Ben knows his books inside out. On the shelves, he has wonderful editions for sale, and between the pages, he finds other beauties like old photographs, train tickets and little notes. Join the treasure hunt at the Bookhouse in St Kilda.
Interview with Ben Kemp, co-owner of Bookhouse St Kilda.
Which three books of Melbourne would you recommend to a person visiting the city?
Out of the many I could recommend I have chosen these three. A diverse list.
A Fine and Private Place by Brian Matthews: Matthews’ evocative portrait of Australian childhood is rich with the tastes, sounds and smells of the places he writes about, particularly St Kilda. His affectionate rendering of its colourful inhabitants and unsavoury elements are rendered with a boyish enthusiasm and curiosity that run through the text and can’t help but infect the reader. The book comes full circle from his early life in, his escape from and his eventual return to, this great suburb, and ends beautifully with one of the best final sentences I have read in a long time.
My Life as Me by Barry Humphries: Possibly Australia’s greatest performer, Humphries is worth knowing in general, and this book is a wonderful example of his great wit and way with words. A Melbourne boy, then worldwide ‘megastar’. Read this book.
Yarra: History of Melbourne’s Murky River by Kristin Otto: It has been the Yarra’s fate to be misunderstood: maligned for its muddiness, ill-used as sewer and tip; scooped, sculpted, straightened and stressed, ‘cleaned up’ to the detriment of its natural inhabitants; built-over, under and beside; worked mercilessly and then bridged almost to maritime extinction. In Kristin Otto’s superbly entertaining new history, the whole sorry tale is laid bare. From the creation stories of Kulin owners and geologist blow-ins (and Robert Hoddle’s bad-tempered expedition to the headwaters) to the twenty-first-century waterside building boom, Otto traces the course of Melbourne’s murky river.
Please tell me a bit about the literary scene in your neighbourhood.
St Kilda has a very strong artistic and literary scene. It has been home to many great bookshops, and we continue the tradition. Being a secondhand bookseller I am called to visit many homes in the area to look at book collections. It is amazing what I find. From wonderful Art and Atrchitecture books to shelves of great Australian literature. It is all here in St Kilda.
What’s the story of the bookshop?
We started down the road in Elwood in 1997, and have now relocated to the iconic Nefertiti at 52 Robe St, St Kilda. With a focus the visual arts, fine literature, acquired collections and framed works, we sources rare and out of print titles, limited/signed editions and selected new publications. As well as being loved local bookshop we have many other visitors from both here and overseas.
What are the challenges nowadays in Australia to run a bookshop – and which ideas make the Bookhouse unique and special?
The challenges of running a bookshop these days are many, we are all familiar with them. At Bookhouse we are confident of our future because we, and our customers, appreciate the thing that has made the physical book so loved for 100’s of years. If you walk in here you will know too!!??
Can you recommend a few of your favourite place near your bookshop?
When you find us, you will have found the ‘heart’ of St Kilda. Next door is our ‘Local Treasure’ the Sacred Heart Church, Community Centre and Op Shop. You must visit this great vaulted ceiling community store! Then walk 50 meters to Dr Jeckyll Café for the best coffee in Melb. Not joking. So many galleries, beautiful old homes, strange sights and of course, the beach.
Bookhouse St Kilda
Owned by Ben Kemp & Margot McCartney.
52 Robe Street, 3182 St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia.
Wednesday – Sunday 9 – 18
-> Go to Lost Between the Covers to see what Ben finds between the pages.