Archive for July, 2011

On Bookstores. One in particular…

Talking about bookstores is important and all, but the purpose of this post is actually not what you might think it is at first glance.  What I want to talk about is one bookstore in particular.

It’s a pretty nondescript shopfront and its sign says simply ‘Books’. Simple, effective, and when you get into the store, quite alarmingly appropriate.

This bookstore is home to millions of books.

The thing that makes this remarkable is this is probably three times as many books as they can actually fit on their shelves.

They are everywhere: piled atop one another in listing piles of dust and hardcovers; strewn haphazardly across the tops of crates packed full of paperbacks; arranged in little niches and under boxes; piles of whatever could not fit on the shelves stacked unevenly in front of their approximate location. They are packed into dusty crates stowed under the stairs as though locked in a cage through which readers can only gaze in wonderment at the mystery therein. They are shoved and piled all about the sales desk. They teeter on the tops of shelves, and shelves teeter on the tops of shelves also.

This is the bookstore your librarian warned you about.

The above only shows half of the bookstore, if that, would you believe.  And as you can infer from the depth of the aisles, there are a great many hidey-holes in this place and I lost sight of my company numerous times. We’d decided to set out on an expedition into the perilous depths of this bookstore specifically because my companion wanted to find some Pern novels with the old cover art, so naturally our first port of call was the spec-fic section.

No luck here. To be honest, I wasn't sure where I was either.

Surprisingly, this section of the store was the most orderly, which is something I found surprising since, according to the store’s website:

“Australian history and politics and Australiana are the main specialty areas. The collection on labor movement and left-wing politics is the broadest in Australia, and stands up well by international standards, covering Australia but also other countries.”

And I certainly believe it. A good half or more of the bookstore was buried beneath tomes of the sort, though much of the bottom floor appeared to be dedicated mostly to fiction.

No this isn't a fish-eye effect -- the shelves really do curve out like that.

That was only half of the fantasy and sci-fi, but would you believe it? Not a single Anne McCaffery novel in sight.

I think this was supposed to be the children's section. It was a funny place to find a bunch of old classics in early 1900's cloth covers.

However, since we’d come all this way out at 8 on a Saturday night (a good hour and a half of travel), we decided to probe depths of the bookstore we hadn’t been brave enough to venture into before.


We remembered why.

Many of these aisles could only be traversed sideways, carefully controlling the angle of my bag. The gaps between the ends of the aisles and the back wall were even thinner, about 30cm at most, I would imagine.

At one point, one of the other customers came across us lost in the maze of paper and dustjackets and asked me if I had any idea how everything was organised. I postulated it to be some arcane system beyond the comprehension of mortal men. But that for the most part it appeared to be alphabetical.

I did a little bit of looking-into on the bookstore, known as ‘Gould’s Book Arcade’, and found that it apparently enjoys a bit of renown for its breathtakingly daunting clutter, and, perhaps, wears it as a badge of pride. Most of the books, according to their website, are 30 years worth of publisher’s remainders and other similarly-acquired titles, and many of the reference and art books we picked through were old library stock. Of extra interest to us was that the shopfront represents only a portion of the store’s immense collection: they are also possessed of a warehouse ‘stacked floor to ceiling’ with boxes more.

As for what could be seen on the shelves, they had a little of everything. Amongst the oddities we spotted were Japanese Pokemon animanga, Australian phrasebooks written in French, an archaic book of ‘art photography’ which featured nothing but hairy naked men in grainy, 1950’s black and whites, and an obscene number of copies of a certain vampire novel — though when you consider the fact it was a second-hand bookstore, it was really not that odd at all.

As can be expected, we didn’t leave the store empty-handed; my companion managed to glean the prize of a first-edition print of Froud & Lee’s ‘Fairies‘ book in beautiful condition and paid barely a song for it.

For anyone interested in probing the depths of this store for themselves, you will find them here:


FYI: Vambrace?

Most people, especially we intrepid fantasy writers, know that the humble spellchecker often lacks imagination.

It’s always boggled me somewhat though that Microsoft Word’s spellcheck — in fact, most spellcheckers — do not recognise the word ‘vambrace’. It’s hardly what I would call an obscure word, and indeed, I’ve used plenty more obscure words on occasion that pass the test.

You might be wondering what exactly this strange object is that even the mighty Microsoft Spellchecker does not acknowledge the existence of. If you are, you might be surprised to learn that you have almost certainly seen one before.

Let’s see if I can jog your memory with some visual aids.


How about now?

Even if you don’t recognise any of these characters, you have now seen a vambrace.  So what exactly is it? If we entertain an explanation from the Wiki:

Vambraces […] are “tubular” or “gutter” defences for the forearm, developed first in the ancient world by the Romans, but only formally named during the early 14th century, as part of a suit of plate armour. They were made of either leather […] or from a single piece of worked steel and worn with other pieces of armour. […] Vambraces remained long in use after the high mark of Renaissance armor in Europe […]. Archers often wear bracers, a variant of vambraces, to protect their arms while shooting.


Vambraces were a very useful part of armour, as they protected the lower arm — an ideal and easy target, considering all the flailing around it does and how necessary it is for the act of holding a weapon — from being struck and injured during combat. Some versions of the vambrace, especially in plate armour, extended all the way up the arm up to (but not including) the pauldron, which is the shoulder armour. Vambraces are very common in both early armour and modern ‘interpretations’ of armour. It is very commonly included in modern representations, usually made from leather.  They’ve also managed to worm their way into subculture fare in more recent years, and decorative leather vambraces can quite easily be found for wear from sellers of Steampunk accessories.

By the way, ‘Pauldron’ is recognised by spellcheck. So is ‘greaves’, for the lower leg version of the vambrace. Unless you are using Google Chrome.

So, why has this always boggled me? Bugged me, even? Because despite not recognising this term, MS Word spellcheck recognises — and will auto-correct — the word ‘Netiquette’.

Kids these days.

%d bloggers like this: