Clarke's Bookshop ArticlesTo view the articles, scroll down the page or click on the links below:
- Country Life - Words by Nancy Richards, August, 2015
- Mail & Guardian - Written by Brent Meersman, August 16, 2013
- Telegraph.co.uk - Interview by Roz Lewis, June 3, 2013
- VISI - Photos by Jac de Villiers & Words by Lin Sampson, June 2013
- Independent.ie (Ireland) - Travel Destinations, June 09, 2009
- Sunday Telegraph (London) - Travel section, May 25, 2008
- Business Day (Johannesburg) - Wanted, March 1, 2008
- Condé Nast Traveller - September, 2007
- Time Out - Cape Town Visitor's Guide, 2005
- Time Out - Cape Town, London 2004
- Lonely Planet - Cape Town City Guide, 2004
- Don't Tell Cape Town, the Mother City's (hush-hush) must-do list
- A Literary Peddler Plies The Trade Routes - by Martin Arnold, The New York Times, Thursday, 2 March 2000
To celebrate 21 years of really good reading in COUNTRY LIFE, Henrietta Dax of Clarke’s Bookshop in Cape Town chooses 21 enduring South African titles
A renowned book dealer, Clarke's Bookshop, has been given a new lease on life though its future in a hostile world remains uncertain.
Do stop in at Clarke’s Bookshop, which has the most wonderful collection of old books relating to the Cape and Africa. It is my place of pilgrimage.
Clarke’s Bookshop has moved but it’s lost none of its charm. This shop is much more than just a working enterprise – it’s a celebrated literary and cultural haven.
Situated on Cape Town’s Long Street, which can turn from banal to barbarous overnight, Clarke’s Bookshop has always provided a cultural oasis that remained comfortingly unchanged, which was part of its charm.
'10 best bookshops in the world'
From 18 miles of books in New York to a feast for the eyes in Singapore, Derbhile Dromey lists her top literary hangouts.
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John Fullerton (author of the novel 'White Boys Don't Cry') writes in his piece "My Kind of Town - Cape Town' that 'if I've only time for one shop I always visit Clarke's Bookshop which specializes in South African books of all kinds, from poetry to ornithology - antiquarian, second-hand and new.'
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There are bookshops and then there is Clarke's Bookshop. An institution not just in Cape Town, but globally, it specialises in southern African books, ensuring links with universities, libraries, collectors and book lovers around the world. Opened in Long Street in 1956 by Anthony Clarke, it has undergone some changes here and there, but essentially remains a series of rooms on two levels, that appear to have evolved out of necessity rather than an architect´s lofty notions. Wooden shelves, a couple of glass cabinets and wall-to-wall books: old, new, rare, second-hand, out-of-print, handmade, printed on rural presses, mass-produced and remaindered from stores in the US, the place is an eclectic mix.
There are books from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and SA. The second-hand and new-books sections have offerings from beyond the continent. There are specialist sections on everything from art, film and fiction to early settlers´ genealogy, literary criticism, HIV/AIDS and chess. Two club-style armchairs are the only real relief for tired legs, but the anticipation and fulfilment of finding a book you did or didn´t know you wanted, outweigh browsing´s compulsory standing.
Upstairs includes the Africana room locked because of the rare nature of many of the volumes and the packing room. Thousands of books are posted off each year. Like every other room, it´s full of books, but amusingly, the shelves are supported not by sturdy metal brackets or even stacked bricks, but rather by piles of old issues of Contrast.
For a first-timer (Clarke´s attracts serious book lovers, who make repeat forays), it can be confusing to navigate, but the eight staff members are extremely knowledgeable. Clarke´s regularly garners awards, including Best Library Supplier and Best Independent Bookseller, from the Publishers´ Association of SA.
However, the key selling tools are the twice-yearly catalogues and their website. It is from these that the likes of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and the African Studies Centre in the Netherlands regularly place orders.
Owner Henrietta Dax (described by a Cape Town journalist as one of the cleverest people around¹) runs this seriously crammed, maze-like store from an office under the stairs. With years spent working in bookshops in Paris and SA, she knows the business. The reason we are good is because everybody is very dedicated. People have been here for years and years and we know what we´re doing. Everybody does everything in this shop.¹
She travels twice a year to Mozambique and the US, and once a year to the UK, to buy books. Every few years, she´ll also branch out to some place like Australia¹. Another staffer tackles Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. Henrietta is cagey about just how many books she reads in a week, but clearly this is one stimulated brain: The classic thing when you work in a bookshop, and it really does happen, is that you feel there is nothing to read,¹ she says.
By: Naomi Larkin
Bookstores Worth a Trip: Couldn't find anything at the airport to inspire you? That's just as well if you're going to be anywhere near these English-lanuage favorites, recommended by our well-travelled jury.
Clarke's Bookshop, Cape Town:
"A wonderful old bookshop," says Peter Godwin: [author of 'Mukiwa' and 'When the Crocodile Eats the Sun'], "with its own rare Africana room, wood floors, Deco chairs, and an owner (Henrietta Dax) who treks through southern Africa bartering for new finds."
'With its wooden floors, narrrow staircases and neat but crowded bookshelves, this place is where you'll browse for the rare and valuable, as well as the lastest offerings of the literary kind. A special Africana room upstairs houses ancient tomes."
"This is a shop for true book lovers only. Wooden floors, winding staircase and crowded bookshelves make this the bookshop you've always longed for. You'll find rare and valuable books, as well as the latest offerings of the literary kind"
"Clarke's stocks the best range of books on South Africa and the continent, and a great second-hand section. If you can't find it here, it's unlikely to be at the many other bookstores along Long Street..."
