Nothing to do but protest. Sad news is that one of Joburg’s most beloved bookshops is set to close early next year. Boekehuis in Auckland Park is a haven for writers and for people who love hearing from them run by the amazingly interested and interesting Corina Van der Spoel (I worked closely with her on the Sunday Times Book awards a few years ago – she was one of our judges. And I also hosted a discussion with Peter Harris on his incredible historical thriller In a Different Time: The inside story of the Delmas Four one Saturday afternoon there). It’s a gathering place for readings, poetry, debate, discussion and the exchange of ideas that has been nurtured by Corina. It’s also an independently-run bookshop that I have never managed to leave without a brown packet filled with some extraordinary title that no mega bookstore would stock (or be able to find) or even be interested in ordering. And while its heart is local, its soul is truly global.
But I am still to blame. Convenience has too often won out over loyalty. Although so far I have stopped myself from downloading fiction on an iPad – Even though the iPad was going to make traveling so much easier and lighter I still can’t bring myself to forgo the book, seeing the cover, feeling the pages, sniffing the paper, admiring the typeface and jagged edges of American edition pages in particular. I am putting it out there – books saved my childhood. Reading is what I do.
But saying that my book-buying is often done online or at a chain in major shopping centers. Convenience and those damn loyalty points that we pay dearly for. We also pay a lot for impersonal service and poorly-read sales staff who file books like Fast Food Nation and Chocolat under cookery and can never find even one of the seven copies that “the system” says it has. Take note Exclusive Books.
The shop is owned by media group Naspers and there had been an open letter and petition doing the rounds. You can add your name at Bookslive. If you are a reader get to Boekehuis and buy a book. Buy an armload and support all that’s good and fair in the world and that deserves to survive.Perfect time to go there is this Saturday, December 10 at 12,.15pm for a discussion between the award-winning Ivan Vladislavic (on his latest work The Loss Library and other unfinished stories) and academic Michael Titlestad. A poignant title – The Loss Library.* Boekehuis is at Cnr. Lothbury and Fawley streets, Auckland Park. RSVP: by Thurs. 8 Dec on 011 482 3609 or Boekehuis@boekehuis.co.za
Below is the open letter that was was distributed by Mark Gevisser, Michael Titlestad and Maggie Davey and will be published in the Mail & Guardian this week.
Open Letter to Koos Bekker, CEO, Naspers
Dear Mr Bekker
As writers, publishers, readers, and buyers of books, we are deeply distressed that Naspers is considering shutting down the Boekehuis in Auckland Park. While we understand Naspers’ financial considerations, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of the unique space it has created for cultural and intellectual activity in Johannesburg.
Firstly, the Boekehuis public readings and discussions have become among the most important gatherings in the Johannesburg literary calendar. As such, they have done much to promote not only literary talent and ideas, but the profile of both the bookshop itself and Naspers. There are no comparable forums in Johannesburg, and the loss of Boekehuis is a blow against the culture of reading and debate, which is so crucial to the well-being of our democracy, particularly given the steady erosion of book culture in South Africa.
Secondly, in the era of on-line commerce, the Boekehuis staff have set the bar for selecting publications of quality and worth for South African readers. Bookshops, where people of all ages who care about reading can gather and browse – and buy books too, of course – are at the core of the kind of civil, deliberative culture that we believe South Africa so urgently needs. And when they are as beautiful and welcoming as the Boekehuis, all the more so.
For these reasons, we would urge you to reconsider your decision.
From the invitation:
The Loss Library and other unfinished stories:
What happens when a story goes missing or remains unrecorded? When a writer carelessly gives his plot away during a conversation or dies before writing the ending? These stories end up in the Loss Library, where the books that have never been written are kept.
In this poignant, thought-provoking book, one of South Africa’s finest writers examines eleven of his own lost fictions, how the ideas arose and why he abandoned them. But this reflection on the art of writing is not a lament for unfinished work. Rather The Loss Library is a meditation on creativity, mortality and the allure of the incomplete.