Books by the Bay

Amazon, Book Depository, Booktopia. They’re all cheap and convenient, but they’ll never bring you the same thrills as Books by the Bay. It’s small, quiet and packed with incredible finds.

Owner Leonid Kouvelis started collecting books while teaching English and humanities. Eventually, he got so many he felt a moral obligation to share them with the public.

The shop’s cherry-red shelves contain about 15,000 books. Another 150,000 are stashed out back. Kouvelis acquires nearly all his stock from local residents, who move to Mornington to downsize or retire. Often, he buys entire libraries at a time.

As a result, Books by the Bay stocks just about every genre imaginable, from occultist literature to bird-watching manuals. World War II history and crime fiction are the most popular subjects, though. Most titles are priced under $10.

Kouvelis runs the shop alone, so most of the stock isn’t computerised. This makes things much more fun. Approach the counter, interrupt whatever he’s reading and ask for a title or author. “Kurt Vonnegut? Yes, I think I might have a few first editions out the back,” he’ll say enthusiastically. Then he’ll disappear for 10 minutes and (hopefully) return with a dusty, ’80s copy of Breakfast of Champions, or maybe something better.

The other strategy is to spend an hour meandering between the shelves, stumbling onto titles you never knew existed and which you suddenly feel the need to own. Either way, it beats the hell out of clicking around a screen.

Updated: April 21st, 2017

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