A massive sprawling metropolis of new and secondhand books hidden away in one of Hobart’s central arcades.
Originally published on 24 February 2022.
There should be an old, weathered sign out the front of the Hobart bookstore Cracked and Spineless that warns ‘Here be Dragons’.
This is a shop with old bones, you feel it as soon as you walk through the front door.
In another era it was called the Imperial Bookshop, and was a favourite haunt for the current owner, Richard Sprent.
“This shop was set up in 1989 by a guy called Ian Beveridge,” says Richard. “He set the place up, and it became this little secret among people in Hobart, and it was absolutely filled to the brim with books. I mean, you think it looks full now? It had cassette tapes. It had records, and it had books, the kind of books I couldn’t find anywhere else.”
A passion for your passion
Cracked and Spineless is still a warren of books new and old. It carries books on esoteric subject matter, it carries cookery books on bread making and the art of fish butchery, it carries what Richard believes is possibly the widest collection of science fiction and fantasy books in Australia, and the horror section, lovingly curated, is something to behold.
You can lose days to this bookshop picking your way through the collections that line old huon pine bookshelves, gingerly stepping over piles of books littered across the floor, and eavesdropping on odd, sometimes bizarre conversations Richard has with those that visit the shop.
On your first visit make a beeline to Richard, he’ll be hunkered over his computer, surrounded by a wall of books, and sporting a distasteful t-shirt.
Don’t be alarmed, he smiles easily and has a passion for your passion, especially if you have a taste for crime fiction, fantasy, horror or science fiction. Especially if you are willing to open yourself up to the mysteries of books.
“All I really need is a list of some of your favourite books or movies to give me some idea of your interests, how much you want to push yourself, and we can set off on a reading adventure together, that’s something that really gives me a kick,” says Richard.
Every visit rewards as the shop opens itself up
The stuffed raven you have walked by without noticing time after time suddenly catches your eye, and you’re left wondering how you could possibly have missed it on your first visit.
The Harley Quin mask that hides above the entrance, the classic Jaws poster, and then there’s the framed artwork from UK and US first editions of the Stephen King novel It, the book that really turned Richard on to reading.
“I was 13, maybe 14 at the time and starting to tire of the fantasy writers I was reading, I wanted something that was going to affect me more,” Richard says.
“I was hunting among the book stores at Salamanca Market and I saw this jacket cover peering up at me from one of the tables, and decided to buy it. I didn’t even know who Stephen King was at the time.
“I took it home and started reading immediately. That first chapter really scared me, and I loved it. I loved the fact that all of a sudden I was scared to wander through a dark house to go to the bathroom. It was a new experience for me, a really, really powerful type of reading experience.
“I had read Watership Down, but that book utterly destroyed me, it was just so harrowing. But Stephen King’s It, that book had a different sort of energy behind it, and I wanted more.”
So go on, pay Richard a visit, enter his beloved bookshop Cracked and Spineless. There is always something interesting playing in the background, Sonic Youth, Zappa, the Pixies, curious conversations.
But really, it’s about the books. So many books.