8 Independent Book Stores in Cape Town – Perfect for Wet Weather
Will the emergence of e-readers like Kindle mean the end of books? I hope not. There is nothing quite like the indulgence of holding, smelling, leafing through a book. And collecting them. Sure, the Kindle is light, can store umpteen books, is easy to carry bla, bla, bla – and I might even stoop to buying one, soon – but a book …
To borrow the wise words of Anna Quindlen – “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”
But perhaps the sheer derth of book shops, particularly independent book stores in Cape Town, is an indication of a wane in enthusiasm and a reflection of the fact that Kindle books now exceed print sales on Amazon. Do people who love real books also like Kindles or other e-readers? And will book shops slowly become something of the past; collectors’ items only?
Book shops tend to come and go. Wonderful specialist stores like Biblioteq – which shared its quarters with The Loading Bay near the Cape Quarter after leaving its former position on Kloof Street specialising in creative books and contemporary art from around the world – and Lobby Books – which housed an incredible collection of African and South African books, coupled with a restaurant on Spin Street – have both closed their doors. The market is obviously tough.
It’s enough reason to start a counter-revolution before bookshelves become nothing but air and the hours we used to spend leafing through beautiful folios become … solitary hours in front of yet another screen.
With this in mind and with the turn in weather in Cape Town, visitors and locals alike will spend more time indoors. And what better space in which to indulge the senses, when forced to retreat from rain, than in amongst the bookshelves of an independent book shop.
Here’s where you’ll find them in Cape Town:
A is for Apple
This is a book store specialising in children’s books. You’ll find them in Tamboerskloof on the busy Kloof Nek, which is probably one of the reasons they manage to keep their doors open, with shelves jammed with just children’s books. Owner Kelly Silberman has made sure that the shop is a children’s haven, from drawing in crayons on the tables (that is ‘on’ not ‘at’ – the tables are covered in paper) for the little ones, to providing coffees for mums. The bookshop also hosts birthday parties (for children and adults), and has an airports’ section perfect for picking up something for little minds to grapple with whilst waiting at the airport.
16B Kloof Nek Rd, Tamboerskloof, +27 (0)21 424-5409
One of the highlights of living in Sea Point, this is a charity bookshop with style. There are other charity book stores, like Help the Rural Child, but CAFDA definitely has a certain kudos amongst the student set. It forms part of the Cape Flats Development Association, a non-profit that helps uplift disadvantaged communities on the flats. They also have another store in Claremont just across from Cavendish Square. The bookshop is renowned amongst those prepared to work through second-hand, dust-laden books in search of a ‘find’ and those who regard it as a rather hip space in which to browse. It stocks just about everything, but you will have to do a fair amount of scrounging if you’re after anything specific. They have a really good selection of magazines too.
18 Regent Street, Sea Point, +27 (0)21 434-6149
Clarke’s has been around long enough to specialise in Africana books, prints, maps and ephemera on Africa south of the Sahara, and do it well. If you’re even vaguely interested in exploring Africa, ethnography, Bushmen, rock art, big-game hunting, military history of South Africa, natural history, mining, art and architecture of Africa, even literature and politics, then this is your book store. Time Out’s description – ‘Clarke’s is to local literati what the Shakespeare & Company bookstore is to Paris’ – is spot on. But don’t be put off by the elitist genre, there are also shelves dedicated to local fiction, or you can simply gawp at South Africa’s literary heritage.
211 Long Street, +27 (0)21 423-5739
Kalk Bay Books has what it describes as the best view of the world of any book shop. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Set in the heart of Kalk Bay‘s village, the ocean is quite literally across the road from the beautiful old stone building in which you’ll find them, formerly known as Die Klipkantienjie and designed by architect John Parker in 1913. Owned by former editor of Fairlady, Ann Donald, the book shop has managed to strike the right note with locals and visitors, who spend hours browsing and attending various book launches, and poetry and book readings over a glass of wine. The book store is a perfect offset for Kalk Bay’s myriad restaurants and coffee shop, and provides quiet relief from the hubbub on a weekend.
Majestic Village, 124 Main Road, Kalk Bay, +27 (0)21 788-2266
The Book Lounge
The Book Lounge’s choice of building gives it the quintessential book store appeal. Set in the eastern precinct of Cape Town’s city bowl, on the corner of Roeland and Buitenkant Streets, it is housed in a classic revamp nestled in amongst other historical buildings. As a review on qupe.co.uk states: ‘it’s one of the best bookshops anywhere in the world.’ Inside is bright and airy, despite the building’s age, and the requisite couch, for those intent on making at least a morning of it, invites armchair reading. It might look like ye-olde bookshop, but the book selection is right up to date and you won’t leave empty handed. The store has managed to hold its own for going on five years, not least because of its exciting events that include interviews with authors, book launches, and children’s stories on Saturday mornings (their children’s section is supposed to rival the best).
71 Roeland St, +27 (0)21 462-2425
The Book Shoppe
This little second-hand book shop, set in an otherwise forgettable strip mall in Tokai, gives new meaning to the term ‘second-hand books’. Run by a couple of very knowledgeable-about-books women (who must be related because they look a lot alike) a dip in and out of here is almost always guaranteed to come up with a ‘find’. The book shop is highly selective about what it sells on its shelves (you won’t get even a sniff of a Mills and Boon) so don’t expect to flog your dog-eared paperbacks here. In the same vein, you’ll find only recent contemporary fiction, and non-fiction in really mint condition (no dust here) that tends to whip on and off the shelves fast and makes for wonderful gifts. Should you be after a particular title, they’ll hold it for you, but you’ll be one of several readers after such a find.
Tokai Junction Centre, corner of Main Road and Tokai Road, +27 (0)21 713-1528
Tommy’s Book Exchange
Tommy’s book Exchange has sat in the same spot in Long Street for as long as most Capetonians can remember (since 1969 to be precise). It’s a typical book exchange kind of shop, so don’t expect light and air. Do expect to find dust and books crammed on just about every available shelf. Tommy’s buys and sells non-fiction, LPs and exchanges fiction. It’s a second-hand store, but also stocks new titles. If you’re prepared to take a while to scour the shelves, you’re bound to find a gem or two. Besides, the sense of history and the buzz of Long Street combined transport one back into another time.
Southfield Road, Plumstead, +27 (0)21 761-3258
The Bay Bookshop
This independent book shop in Hout Bay since 2002 recently opened a second shop in the Cape Quarter. They stock a range of general fiction, South African titles, children’s books and are busy building up a specialist reference section stocking biography, history, design, cookery and travel. Events include readings, launches and workshops for would-be authors.
Shop D06, Level D Cape Quarter, Green Point, +27 (0)21 421-1301