Of all the ardent book lovers out there I'd guess there's a fair portion who have fantasised about being surrounded by books all day and extending their time in bookshops to the hours of 9 to 5. I know I have. I even went so far as to research the subject, only to find out about the low margins, long hours, tough competition and how darned hard it is.
This book is about a woman who actually turned her fantasy into reality, albeit for a short time. I heard Annette Freeman speak about her experiences at the Writers Festival and it made for a sad story: having the dream and seeing it slip from her grasp. She wryly noted that her book is a 'how not to' for almost anyone thinking of venturing into retail, let alone bookselling. The book, on the whole however, is a more positive read. If you have also had this dream you will reap vicarious pleasure from her forays into choosing colours and designs for her logo and shop fittout; the excitement of deciding what books to outlay her budget on; the images of her Chesterfield lounges and wing chairs in cosy lamp lit corners surrounded by floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves brimming with beautiful books. Bliss indeed. And if you are lucky, the cost of this book will be all you give up to experience it.
Much to my astonishment, I had never heard of this shop that had been open for 18 months right in the heart of the city next to Abbey's. Part of the reason for this could be in one of the last chapters of the book which covers her 18 month battle with Sydney Council over signage and not being visible from the street...and what is worse, every page I turned of this book made me even more regretful. In addition to her literary offering (her vision was 50% books and 50% cafe), the quality and price of her food sounds amazing. Despite some rather obvious errors (hindsight being 20/20), the reasons for the downfall were many and varied, and lessons can be drawn from all of them.
I have to admit I bought this quirky book, which is part memoir, part business story, primarily for the vicarious experience, but I quickly found that Annette Freeman's prose (her day job is as a trademarks lawyer) is both lucid and clear and an absolute pleasure to read. After dipping into my bedside table 10-stacker (Gleebooks customers will know I do not refer to a CD player here) finishing off with this book before sleep was the literary equivalent of a peppermint tea or sorbet as a settling palate cleanser.
The chapters conveniently cover specific aspects of the life of the shop: Yarn-a-Thon, The Duck Run, Sea in the Library (getting curious?), and throughout Annette interweaves a taste of her own modus operandi for life. Here is a brave woman who deliberately ventures out of her comfort zone, whether it be into the angst-ridden territory of the small business owner or climbing to Everest base camp with her phobia of suspension bridges. A woman who philosophically picks herself up after a fall and takes on board the lessons involved. The surprise in this book is that the author does not come across as completely disillusioned, bitter and twisted; rather you see a woman who has accumulated great wisdom at great cost and in the process maintained her poise, grace and equanimity.
Reading this book will give you a whole new appreciation of what happens behind the scenes at your local book shop and if nothing else, it will make you want to vigorously shake the hands of both Roger and David in gratitude next time you see them.