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February 20, 2006 | by  | in Books |
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Why You Should Read Books

I watched a girl reading Salient last year, of course making sure not to stare too obviously. She grabbed one off the stack at the end of the over-bridge and then flopped down on a padded bench next to me. Arranging herself into a comfortable position, she managed to avoid spilling her coffee and turned her attention to the desirable publication. Without any hesitation she opened it at the letters to the editor. After sniggering sporadically for about two minutes, she flicked through the news, and then the music and film reviews. The pages kept turning; forward she went to the theatre review, then the columns. More sniggering and then more absorbed reading. It was ten past one, her mocha was gone and she appeared to realise she needed to be somewhere else. Still, she had just enough time to peruse the ads on the last page before getting up and heading to her lecture, leaving one lonely double page unread. I picked up her leftovers and read them for her. Perhaps I wouldn’t have read the books pages if I hadn’t written a bit of one of them. This only occurred to me after, in an incredulous silent monologue, I’d asked myself what is so wrong with reading a book review? Ten reasons sprang to mind unpleasantly quickly.

They’re boring cos’ they’re about books I’m never going to read (reason one) and they’re just other people’s opinions anyway (two) which are sometimes badly written (three) and are often a pile of wank (four) and it’s not like I can afford books anyway (five) I don’t even have a bookshelf (six) and library books mean library fines (seven), more to the point, when do I have time to read whole books? I do enough of that for school (eight) why would I want to do it in my spare time? (nine) and even if I do feel like reading I can make my own mind up about whether I think a book’s good or
not! (ten!)

Some of these quibbles are hard to get around. But I’ll try, one by one, to sort them out.

1)“Boring books I’m never going to read”: how do you know if you never read the book reviews? I solemnly swear that there’ll be a bit of variety – thrillers, sagas, poetry, non-fiction, etc. – this year. Everything that is, but the diet book.

2)“Other people’s opinions”: well what else can we do? An objective review really would be boring. We can’t just jettison our point of view completely.

3)“Badly written”: we’ll do our best, and if that isn’t enough you’re welcome to do better. The books are to your left as you go through Salient’s office door. My email address is when you’ve finished the masterpiece.

4)“Wanky”: yeah, well. Aren’t we all? Laugh at us. Write an unimpressed letter to the editor.

5)“Can’t afford books”: Go to the library, go halves with a friend, shop at second hand book stores, or refrain from buying that sequined Supré top and buy a book instead. Or become a book reviewer and get brand new books for free.

6)“No bookshelf”: bricks and planks work. And the Salvation Army is cheap mostly. A bookshelf is a necessity of life.

7)“Library fines”: magnet your library docket to the fridge. Keep library books in one place. Librarians are shrewd, ruthless people – if you incur a fine, they will hunt you down.

8)“I don’t have time”: rubbish! Multi-task. It is possible to read while doing almost anything – seriously.

9)“Why would I want to waste my spare time reading?”: Reading is a cheap, addictive habit that is healthy unless you do it in bad light. And people respect you more if you’re reading a book than a magazine.

10)“I can make my own mind up”: but can you? We know the perils of judging by covers, but what about by first pages, blurbs and other authors’ endorsements? Can we trust them? Maybe, but not in the same way that we can trust the faithful review. A review is like a map… or possibly a free sample. It gives you an idea of what to expect from the product, it prepares you for the terrain, religion, taste, texture and substance of the book. It tells you about the people involved in its making and the people who might like trying it. It gives warnings about the filth, danger and tastelessness that reside within the covers.

So now you’re champing at the bit for the reviews. None this week, sorry.! Anticipation makes the experience even better. Perhaps you’re now thinking ‘these reviews sound like a bit of all right’ but you may also be thinking, ‘but where is this library that you talk of, and does Paper Plus count as a book store’? To answer all these questions and more, here is a list of places in Wellington where you can acquire books.

LIBRARIES:

Free and all over the place, they are easy to use and mostly up to date. Libraries are a good choice. There is of course the University one, to your left as you walk through the Quad towards the Cotton Building. However, its recent fiction section is a bit slim. If you’re looking for just about any reading matter, head towards the Civic Square in town. The imposing edifice, with all the windows and metal cabbage tree designs, is the Central Library. It’s large, but well signposted and the staff, frightening as they may seem, will probably help you if you ask. It is FREE to sign up; I cannot stress this enough. If you live in Brooklyn, Karori, Newtown, Kilbirnie, Island Bay, Wadestown, or (I’m so sorry) Johnsonville, you are blessed with local versions of the big central one. If you’re after research material the National Library (58-78 Molesworth Street) is the answer. Luckily it’s equipped with comfy chairs and a café, because you’re likely to be there awhile – the books are not for taking home.

BOOK STORES:

Money is of the essence for most of us, so I’ll begin with the second hand book stores. They may not have the reviewed books immediately (unless broke reviewers are selling their copies to Bizy Bee’s straight away) but you never know what other gems you might find.
Bizy Bee’s Book Shop: On Manners Street, and almost next door to Club K, it’s hard to miss. This store keeps good hours, has their books nicely ordered, and employs friendly staff which makes this one of the best.
Arty Bee’s Book Shop: Very similar, this time on the Embassy end of Courtenay Place. Arty Bee’s is, well, artier. It stocks older and more specialist books, so if you’re reluctant to buy the expensive edition of Romantic poetry that you need for ENGL blah blah blah, you may find a suitable substitute here.
Ferret: Situated on Cuba St, with a stuffed ferret in the window – quaint, reasonably priced and has that lovely old book smell (asthmatics beware).
Nathaniel’s 2nd Hand Books: From the necessarily cluttered rotting wood décor to the equally decaying person behind the desk, Nathaniel’s provides the complete 2nd hand book shopping experience. Ignore all other commitments and head to the Ground Floor of Wellington Markets on Wakefield Street. If, in all the excitement, you miss a delicious hostel meal, there’s a spectacular food market right next door.

Now for the new books…

Unity Books: (57 Willis Street) It’s my favourite and probably will become yours if you haven’t already discovered it. Everything in this shop complements relaxed browsing – the music, the unobtrusive but helpful when needed staff and the layout. It’s the place to find new NZ writing, the latest William Blake biography or a fat (as in lots of pages, but cool also) history of music. It is not the place to find the latest Clive Cussler.
Vic Books: (3rd floor Student Union Building) Similarly stocked and equipped with pleasant atmosphere, this one is not just useful for textbooks. You can find glossy magazines, gift cards, Tin-tin stationery and the creative works of some of your lecturers.
Dymocks: (Corner of Lambton Quay and Willis Street) Lucky you if you get vouchers for this one! It’s pricey but well stocked – a cosy place to while away a rainy afternoon.
Parsons: You may know this one better as the music store and café, but it was originally one of Wellington’s first independent book sellers. If you’re in search of an impressively obscure title as a present for your most highbrow friend, pop in to Mrs Parsons and have a look-see.
Bennetts Government Bookshop: I haven’t personally set foot in this one, as I’m not a law or politics student, and quite frankly that end of town intimidates me but I hear it’s very useful for dictionaries and various serious non-fiction tomes.
Whitcoulls: (312 Lambton Quay, Cuba Mall and the Reading Cinema Complex) If you’ve come to the big city from Tokoroa and expect Wellington Whitcoulls’ to be vastly more exciting than the one back home, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but they’re all essentially the same. Like every retail book outlet it will have the latest Bryce Courtenay, Jamie Oliver and Danielle Steel, but will not boast a great selection of local talent.

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