Off The Beaten Track in Aotearoa

The coolest little bookshop in the coolest suburb in the coolest little capital in the world.

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.DSCF2269-2

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.

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You can tell from the street that Rainbow Books is a fossickers paradise. Can you spot Jonah eyeballing you through the window?

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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.

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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.

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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 BygonesLike 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?

 

45 replies »

  1. Hi Jill, absolutely love this post. I was born and raised in Newtown actually! My grandparents migrated from Samoa in the early 50’s and bought a house in Rintoul Street, not far from Rainbow Books. The house still remains our family home to this day so I’m back and forth quite a bit.
    Newtown hasn’t changed much structurally and there are some great photos on the New Zealand archives website to prove that. Quirky, vibrant and multicultural are good words to use when describing this cool little suburb. Brian’s bookstore is no exception to that. He and Taj have been part of Newtown’s fabric for a long time. I’ve always appreciated a good, musty smelling bookstore, full of life and imagination, where its authenticity is as customary as the building it sits in. Thanks for reminding me of how cool my hometown actually is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A big welcome to my blog, MissFina! And thanks so much for your stand-out, wonderful comment. One or other of my children children have lived in Newtown for, golly gosh it must be seven or eight years. It feels like a second home for me. I love its vibrancy, the acceptance of people at face value—to me that’s priceless. That’s what I really liked about Brian and Rainbow Books.

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  2. What a little gem of a book shop you found Jill. Unfortunately Gold Coast is not about book shops. There was a couple of beauties in the suburb about 10 years ago but now they are coffee shops, and franchise ones at that. What does that tell you about the GC? When ever we travel we always watch out for these second hand places and as you know Jack cannot go past any second hand op shop…You were lucky with the weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pauline, I find second shops irresistible, myself. Actually, you’ve given me a great idea for a post one day. Did you ever pass through Woodville, near the Manawatu Gorge? It has lots of lovely second shops, and some cafes to rest my weary body after all that happy browsing.

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  3. I love visiting bookstores, especially ones that are organized enough, but still a little chaotic. Come to think of it, many of them have resident dogs or cats to keep you company while you explore the shelves. I make it a point to visit bookstores and libraries whenever I can during my travels. Thanks for sharing this great one, Jill!

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  4. I adore bookshops, but have to stay out of them or I’d buy books ALL the time and we have plenty already! Saying that we live in an area with lots of bookshops/bookstalls. The local bookshop is quite old fashioned and sells lots of local books that I love to browse through (and often end up buying!), the market has two stalls every week of new and second-hand books, we have a charity shop (Oxfam) which is a book and music shop only, then not too far away is Hay-on-Wye. A whole town of second-hand bookshops. I dare not visit that town very often! And of course, National Trust places often have a bookshop which is hard to resist. You just never know what nugget you might find there, which is how I come to have at least 3 books on wildflowers, 2 on identifying birds and numerous gardening books (and I don’t even have a garden!). I am sure that should I find myself in Wellington I shall now have to make my way to Newtown and say hi to Taj and Brian, and more than likely come away with a book! 😀 😀 😀

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    • Hello Jude, Your town sounds fascinating to me. All those bookshops, I could get lost there, for a long time. I still have the copy of I think the presence of bookshops, second-hand or not, says a lot about the life of a community. Libraries, too. I still have the copy of Carol Shields’ Larry’s Party that I bought at the Oxfam shop in Marylebone, more than ten years ago. Best souvenir of a happy hour browsing

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    • Now they sound like very interesting second hand book stores, Anabel. I imagine they might be very popular. Isn’t it interesting how many book lovers also love animals. I wonder which wins out: dogs or cats? I’ve had both but neither at the moment.

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      • I had a dog when young, then cats as an adult. Now none – makes travelling too difficult. We also have a second hand book fair every few weeks in the Botanic Gardens. I usually steer clear – my tbr pile is too big as it is!

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  5. Thanks for this and I will pop in tomorrow before I head back tot the bay. Arty Bees, tick, unity books, tick…so great to know of somewhere new.

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    • Hello Anonymous, Your comment snuck through a gap in my system that I have now closed. I don’t particularly like or want anonymous comments so it’s back to my former requirements. Readers wishing to comment will need to be logged in through WordPress, Facebook, or Twitter. If they do not have any of these accounts they will be required to provide their email address which, I hasten to reassure you, is not published. That said, I’m glad you enjoyed my post enough to want to tell me. If you make it to Rainbow Books be sure to say hello to Brian and take the time to give Taj a pat. It’s a quirky little bookshop, very different from Arty Bees. I hope you find something you enjoy there.

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  6. Nah, no cool, little second-hand bookshop anything like that in my part of the world… but I think I just found a favorite one anyway… I’ll just have to settle for a plane ride and the thrill of a different accent.

    What a wonderful looking place, even Brian suits the notion of cool and unique. Hello from Canada, and a nice pat for Taj.

    Lovely as usual, Jill…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hah, I have a very similar problem, Carrie. Despite owning a kindle, which I never go anywhere without, I packed a doorstop paperback in my luggage to Myanmar. I solemnly swore that I would dispose of it on my trip. I didn’t. I decided it was so wonderful I had to keep it. And then I found a wonderful bookshop in Yangon and I bought more!

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  7. I love the building in the upper picture and I haven’t ever been in a bookstore that I didn’t enjoy. I would love to work somewhere where I could take my dog. This looks like a fun place, thanks for sharing it with us Jill.

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    • Hello Anne, It’s full of treasures. I had to exercise considerable self-discipline to leave with only one book. There was an Allende novel, House of Spirits,from memory that was particularly difficult to walk past.

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  8. Thanks for this Jill. I love Wellington AND second-hand bookshops, so this is a must-visit for next time. Oddly, I was talking to my step-mother about Newtown the other day; she was born there and said she’d recently been back for the first time in many years.

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    • Hi Su, I wonder whether Newtown has changed very much since your step-mother grew up there? It’s full of old cottages and Victorian homesteads, many of which have been renovated. I love the diversity there, and if I was living in Wellington, it would be my suburb of choice. Although the south coast would give it a run for its money, too.

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