When Sophie Edwards skyped her parents from Vietnam, she didn't just want to talk about the weather, the food or what she and partner Tom had seen on their travels but she did want to know about the shop.
The shop Sophie, 26, was curious about is Auckland's newest bookstore — one she has a life-long connection with. It's called Little Unity, an offshoot of wildly popular inner city bookshop Unity Books, and was designed by Sophie and Tom, 28, fitted out by her builder father, Nick, and will sell books chosen by her mother, Angela Travers.
Purpose-designed for children and young readers, Little Unity will stock thousands of picture, chapter and young adult books on shelves that, two days before opening, were rapidly being filled by a team of excited retailers.
Sophie has been familiar with the book business since childhood. In the stockroom of Unity Books hangs a drawing she did when she was around four years old and her mother worked there. Travers' first job out of university was at Unity and while she's done several other things during the years, including raising four daughters, the book business has always drawn her back.
Sophie, too, worked at Unity as a student and that, says owner Jo McColl, made her perfect to design the shop's latest venture.
"I knew Sophie would understand the Unity feeling that we were after and would get that we needed to 'crush' in as many books as we possibly could in a small space and understand the shape and structure we were after. And we have managed to fit in more books than you could possibly imagine!"
As part of this weekend's opening celebrations, young readers will be able to take part in a competition where they guess the number of books in the shop (hint: look high and low).
Travers, now Little Unity's book-buyer, is aiming to stock the store with beautiful books, a number of which you won't find elsewhere, as well as a comprehensive range of New Zealand titles. She expects children's books in te reo to become a bigger category, saying the market is growing for these.
McColl and Travers agree Little Unity's opening is a sure sign that the "death of the book" has been very much exaggerated. McColl says she's long had her eye on expanding into the space, on the corner of High Street and Vulcan Lane, Little Unity occupies because she needed the extra room.
"When people talk about bookshops going out of business, they're more often than not talking about great big chains which are often not well managed by but, around the world, independent bookshops are doing very well," she says.
"Every day, our shop is full of people; last Christmas, we doubled our earnings for children's books — the figures just went nuts — and I thought it [opening a children's bookshop] was a really obvious thing to do."
McColl says it won't take long for the space created in Unity to be filled, with more demand from customers for every category of books.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Book Council has released results of its annual survey into our reading habits.
It shows 86 per of New Zealand adults had read or started to read at least one book in the past year, down from 88 per cent last year; 97 per cent of 10-17 years and 82 per cent of under 10s had also been reading in the past year.
Combined, it means 87 per cent of the population are reading but there are some 442,600 adult New Zealanders who didn't read a book in the past year. Book Council CEO Jo Cribb says that's worrying.
"We take these findings seriously and will use them to inform our programmes and projects," she says. "It's wonderful that New Zealanders love to read and to see that books remain an important touchstone in our society. But it's worrying to see how many of us didn't pick up a book in the past year."
The research will be used by the council as it continues to work to ensure New Zealanders keep reading, with a particular focus on boys.
Cribb says reading competes with television and computer screens for our leisure time, 45-54 year olds have the lowest percentage reading of any age group and fewer men are reading books. However, Kiwis are reading more of our own stories, while poetry is also gaining in popularity.
Little Unity, at 31 Vulcan Lane, opens Saturday at 11am