Local bookstores have a special place in the lives of book lovers.
The owner of my local bookstore, the Constant Reader Bookshop one of the largest independent bookstores in Sydney, Jay Lansdown has articulated some moving responses, insightful thoughts and emotionally resonant images about books and bookstores in a recent interview.
Were there any special moments in your childhood that fostered your love of books and reading?
The most memorable was when I was 10 years old, living in New York. I had a teacher who was reading us Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ once a day every afternoon.
We left to return to Australia half way through the school year so I had to finish reading the book myself. And after that I was off!
What sparked your interest in working in a bookshop?
I was in corporate life for almost 20 years and after returning from living in Hong Kong I wanted to find a job or career in something that I really loved and as I had always loved reading I thought I would give the book industry a go.
I spent an initial 7 months working at the Constant Reader before moving back into a corporate role with Thomson Reuters. After two years in that role I came back to the bookshop.
What motivated you to purchase the Constant Reader Bookshop when all around many bookshops were closing their doors?
I needed to make the choice between staying where I was and buying the shop or moving back into a corporate role. In the end I purchased the bookshop because I always believed there was a place for bookshops in our society and I was enjoying myself.
Even if certain types of books moved into an electronic format there would always be a place for a beautifully produced physical book. I can’t imagine Janet Hawley’s new book Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden, being as beautiful in any other format as a solid hardback.
Can you give some background and history related to the Constant Reader Bookshop?
The Constant Reader has been in Crows Nest for 36 years. It was started by Peter Kirby in 1979, originally on the other side of Willoughby Road. It moved to its current location in 1989. I purchased the shop in 2012 and hope to see it survive well into the future.
You are celebrating your proud third anniversary of owning the Bookshop as well as several prior years working in the Bookshop. What do you believe are the ingredients that have made it so very successful as well as an icon on the Lower North Shore of Sydney?
I believe that the Constant Reader is successful firstly due to the size of the shop, allowing us to hold large amounts of backlist. Secondly our ordering, in trying to understand our customers and what they want to read.
Thirdly, and most importantly, our staff and their ability and willingness to engage with people who come into our shop, not only in relation to books but to be a part of their lives, that is what makes us part of the community.
What have been some of the most popular published books in 2015?
Our top five best sellers this year have been ‘The Girl on the Train’ – Paul Hawkins, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ – Harper Lee, ‘The 65 Storey Treehouse’ – Andy Grffiths, ‘Flesh Wounds’ – Richard Glover, ‘The Buried Giant’ – Kazuo Ishiguro. Some of my personal favourites have been ‘The Natural Way of Things’ – Charlotte Wood, ‘The Secret Chord’ – Geraldine Brooks, ‘The Buried Giant’ – Kazuo Ishiguro and ‘Meatballs’ – Bruno Mateo
Do you have an all-time favourite book and can you explain your choice?
Truly, I don’t have any all-time favourite books. In my opinion books are very much for their time. They can be loved for a lifetime and be read over and over again but for me they will always resonate the feelings from the time you first read them. That means you can have a large number of favourite books spanning a lifetime.
However in the interest of putting down some names:
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
The Timeliner Trilogy – Richard C Meredith
Papillion – Henri Charriere
A Fortunate Life – AB Facey
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Highways to a war – Christopher Koch
Hundred Foot Journey – Richard C Morais
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
What are your recommendations for new titles for Christmas presents for toddlers, children, young adults and adults?
Toddlers – Imaginary Fred – Oliver Jeffers
Children – Grandpa’s Great Escape – David Walliams
Young Adults – Illuminate – Anne Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Adults – The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson – Non Fiction
The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood – Fiction
Biota – James Viles – Cooking
I have a lot more but I thought I should keep it short and to the point.
I always gravitate to the beautifully defined children’s section of your Bookshop. How have you created such a high quality and effective range?
We have two long time staff members, one of whom is an early childhood teacher who have spent years developing the area and are passionate about it.
Do you do the buying for the Bookshop and what do you look for in the books you order?
Both my manager and I do the buying for the shop.
We look for books that we believe fit our market as well as anything that catches our eye as being interesting or different.
Is there a section of the shop that outsells the others?
Fiction is still the biggest section in our store.
What do you believe are the current trends with books and reading?
I think that we have reached an equilibrium between paper and electronic books and that the reading public understands the benefits of both. This is especially evident with customers who did move to e books and have now come back to paper for some reading and using electronic for other.
There has been much debate about e-books and the future of the book. I feel extremely optimistic about the future life of the book. What are your thoughts and why?
I think the book in its physical form still has a strong future. A book as a physical object is still a desirable item. There are copies in Europe that stock the libraries of wealthy people as an interior design feature alone. I also think that books are a greater investment of time for people than, say, a record or a movie and as such they like to keep their favourites as a physical representation of the time in that world.
From the point of view of cost, even in Australia the cost of a book is still a better investment of time over money that say a record or a movie. A record may be $16 to download but is listened to in 60 minutes; a movie in the cinema is $25 and is over in 3 hours. A paperback at between $19.99 and $32.99 can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks to read depending on your speed.
Any other comments you would like to make?
I have two daughters a 4 year old and an 18 month old and I am still trying hard to find something more beautiful than seeing them both with their heads stuck in a book flipping through the pages. I know the 18 month old can’t read and I’m not sure how much the 4 year old can but that doesn’t matter to them, the pure joy on their faces of that physical book is magic.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015