Across Australia today, readers and book lovers are celebrating the wonderful contribution that the local bookshop makes to communities big and small. It is a magical experience to enter a store specifically designed for the promotion and selling of books. Meandering slowly past rows and rows of shelves stacked with books, their colourful spines facing outward, exposing titles printed in bold black or embossed in sparkling metallic, we look for a new friend to take home. Will it be from the new release display at the front of the store, or the science fiction and fantasy section that has been promoted to the middle, or my favourite, the classics section hidden in the back corner.
In a regional city like Toowoomba, as well as the big cities that dot our coasts, we can often take our local bookshops for granted. We can choose from the big chains like QBD or Dymocks, the occasional independent book store, as well as the book sections located in department stores. However, for many book lovers in rural Australia there is no local bookshop.
Bookshops Need Booklovers
Before Toowoomba, we lived in a small country town out west. For most of that time, there was no local bookshop. However, I do remember the delight when an independent book store opened in the Main Street. It was an exciting event to have our very own bookshop, designated purely to books and so it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the local book lovers. It was thrilling to walk through the doors, browse the books on the shelves, enjoy the quiet or relax in the comfortable book reading furniture. Sadly, it was not to last. Independent bookshops never lasted more than a few months in our town. A rural bookshop needs more than just a handful of book lovers to be viable.
It’s hard for bookstores to be a viable concern in a rural town. Rural residents are often less well off. Books are a luxury they may not be able to afford, especially now when many rural areas are in the grip of severe drought. With a smaller population, there is simply not enough avid readers to support a book store. There is also less access to book related events, like writers festivals or author events, to encourage and promote reading as a worthwhile leisure activity. And rural towns often have a different culture, one focused more on more physical activities like sport. Quiet activities, like reading, are often not as highly valued.
There were other options for buying books of course. The local newsagent stocked a small range of books, and our one department store in town also stocked a small selection of books, but not always what I liked to read. Often I had to wait for a trip to a larger town or regional city for the opportunity to visit an actual book store and on these occasions, our to-do-list was so jam packed with appointments and essential purchases that there was little time for browsing through a book store.
We did of course have a very good library. It provided a welcoming environment for browsing the shelves, enjoying some quiet reading time and sampling unfamiliar writers. But I never understood why there were no classics. What is a library without Austen or Bronte or Shakespeare? Surely I was not the only reader who loved the classics?
Fortunately for rural book lovers, we live in the technological age. With limited access to a physical book store we are forced to turn to the online market place. It’s never quite the same as a real bookstore though. We cannot pick the books off the shelf, feel the embossed print, smell the paper, or read the first page. Online book stores are good if you know what you are looking for, but they hold so many titles it’s time-consuming to browse in the way that you can in a real bookstore. On the other hand, there is the anticipation and excitement of the arrival of a package in the post. After all, somebody has to keep Australia Post going!
So whether your local book shop is a physical store devoted to books, a couple of shelves in a department store or a well visited bookmark in your internet browser, celebrate the joy that books bring to our lives and spare a thought for those living in rural communities where the local bookshop is often just a beautiful dream.