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August 29, 2022

My Adelaide with John Scott

Liverpool-born bibliophile John Scott, owner of New Morning Books, has sold thousands of tomes over his three decades running second-hand bookshops. He’s encountered “the variety of humanity” from behind the counter, and will never turn away a worthwhile book.

  • Words: John Scott, as told to Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Dimitra Koriozos

I did a stocktake eight years ago, when we were at Unley Road, and we had 29,500 books – and the collection now is more than that.

I would say we now have between 35,000—40,000.


New Morning Books
155 Frome Street, Adelaide 5000
Mon—Fri: 10am ’til 4:30pm
Saturday: 10am ’til 4pm


We get donations increasingly, and if we don’t take them in, people tell us, ‘It’s either you or the tip’, and I do not like to see books destroyed. I think we’ve saved hundreds of thousands from a fate worse than death.

You get craftier as you get older. You work out new ways to fit just one more book in here and there. You do become a bit more cunning. There are physical limitations, but as a general rule I will not turn down any worthwhile book, whether I’ve got room for it or not.


I started off as Back Pages Books, and had two shops running – one at Flinders University, New Morning Books, and the other at Fullarton Road, Back Pages. They’re both from Bob Dylan songs.

I’m a long-term career bookseller, and I’ll retire when I no longer have my marbles – when I think I’m slowing or if I lose my memory. Even though I’m in my 70s, I won’t retire for myself because I love my work. This is my life.

We sell our books to students and pensioners. Both of them are on small fixed incomes, and I try to make the prices conform to their ability to pay. We do get occasionally quite valuable books, but that’s not my business. I’m not an antiquarian, mainly. I’m still, in my heart of hearts, a campus bookseller, and I’m still catering to students young and old.

Places like this have an important role to play in society. I believe in the importance of literacy and literature in a democracy, and I think we need informed intelligent citizens, not just passive receivers of propaganda.

There’s an ethical point of view that I subscribe to. It is not up to me to dictate to people what they should read. For instance, I will stock Mein Kampf – I’ve read it so I don’t think I’ve got the moral right to tell other people not to read it, even though most of them want it as a Nazi fashion accessory rather than to actually read.

But I think it’s reasonable for people coming into a place like this to hope and expect that there will be some effort made to cater to their interests.


My interest is in history. I’m principally a nonfiction reader. I love to know the reason why. I think people now are driven by the same emotions that we were driven by 3000, 4000 years ago. Cultures do change radically over a long period of time, but the individual human being is not a terribly different kettle of fish.

Over my 30 years, I’ve learned about the variety of humanity. If you do this for a long time, you will get a lot of general knowledge. Extremely broad but a little shallow in places.

But my customers tend to be specialists. They know everything about a particular subject. I have one customer – who I think may not be around anymore – and his thing was World War II, and he had a house where there was room for his family to live and eat and go to the bathroom, and everything else was full of World War II books.

Ideally, I would like to pass it on to somebody. I would like the shop to outlive me. Once I’m gone, I’m gone, and I don’t have any further input.

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