I enjoy looking at and buying books almost as much as I enjoy reading them. Indeed, one of my initial aims when I began this blog was to post regularly about the book shops I visited, providing a Choice magazine-esque discussion of their pros and cons for the edification of my more bibliomanic readers. Of course, I did it once, and promptly forgot about it, but I am resurrecting the concept, because today I find myself basking in the afterglow of a particularly satisfying book shop experience.
If that last sentence reeked of geekiness, hold your nose - it gets worse. For some years I have been troubled by persistent dreams in which my local second hand book store, McLeod's, was transformed from a dingy, stagnant repository for books nobody wants into a vibrant (but still dingy) utopia, bursting at the seams with interesting books. In these nocturnal fantasies, I would make my way from the ground floor (positively dripping with reasonably-priced paperback classics and curious collectables) up a flight of stairs creaking under the weight of stalagmite formations of ephemera, to a top floor where teetering piles of books competed with their shelved brethren for my awed attention. I would stand, gazing upon this mass of - yes, I will say it - civilisation, noble and enticing beneath its healthy sheen of dust. I would exalt in the presence of so many books, wonderfully, chaotically ranged hither and thither, and all potentially mine, all mine...
Sadly, McLeod's resemblence to the book store of my dreams begins and ends with having a creaky staircase. As I am apparently fated to grow old and die in Box Hill, this has always struck me as rather unfortunate. A lifetime frequenting McLeod's is not a prospect to relish, as McLeod himself would no doubt agree, if he could be drawn from his torpor long enough to be questioned on the subject. McLeod's is like a lover taken on grounds of availability rather than desire - it satisfies your essential needs, but can do nothing for your deeper cravings. Short of moving, there seemed to be little hope of ever living near a decent book shop.
Little did I realise that satisfaction was closer than I imagined. Passing through Balwyn yesterday, I stopped in at a book shop I had eyed cautiously for some time, but avoided because I assumed that it would reflect its location and be nothing more than a quaint little hovel stocked with overpriced bollocks for aspiring upper crust matrons to browse amongst while waiting to pick up the kids from Camberwell Grammar. Such are the follies of prejudice! Once inside, I realised what a fool I had been. In addition to being brilliantly named, The Merchant of Fairness corresponds to a freakish degree with my dream book shop. It is two floors of tightly-packed wonder, cramped and dusty, but surprisingly well organised and browseable. There are books everywhere - you would be lucky to fit twenty people in the place at once, such is the prevalence of print. Yes, there are even books stacked on the staircase. The Merchant, it turns out, is my idea of heaven.
What is more, the Merchant is indeed fair. Book prices are very reasonable (most books I looked at were between three and fifteen dollars) and all books are in good condition. The staff are friendly, going so far as to ask me if I required assistance. I got the impression they actually care about providing a service, which will surely result in them being thrown out of the second hand booksellers' league. All of this is by way of saying, I love the Merchant of Fairness, and you will too. Perhaps you won't love it with such disturbing ardour as me, but that's beside the point. Shop smart, shop S-Mart. And by S-Mart, I mean the Merchant of Fairness.