Warren Bonett and Kirsty Bruce are the proprietors of Embiggen Books, a science, philosophy and art book store at 197-203 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne – not far from the Wheeler Centre.
Here is their story …
Just before Kirsty and Warren opened their first store at Noosaville on the Sunshine Coast in 2007, two major things happened in quick succession – the global financial markets went into meltdown and the not quite young couple found out they were pregnant. So, right from the start things were going to be interesting – especially considering that Embiggen Books targets a particular niche market – science, art and philosophy.
Our heroes, Warren and Kirsty, met dancing on tables in London’s West End 20 years ago. From there they went their separate ways, following pursuits as diverse as ultra-distance cycling and editing Hollywood blockbuster movies. It’s true that as the ‘front man’ for the book store, Warren gets most of the limelight in this partnership, but look up Kirsty Bruce on IMDB and you’ll see she’s a ‘star’ in her own right.
During their time apart, Kirsty and Warren both acquired a passion for science and literacy in general. Then, after more than a decade, they found each other again and their new shared interests blossomed into an unexpected love affair – and a beautiful baby daughter.
“Have you ever had those conversations at a dinner party where everybody solves the problems of the world but you never actually do anything afterwards?” says Kirsty.
“Well, I guess we’d had just one too many of those conversations. We wanted to stop talking about the world’s problems and start being a part of the solution.”
“Crucially, we felt many of the issues that concerned us would benefit from a wider public appreciation of science. We also agreed that both science and art are enriched by the cross-pollination of creative thoughts across disciplines – hence our motto: Where science meets art.”
Embiggen Books was conceived as more than just a bookstore. Kirsty and Warren saw their venture as a centre of knowledge and learning. For example, at Noosaville, Embiggen Books played host to a staggering array of excellent speakers, including: Eureka Prize winners Professor Ian Frazer and Professor Ian Lowe; top neuroscientists Dr Dana Bradford and Dr Adam Hamlin; the former Ambassador to Israel, Peter Rodgers; the Queensland Premier’s Book Prize Winner, Stephen Dando-Collins; Chief Conservation Scientist for Bush Heritage Australia, Dr Nicola Markus, and; award winning author, Peter Macinnis.
Eager to spread their passion for science, knowledge and art beyond their local area, Embiggen Books invested heavily in an online website, blog and bookstore. Most of the in-store presentations from the Noosaville store were videoed and uploaded to their website, enabling thousands more to partake in this knowledge outreach.
“Our research shows that the general public wants to know more about science and cutting-edge research, and we want to be part of making that information accessible,” says Warren.
Kirsty adds, “Unfortunately, the public’s appetite for information is being fed by new-age pseudo-science – and it’s often difficult for the layman to separate out the ‘quantum magic’ from actual quantum physics.”
“We’d probably make a lot more money if we stocked the self-help and new-age books,” says Warren, “But we’re very particular about the books we stock. We want our business to educate, not mislead, the public. We want to promote real science, philosophy from the world’s greatest thinkers, and good art.”
As if running a book store seven days a week wasn’t hard enough, Warren also produced, edited and designed The Australian Book of Atheism, provided much of the graphic art work for the 2010 Global Atheist Convention and set up a bookstore at James Randi’s 2010 The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Sydney. The couple’s commitment to the atheist, skeptical and scientific communities is truly admirable.
The book-trade is a hard business – even harder when you’re catering for a niche market. But Kirsty and Warren are motivated by more than commercial goals. Even when the economic climate and the downturn in the book market made it impossible to make ends meet in a small regional centre, they refused to give in gracefully. Instead, they decided to take their ‘mission’ to the big smoke. The books were crated up, the Noosaville store dismantled, and Kirsty, Warren and now three year old Monty moved to Melbourne.
“We have a brand new bookshop and a three year- old daughter, and we want to be part of creating a better world for her and her generation,” says Kirsty. “We’re convinced that making science, philosophy and art more accessible to the general public contributes to that aim. We know there are people out there who agree, and we just hope they’ll throw their support behind us.”
And what a bookshop! Kirsty and Warren have outdone themselves and the new Melbourne store looks even more spectacular than the last one! Embiggen is more than just a bookstore – it’s an intellectual and artistic experience.
OK – perhaps it’s even more than an intellectual and artistic experience. It may also be an entertainment (or sporting?) experience given that many have confessed that ultra shiny floor brings on an almost irresistable urge to remove their shoes and slide around in their socks!
The Sunshine Coast will miss Embiggen Books, but our loss is Melbourne’s gain. Embiggen Books, Melbourne opened its doors to business this week and the online store, closed for the move, should be back up soon. Already, novelist, bio-ethicist and social commentator, Leslie Cannold has given an instore presentation and Victorians can look forward to many more exciting events to come.
But, like any such enterprise, Embiggen Books can only continue to add value to the intellectual life of the city if the intellectuals support it. If you’re in Melbourne, or planning to visit, please make it a point to drop in to Embiggen Books – and tell Warren I sent you.
Disclaimer: Chrys Stevenson has no financial interest in Embiggen Books whatsoever, other than having spent most of her net worth on books from them. No money has been paid for this promotion. A commission on sales arising from this article will, she hopes, be paid in hugs next time she’s in Melbourne.
Belief and Science Inspire Brave New Bookstore, Carolyn Webb, Sydney Morning Herald
197 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC 3004
Phone: (03) 9662 2062