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Gould’s Book Arcade: the political, literary legacy of Newtown’s dusty wonder

27 November 2017

From The Guardian:

If you studied at a university in Sydney, chances are you’d have a memory of one of Bob Gould’s shops. My first encounter was when I was 18 and had just moved out of home into Newtown, with an empty used bookshelf I found on the side of the street.

I unpacked and walked straight to Gould’s Book Arcade on King Street: a legendary, cavernous warehouse-type space, crammed floor to ceiling, side to side, with what seemed to be every used book and dust mite in the world.

The bearded Gould, then in his 60s, sat at the front desk, swamped in piles of paper and peering out into his realm. I asked him for a specific author – something Russian, ostentatious, arts degree-esque – and he slowly pointed from one side of the shop to the other, with a shrug: it could be anywhere out there.

The service was gruff, but it was also kind of perfect, and I spent hours tiptoeing through aisles and over piles that day. I never found the book I came for, but left with so many others that I had to catch the bus back home.

The federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh told his own, livelier memory of the shop in a parliamentary tribute to the activist and bookseller, who died in 2011.

“I was walking down an aisle and brushed past two precarious stacks of books on either side. Both collapsed on me, trapping me for about five minutes, until Bob heard my cries for help and ambled over,” Leigh said.

According to Natalie Gould – who has been running Gould’s with her mother, Bob’s first wife Mairi Petersen, since her father died in 2011– that risk of literary avalanche is one of her favourite things about it.

“It’s always been part of this place,” Natalie says.

. . . .

“It’s the book that falls on your head, or the book that you stumble over – it’s the one that you didn’t know you wanted,” she says. “That’s one of the things I love about this place … secondhand bookshops are much more interesting, and more fun.”

Gould’s Book Arcade has been the dusty wonder of Newtown since it opened on King Street 30-odd years ago, and soon the doors will close. Rising rents have collided with a dip in demand for tattered reads, magazines and preloved records – to say nothing of the looming threat of Amazon – and Natalie and Mairi can no longer afford to keep the place.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG has certainly put in his time wandering around old and somewhat legendary bookstores with no discernible organizational principle, but he wonders if they are an idea that has come and gone.

Is it really fun to regularly stumble around an old store for significant numbers today’s college students and twenty-somethings?

PG can find far more exotic books online than he ever could ambling through a dozen physical stores. Perhaps it’s the incipient codgerdom talking, but PG would rather get the book instead of looking for the book.

He has no problem thinking of a great many more enjoyable activities than looking for books. When finding an interesting book required that he spend time looking through shelf after shelf for an interesting book, PG was willing to put in the time, but now that it’s not, he’d rather not be thumbing through crumbling paperbacks.

Whenever PG hears about an interesting book, it goes on an Amazon wish list and happily resides there, ready for instant download upon PG’s slightest whim. He doesn’t specifically think about it, but the time saved from book-searching goes into book reading which is much more fun.

Bookstores, Non-US, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

9 Comments to “Gould’s Book Arcade: the political, literary legacy of Newtown’s dusty wonder”

  1. Thank goodness my used bookstore is fairly organized, and I’ve only had a book (or three) fall on my head a couple of times.

    Sooner or later I’ll get an ereader, but right now my 81-y-o mom and I share used books, and she’s afraid of technology.

    Besides, I get far more writing done when my tbr pile is limited. 🙂

  2. My son, in his second year at college, loves going to a local used book store. He had to show us the place on our first trip, and every time his girlfriend visits they always stop by and spend an hour or so browsing. It’s a nice way to kill some time and maybe even discover a new author, but if one of us needs a book then Amazon is the first place we look. In the past year we’ve probably spent about $15-20 at that bookstore. I don’t even want to think how much we’ve spent on Amazon.

    • A used bookstore is always a great place for a date for students who may be in a temporary state of impecunity.

      I remember the feeling well.

  3. Gould’s is one of the worst second-hand book stores I’ve ever been to. Cluttered, dirty, dusty, disorganised, and their books are overpriced.

  4. “Is it really fun to regularly stumble around an old store for significant numbers today’s college students and twenty-somethings?”

    I’m actually thirty-something, but rather immature. 🙂 And I’ve loved digging through musty-smelling stacks of used books since I was a teenager. The fun for me is never knowing what weird, intriguing thing I’ve never heard of and would never think to search for that I’m going to discover. Amazon is awesome when I want a specific hard-to-find book, but its little row of suggestions pale in comparison to digging through a physical bookstore, thrift store, library sale, etc. for browsing.

    I’d actually put browsing for books on my list of favorite activities, up there with reading, writing, horseback riding, swimming in the ocean, wandering through museums, shopping for clothes, wasting time on the Internet, cuddling kitties, and…other things I won’t mention here.

  5. I remember Goulds rather fondly 😀 … but it really was a dusty old junkheap 🙂

  6. Couldn’t agree more! stumbling around Amazon’s recommendations is just as rewarding as stumbling around, sneezing, a used bookstore. Not to mention the fact that I keep mentioning, used bookstores pertain to big cities, in the main. if you don’t live in a big city you are out of luck, unless you have a computer and wifi. then you’re very much in the luck. In a small southern Italian town, I have as much choice as anyone who lives in midtown Manhattan. How great is that?

  7. I like poking around a used bookstore to find stuff I never knew I wanted, but I can get the same effect by poking around Hathi Trust or archive.org, or any number of digitized libraries. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t poke around a sufficiently close bookstore, but this one sounds like it was dangerous and gross. (A little dust is one thing, but this sounds ridiculously dirty. There’s a warehouse bookstore I know that has that kind of dirt, but it’s because it’s in a warehouse and there are prevailing winds when the doors are open. And it’s gross, all the same.)

    Of course, a patchouli infested used bookstore is worse, because cleaning books is less difficult than airing them out.

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