There’s something magical about second hand book stores, isn’t there? It’s like a whole bunch of parallel universes came together and converged on a single, usually quite pokey and dusty, point on some unremarkable street corner.
Apart from all the stories held together by each tome’s spine, it’s like hundreds more cling to the covers, sometimes leaving traces of the homes and hands that have cherished them in cryptic messages – names, dates, congratulations – on the title page.
It’s a serendipitous sort of art, second-hand book shopping, and one which should be practiced with the utmost patience and ample time to spare if you want the correct volumes to find their way to you.
So, whether you’re well-versed in the whole process, or maybe just started grappling with the idea, we thought it good to compile a list of our favourite Cape Town spots to look for previously loved books.
Tommy’s Books, Long Street
Squeezed in between bars, clubs, designer clothes shops and restaurants, you will find one of Cape Town’s most famous and well-loved sites: Tommy’s Book Exchange. Established in 1969, this quintessential dark and dusty book store is stuffed with treasures that will woo even the most snobbish bibliophile’s heart. Sadly, in the past year or so, Tommy’s has shrunk to less than half its former size and now shares the space with a variety of curios from across the continent.
Address: 130 Long Street, Cape Town CBD
Tel: 021 424 7675
Business hours: 08:30 – 17:00 (Monday – Friday), 08:30 – 14:00 (Saturdays), Closed on Sundays
If rare items are what you’re after, popping in at this small store on the Wale Street side of Long Street’s famous antique market is definitely worth your while. I once picked up a volume of Sir Richard Francis Burton’s legendary translation of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights for only R75. A real bargain!
Address: 127 Long Street, Cape Town, CBD
Tel: 021 423 3810
Business hours: 9:00 – 4:30 (Monday to Friday), 09:00 – 14:00 (Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Located on the premises of St. George’s Cathedral, just around the corner from the main entrance, this tiny shop is a marvellous scratch patch of incredible items from yesteryear. Apart from a healthy selection of second-hand books, you will also find anything from old cameras to records to porcelain dolls and everything in between.
Address: 1 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town CBD
Tel: 021 424 7360
Business hours: 11:00 – 13:00 (Tuesday to Friday), 09:00 – 12:30 (Sundays) Closed Mondays and Saturdays
Name sound familiar? This little shop just off Kloof Street gained world fame last year when it was featured in the acclaimed documentary Searching for Sugarman, as the very place where owner, Sugar, started his huge search for Sixto Rodriguez. While the overwhelming number of records is certainly the main attraction, Mabu also houses an intriguing collection of second-hand books as well as CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes and videos.
Address: 2 Rheede Street, Gardens
Business hours: 09:00 – 19:00 (Monday – Friday), 09:00 – 18:00 (Saturday), 11:00 – 18:00 (Sundays)
St. Georges Mall book stalls x2
There are two fantastic temporary book stalls located along St. George’s Mall pedestrian walkway. The larger of the two can be found in the section between Castle and Strand Streets, behind the Adderley Street Woolworths. This one has a wide variety of genres, including an impressive array of esoteric and religious reading. Their classics section also yields some gems at times. Unless its raining cats and dogs, you will find the tables set up and ready to sell from about 09:00 till about 16:30.
The smaller can be found between Shortmarket and Long Market Streets, just behind the St Georges FNB. While it may not have as many books on display as its competition just down the road, you are bound to find something rare and wonderful with every visit. Their selection of Africana and South African writing is quite impressive and (here’s a little secret), they are definitely the cheapest second-hand book option in the whole of Cape Town. You will find them there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, weather-permitting.
CAFDA is a registered child protection Agency, which works to reunify families in the disadvantaged communities surrounding Cape Town. One of the ways in which they raise funds is through selling second hand books. The CAFDA Book Shop in Sea Point is large and airy and very well organized. While you’re likely to pick up the latest light reading chick lit, you’re just as likely to find some rare volume of Shakespeare’s collected works. There is also a CAFDA book shop in Cavendish Square.
Address: 18 Regent Road, Sea Point
Tel: 021 434 6149
Business hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (Mondays to Fridays), 08:30 – 13:00 (Saturdays)
The Book Shoppe, Tokai
Like CAFDA, the Book Shoppe in Tokai has steered clear of the stereotypical dim and dusty feel. Instead it’s flooded with light and there’s lots of space to move around. Here you will find practically new second-hand books and only very well preserved older volumes.
Address: Tokai Junction Centre, Corner of Tokai and Main roads
Tel: 021 713 1528
On the outskirts:
Bikini Beach Books, Gordon’s Bay
Just a warning! If you aren’t fond of chaos, best drive on by. However, if the challenge of finding something super special among the many crooked stacks and towering shelves appeals, you will probably be rewarded handsomely!
Address: 41 Beach Road, Gordon’s Bay
Business hours: 09:00 – 21:00
Located in the attic above the Country Shop, Pringle Bay Books has a well curated and carefully selected collection of second-hand books for sale. Their selection of natural science, fauna and flaura and history is worth a good pore over, but if you’re more of a fiction fan, there’s more than enough of that too.
Address: Peak Road, Pringle Bay
Tel: 082 899 7195
Oupa se Boeke, Kleinmond
If you’ve taken up Exclusive Books’ 101 Books to Read Before You Die challenge, this unassuming book store in the middle of a coastal town is set on making the task easier for you. You will find copies of the list put up here and there in the shop, and there’s a whole shelf dedicated to the volumes mentioned. Apart from this, you will also find an impressive array of historical fiction, poetry and Afrikaans literature.
Address: 2nd Street, just round the corner from Pudding & Pie bakery
Bounty Books, Napier
So, the chances that you will end up in the tiny town of Napier by chance, are pretty much zero. However, if your travels take you through there for some reason – maybe on an outing to the Southern tip of Africa or so – keep your eyes peeled for the bright orange building next to the main road. Here you are bound to make the most incredible finds and pay next to nothing.
Tel: 072 642 3357
*Originally published on News24 Travel