Monday, December 2, 2013

The Bibliophile's Dream: Losing Money Eloquently

I often joke with friends that I have outlived my dream; the dream of owning an independent bookstore. Age, technology, consumer preferences, and financial obligations, all seem to have conspired against me. Perhaps that is why I never pass up an opportunity to visit and support independent bookstores. I admire the talent, cleverness, and business acumen of independent booksellers and the uniqueness of their shops. 

Here in South Africa I've stumbled across two amazing bookstores, one in Melville, a suburb of Johannesburg, and the other in Durban.  "Love Books" is part of a rehabbed and re-purposed service station in Melville (the trendy, fun, college neighborhood).  

The building has been converted into the Bamboo Center, a series of connected shops, including, among others, the Service Station Café, a children's store, design gallery, spa, art gallery, Black Coffee, which features South African couture, and a resale shop with some extraordinary items.

Every weekend there is a rooftop organic farmer's market. Just follow the flags. No boring green tents here -- all the stalls have colorful fabric side panels and roof tops.

Love Books opens to the Service Station Café. So you can stroll through with your coffee, pull up a chair, or park yourself in one of the tucked away chairs.

Out of habit, I browsed the young adult section and found many favorite authors.

I found Ike's Books & Collectibles in the Lonely Planet Guide to South Africa. I had a day to spend in Durban and wanted to stay off the beaten tourist path. After a stroll along the beach which included dipping my toes in the cold, repeat cold, Indian Ocean I headed off to Ike's. 

Ike Mayet opened Ike's Books in 1988, becoming the first South African “Africana and antiquarian” book-dealer of colour. He taught himself how to restore books and began the restoration of the rare books in the Gandhi Library located in Durban’s “Indian Quarter." I recently read that Gandhi developed his philosophy of non-violent resistance (Satyagraha) in Durban and Johannesburg during the anti-apartheid struggle.

The bookstore was a meeting point for many activists during the anti-apartheid struggle. The current Florida Road location was officially opened in 2001 by South African author J M Coetzee. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003..

I spent a bit of time talking with one of the current owners. She herself restores books and we sympathized about the lack of appreciation for the talent and time the work takes.

Ike’s had a steady stream of visitors on the Saturday that I was there. In addition, the bookstore hosts book launches on its lovely second floor balcony and has an internet site as well. 

Despite this, her partner noted the life of a used bookseller can be summed up as one of “losing money eloquently.”

I buy the occasional lottery ticket to keep alive the possibility of "losing money eloquently." In the meantime, I keep shopping at my Indianapolis favorite independent bookseller, Big Hat Books, where Liz Houghton Barden makes everyone that walks in feel like an old friend. 


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