“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” ― William Styron.

If William Styron was correct, The Book Barn at Chertsey is busting at the seams with thousands upon thousands of experiences just waiting to be unleashed. A Spirit Magazine reader suggested The Book Barn would make a great story, and since I’m a born bibliophile, I needed no further encouragement.

Just a peek in the door of this corrugated iron shed is enough to send shivers of delight up a book-lovers spine. Laid out before me were thousands upon thousands of second-hand books, stacked on shelves that are easily 6-feet high, categorised and alphabetised by author so you can find whatever appeals in a few seconds. The layout is like walking through a maze – at every turn there are even more shelves, with even more books! I can imagine getting lost in here for days and still not seeing it all.

Owner of The Book Barn, Paul, opened the business in response to the demise of many second-hand bookstores, post-earthquake. Along with assistants Cheryl and Leonie, he’s custodian of thousands of titles. If you’re looking for a specific author or title, he can lay his hands on it in a flash. Make requests, and he’ll find them for you too, from his many contacts throughout the country.

There are free lollies at the door and even free tea and coffee.

Fiction, Sci-Fi, Cookery, Travel, Classics, Biographies, Art, Fishing & Hunting, Architecture, Business, Children’s titles or Young Adult, they’re all there.  There are teaching resources, a NZ section and Lonely Planet books. “Backpackers this place,” Paul says.

He says it’s hard to categorise customers. “Grandparents with kiddies, students looking for cheap text books, businesspeople looking for resources, tourists, we get them all.”

Customers often wander around for a few hours at a time, and it’s not uncommon to see cars parked, sun umbrellas up, and the owners enjoying a picnic in the carpark before returning for ‘Round Two!’

Paul, Cheryl and Leonie all love books. “I’m into romance and murder – in that order,” Cheryl laughs. Leonie is also a romance reader, and Paul just loves books of all genres.

I came away with four new additions to my growing reading stack, a free block of chocolate and a resolve to make The Book Barn a regular haunt. Next time I’ll pack a picnic!

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.