For booklovers, a great summer holiday treat is the luxury of time to sit and read. Another joy is discovering bookstores to explore - browsing the shelves, finding new treasures and old favourites, each book holding the promise of pleasure to come.
Overseas it seems bookstores are continuing to close their doors at a depressing rate, but here we're still blessed with a rich variety of places to shop for novels and non-fiction. There's a chain store in every high street or mall, and dotted in towns up and down the country are small independents that survive despite the doom and gloom. This is partly because ebooks haven't taken off in this country the way they have overseas - not yet, anyway.
But Doris Mousdale of Arcadia bookstore in Newmarket, Auckland, thinks another reason our independents have stayed strong is that size matters in New Zealand. We're a small nation and we enjoy a boutique shopping experience. "It's human-sized," she points out.
Some might have questioned Mousdale's sanity when she opened Arcadia two years ago just as the death of the book was noisily predicted. But, after 35 years in the trade, she says she's finally nailed what people are looking for.
"They want something challenging and different to read, they like stepping out of their comfort zones," she explains.
"And a bookshop is a social thing - it's not just about reading for pleasure, it's a community, too."
Arcadia hosts at least three book clubs a week. Mousdale has formed bonds with regular customers and sometimes they'll bring in gifts of baking or produce from their gardens.
In return she puts out fresh flowers, cakes and a bowl of toffees on the counter. "It helps people feel as if they're in their own space, rather than a shop, and they're comfortable enough to browse for an hour."
Independent bookstores tend to take on the personality of the people who own and operate them. The trick is finding the one that most reflects your own reading tastes, says Carole Beu, owner of Ponsonby's Women's Bookshop for 22 years.
Beu describes herself as "a gatekeeper", protecting her customers from mediocre publications and curating quality titles they will enjoy.
"I'm presented with masses of books and very picky about what I'll stock," she says.
"I read avidly and review all the time. What I'm good at is guiding people on what to buy and recommending wonderful books they might not have discovered on their own."
The community aspect is also important to her. Beu is famed for her author events, including the annual Ladies Litera-tea, and her shop is a centre of information on local happenings and courses.
"I'm passionate," she says, "and I think that's important. My hobby is my work. I joke that I'll die behind the counter with a book in my hand saying: 'Hang on, I haven't finished the chapter'."
Mousdale says she wishes she'd opened Arcadia 10 years ago and that being there is "therapeutic". "Nice people read books," she tells me. "Nasty people don't seem to read."
On the indy trail
Whether you're looking for a book community to join in 2012 or simply have time to browse, here's a selection of my favourite independent bookstores ... it's by no means exhaustive but it's a place to start!
A mix of contemporary fiction, biographies, modern classics, food and fashion books are presented in a smart, modern store. Owner Doris Mousdale is a reviewer on Leighton Smith's Newstalk ZB show and BBC Worldwide. She loves to host book clubs.
* Arcadia, 26 Osborne St, Newmarket, Auckland.
The Women's Bookshop
Men are welcome to shop here, too. They'll find women's writing, books that reflect women's experiences, and therapy and counselling books. Owner Carole Beu was 2011's winner of the Penguin NZ Independent Bookseller of the Year.
* The Women's Bookshop, 105 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland.
Possibly the loveliest little bookshop in the country. Owner Margaret Kouvelis treats her customers like friends and offers a wide selection of children's books, the cream of new fiction releases, food, art and design books.
The piano instore is often played, and Margaret often also sells olive oil she and her husband make from their own trees.
* Poppies, 5 Goodbehere St, Feilding.
The Village Bookstore
A destination bookshop for anyone heading north, here you'll find an eclectic range of art and architecture books, lots of New Zealand fiction and children's reading to browse through.
* The Village Bookstore, 2 Matakana Valley Rd, Matakana.
Cook The Books
The only (as far as I know) bookshop in the country specialising in food books, it is also quipped with a demonstration kitchen and private dining space, and offers regular cooking classes as well as book launches and special events.
* Cook The Books, 139 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn, Auckland.
Famous for serving the best coffee in Gisborne in its cafe, this is a spacious,
airy store, established in 1905, with an extensive range of books that includes quality fiction - children's and young adults', academic texts, art, fashion, design and new age.
* Muirs, 62 Gladstone Rd, Gisborne.
The irrepressible Julia Phillips is the owner of this large New Plymouth store and her promise is that she'll find you any book, no matter how obscure.
The winner of the Booksellers NZ North Island Best Bookshop 2011, the store has a big children's area, a two-books-for-$22 table, plenty of backlist titles in the fiction section, as well as new releases.
* Benny's, 21-23 Devon St East, New Plymouth.
A grotto-like space lined with books and with a great little room for book clubs up the creaky wooden stairs, this shop is known for its instore animal - most recently a cat. It's open until 9pm each night, so is perfect for after-dinner browsing.
* Timeout, 432 Mt Eden Rd, Auckland.
With shops in Auckland and Wellington, Unity is an institution renowned for stocking obscure and interesting books for customers with eclectic interests. It was founded in the 1960s as an antidote to the ordinary and holds that as its guiding philosophy to this day.
* Unity, 19 High St, Auckland and 57 Willis St, Wellington.
This charming bookstore has a selection of handpicked fiction titles, plus books on gardening, architecture, decorating, travel, fashion, art/design, self-help, business, food and a children's corner. There's great coffee and a sunny deck right next door at Monterey Coffee Lounge.
* Dear Reader, 436 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn, Auckland.
Tea and romance are on the menu here. Chapter sells and serves a wide range of loose-leaf teas, and its romance titles span the genre from paranormal to historical. It also stocks chick lit and crime fiction, with some of the latest releases imported directly from the US.
* Chapter, 442 Mt Eden Rd, Auckland.
Do you prefer your books in hardcopy? Any favourite bookshops?