When Love Books in Melville threw a party to celebrate its 10th birthday, owner Kate Rogan said in her speech that she’d been rather put out when, in the bookshop’s first mention in the Mail & Guardian back in 2009, I wrote in that the shop was “charming” but “sparse”. She said she’d got over it now.
The shop is certainly no longer sparse. Besides the large quantity of books it has squashed into the space, it has armchairs and tables. It hosts regular launches, sometimes two in a week, and has a reading programme for children and young people. It’s a colourful, cheerful and welcoming space that I, for one, am always pleased to visit, especially after a breakfast at the Service Station next door (which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary), and even if I’m trying not to spend yet more money on yet more books.
Looking back over the decade of the shop’s existence to the beginning, Rogan says ruefully that “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew a bit about the book world and I’d read a few books, but I’d never sold a book in my life”. If that’s the case, she and manager Anna Joubert, who runs the shop with her, have certainly learned a great deal in that time. They know how to sell books.
“It’s amazing to think of how the business of life has been going on around us in 10 years,” said Rogan. “My toddlers have become teenagers, we’ve watched romance blossom and die in the shop, we’ve seen affairs come and go, we’ve seen people get married, we’ve seen babies being born, we’ve shared in hardship too — people have got divorced, people have died. It’s been a privilege to watch life going on around us while we’ve been selling books that hopefully heal with their words.”
She lists some of the activities that have happened, and continue, in and around the bookshop. “Many a conversation between writers has started in Love Books. Many an idea for a book has been sparked in Love Books. Many a book contract has been signed at Love Books or the Service Station. And some books have been written at our tables. And I hope, too, that many children have inspired to read after being in the company of our magical books.”
She pays tribute to Joubert, who has “run this shop for the last 10 years as if it is her own. She has been here through big ups and downs, but she has always made sure she puts the shop first, even in the face of huge personal trauma. Without Anna, Love Books would not be what it is — she is as much a part of it as every book on the shelf. In fact, she is the embodiment of everything Love Books is — quirky, real, honest, and very high-quality. She has developed an uncanny knack of putting books and people together … I promise you she’s a book savant and she knows what you need before you do.”
She is also grateful to the publishers who have supported the shop. Admitting that Love Books doesn’t exactly make a huge profit, though, she says a key ingredient in its success and survival has been a personal touch in interaction with creditors.
She remembers the first book sold — Mr Pip, by Lloyd Jones. (“What a thrill!”) She recalls the “weirdest book” sold — Men and Cats (male models posing with cats). And she knows the book “we’ve sold the most copies of over 10 years” — Portrait with Keys by Ivan Vladislavic.
That’s appropriate, because Portrait with Keys is an account of Johannesburg life and its quirks, a life into which Love Books has placed itself with style and aplomb.