In the latest in our regular series on bookshops around New Zealand, Kaye Neely tells of opening Village Books in Waipapa near Kerikeri.
When I look back over my life, I realise that opening a second-hand bookstore in a small Northland town was predestined.
Like many kids who grew up in rural New Zealand, I spent much of my spare time reading. I read in bed, on the beach and even on top of the chookhouse. My parents both loved reading, and our family’s early years were spent in such isolated locations as Kariaotahi (west of Waiuku) and Piri Piri (west of Waitomo); any movie theatres or other diversions were miles away over winding gravel roads. At Piri Piri, our schoolhouse was also the location for the district library, which meant a bookcase in our front hall was filled with books from the big grey Country Library Service van which visited every few months to exchange the selection. That bookcase now lives with me.
Is it inevitable that life positions us where we’re best suited? In my case it would seem so, because later we moved to Te Awamutu and Mum bought a small stationery/bookshop which also contained a small subscription lending library. My holidays were spent working behind the counter, and shelving books. People and books: I loved the experience.
When I left school, I found a position as a trainee at the very Country Library Service branch, in Hamilton, that used to deliver the books to us in the backblocks. It was in this job that I identified what was to become my lifelong passion of children’s librarianship. I’ve since worked at libraries in Hamilton, London, Kerikeri, and the local primary school library in Waipapa.
It’s led to some amazing experiences with great authors. Consider the following: What do you say to Roald Dahl when you meet him? How excited would you be if he wrote you a letter addressing you as ‘lovely Kaye’? And would you worry that your house wasn’t warm enough, or the bed comfortable enough, when you hosted Margaret Mahy?
In 2010, I took the step of opening Village Books. When I began talking about the possibility, I was given much advice. Among the gems was this, from a second-hand bookseller who was selling me some shelving: ‘I find that adult magazines are my best sellers.’ Hell, and freezing over, were the words which popped into my head.
My original vision was for the shop to become the number one second-hand literary destination in the North. I think we’ve achieved that with return customers coming from all over New Zealand, and even the world, as the Bay of Islands is a haven for swallows – people who spend six months here, and six months overseas.
The stock has grown from around 5,000 to over 20,000. Up here in the winterless north it’s not surprising that topics such as sailing and gardening are among the most popular purchases, along with spirituality and local history. Hardcore fans of Mills & Boon make regular trips and the staple fare for the majority of our customers are best-sellers by the likes of Lee Child and Jodi Picoult.
But there are also occasional rare gems. Right now I have in stock a copy of Brett’s Colonists’ Guide and Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge. Published in 1883, it was aimed at new settlers in New Zealand, and advertised as “a weighty tome containing much useful guidance for the isolated agrarian colonist”. The advice is specific and perhaps sometimes ridiculous. Page 589: “Dinner at 1pm. Wholesome fresh meat and vegetables – potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, peas, French beans, etc – plainly cooked, carefully portioned, served hot, and properly masticated. Highly seasoned dishes, pickles, salt and dried meats, rich or heavy pastries, and cheese should be excluded from persons whose habits are sedentary and who use their brains considerably…Taking wine after dinner is a luxurious, not a healthy habit; and all that can be said of it, from a hygienic point of view, is, the less taken the better.”
I’ve priced it at $500.
Previously in our bookshop series: