Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Vale Bill Noble

New Zealand bookseller Bill Noble died in April 2021.

Noble, who also served on the board of Booksellers NZ, was the manager of Dunedin’s University Book Shop (UBS) Otago for 34 years until his retirement in 2012.

Bookseller and former co-owner of Godwit Press Brian Phillips writes:

‘I first met Bill nearly 50 years ago when he joined the staff at Hodder & Stoughton. He had been bookselling in Canada and brought to the company a fresh eye and considerable knowledge. He took on the role of Paperback Warehouse guru looking after stock, orders and generally proffering advice on North American authors about whom I was rather hazy at times. We always knew that Bill would not be ours for long and he duly returned to Canada. His return to New Zealand was also no surprise and his appointment as manager of UBS in Dunedin a few years later confirmed my view of his rightful place in our bookselling family.

‘Bill was a terrific bookseller. With the aid of his excellent staff he quickly turned UBS Otago into one the best bookshops in the country—being recognised as such when voted NZ ’s Best Bookshop. My visits to Dunedin were always enlivened by a visit to the shop, where he showed he was also a quality bookseller with an eye for a bargain—developing the upstairs ‘permanent sale’ with some judicious purchases of local remainders and a flow of well-chosen bargains from his trips to the US.

‘Bill was a great supporter of Jane Connor and me when we were developing Godwit, and was always encouraging of what we were doing. After my retirement to Christchurch I saw less of Bill— however, it was always good to see him on his visits to classical events at the town hall. Two things stick in my mind from this later period: first, his immense pride in the achievements of his daughter Sarah. We would occasionally meet for a meal when I was in Dunedin and he would regale me with stories of her adventures and successes in the world of opera. He also once told me the story of how he had met a bloke in the pub who was unable to read so he and set about teaching him to do so. This had clearly given him enormous satisfaction. He was a special person who will be greatly missed.’

Publishers rep Ross Miller writes:

In 1978 I started working for Leonard Fullerton as a publishers rep, the territory was Kaitaia to Invercargill. On my first two visits to UBS Dunedin I sold books to a guy who had been a children’s TV presenter. On my third visit to UBS I met Bill for the first time. My initial thoughts were that he looked very young to be the manager, but he knew a hell of a lot more than the ‘What now’ guy. I sold books to him four times a year for 12 years. He looked slightly older in 1990, but not much.

‘I remember the delight he had in upsetting the likes of Bob Stables, John Hyndman, George Adamson and Arthur Dixon by not sticking to the textbook side of the business and having the temerity to discount lead titles and have pre-Christmas sales. He loved stirring up the old “club”.

‘Bill and I would have at least one night out every time I visited Dunedin. There were some memorable nights and a number that I had no memory of. After several years of regular visits I noticed that Bill had noticed a young woman who worked downstairs. After Annette and Bill were married I would have dinner at their house every visit.

‘On one occasion I was trying to sell Bill a volume of New Zealand poetry. He expressed his disdain for the work in the book and said he could do better himself. I challenged him on that. Six months later he had a poem published in Landfall. I think he only wrote three poems. On one of my visits, after watching me struggle upstairs with my leather bags of sample materials, he made an extraordinary challenge. He said that my job was easier than his and that he would sell the list to me. We changed seats and he started. We lasted 15 minutes until he realised that my buying decisions would dramatically increase his remainder sale stock.’

Owner of Wellington’s Unity Books Tilly Lloyd writes:

‘Losing Bill is just plain hard; it’s losing a trade and literary bro.

‘I loved that he went to bat. I loved Bill’s face. I loved that sort of post-beat light in his corner office, and our imprint fetishes. I loved that Bill was a romantic with commercial muscle. I loved his mistakes, his blog, and his reverencies and irreverencies.

‘I loved—here adapting a really appropriate line from Dennis Duncan’s TLS review of The Booksellers Tale by Martin Latham—that Bill had “the teetering, ramshackle feeling of a reliably eclectic bookseller”.’


Category: Obituaries