Every time you drive past the legendary Love Books store in Melville, the window tells stories of its own. Sometimes you'll spot some children reading to each other in their school uniforms, or a toddler experiencing a picture book on its mother's lap. On many nights of the week, the window will be softly lit and packed with people holding glasses of wine and listening to their favourite authors speak. I love guessing which author it is based on the crowd. Once inside, you'll find the literary titles you've been searching for, as well as some interesting new finds you may have never heard of. And if you're stumped, Ana is waiting for you behind the till, with freakily accurate recommendations (seriously, try it out). There's no doubt that this independent Joburg bookstore is a magical space worth visiting. I got to interview its wonderful owner, Kate Rogan on everything from the publishing trade to her strangest book purchase.
Tell us a bit about Love Books? Why did you start it?
I'd always been in the book trade in one way or another. I'd been in publishing, and then I produced the book show at 702. A friend of mine knew this space was coming up and suggested I start a book shop, and that's how it started!
Why do you think we still need physical bookstores?
Apart from all the lovely things I could say about books and why we need them, physical book sales are up and digital sales are down. That is a worldwide trend and an obvious reason to have a bookshop still! I don't think we're going to see the end of books ever really, I never have. We opened this shop in April 2009 and it was literally the end of that year that Kindle started to take off. It wasn't a reality before that at all and everybody got into such a flat panic. But I really think the dust has settled, the novelty has worn off and people can have both!
People need to read, we need stories in our lives and information in book form as it's so much more substantial. The real threat to physical books doesn't lie in ebooks, but rather in good, easily accessible information via online, Twitter, Facebook etc. That is a real threat to reading. You pick up your phone to find a friend's number, and you end up reading about the book trend in Seattle. There's good stuff out there, but the time people spend reading on their smartphones eats away into the time they would have spent reading a book.
People seem drawn to bookstores, even if they don't buy physical books. Why do you think that is?
I think there is magic in books. Every single book has magic between its pages. You go on a journey. Whether you're reading a business book or the latest literary fiction, it takes you off somewhere. It is an incredible, deeply satisfying escape.
How do you curate your incredible selection of books?
I suppose I select everything, so it's all up to me. I don't select bestsellers, but I will put a bestseller up there if I think it's fantastic. I don't generally buy mass market stuff that you're just going to take off the shelf without thinking about it. I suppose it's a really personal selection - it's authors I know, stuff I would like to read. Obviously I dip and out of The Guardian and the New York Times a lot to see what's winning prizes and what people are talking about. A lot of our customers also do that so its important to keep abreast of the latest trends. That being said, global trends sometimes don't translate. A New York Times bestseller often won't become a bestseller in the SA market at all, particularly the American stuff. I order ones and twos of most things, unless I know it's a guaranteed bestseller like the latest Jonathan Franzen, of which I ordered 10 and they were sold out in 10 days. That's unusual for my shop, but it's fantastic! So all in all it's a personal selection based on my reading taste, reading knowledge and an understanding of what my customers want. I also love putting books out there for my customers to discover while browsing.
One of the big challenges out there for authors right now is reaching their audiences in a saturated market, so I understand why the discovery of new titles in independent bookstores is important.
Exactly, it's because of algorithms. It just kills the whole experience of discovering new literature for yourself.
What are your favourite recent local releases?
I'm a big reader of local stuff, that's mostly what I read, so definitely The Magistrate of Gower by Claire Robertson; The Fetch by Finuala Dowling; Icarus by Deon Meyer and Green Lion by Henrietta Rose-Innes. The new Ivan Vladislavić is great, and his writing on Joburg are highly recommended.
What has your strangest book purchase been at Love Books?
I bought a book a few months ago on Men and Cats which is absolutely hilarious. I bought it because it was the kind of quirky and offbeat thing you won't find anywhere else. Someone bought it instantly!
Tell us about the legendary sale of Grey.
Well as you know, the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise has been big internationally and E.L James' follow up, Grey, broke publishing records locally and in the UK. We didn't order it initially, but then we eventually caved in and ordered two. We had them on display for months, until finally, about half a year later, we sold it that day. We consider it a matter of pride that it took so long.
What have been your favourite moments at Love Books so far?
It's so hard because we have so many small, wonderful moments each day, but I'd day our fantastic launches are definitely a highlight. We have hosted phenomenal writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, Helen Macdonald, Barbara Kingsolver, Jeff Dyer (a huge highlight), William Kentridge and Suzelle DIY (which was our equivalent of having One Direction come to visit).