“Do you want any of my old books? I don’t have room for the ones I’ve read so I’m just going to get rid of them anyway…”. Yes is the answer. Of course. Where are they?
When made this delightful offer by my cousin the other day it didn’t cross my mind to ask what books those might be. They were books and they needed a home and I needed one more reason not to spend half my paycheck on new tomes. I’ve been feeling a little guilty about my addiction, but two things have helped soothe my conscience, if not my bank balance. The first was the discovery that the owners of the owners of Gertrude & Alice, the fabulous Bondi Second Hand Shop (that I am about to review, promise) had amassed some 40,000 in their little house before they found a space to open their shop, on Hall Street, from which to sell their vast collection. The second was this quotation, which has encouraged me to embrace this great weakness of mine:
But to get back to the original story, I found said books in a crate in the hallway by the front door- seemed I got there just in time! The books range from poetry to Dawkins’ The God Delusion’ through some well thumbed chicklit. Quite a few are a far cry from anything I might have picked up of my own volition in a bookshop, but that’s part of the adventure- I’ll get to know a little more about Katie just from these stacks. A person’s books are such an intensely personal portrayal of themselves, from the actual selection to the tell-tale signs of a favourite, the use of pen or pencil to underline or highlight, the possible notes in the margin, the forgotten bookmark or stubborn page fold, creases down the spine or a perfect cover…
When I force myself to ask why I love books, generally rather than any one in particular, I think of the romance of a book, and I think of my Papi. My Grandfather is indelibly linked in my mind to the smell and feel of books and a deep seated respect for books in general . Only his passing had parted him from a library which he had saved from my beloved, yet far more organized, grandmother’s many attempts at a trim. I have recollections of old shelves bulging in the middle, looking pregnant with promise from below. In their home in London the weight of his library had threatened to cave in the ceiling. A few of Papi’s old favourites passed to me, namely his Shakespeare collection and some old Dictionaries, each with his scribblings down the side, always in pencil, sometimes offering up an opinion or a critique, other times a seemingly unrelated poem or pondering. In these books he lives on a little, and that, to me at least, is part of the magic of a book. Books don’t get thrown out, they get passed on. The life of a book is supposed to involve many hands and handbags, trains and plains and coffee stains. And so every book carries a little message from its previous owner- in addition to those of the author.
At a dinner party I recently attended one of the gentlemen present seemed genuinely baffled by these observations. ‘I have a kindle’ he stated, and it carries much more about me than any wandering book, why it has my whole collection, and my notes at the end of each chapter, which would get lost on fly away paper, and its all saved electronically so even if the Kindle is lost my thoughts and the words of those authors live on in cyber space til some one comes to collect them. Of course, rationally, this is all true. And yet we still buy books, and we still fill our homes (or some part of them at least) with these supposedly frivolous pages. Why? Why in this day and age do YOU still buy books? Is the book doomed to follow the same fate as the CD and the video tape?
I was recently sent a link about an alternative bookshop in Seattle, the article consisted of an interview with the enthusiastic young owner and her ideas, the shop was filled with independently published work and was all about the personal touch. I was intrigued and clicked the link to the webpage but the domain wasn’t ascribed to anyone. So I googled the shop. And then I found out that just 2 years after opening the shop had closed its doors. Not financially viable. This is the story we keep being told. And yet a few carefully thought out adaptations and a keen ear for the demands of customers is keeping many a place alive- just here in Sydney Ampersand and G&A are always teaming with people, Berkelouw is forever expanding- in just a couple of week’s they’ll be opening a wine bar in their Paddington branch to serve a carefully selected range of boutique wines amidst their antique books and second-hand stacks. (Just. can’t. wait) And people come, for the food or the coffee or the wine, because there is something bewitching and warm and safe about the presence of books, whether these are books that have had lives of their own, or new releases with fresh, crisp paper awaiting new adventures. A world of possibility is all nestled up together, tidy and welcoming and when you buy it, it’s yours, to do whatever you want with, to read now or save for a rainy day, to sell or to give away.
And so a book will call out to you, and though you just didn’t know you were looking, it has somehow found you. Just like my crate of books did. And so I’ll trundle them onto the train, then the bus, then the last stretch by foot so I can curl up in my armchair with these new treasures. And there will be something tangible and tactile and real in my hands, and I’ll be able to read on til my heart’s content in whatever awkward slouch I slide into without having to worry about a plug. And then when I’m done I will pass on those that I loved to friends I think might enjoy ’em, those that don’t have a suitable host I will take down to the Book Exchange, on the corner of Oxford Street and South Dowling St, where book-lovers use an honour code and a doorstep to share the written word with total strangers.
Today I may be a little anxious about my bookshop dream, but I will find a little hope in The Bookshop Blog, which had a particularly fabby post up just today, and what seems to be a revived appreciation for Black Books, and wonderful pictures like these: