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.


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