Bookshop surprises

On my recent tour of the top of the South Island I discovered some fun little bookshops – with the funnest having to be The Custard Square Bookshop, a decent collection of second-hand books housed in a little yellow caravan parked in front of The Arts Centre in Christchurch.

Owner Cathleen Murphy, who bears more than a passing resemblance to author Fiona Farrell (at least, I think so and had the day before spent some time studying Fiona’s face), was having a cuppa with The Wizard of Christchurch round the side of the caravan when I visited, talking about the Word Festival that was taking place.

The Custard Square is a bookshop on wheels. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Inside the Custard Square is a notice that says something like, ‘tall or short, fat or thin, everything $5’. Cathleen commented positively on my picks – Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin and a thoroughly enjoyable oddity, Who is Sylvia? The Diary of a Biography by Lynley Hood (John McIndoe, 1990), the companion volume to her acclaimed biography of Sylvia Ashton-Warner (published 1988), and which turned out to be a great read.

25 July, Wellington: Aunt Maude greeted me in Wellington by criticising the content and punctuation of my Listener obituary [Sylvia had died on April 27].
When I showed her the programme for the biography conference she said, ‘I think I should go to help you.’
‘I don’t need your help, thanks all the same.’
‘Oh, you do need help. You need a great deal of help and counselling and guidance. Who’s going to read through your draft, chapter by chapter?’
Not you Aunt Maude, that’s for sure.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1908-1984) and her husband, Keith Henderson (1908-1969) had taught at Bethlehem Maori School (Bethlehem is now part of Tauranga) and in 1965 built a home they named ‘Whenua’ (land). Adding another layer of interest for me was the fact that in the early 1990s I discovered I was working with their daughter and granddaughter.

Back to the bookshop! You can read more here about the morphing of a caravan into a bookstore. The day I visited a small yellow van was parked alongside, a shopfront for Canterbury Cheesemongers. I have no idea if the two arrived/left together.

The other secondhand book recommendation is Somebody’s Treasure, a general secondhand shop in Murchison, which has an excellent collection of non-fiction books about New Zealand. I picked up the original edition of Katherine Mansfield’s New Zealand by Vincent O’Sullivan (Golden Press, 1974) and The Suffrage Trail by Jill Pierce (National Council of Women, 1995), ‘a guide to places, memorials and the arts commemorating New Zealand women’ and could have bought more and, yes, I came home with more books than I left with!

My final surprise was walking down the main street of Kaipoi to find on a stand outside an otherwise unremarkable Paper Plus, I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories, a collection of previously unpublished work by F Scott Fitzgerald edited by Anne Margaret Daniel (Scribner, 2017). And at a knockdown price!

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