Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

Great bookstores: Mary Martin Bookshop Melbourne


One of my favourite things to do is to peruse a good bookstore. There's so much to look many beautiful designs and these days, with print books competing against digital, there are many more beautiful editions featuring interesting papers and finishes and elaborate ornamentation. Of course, a shiny foil does not a great book cover make, but they are rather exciting. And then there's the books themselves. So much temptation, so many stories. More often than not, I will leave with a shiny new treat and if I don't, it's usually through some sort of effort of will power rather than a lack of desire. But a great bookstore is not just about the buying. Sure, that is often (very often) the result, but only because everything else lines up so well.

Mary Martin Bookshop is a great favourite of mine and my husband's. The store has been there since I was a teenager, making it well over 20 years. I can't imagine it not being there. They always have lovely window displays, featuring a shelf of books on fashion, or perhaps a cluster of cookbooks. I appreciate a good window display... there's something about standing in front of the store and peering in at the carefully selected books that have been placed there, anticipating what other treasures might be waiting for you inside.

Right inside the entrance, there is a nook for beautiful gifts and greeting cards. Unless I need to buy someone a birthday card, I generally bypass this section so I can get straight to the books. However, they really do have a gorgeous selection, from stationery to music boxes to book-themed toys... we took our mothers there recently and had trouble getting them out of there as they wanted to buy presents for everybody.

But of course, a great book store has to be about books and Mary Martin is. It isn't the largest bookshop you'll come across, so if you have something very specific in mind that you absolutely have to read right now, unless it is a new release, you probably won't be able to walk away with it then and there. That is not the point of this store. Of course they will order in anything you have a hankering for, but I think the point of lovely book stores like this is the serendipity. We just don't have enough of it anymore. We scroll through Netflix endlessly and pick whatever it serves up to us, we listen to Spotify playlists built on the seed of an artist we know we like and it just feeds us more of the same. But despite these services using words like "discover", I don't feel that they do empower us to really discover something that we didn't know we needed in our lives. The selection at Mary Martin feels carefully curated. There's a large shelf of recommendations and these are accompanied by descriptions written by employees. It's great hearing what books they enjoyed and why and, for me, these recommendations are so reliable that it now feels like I'm finding out about new books from a friend. The great thing is that the whole store is peppered with these recommendation labels, so even as you move away from this main shelf, there is still guidance if you need it. I find that the books I tend to purchase at Mary Martin are not necessarily ones that I had on my list, but they're ones that I didn't realise I wanted to read until I found them there.

Mary Martin is really building a community around reading – they're trying out different activities such as story time for grown-ups, and illustrators live-painting murals on their front window. The current mural happens to have been painted by my husband, Matt Shanks... yep, we love this store so much that we painted the front window.


Photo by Melissa Hill