A Good Read

Catherine Robertson (left) and Jane Arthur (right) are at the helm of Good Books, a new indie bookshop in Wellington.

Good Books is a fitting name for Wellington’s newest indie bookstore.

The women-owned bookstore promotes New Zealand publishing and local books and has just run its first charity fundraiser.

Nestled along Wellington’s bustling Jessie Street, Good Books is also the only bookstore in the country which is accredited as a Living Wage employer.

Co-owner and award-winning poet Jane Arthur says it was important to her that the staff at Good Books are paid a fair wage.

“People work in bookstores because they love it. It’s a minimum wage industry so people often do it for love. I was determined to get it Living Wage accredited. There are also no publishers doing that. I’m proud and determined to prove it can be done elsewhere.’’

Good Books opened last October, right in the middle of the pandemic. Arthur had worked at Time Out bookstore in Auckland for seven years, where she caught the bookshop bug.

After moving to Wellington, she began writing poetry while working at the children’s publishing company, Gecko Press.

While studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, she met bestselling author Catherine Robertson, who was also studying there. 

Arthur had always wanted to own an indie bookstore. “Since I stopped working in bookstores five years ago I desperately missed it,” she says. “It’s not the same as other types of retail.’’

“Catherine and I tried to buy a bookshop in Karori but we missed out. I was in a flood of tears. Catherine remembered this space was becoming available. Less than three months later, we had the doors open.’’

Catherine smiles and remembers how Jane told her “‘I think Good Books is the name we should call it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds good’.’’

A space for writers

In mid-April, Robertson launched her seventh book, Spellbound, at Good Books – the first time she’s launched from her own bookshop. “It did feel really lovely to hold a book launch in my own bookstore.’’ Once the bookshop was settled in, she relocated to Hawke’s Bay, where she is writing another book.

Both Arthur and Robertson’s books are stocked at Good Books, although they don’t get special treatment. Two other authors and part-time employees – writer and comedian Eamonn Marra and poet and theatre creator Freya Daly Sadgrove – also have their books on the shelves.

Marra, whose debut novel was published last February, used to work for Booksellers New Zealand. “It’s nice to work in a bookshop for lots of reasons,” he says. “To physically be around lots of books is great and to be able to talk about them and read them too.’’

The fact he is paid the living wage makes a huge difference to Marra, who mentions the high cost of living in Wellington. He’s currently working on a new novel and a short film. “I can afford to now I have some time to do that writing rather than working a full-time week.’’

Ditto Daly Sadgrove, who caught the bookshop bug working at the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie.

Currently writing a poetry-theatre show, she works 10 hours a week at Good Books. “It’s amazing I’m paid the living wage here,” she says. “If I was working anywhere else, I would have to work more hours and I wouldn’t have time to do my other stuff. Arts work is either paid very little or you do it voluntarily.’’

Championing Kiwi literature

Arthur is passionate about supporting and stocking New Zealand writers. The store’s first book launch was Victory Park by Rachel Kerr, published by Mākaro Press, a small indie publisher in Wellington.

Says Arthur, “Victory Park was the first book that sold 100 titles and it also won best book at the New Zealand Book Awards. That was a really cool thing. Also that it’s from Wellington. New Zealand books weren’t dead when I last worked in a bookstore, but they definitely weren’t as popular as they are today,’’ she smiles.

As a book buyer, she’s not snobbish about what people like reading. Near the edgy books about women scientists and Airini Beautris’ Bug Week are blockbusters like Lucinda Riley’s The Missing Sister

She says, “We set out to be welcoming and non-judgemental and stock books which reflect our values. But we’re very much about people reading what they like. We just want people to read.’’

Robertson talks about the importance of being part of a community. Her friend Louise Ward owns the indie bookshop Wardini Books in Hawke’s Bay and Robertson regularly attends its book launches. 

“We’re part of a little ecosystem and we all believe in the power of the arts,” she says. “We all share a love of reading.’’

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