October’s International Bookshop of the Month – Gleebooks in Sydney, Australia

Our International Bookshop of the Month for October is Gleebooks in Sydney, Australia – a large, independent bookshop, located in a two-storey nineteenth-century building in the inner city that offers a broad range of titles (30,000+), strong in literature, the humanities, politics and fine arts, as well as stocking a substantial holding of good second-hand books. We spoke with David Gaunt, the manager of this vibrant shop, to learn more!

1. What makes the bookshop unique and how has this changed over the years of trading?

Gleebooks has always had its own style, packed with a blend of general and academic, new and second-hand books. We’re very involved in both the local and broader community – including academic and general events, conferences and festivals. We’re all about engagement and always have been for 45 years!

2. Who are your staff and how long have they been with you?

We’ve around 40 staff across three shops, about a third of whom have been with us for more than ten years. They’re very loyal; they love books and put up with the modest financial rewards. 

3. If you could recommend one book (from any publisher) published in the past year, what would it be and why?

Both of the novels by the Scottish Booker Prize winner, Douglas Stuart (Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, the latter published earlier this year) are brilliant. Devastating, but beautiful, and I’m constantly recommending them. 

4. Why do you sell so many copies of Learn to Read Latin – and to whom?!!

We’re adjacent to Sydney’s oldest and largest campus: the University of Sydney – one of the few places in Australia where you can undertake tertiary study of Latin and Greek. And there are very few campus bookshops surviving these days, in Australia, so we sell texts in some very select areas. Our business was actually started in 1975 by a well-known classics scholar (Tony Gallagher), so we feel quite connected to the classics!

5. Do you have author events and book readings in the store? If so, how do you choose these – and are there any plans to expand upon the current program? Who was your most successful author?

 We have lots and lots of author events – well over 100 a year. And our program encompasses selling at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, one of the world’s biggest Literary Festivals, so we have significant contact with authors and their public. Australian authors, of course, dominate but we’ve hosted Margaret Atwood, Bill Bryson, Annie Proulx, Colm Toibin and many, many international authors, including Salman Rushdie in 1995, at his first international event.

6. What is the reading community like in NSW?

NSW is the most populous state in a country with a very high level of literacy, so it’s a large, buoyant and well-educated community. We are very close to central Sydney (about 2 miles from the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, so we are in the thick of it, happily.

7. What is the most rewarding part of working in a bookshop? What is the most difficult part? 

Everything to do with the books, really (other than returning unsold copies!). I love being surrounded by them; the history they embody and the promise they hold are priceless, really. And there’s nothing more rewarding than connecting writers and readers. The most difficult part is that it’s unrelenting – also, you can never relax! 

8. Could you tell us something about your favourite Yale University Press title (even if it’s now OP!)?

My favourite is one by an Australian author from last year: Kate Crawford’s Atlas of AI, a truly groundbreaking work on the subject, which was widely praised here (and Kate once worked at Gleebooks)!

To find out more about Gleebooks, pop into their shop or visit their website, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook page!

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