DON'T TELL CAPE TOWN, the Mother City's (hush- hush) must-do list by Sheryl Ozinsky and Sam Woulidge, Cape Town 2003
"There are people in this world who fold pages in a book to mark the page they last read. There are probably the same sort of people who will ask to borrow a much-loved book of yours and then never return it. These are not the sort of people who will shop at Clarke's Books.
This literary wonderland in Long Street is reserved for true book-lovers. The shelves are laden, the wooden floors creak and there are deco chairs for you to curl up in while you page through your finds. No sparkly, commercial bookshop this - Clarke's is how bookshops were always meant to be.
Henrietta Dax presides over this legendary establishment and, when she is not travelling through southern Africa looking for rare books, she can be found among her beloved tomes, giving invaluable advice to earnest literary types from all over the world."
A LITERARY PEDDLER PLIES THE TRADE ROUTES - by Martin Arnold, The New York Times, Thursday, 2 March 2000
Oddly enough, there can still be romance in being a bookseller, an embattled yet ennobled calling these days. More accurately, let's say there can be passion and adventure in trafficking in books: buying, selling and bartering them, rather like dealing for salt along the old trade routes. A woman who owns a bookstore in Cape Town, South Africa, does just that. She bargains in books and jokingly refers to herself as "the last of the great salt- trading people."
So, in the profession of independent booksellers, which is filled in fact and myth with people who think of themselves as selfless evangelists, I was struck with one who could be called a true literary explorer, if not revivalist. She is Henrietta Dax, proprietor of Clarke's Bookshop. In a pickup truck or car she wanders southern Africa, the lands south of the Zambezi River, as a sort of Marco Polo of books. Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland and of course, South Africa. Ms. Dax buys books at each shop with cash or through barter, books that are indigenous to the land she's in, and then sells them to customers throughout the world.
Her clientele includes collectors and governments and universities. "I have standing orders from a number of American universities," she said. "Yale says it will buy everything it can get that is published in Mozambique and Namibia." Usually when she leaves on her journey, the space under the canopy of her pickup truck (or the back of the car, whichever she happens to be using) is empty. But some times she takes a pile of titles, mostly South African, to use in certain places to barter for other books. This is particularly true in Mozambique, where the buyers and sellers most often want books, which are hard to get, not money.
"I usually bring about 50 books to barter in Mozambique," she said, "because there's so many rules and regulations it's difficult for them to get the books they want from outside," she said. Ms. Dax's odysseys are most often taken alone, although sometimes she brings an assistant; the trips average 4,000 miles round trip and last about two weeks. The roads are generally good, she said, expect for potholes, which are a problem. So she drives slowly. "I've never had anything happen to me," she said. "The people along the way are very nice. In Mozambique they are very close to me, wonderful people."" She goes on buying trips there twice a year. Book publishing is filled with rituals and lore everywhere, and there is an abiding tradition of printing books in Africa.
When the missionaries arrived in the 19th century, the first thing they did was translate the Bible into local languages, a meaningless exercise without copies to read. So the second thing they did was set up printing presses. Which means that there are small presses all over southern Africa, many that still use type set by the old hot-metal press. "The degree of sophisticated publishing may seem surprising," Ms. Dax said. "But there are books produced for near-illiterates, and then the publishing continues on upwards to academic and literary writing." Publishing in Mozambique, where Portuguese is the language, is especially developed, Ms. Dax said, because "there is a very sophisticated university press, which could put any university press to shame by comparison, and all the books are printed on the premises."
Now it can be fairly said that virtually all this publishing, whether concentrated or seemingly helter-skelter, would be mostly unavailable and even unknown to the world - except for travelers - if it weren't for Ms. Dax and the very disciplined roaming she started when she bought Clarke's Bookshop 18 years ago. (She was born in England, but she has lived in South Africa for 25 years). "Any university doing any study of mozambique will have to come to us," she said. "This is where they get the books." "No one else is doing this, looking for these books and buying them," she continued matter-of-factly. "In essence I drive up in a truck and bring back a load of books to Cape Town and sell them." In addition Mrs. Dax makes buying trips outside Africa in search of old South African books, many of which were banned in South Africa during apartheid. In the United States, for instance, the searches for South African novels that were published there, she said, "books that were bound in the 50's and 60's but never seen in South Africa because they forbidden in the country."
Besides her contractual clients, Ms. Dax reaches potential customers through her Web Site: www.clarkesbooks.co.za. Buyers can browse there through four catalogs of books from southern Africa on topics ranging from architecture and art and photography to literature to books for beginning readers, African equalivants of "Dick and Jane." The catalogs include books ranging in price from "Island in Chains," the story of a 10-year imprisonment of Robben Island, as told by Indres Naidoo to Albie Sachs, for $8, to "Flora Herscheliana," by B. Warner and J. Rourke, for $500. The shop has an inventory of about 4,000 titles at any given time and perhaps 50,000 copies, crammed in every nook and cranny. On the shelves the books are displayed with their spines out, as in libraries, to save space. But it's the adventure of being on the road that excites Ms. Dax more than the shop. "In the smaller places like Swaziland, in the more difficult societies, I'm more likely able to find things for some reason," she said. No matter how distressed the country, each has its own hand-printed newspapers and its own printing presses, however primitive, and ink. Book publishing exists, she said, because "there's some extraordinary human need to put things down in writing," And to buy what's written, she might have added.