Melbourne: By the book

By Dani Wright

An official Unesco City of Literature, Melbourne is also home to ‘The Best Bookshop in the World’. In the run-up to its Writers’ Festival in August, Dani Wright seeks out the city’s best bookish spots.
The Grumpy Swimmer.
The Grumpy Swimmer.

1: Vertical Laneways

Everyone knows Melbourne's laneways have tucked-away treasures, but not many know of the vertical laneways - historic buildings home to interesting shops above street level. One such building is Curtin House (est 1923), with a rooftop bar and cinema, as well as Metropolis Books, a colourful bookstore filled with art, design and architecture books - everything from Werner Herzog's A Guide for the Perplexed to illustrated children's classics. Grab a hefty hardback for your coffee table then head downstairs to Cookie, a "beer hall, eating house and disco" open for lunch and dinner. Choose a Juliette balcony and admire the vintage Alice in Wonderland books on display.

2: Books for Cooks

Melbourne is foodie, as well as bookish. Combine the two and you get Books for Cooks - opposite Queen Victoria Market, established in 1878. The bookstore mixes old and new books packed on tables, piled high on shelves and stuffed in pots. There's everything from Edmond's cookbooks from the 1920s, a history of cutlery and tomes on napkin folding to obscure wine books.

Owner Tim White admits he's "always hungry", adding: "Books aren't dead, especially cookbooks. There are 30-35,000 new cookbooks every year."

3: Neighbourhood Finds

Outside the CDB, Melbourne has a village feel. Seek out an interesting bookshop and you'll likely find an interesting neighbourhood, too. At the charming The Grumpy Swimmer in Elwood, you can take your book to read along the nearby canal; Readings Bookshop on Lygon St (famous for its Italian restaurants) is the recent winner of "Best Bookshop in the World", and Readings St Kilda, where you can read your book in one of the iconic Acland St cake shops, unchanged since the 1950s. Also check out Avenue Books in leafy Albert Park or Brown and Bunting in Northcote, where you can dig for secondhand book gold.

4: Librarian Heaven

Wander through the State Library of Victoria, Australia's first public library (est 1854), before heading across the road to Embiggen Books, with the fourth-largest science book collection in the world. It's a dimly lit, thin shop stuffed full of intriguing books. Wooden ladders on wheels get you to the higher shelves. Scattered around the store are cabinets crammed with scientific artefacts and preserved insects in frames underneath book displays such as Jellyfish: A Natural History and An Unreliable History of Tattoos. Displays of Moleskine journals add to the science professor appeal, yet the shop is filled with trendy 20-somethings searching outside the bestseller list.

5: Kids' Classics

Melbourne takes its children's books seriously, so in every bookstore you'll find lovingly-curated selections for little bookworms. But, for total immersion, head to a specialist children's bookseller, such as The Little Bookroom, the world's oldest dedicated children's bookstore. Also the Younger Sun bookshop in Yarraville, a community centred around an art deco movie theatre, or, if you're in town when Itty Bitty Book Van - a vintage caravan doubling as a children's bookshop - has an event on, make sure to take the kids.

6: Coastal Classics

For a windswept tour, you simply need to drive the Great Ocean Rd in a dot-to-dot of bookstores, from Torquay Books along the Surf Coast, with its range of surfing titles, to Great Escape Books overlooked by the impressive Airey's Inlet Lighthouse, and ending at Lorne Beach Books. The Great Ocean Rd Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery opens in September to keep sugar levels high.

7: Clunes Book Town

Visit Victoria in early May when one Goldfields town transforms into a "Booktown", a writers and readers festival that spills out on to the historic streets. If you're travelling outside this time, try to make a "Booktown on Sunday" session for a sneak peek of the Clunes Booktown charm.

Situated on the edge of the city, Hilton South Wharf offers a respite from the hectic pace of Melbourne's streets, and is still a short walk from the action. You're also close to the impressive Library on the Dock, which has recording studios and creative editing suites in case the city of literature inspires you to get creative.

Dani Wright was a guest of Hilton South Wharf.


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