The last few bookshops I’ve reviewed share the cosy dimness and paper smell of old libraries. I have, I admit, a personal penchant for such environments. Ampersand does have a bright top floor, and G&A has outdoor benches, but light is not their dominant feature- it is at Ariel. Ariel Books in Paddington is bright and airy and has a general feel more akin to that of an art gallery, it’s not usually my thing, but it really works here!
Glass provides two walls at the front of the shop and more sun pours in through another window at the back. In addition to this the bookshelves are all about 4 feet tall with as much space between them so that wherever you are, you get a good view of the rest of the shop.
For those of us partial to little nooks and crannies Ariel feels quite alien, yet what it lacks in cosiness it does make up for in character. The walls are decorated with posters, paintings and sculptures that draw the eye up. I was particularly taken with a large cut out of a woman reading that was entirely made up of those multicoloured 100s&1000s that one uses to decorate cupcakes. The graphic art isn’t all to my taste but it does add to the overall artsy, original feel of the place. The books themselves all seem to be on sale individually, often face up on shelves that only go one deep. Unsurprisingly they have a great Art books collection as well as some snazzy fashion and design titles that would look great on any coffee table.
The dominant display of art, fashion and design is matched by the stylishness of the place in general, with its vogue worthy layout, the wooden tables, colourful stools and minimalist exhibition of books: no stacks here! It’s all very aesthetically pleasing, and if you actually want a book-book there’s also a range of Australian writing, fiction, culture, biography and cooking. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for there are also some decent pointers in the staff reviewed collection of “our favourites”.
There is breadth in the selection on sale, but not much depth, which is to say I wouldn’t go here for something off the beaten track, but it does stock all the new releases, a decent number of the classics and they are all easy to grab -at 5ft3 I usually struggle with top shelves…
If you’re bringing kids along, this may also be the best place I’ve looked at so far, with room for little ones to whizz around without careering into anything, tripping over carpets or wiping snot on valuable limited editions. They have a whole section to themselves complete with kids table and chairs and even some toys- and on offer for these particular customers Ariel has a great collection of children’s classics- from the Grimm Brothers to Donaldson’s The Gruffalo.
Ensuring adults also have a laugh, they have some really funky gift ideas- Donkey Products’ Teebeutels caught me eye (see below). Then there are book themed week planners including wonderfully made Alice in Wonderland and Petit Prince ones with material covers, as well as chocolates, calendars, cards and prints. If you’re looking for an easy, original gift there’s a fair bit to choose from and great paper to wrap it in, although it does come across a bit gimmicky. Overall the meeting of fashion-conscious and child-friendly somehow succeeds in making the store feel like good fun.
PADDO BRANCH: 42 Oxford Street Paddington NSW 2021 (02)9332 4581
THE ROCKS: 103 George Street The Rocks NSW 2000 (02)9241 5622