Audrey Rademeyer is the owner of Kalk Bay Books, Cape Town’s southern peninsula gem that offers a range of interesting literary fiction and non-fiction and has an impressive newsstand.
The book you’re currently most excited about selling?
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. The antithesis of depressing, it’s about so many things, among them, death and our sticky relationship with life itself. The sometimes prolonged and senseless suffering of “medicalised” death, and how we could and should die better, with more dignity and with less trauma to ourselves and to our loved ones. I think that this is one of those books which come along every once in a while and fundamentally shift things in our collective mind.
Which title gets shoplifted the most frequently?
We are very lucky in that we don’t have a huge problem with this, but when it does happen it’s likely to be Long Walk to Freedom or Shantaram.
The biggest seller of the past year?
Sapiens by Yuval Harari. He tells a gripping history of our species, and has been accused of vandalism, recklessness and caricature. But there is an urgency in what he is trying to get us to comprehend about ourselves, because there isn’t any time left. He’s setting us up, at lightspeed, for Homo Deus, in which we glimpse the successor we are currently nurturing. The one who we probably aren’t going to like very much in the end, precisely because of who we are and what we’ve done.
The most underwhelming book youíve read in the last year?
The Heart goes Last by Margaret Atwood, who is one of my all-time favourite authors. But I don’t think it was Margaret’s fault entirely. Some of it was mine.
Which book do you wish all your customers would read?
What will People Say by Rehana Rossouw. An illuminating, important novel set in Hanover Park in the 80’s, and also a great read.
The last thing you read that made you cry?
Eventide by Kent Haruf. He has an exquisitely delicate hand in his dealings with the human heart.
Is there a book you’d never sell? If so, what is it, and why?
Yes, in fact there is a startling number of them. But I discussed this with my colleagues and we decided that as an answer to this question it might as well be our favourite mutually hated book, that excremental anti-erotica called Fifty Shades, which is an insult to pleasure and a criminal waste of ink and paper.
What’s the most surprising thing about your bookshop?
That we’re still here despite being picky and difficult and occasionally grumpy, and that we’re useless at social media, and that we don’t have SnapScan.
The three writers you admire the most?
I must choose three friends, above all others? This is impossible and unfair. Off the top of my head, randomly then: Kent Haruf, whose quiet affection for his characters extends to his readers. His books are genuine treasure. David Mitchell, who writes the kind of stories I most like to read, adventures into which you can completely disappear and when you come out the other side, wild-eyed and shaken up, you’re still possessed for weeks after. George Monbiot, who is fearless and tireless and was reckless long before Harari was, and who is always lucid, and who should be taught in school.
The biggest challenge you face in bookselling?
Corporatocracy in the book-supply chain means that certain leviathans, having chomped up all the little guys, have created a perverse situation in which it’s easy to imagine that the intention is to keep books and readers apart. We have speculated that these entities would really rather that bookshops didn’t exist at all.
Describe your archetypal customer.
The one who comes in looking for a book we don’t have, and leaves with three other books instead, then happily comes back for more.
The best part of being a bookseller?
I get to do what I like best, for work. I get to hang out among books with other people who like to hang out among books. It does seem a bit unfair to be this lucky, and sometimes I wonder whether I’m just imagining it.
And the worst part?
That there are just too many good books, and I will most certainly die before I’ve read them, or stocked them, or even seen them.