Adam Brenner of Millpoint Caffe Bookshop

Che: How did you come to appreciate the value of books?

Adam: I have always loved the feel of books. Nothing was more exciting for me than receiving a new book as a birthday or Christmas present. I was always compelled to open it and start reading, leaving other presents still wrapped. Some of my earliest memories are reading Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood and Magic Faraway Tree.

Che: There is something special about holding a book in your hands, turning the pages as you read. Someone asked me a couple of years ago what I thought about digital formats, and would they eventually replace books? In spite of the popularity of kindles, ipads and the like, I don’t believe they will elbow books out of the market. Fortunately for book lovers, there are still people around – like your good self – who continue to put books on shelves. Reminds me of when credit cards first came in, there was a lot of talk about a cashless society and of course that hasn’t eventuated. I like to think it will be the same for books.

Adam: I agree. E-books definitely have their place in the market. They are suited to travelling and for those who are in need of a larger font size. However, I don't see them replacing the book altogether. To me, the whole idea and feel of reading a book in the printed format is far more enjoyable than reading from a screen. We have a number of customers who own e-book readers but they still buy books from us, being their preferred choice.

Che: What kinds of books do you read – do you have favourite titles and authors?

Adam: I have a pretty eclectic taste. I read books that relate to the market I cater for, which is predominantly contemporary fiction for book clubs. I started reading some contemporary classics just recently which have blown me away. Orwell's 1984, Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Some more modern favourites are David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas being in my top 5; David Benioff, City of Thieves; and Amanda Craig, Hearts and Minds.

Che: I imagine the line between work and leisure may be somewhat blurred for you. Especially when you enjoy reading as much as you do. I’m wondering if you find it difficult to persevere with a book when you can’t get into it. There are so many now competing for our attention. How many chapters might you read before abandoning a particular book?

Adam: I do believe a book should have you ‘hooked’ after about 50 pages. However, I have just finished reading ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn and got to the halfway mark and was just about to give up when one line, the big twist, turned it into one of the best I have read this year.

Che: Wonderful! Many of us struggle with delayed gratification. We hate to wait. I just read a little about Cloud Atlas, I’m definitely interested. Apparently it has been made into a film. Do you have any rules around watching films inspired by works of fiction?

Adam: Films rarely add up to the original book. When reading a book I form my own view of what a character should look like, sound like etc. When it comes to watching this character on the big screen I find myself thinking, “I wouldn’t have picked them”. A few exceptions are Lord of the Rings and Godfather.

Che: Do you have any quirky reading habits, perhaps a special place you go to read?

Adam: I always have a book, or two or three, on the go: One by the bed, one somewhere else in the house and one in the car. On days off I like to visit different cafes and this is where the car book comes in handy. I enjoy being able to get lost in the book I am reading, and at the same time, look up and watch the world go by.

Millpoint Caffe Bookshop South Perth

Che: You've described a scenario that is possibly true for many book lovers. No wonder cafes and waiting rooms have newspapers and magazines on hand. I’ve noticed that when I'm out and about, a book almost always accompanies me. What intrigues me is how I feel if I'm sitting alone in a café, with no book to read. Have you ever tried that?

Adam: It does feel strange to be sitting, or waiting without anything to read. Feels a bit like wasted time to me.

Che: How do you choose books for your shop – do you select mostly those you are personally interested in?

Adam: I have some great book staff that work at the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop, and as it happens, our reading tastes mirror those of our customers. If one of us believes a book is a hit it seems to appeal to 90% of our readers.

Certain publishers believe there are bookshops selling books because the owners love books. It is these publishers that supply 'proof copies' to us 3 to 4 months prior to the book being published. This gives us a chance to read many upcoming titles and then order accordingly. I see a publishers’ rep once a month, they show me their monthly list - usually you are ordering three months ahead. Each list may contain 100 to 200 titles, from which we may order 20 to 30.

Che: I’m glad you mentioned that. Do you have to watch that you don’t order more books than you can comfortably sell? I was once the proprietor of an art gallery and gradually over time, the wall space dwindled. Do you ever run out of space?

Adam: Finding that right balance of books is the tricky bit. Too much stock, or too many of the wrong title can see your returns to the publishers skyrocket; for new releases a book can be returned to the publisher, at our expense, between 3-12 months of holding it, then firm sale after this. Too many returns can affect the discount you are given.

Che: Do people share with you what books mean to them?

Adam: All the time, young and old! Some families come in for an outing when the kids have saved up enough pocket money to pick out their next book, which they find very exciting. We offer a lot of advice and recommendations and many customers come back to thank us for such a great read. Sometimes it can be just the right book for just the right time in their life.

Che: I seem to accumulate more books than I could ever read and I feel sort of guilty when I purchase [yet] another. Having said that, I discovered recently that I can pick up a book bought years before, and it is exactly what I need in the present time. How did I know back then what I would want to read as many as ten years on?

It can be like that with people. They start off as acquaintances and years later discover there is more. James Hillman speaks of something similar in his book The Soul’s Code. Using the acorn as a metaphor he explores how we always and already have our vast potential encoded somewhere inside our relatively miniscule existence. And Adam Phillips in Missing Out, talks about how we are defined as much by our un-actualised potential: what might have been, than the life we choose.

I might be getting off track here. Still I did notice that in your book shop you have an excellent range of titles from psychology and philosophy. Do you read these too?

Adam: Unfortunately not. I did read some on my travels about ten years ago: Alain De Botton, Voltaire’s Candide. These were usually recommendations by fellow backpackers or books picked up on exchange shelves in our accommodation. I came across some wonderful titles like this, books that I would never have usually read. Fiction is what takes up most of my reading nowadays. I dip into the odd current affair or history title but nowhere near as much as I would like. My ‘To Read’ list is as long as my arm.

Che: Adam, thank you for chatting with me about your love of books and your work at Millpoint Caffe Bookshop. Before we close, can you say whether you have met any authors, and if you could choose one or two to share a meal with – who would you pick?

Adam: We have held quite a few author events at the book cafe. Liz Byrski, William McInnes, Lian Hearn, Patrick Gale, Paul Ham, and Peter Singer. I’d like to sit down and have a coffee with Malcolm Gladwell, he seems like an interesting character. George Orwell is one of my favourite authors. It would be fascinating to pick his brains.

Thanks for the chat Che.

Millpoint Caffe Bookshop South Perth

The Millpoint Caffe Bookshop, 254 Mill Point Rd, South Perth, WA
Open seven days a week: 8.30 am – 5.30 pm
Phone (08) 9367 4567

Photos by Yasmin Eghtesadi and Pille Repnau

Posted on 19 April 2013 in - Conversations

Che McLeod


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