Brisbane might not be known as a beacon of literary culture, but our fair ol’ city has more than a few independent bookstore gems if you know where to look for them.
Tucked into heritage-listed buildings, hiding in plain sight on main roads and combining books with the life-giving essence that is coffee, these bookstores far outshine your local QBD or Borders (may it rest in peace).
We dare you to leave even one of these stores without buying more than three new bookish faves( did anyone say challenge accepted?). Here are Brisbane's best independent bookstores.
With its neon blue, yellow and orange façade, Bent Books has been a staple for West End-based bibliophiles for years. With a collection of secondhand books spanning literally every topic you can think of—we’re talking witchcraft to art to literary fiction—Bent Books is pretty much book-lovers heaven. Squeaky floorboards, wooden shelves sagging under the weight of your next great read and a backyard terrace all serve to keep the Bent Books atmosphere going strong. Plus, they will totally buy some of those old books you were looking to get rid of, if you make an appointment, so you can buy new literary gems without dipping into the savings fund. It’s basically the circle of life. Now that sounds like a win-win to us!
Archives Fine Books
Located in the heritage-listed John Mills Himself building, Archives Fine Books more than lives up to its tagline of “one million books on every topic”. While its main purpose is selling rare and collectible books, and trust us there are a few jewels among the collection if you have the funds for them, Archives can more than serve the needs of the average secondhand book hunter. The shop spans the majority of the second floor of the building and positively glows with an aura of old-timey literary fun. Seriously guys, stepping into Archives is like stepping into the library at Hogwarts—magic and all. If you visit, just be prepared to lose a whole day inside its hallowed walls. So worth it.
Mary Ryan’s Books, Music & Coffee
New Farm & Milton
If there’s one thing better than a bookstore, it’s a café and bookstore combined. Enter Mary Ryan’s Books, Music & Coffee. Combining all the good parts of an independent bookstore, including reader groups and expert staff advice, with delicious Merlo coffee and café fare, Mary Ryan’s was built for lazy Sunday mornings. With locations at New Farm and Milton you won’t have to journey far to get your hands on a new literary love. Each location is tailored to its audience, so even if you hop between stores in your daily travels it’s unlikely you’ll find the exact same reads. Oh and did we mention that Mary Ryan’s New Farm also has a gourmet chocolate counter? Be still our beating heart.
Folio Books might be an oldie (having first opened over 30 years ago) but it’s definitely still a goodie. Subjects they cover include fiction, art, architecture, biography, cooking, history, photography, philosophy and graphic design—just to name a few. Folio specialises in the “in-store” experience (what a novel concept; pun intended) and their team of book experts are ready and willing to point you in the direction of that new book you didn’t know you needed but obviously need. right. now. Sorry wallet, it’s time to take one for the team.
Sci-fi and fantasy booklovers, this one’s for you. Pulp Fiction, which first opened in 1995, is an old-school bricks-and-mortar-only store that specialises in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and crime with a healthy spattering of horror, true crime and popular science books thrown in for good measure. So basically its nerd heaven and it’s located in a handy location only a hop skip and a jump away from Central Station. The staff are also huge book geeks themselves and are just as happy chatting about the latest Brandon Sanderson bestseller as they are picking out their personal recommendations from rising new authors.
Clarence Corner Bookshop
We can think of nothing better than browsing through out-of-print favourites, like-new secondhand stunners and significant books from the past with a strong cup of tea in one hand and a raw treat in the other. If you’re the same, we’d like to introduce you to Clarence Corner Bookshop: an unassuming little slice of book heaven situated inside an adorable 19th century building near the bustling Mater Hospital complex. Located over two floors, this quaint café/bookstore combo specialises in coffee made from Maleny Dairy and world-friendly raw treats so you can feel good about saving the planet while you dig in to a new written adventure. Ah the southside, you’ve done it again with your quirky hidden gems.
Scrumptious Reads on Arthur Terrace combines the best of both worlds: gorgeous books and foodie culture. Boasting a proud love for all things culinary, Scrumptious Reads comprises a bookstore focusing on every food-related book your literary-loving heart could ever desire, an event space plus a private dining room for those special occasions. Don’t forget to pick up the latest bestselling cookbook while you’re there in preparation for the epic dinner Scrumptious Reads is sure to inspire you to make. Your stomach will thank us later.
State Library of Queensland Bookshop
Situated in Brisbane’s cultural precinct, the SLQ Bookshop invites you to immerse yourself in all things Queensland. You can pick up titles by local authors, books about Queensland’s history, and even works exploring Indigenous culture. As a two-time winner of Queensland’s Specialist Bookseller of the Year, the bookstore takes pride in providing quality service to every reader who walks through their doors, so you know you’re in good hands. For the history buffs hiding among us, the store has a range of vintage maps handpicked from SLQ’s archives that will take you down a rabbit hole of Brisbane’s history.
For the best books on art and culture, look no further than QAGOMA’s bookshop. The store is a treasure trove of publications showcasing the world’s most exciting contemporary artists, including those from the land Down Under. You’ll feel oh-so-cultured as you browse the aisles, reading the backs of books that will no doubt pile up on your bedside table, patiently awaiting their time in the sun (or the reading light). Better still, all profits from the store go towards expanding the gallery’s collection and presenting new and exciting exhibits, so you know your dollars are going towards a good cause.
Nestled away on Bulimba’s Oxford Street, Riverbend Books is every book-lover's dream. Just a gentle stroll away from the river, Riverbend has an energy that draws readers in, and keeps them wandering the store for hours. Get lost amongst the shelves of the latest literary hits, or delve deeper into the store to find something new. The store isn’t exactly a hidden gem— it’s been named Queensland’s Independent Bookshop of the Year eight times—but once you step inside, it’s easy to convince yourself you’ve discovered your own secret haven. With book clubs to suit every reader, Riverbend brings people together, and even offers light meals on their beautiful front deck. Their friendly staff are happy to help with any enquiries, and have a tonne of brilliant recommendations up their sleeve—all you have to do is ask.
If wandering around a bookstore, grabbing a coffee and reading in a plant-filled alcove sounds like a good day, then swing by Avid Reader for your chance to relax, and get a look at one of Brisbane's best book stores. Browse through the racks of quality new fiction and non-fiction, and lose yourself to the quiet atmosphere and muted murmurs of fellow book lovers finding a rare gem. Avid also opened Where The Wild Things Are next door, a specialty book and gift store for young readers, but they still have a range of quirky gifts and journals on their counter. Hosting local and international writers in in-store events, Avid Reader is an epicentre for the Brisbane writing scene — now offering free shipping to local suburbs and on orders over $50.
Need somewhere to read your pile? Check out this list of Brisbane’s most gorgeous cafes.
Image credit: PJ Accetturo