I have never stood on an escalator and gaped open-mouthed before…until this afternoon when I ventured downtown to Dymock’s.

Given that when my google search for Barnes&Noble told me that the nearest shop was in the United States, I knew I would need to find an alternative for while I’m in Melbourne. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard. My grandmother espoused plenty of praise for Dymock’s ages before I made the trans-pacific journey to Australia.

The nearest one was only a short tram ride away, so I buddied up with a college friend and we made our way to the bookshop. It was located in the lower level of a shopping arcade (hence the gaping escalator ride) and it was like going to heaven, if heaven was only a short downward escalator ride away.

The bright lights and full bookshelves were enough to convince me that this was a good shop. The presence of various tchotchkes and book paraphernalia only enhanced the bookish atmosphere. Though commercial bookstores aren’t exactly my go-to, this was more than perfect for an afternoon book-shopping trip.

image of one of the bookshelves from the science fiction and fantasy section
The Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Note the handwritten recommendations sticking out of the bookshelves!

Fiction, nonfiction, crime, horror, science fiction, cookbooks…Dymock’s has it all. Though, to be honest, we stayed mainly in the fiction area of the shop. We prowled up and down the stacks for over an hour, thumbing spines, pulling out titles, and gushing over award-winning novels*.

Even though Dymock’s is a chain bookshop, it has some quirks that independent bookstores are often known for. A cute café, for starters, and one that we most certainly indulged in to get off of our feet for a moment. What surprised me most was the presence of hand-written recommendation cards from the staff. This is a niche addition that I’m most familiar with seeing in small, independent bookstores. I remember it most prominently in a second-hand bookshop back at home. It was odd to see it in a commercial retailer, but not unwelcome.

One excellent aspect of Dymock’s was its “classics” section. A front-and-back bookshelf display stuffed full of older, revered titles. Austen, Dostoyevsky, Hemmingway, Twain, Joyce…. I’ll admit, the display itself was incredibly aesthetic. What aided in this, too, was that it removed a bulk of the older titles from the fiction shelves. They weren’t as overcrowded with aged titles, and there was more room for newer, younger authors to take up the rest of the shelf space. Certainly there were still P.K. Dick novels in the science fiction section, and I spotted several books by Gabriel Gárcia Márquez nudged into the fiction shelves too.

Books upon books upon books…

The atmosphere is pretty calm, too. The music playing over the speakers was ambient and non-obtrusive. No loud lyrics or drum solos to be heard. The most standout song that I heard was a remix of Elton John’s “Rocketman.” There were no lyrics except for the iconic hum of “Rocketmaaaaaan,” accompanied the steady guitar chords strumming away. This was the general tone of the music: classic hits, toned down to suit the overall vibe of a relaxed bookstore. 

Bookdeals, autographed copies, cover variations—Dymock’s has it all. Guaranteed I’ll be taking more trips downtown to stare longingly at the dozen books I don’t have the money to buy.

*Ok, fine, I was the one doing all of the gushing. I thank Alizée for putting up with me for the entirety of the trip.

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