Wellington, New Zealand, the coolest and most southerly capital in the world, has a cool suburb, Newtown. By New Zealand terms, Newtown is old. The architecture is unusual. Some might say that about the people. You get good sorts and all sorts around here.
Not many tourists make it to Newtown—it’s a bit off the beaten track. Those that do are usually headed towards the zoo or over the hill to the beach at Lyall Bay.
But Newtown has the coolest little bookshop in a city full of them.
Chances are you could miss Rainbow Books—it’s at the top end of Riddiford Street, past the main shopping centre.
You can tell from the street that Rainbow Books is a fossickers paradise. Can you spot Jonah eyeballing you through the window?
During our visit to Newtown at Christmas I watched and wondered at the comings and goings at the shop from the balcony of the apartment. That in itself is remarkable. There aren’t many days in Wellington when anyone would want to sit out on a balcony. But this Christmas was one of those rare Wellington weather episodes: no wind and real warmth in the sun. I got sunburnt: true story.
Rainbow Books is a bookshop operated by one proud manager, Brian. Every morning he arrives with his dog, he opens up, brings trestle loads of books out on to the footpath to tempt passing book lovers. Every day customers call in, exchange a few words and buy a book or three.
Brian can often be seen standing in the doorway talking to passersby or to Taj, his dog. We wondered why he didn’t live on the premises. He spends a lot of time there. Apart from the verandah, a feature of old New Zealand shops (they provide shade from the blast of our sun, desperately required in my part of the country but usually redundant in Wellington), the building is actually a small cottage.
I thought to myself, and said to the others, that the little shop is perfect for a post – you know quirky, one of a kind, a community focal point.
But we spent our days at the beach and reading and relaxing and, let’s not forget that important part of Christmas, eating—it’s a feast after all. Holiday indolence set in.
But soon the holiday was over. The car was packed, and we were about to leave, when I grabbed my camera and wandered across the road.
That was when I discovered the true nature of this shop. It carries a serious amount of stock. Not only is the front room packed with books, the hallway is lined with them and the other two rooms are crammed as well. There’s just enough space to squeeze between them. If Brian did live here, he’d have to sleep standing up.
I was reminded of the wardrobe in Narnia. Books are like that anyway, aren’t they; portals to another world, a world where you get to experience lives vastly different from your own.
Brian’s been selling books here for fourteen years. His dog, the very placid Taj, short for Taj Mahal, has been coming to work with him for ten years.
Taj is as much of a feature with the locals as the bookshop. Brian had no sooner explained that everyone loves his dog than a passerby stopped, bent over, patted Taj and said: “How are you today, Taj?” He told me: “Taj and I are old mates.” I believed him. Brian’s dog is probably mates with everyone around here.
Out of all those books what did I choose? None other than Thora Hird’s (remember her?) Book of Bygones. Like the bookshop, it’s quirky and packed with interesting information. And as if that wasn’t enough to convince me it was five dollars well spent, Thora Hird wrote it when she was 87!
I asked Brian if I could write this post about his bookshop. He was pretty chuffed at the idea. I promised to email him the link.
Sooner or later, I’ll be back in Newtown. I’ve only scratched the surface in this coolest of little bookshops.
So tell me, do you have a cool, little second-hand bookshop in your part of the world?