Friday, February 04, 2005

Portrait of a Book Shop

McLeod's Used Books is my local, the place I go for a quick browse whenever I feel the urge. It's not a particularly welcoming book shop. It doesn't have a coffee machine, or a comfy couch, or a computer inventory. It doesn't have a web site, or snobby university student staff, and - a word of warning - it often doesn't have change for a twenty. McLeod's is of the old-school. It doesn't want to be a hang-out, a cafe, a trendy little meeting place where university students gather to discuss their dearly-held political views. It just wants you to come in, browse quietly, buy some books, and leave without disturbing too much dust.

Admittedly, McLeod's is an acquired taste. Those accustomed to attentive staff, alphabetised shelves, and the luxury of finding what they're looking for would do well to steer clear. McLeod's is not about finding what you're looking for. It's about crappy sci-fi paperbacks, crumbling art books, dog-eared classics. Good books buried under piles of bad books, as if to spite the browser. Inappropriately labelled sections ("Philosophy", in McLeod's, seems mostly to involve UFO encounters and the works of L. Ron Hubbard). The occasional biblio-avalanche. McLeod's Used Books, in other words, is about confusion and death. Like life, really.

The eponymous owner has his quirks, too. Over the years he has built up a system whereby good will can be purchased along with books. McLeod doesn't care for browsers. He wants buyers. If you spend half an hour sorting through the True Crime section without finding something grisly enough to take home and curl up with, don't expect sympathy. Don't even expect a grunt of farewell. You're scum, baby. But if you front up to the counter with an armload of books, well, you've just made yourself a new, if temporary, best friend. Enjoy it while it lasts.

McLeod's Used Books, 926 Whitehorse Rd., Box Hill, Victoria, (03) 9890 4405

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