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An interview with Fables Bookshop

Biblio checks in with Fables Bookshop to learn more about their book business, collecting interests and more! To view and shop their inventory, click here.

When did you get started in bookselling?

In 1987 when international sanctions started biting on South Africa many of us were put out of work. My wife started a book-selling business and I started a photographic processing operation. Later we did away with the latter. We took our books to morning markets, and also advertised in the British magazine "Book Collector".

What drew you to bookselling?

We were both big readers and interested in books about Africa. Selling at flea markets and through advertising gave us opportunities to learn.

Did you have any mentors in becoming a bookseller?

Geoff Klass of Collectors Treasury and Doron Locketz of Bookdealers, both in Johannesburg, and Paul Mills of Clarke's Africana in Cape Town were good helps in different ways. They gave the incentive to open a bricks and mortar store.

What are your specialties as a dealer?

Africana, especially Southern Africa, and more particularly the Eastern Cape as well as the stalwart collecting areas of early travel, exploration, and hunting.

What's the most amazing book you've ever sold?

Not a book, but a collection of letters and documents relating to Thomas Pringle. He is our major poetical figure, was an early settler, and was responsible for the abolition of slavery in England.

What is your favorite part of being a bookseller?

Looking through a bookcase or box of potential new stock.

Do you have an open storefront or have you in the past?

Yes we do, although at age 77 I may not do so for many more years. 2 more years would see Fables having been in operation for 30 years and I would like to reach that - but we suffer the same difficulties and out-of-print dealers worldwide which may make it difficult. Whatever, we shall then continue to trade online.

If so, do/did you have any bookstore pets?

I had a cat called "The Tobe" who used to sleep in the shop on his own shelf and let the student customers pet him. Sadly he passed on, and now we have "Caspir" (South African spelling and not related to the ghost although he is white) a young white male that happened by one day. He entrances customers, or totally scares some of the young students who traditionally are very superstitious of cats because they are thought to bring spells from a witch.

What is the funniest / strangest / scariest thing that ever happened in your store?

A student shaking and pulling at the front security gate who wanted to get away from Caspir

What is your favorite bookshop (other than your own)?

I can't say that I have one being 1000 miles up a 2000 mile dirt road. Thorolds when in Johannesburg was a regular haunt although he had notices everywhere saying that the price in the book might be increased at the till if it was felt to be too low! He always had a grand selection of immaculate books. Select Books in Long Street, Cape Town, sadly now closed, was a lovely shop that I much enjoyed on a visit there.

What do you personally like to read? Collect?

I like detective fiction, especially Andrea Camillieri. I can't collect, there is always a customer wanting it.

What's your favorite book you personally own? Would you sell it, if the price were right?

I have a 1st edition 1st printing of Percy Fitzpatrick's "Jock Of The Bushveld". Not to be sold, in any case I took it and gave it to my son in Australia a few years back.

What one book would you buy if price were no object?

Another "Jock Of The Bushveld"!

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring three books, what would they be?

"Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance" A large dictionary The local bird book