was The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft - a sensational selection of children's books and the most intelligent and considerate staff. Top marks! J x


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