It turns out books are expensive in Australia. A nasty surprise given pesky airline luggage allowances recently forced me to dispose of the last of my travel library in Delhi. Throughout my time in India, and as a result of my compulsive book buying, I had to find new homes for a number of paperbacks. Amongst them, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy was gifted to a hotel bookshelf in Goa with a beach view but a good chance of mildew, Gandhi’s biography joined spiritual textbooks in Rishikesh and William Dalrymple’s Age of Kali was slotted between french novels on Marine Drive. Most heartbreaking however was the necessity of mutilating the last of The Game of Thrones and Shantaram so that I could get the remaining unread chapters into my hand luggage. In a deeply sacrilegious act, I admit it, I chopped 500 pages from the former and 600 from the latter. Can I get away with calling this particular case of butchery a compliment? After-all it was just too painful a prospect not to have an ending to either!
I will concede however that this was an inauspicious start to the year I’ve gifted myself for the enjoyment and study of ‘the book’; by which I mean books, any book and all books. I intend to return to the above titles, and many others, with reviews (I’m even wishfully reading a book of J. M. Coetzee’s literary critiques). It is my new mission in life to actually absorb and reflect on some of the worlds I’ve been losing myself in over fifteen years of semi-professional book-worming.
I’ve always loved books, for as far back as I can remember and perhaps a bit before that, if the photos of my 3 year old self are anything to go by. Yet I remain embarrassingly ill-versed with regards literature. A close friend I fondly call Wife, a most erudite graduate in English Literature, is quick to remind me of my fondness for chick-lit, historical fiction, bad thrillers, and my inability to remember the names of even my favourite authors. Although I refuse to apologize for the first three weaknesses, I am determined to reform on the last point, and that will require reading enough to really decide on actual favourites!
And thus, since arriving in Australia two weeks ago I’ve been trawling Sydney’s bookshops for bargains, and a job. I’ve discovered cheap-reads require much more determined hunting here than back in London, and that no one seems to be hiring just now… or so they say, smiling as they shove a copy of my CV into a pile of papers that will probably never see the light of day again. But my bookshop tour has nevertheless been a great adventure and one that’s just beginning. More than anything it has been an eye opener for someone who harbors a secret (perhaps not so secret anymore) longing to one day have my own little Book/Wine/Art Shop in blustery Edinburgh.
In the fabulous words of Stephen Fry, confidently scrawled in chalk across the front of one of my literary pit stops: “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators”. I am a fervent believer that books aren’t going anywhere, my case, put forward to anyone who’ll listen (yes, that would be you now) invariably boils down to emotions and my love for the romance and mystery of the Book itself. For me this is wrapped up in the secret story of the stained curled pages of a second-hand book, the scribbles in the margins of a hand-me-down, or the mere smell of fresh paper when a new books opens its covers for some one, for you, for the first time.
I can’t deny that on my travels a kindle would have saved me a great deal in effort and money, as well as providing me with greater selection to cart around. If anything an e-reader, iPad whatever, just adds to the arsenal of the avid reader. A kindle-convert recently said it very eloquently: “I hated the mere concept for years… I wanted paper in my hands- practicality won. I can finish a book, buy a new one and start it, all in the dark, or from the toilet, or from the toilet in the dark!”
But where does this leave the bookSHOP? Struggling to adapt or die. Facing up to the harsh reality that books are no longer enough, I’ve discovered them merging with art supplies, newspapers, greeting cards, coffee shops, wine bars, music venues, antique furniture, clothes and posters. I’m sure there are many more. Each survivor has its own ambiance and story to tell and I intend to paint a little picture of the ones I discover for future would-be explorers.
You are now cordially invited to join me on my adventures, and share my ‘year of the book’.