The sounds of clinking cutlery and murmuring voices over lunch can be heard filtering through the courtyards of 44 Stanley on the way through the winding passages towards l'Elephant Terrible. l'Elephant Terrible is a second-hand bookstore that takes its name from the owner's love of ellies and is also a twist on the 1929 novel by Jean Cocteau, Les Enfants Terribles. Although, unlike in the book, there's no awkward incestuous undertone here... it's run by a seemingly normal European couple and their dual passion for literature.
Books are best served to the public in nooks; small hole-in-the-wall stores where people can search through dust and page through faded books until they find that diamond they've been searching for.
Now, l'Elephant Terrible certainly isn't dusty but it's the epitome of what a real bookstore should be - tucked away and unassuming, until you venture inside. The sounds of Eric Clapton and JJ Cale's Road to Escondido can be heard filtering through the quaint store. Interesting curios and ornaments like Mickey and Minnie Mouse and framed art afford the place quite an original personality.
Browsing is easy and the collection ranges from a host of non-fiction books to more obscure fiction including pieces by Douglas Adams other than A Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy as well as books by the enticing Franz Kafka. A walk up the narrow staircase takes to you a pretty intimidating African section that seems to be unique to this gem of a shop.
It's right here within l'Elephant Terrible that you're free to pick up a book and have a little squizz without being hassled by nosey, underage clerks who have no idea who Jack Kerouac is and that's what makes it special. Enjoy the tantalising aroma of old books and all the history and art of the words on the pages rising up and emanating throughout the store. Breathe in and smell the difference. We all know how great fresh new stories smell but there's something about books that have lived lives outside of the worlds they create within, the ones with flexible spines and browning paper. It's comfortable, relaxed and is a must for anyone looking to acquire books from a store with as quirky and unique a character as this one - you'll be hard-pressed to find a similar spot anywhere else in Joburg.
Photographs by Affricanalien
Where? 44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark, Johannesbur
by Daniel McCaughtry