Readers take note: these booksellers have got what you need
The 3 Best Bookshops in the Inner North
They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and perhaps the same can be said of judging a bookshop by its fit-out. Northcote, Thornbury and Fitzroy are home to some flashy bookshops with the latest cuts on vinyl, espresso on the go and young, hip staff who wouldn't know a classic novel if it combusted right in front of them. No, a good bookshop is more than Scandinavian shop fittings, best-sellers by the pallet-load and book signings by celebrity chefs and reality TV contestants. A good bookshop has a soul, an aura. It should be dusty and should smell like history. The shopkeeper should be reading and, as a rule, should only accept cash – there's something inauthentic about trading currency data through the ether for a good, old-fashioned paperback.
These are the best bookshops I've found in Melbourne's inner northern suburbs:
The self-proclaimed 'world's freakiest bookstore' isn't necessarily as freaky as all that – at least not by my sensibilities – but it is a world-famous institution, home to a wide range of cult literature; from locally-produced zines to all kinds of erotica; from graphic novels to very graphic novels; from oddities to weirdities and far beyond. Frank Zappa visited this cornerstone of counter-culture and declared it "full of perverts, throw-backs and degenerate gamblers… a home-away-from-home for the connoisseurs of fine publishing." Polyester Books is a diving board into any of several strange and intoxicating rabbit holes. It's made my top three because of its support for local poets and artists, its no-nonsense commitment to complete nonsense, and it's brilliant sense of humour. Probably the only book store in Melbourne (or at least, the best) where you can peruse the subversive comics of Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, the number poems of Pi O or the beat poetry of Ferlinghetti, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tantric Sex and The World's Most Bizarre Murders under one roof. Four stars.
2. Fully Booked – 824 High Street, Thornbury This bookshop wins second place for three reasons. Firstly, it has a great selection of secondhand classics, contemporary pop fiction, reference books and – after my own heart – post modernist literary fiction from Delillo to Pynchon. Secondly, it's located in the vicinity of a fantastic café (Lowlands Espresso), a fascinating vintage store (The Department of History), and a great new barber (Lords of the North) on a very cool strip at the far end of Thornbury's High Street. Thirdly, Fully Booked is home to a beautiful tortoiseshell cat who often adorns the bookshelves in the window – the true mark of a seriously excellent bookshop. Extra points for the titular pun and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff. Five stars.
When I first moved to Melbourne (nearly two years ago), I washed up in Northcote, and Allsorts Books was the first bookshop I ever visited. It remains the most authentic, down-to-earth example of a local, community-minded bookshop I've ever come across. The selection is vast and, while there's enough order to find the category or author you're looking for, there's also just enough chaos to excite the literary magpie to hunt for hours for a rare catch. The owner/operator is always happy to order something in if he doesn't have it and, when I've taken him up on the offer he's always got it in hand within a couple of days. Having said that, it's the kind of place where you're better off browsing than searching with intent, because the place is chockfull of historical oddities, beautiful modernist editions of the all the classics, kitschy pulp, science fiction and tomes upon tomes of educational material ranging from psychology to the supernatural. All the stars.
This is what I call a bookshop highstreetnorthcote.com.au