Bookshop Discoveries

Long before the “warehouse” model of book-selling became popular, long before the personality and charm of independent establishments fell to the corporate manipulation that suffocated the livelihoods of imaginative shop-owners, I loved to wander into independent bookshops.

One specific shop that I would haunt, Contact Books, was constantly getting in books by artists with reproductions I had never seen, or painters I had yet to discover. Even more exciting was that this shop always discounted their new books, which encouraged me to buy more and more. I never once left that shop empty-handed.

In The Drawings of Hans Holbein were pages of reproductions of beautiful drawings Holbein made in advance of portraits he was commissioned to paint. The simplicity of his drawings, their volume, the emphasis on certain features over others, of line weight, colour, light and shadow, answered so many questions, even solutions to problems I never knew I had.

Among my discoveries at Contact was the work of Bernard Buffet. His sharp lines, odd proportions and choice of subject matter appealed to me. There was a frenetic energy to his imagery that I found very attractive. He certainly was not an artist of pretty pictures. His work is strangely grotesque.

I discovered lesser known – or perhaps, less often reproduced – illustrations of William Pogany and Harry Clarke. And it was at Contact Books that I first discovered the works of Edward Gorey, whose work I cannot praise enough.

There were books by small publishers just as prominently displayed as those of the New York publishing giants. There were fanzines too. I know it’s hard to imagine for some, but before you could publish your ideas online to a platform like Scribd, people went to a photocopy shop and reproduced their work on 8.5” x 11” sheets folded once and saddle-stitched, that indie bookstores would put on display by their cash register. Each 10- to 20-page ‘zine would sell for a few bucks. Many talented writers and artists started their careers by being published in fanzines.

We mustn’t lose this bookshop experience. With warehouse shopping, corporations dictate what products we will be on display and what products will not be on display. Our choices are limited by a strategic alliance of multi-million dollar business.

Please support your local independent bookshop.

Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel now on sale: