Monday, 23 May 2011

Bob Gould is dead. A hundred tender feelings and a thousand distant memories crowd the mind at hearing the news that one of Sydney's most famous booksellers has passed away. Bob Gould was really a one-off of a human being. He was totally unique. And he occupied a signal station in my personal record beginning - as so many stories that we read seem to do - when I was an undergraduate. I was living in Glebe just behind the big Grace Bros store which is now a Mirvac shopping centre. Then, there was no gargantuan parking station with its lofty pedestrian bridge leading back toward the front door of Glebe's legendary food strip. In those days there was a printing shop owned by a bloke who sailed at my dad's club, a low-rise parking area, and mostly-empty streets that echoed down to Ultimo like the chambers of doom. You could hear people walking from two hundred metres away.

I used to ride my pushbike into town down Broadway and George Street of an evening; jostling for space with a hundred busy cars I would pull up opposite Hoyts near Town Hall and enter Gould's emporium, and while away hours fossicking for treasures among the comics just arrived from the States and the eclectic collection of fiction published in San Francisco in the 1960s.

Later, when I worked as a salesman for a publishing company, I would visit Gould's shop in Leichhardt where a similar chaos reigned. There, lined up near the shop's entrance, sat a long series of tables stacked with LPs sporting the garish covers of disco legend, and the unseemly plethora of bands competed sadly - like all the items in Gould's have done since the beginning - for the shifting attention of the lazy shopper. I sold Gould a few books. But the mainstream range of titles I was tasked with purveying was not completely suitable for his clientele. People didn't go to Gould's to buy Wilbur Smith. They went because they wanted to be surprised and because - you never knew - Gould might just have in stock the title you had been searching for for months.

I would later pass by Gould's Newtown bookshop on my way to lunch or a movie when I worked at Sydney Uni. The format was of course the same. The stock refreshed from second-hand sales. The system chaotic. The vibe was one of handled-paperback grunge and a kind of Sisyphean mnemonic: a hundred years of good intentions stacked to the roof inside a structure with all the charm of a country barn. What lies ahead for this typically Sydney emporium I don't know. I do know that the city will be poorer if it disappears, and we will have lost one more link with a strange past that deserves our considered attention.

Pic credit: candytrip.


Andrew Elder said...

Great post, well done.

dwight said...

Was in Gould's about 3 weeks ago, bought a book off Bob. Sad that he's gone.

You have described Gould's bookshop perfectly, btw. I may have to steal those phrases for use elsewhere (f. ex, Shakespeare and Company in Paris, circa 1995)