Oh the Tales I could Tell


For over 40 years running the Hard to Find Bookshop has been my passion, and a big part of the pleasure I’ve taken from being in this business has been in buying and passing on interesting books and book collections of all kinds and interests.

While many of the collections we have handled haven’t been my personal interest there’s a thrill in finding really good books you know someone else will be excited by and treasure. There’s very much a sense of honouring the person whose collection I’ve purchased by finding new homes for their books, and if necessary holding onto them for decades until that new home is found — a stark contrast to some groups who bin any book that looks “old” or hasn’t sold after three months.

It isn’t just about the books though, it is also about the collectors themselves, whether they’ve been focused on specific topics, or an accumulator of interesting items. Often I only get to know them through their books as many collections I buy are deceased estates, but I’ve also had the privilege of meeting many great people with a passion for reading over the years who have decided to thin their shelves. Some have been great in sporting or historical terms, such as Sir Ed Hillary, Sir Robert Muldoon and Sir David Lange and several All Black captains  — all interesting to meet in their “off duty” homes. Most have been less famous people I find fascinating or relatable over time, customers whom I feel some sort of lasting affinity for. In some ways it is the best and the worst of the job, as many I eventually meet again to purchase the library they leave behind and it can feel like losing a friend.

I was partly lured to move to Dunedin by the late librarian Jock McEldowney after meeting him while purchasing his brother’s book collection in Auckland. “Come to Dunedin and buy my books one day” he said... and some years later I moved to Dunedin only to hear he had passed away a few months earlier. Unexpectedly I was called by his family and did buy his large book collection - I was sorry to not see him again, but it was a pleasure revisiting him through his books.

Other customers have been decidedly odd in a variety of ways, and sometimes their books are too. It is certainly a job that introduces you to all walks and varieties of life, and one i hope to do until it is time for someone to sort out my library and ensure that it heads to new appreciative homes. Meanwhile in the spirit of storytelling the video associated with this article is my memory of just one of those many “unusual” customers.