Tell us the origin story of your bookshop
Better Read Than Dead has been the cornerstone of the Newtown community for 23 years. Our shop is a literary landmark that nourishes the neighbourhood’s intellectual dynamics with a specially curated collection of books, as well as regular author and community events.
What's your favourite bookselling memory?
Bookselling at the Sydney Opera House for Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple is pretty up there! Our team had a crowd of over 2000. A wild and wonderful experience through and through, from being ushered through the labyrinthine caverns beneath the building, to setting up in that exquisite harbour foyer, to finally meeting the man himself, who is every bit as warm and charming as you’d expect.
While that stands out for its uniqueness, I honestly feel like my best memories come out of the discussions at the book clubs I facilitate. One is a queer reading group, the other a poetry reading group which is co-moderated with my friend and colleague Emma Rose from Unspoken Words Storytelling. Reading out passages of Emily Wilson’s recent translation of The Odyssey together, or discussing the pleasure and privilege of reading Audre Lorde’s extraordinary memoir, are experiences I’ll be carrying with me far into the future. It’s a total joy to share that space with the broader Newtown community.
What do you tell people (or wish you could tell people) who say bookselling is a dying industry?
Come in! Drop by and see how vibrant bookselling is! Australia is rife with extraordinary independent bookshops run by passionate and knowledgeable booksellers, and I think part of the success of these businesses derives from their community engagement: book clubs, discussions, launches, panels, high teas, personal recommendations…these are things that the online retailers of the world find it extremely difficult to emulate. The tangible, personal connections that you form with brick-and-mortar bookshops and their staff are irreplaceable and vital.
What books make you happiest to see people buying?
Audre Lorde’s Zami, A New Spelling of My Name, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Alexander Chee’s How To Write an Autobiographical Novel, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Rachel Cusk’s Transit (I always assume this means they adored the first in the series, Outline, as much as I did!). The list could go on and on, however. I need to get a new bookshelf!
What are you reading right now?
Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Language fails me – a sublime and unmissable reading experience. His poetry, especially Night Sky With Exit Wounds, is likewise a must-read. Heart-rending and mesmerising.
-- Recommendation Challenge --
Feel free to choose one recommendation challenge from below to answer:
Someone needs a present for a baby shower. The parents have asked for beautiful Australian picture books that baby can keep forever. What would you recommend?
Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu. Timely, extraordinary, and it’s a gift that will keep giving and giving. I have such fond memories of some of Jeannie Baker’s picture books too, particularly Where the Forest Meets the Sea and Window; visual storytelling at its best, with arresting and moving imagery.
Head to Better Read Than Dead on Love Your Bookshop Day to meet Zak and the other bookseller heroes in the shop!
While you're there, make sure you stick around for storytime for kids aged 3-5 (but all are welcome!), Literary Trivia night to win a book pack worth over $150 and beer, wine and refreshments where 20% of proceeds go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.
Click here for more information.