You might not know it but we are currently neck deep in Jolabokaflod. This is the word to describe the book-buying phenomenon that occurs in Iceland between September and December, gearing up for their book-giving tradition on Christmas Eve. It translates as “Christmas Book Flood” and it, combined with the estimate that as many as one in ten Icelanders will write a book, almost inspires me to switch nationalities. At least visit.
In the meantime, while I baulk (sob) at the costs of flights to Iceland, Jolabokaflod / Christmas seems like the perfect time to introduce you to my local, independent, owner-operated bookstore – Paradox Books – and it’s owners, Rachel and Matthew. Paradox Books hosted my last two NZ book launches and Rachel and Matthew are hugely supportive of the work of local authors. They even have a special shelf! Paradox is a business that is firmly entrenched in the community here in Devonport – they celebrate local festivals and events, support local schools, allow customers to sit and read within the store and always give spot-on book-buying advice.
The store itself is often cluttered with boxes, the shelves filled to busting and card racks stuffed with the best, funniest (cheapest! Bonus.) cards around. There is a couch and coffee table in the centre which serves as meeting place, office, breastfeeding zone and general hangout. The kids section is stocked just as generously as the adults, with a rainbow boat kite hung from the ceiling, turning languidly in the breeze. Rachel has a cover of a favourite Haruki Murakami novel framed by the front door and posters about local events behind the counter. She stocks a selection of mugs with cynical messages, classic novels with gold-edged pages, all the latest literary prize winners and even a children’s book about Trump. Maybe not really for children.
Rachel is the kind of bookseller who is always happy to see you (even when she really just wants a coffee), is calm and considered and able to handle the most difficult of book-buying challenges. I am constantly giving her ridiculous missions like “I’m buying for a good friend…he likes campervans….and sunsets!…politics….probably not New Zealand politics…”* and she simply pauses, ponders, and casually plucks out ten perfect options. I wanted you to meet Rachel too, and experience her superior book gift guide skills in action, just in time for Christmas:
Rachel, can you give us a quick overview of your background and how you became a bookseller…
I started volunteering in the small bookshop owned by Broadsheet (the feminist magazine) when I was 18, and I’ve never escaped the book trade! I’ve had a few jobs outside but I always managed a bit of casual or part-time bookshop work).
So in the last thirty years I’ve worked for several bookshops, including the Women’s Bookshop, Unity and Dymocks, and three publishers, Scholastic, Penguin and Random House.
What has been the most surprising / unexpected aspect of the job?
Sometimes I feel a bit like a bartender! People tell booksellers quite personal stories and it’s always a privilege to be trusted,
What is your least favourite aspect of the job?
Returning unsold books is always a wrench.
Best bookseller moment?
Booksellers joke about customers saying “It was blue” (when describing the book they want to find) but secretly we love that! There’s a real buzz from finding the right book from a minimum of information.
Give us some thoughts on the publishing and bookselling industry? Pet peeves? Forecasts?
One of pet peeves is that so much of the warehousing and distribution has shifted to Australia over the last ten years. There’s been a loss of thousands of jobs, which the media has never covered. It also makes life tricky ordering stock when it has to come from Melbourne or Sydney. The exciting thing these days is the number of new New Zealand publishers. There are a lot of little firms, and they’re doing some really innovative and interesting publishing.
Your personal favourite Christmas read?
I love the Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey which is a beautiful picture book (and picture books are about all I can cope with after a busy Christmas)
I am going to have to buy that one for our picture book advent calender! Okay, now here’s the difficult part. I am going to profile several tricky characters. They may or may not resemble an actual friend / family member (ahem). Your mission is to quickly suggest titles they might enjoy. Ready? Here we go. Which book/s would you suggest for the following maybe-not-ficitious characters:
Rangy, shy, younger brother who likes bikes, Irvine Welsh, spear fishing and craft beers?
Brewed: A Guide to the Craft Beers of NZ is not just informative, but also beautiful.
Elegant, eloquent friend who adores Kate Bush and Nick Cave, flowers and the latest literary talk-of-the-town?
Either the poetry of Hera Lindsay Bird – THE buzzy new NZ poet everyone is talking about, or the Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey – uniformly rave reviews made the paperback sell out in about three weeks, but there’s a gorgeous gift hardback available.
Spunky eleven year old niece who is all about performing?
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell is an amazing novel that we’ve all loved – part fairytale, part fantasy, part historical fiction, all marvellous. Otherwise Charlotte, our teenage helper, highly recommends the Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer, about two children who fall into the fairytale world through the pages of a book.
Discerning Father-in-law who requires something legal / criminal, possibly Scandinavian and not too slow-paced?
He might enjoy Red Herring, a debut NZ thriller set around the Watersider’s stike of 1951. Filled with lots of
local colour, it combines kiwi history with a pacey thriller.
Ridiculously adorable ten month baby girl who answers to ‘Bonnie’.
Bonnie needs all the books! Where is the Green Sheep, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Each Peach Pear Plum, Hairy Maclary, we could go on and on!
Those suggestions are brilliant! Thank you Rachel. While I wish there were more bookstores like Paradox – warm, inclusive and community-minded – I’m pretty chuffed Paradox is my local bookstore. It’s a delight to wander down to see you in the store, interrupt your morning coffee, bug you for advice and buy too many books. There surely isn’t a better way to spend a morning.
Here’s hoping this may have assisted you with your Christmas gift buying. If in doubt, buy a book, we say. Even better if it’s from a local bookstore and by a local author. May your Jolabokaflod go swimmingly (wink) and we will see you next week for our final blog post of 2016! After that Ria and I will be taking a break until 2017 to tackle the teetering stacks of books piled high on our side tables…
*Yes, that is a real person. Love ya, BJC 😉