A real bookshop by Elsie esq via Flickr
Monday musings

My love affair with books

Inspired by the fact that Fremantle’s Dymocks has just closed. Posted here because people found it on Facebook and loved it and asked that it was posted on the blog. So here is a Monday Musing about my love affair with books and travelling.

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When I was a girl, we were a travelling family, almost a caravan circus, flying everywhere so we could learn what it was like somewhere else, what other ways of being there were. And there was a place we would stop, in equally hot, humid Singapore and there we were running in between the shelves and racks in Borders on Orchard Road. And I read Pratchett, Gaiman and Tolkien cover to cover and my sister found others and my father found more copies of Grishams and Clancys that he already had on our bookshelves at home while my mother curled up with Mary Higgins Clark. And one day when I was 11 or so, I went down to Marks and Spencers and bought a checked shirt for 14 year old boys who wanted to dress like Kurt Cobain and put it on.

And I started to learn to pack my suitcase so that there was room in it for books I would bring back. Years later in the US, I went to a mall that was built like a town where the Library was Borders/Barnes & Noble – I forget which – and between it and Amazon – even in the midst of rural suburbia in Ohio – I packed a trunk and suitcase full of books over two years. When they open those bags now somewhere under sequin and silk and tulle in Indiana, they will spill open with Greek and Roman history, the words of Suetonius, somewhere in there my old, much loved, much battered, I have an mental index of it A Level Geography text book (and you five who sat in that class with Mr Bryson and my never ending lunches – you know what I am talking about, you remember), and here is the best part – there will be fifty two fantasy fiction novels lining the bottom. Perhaps one for each week but I can finish a novel in a day.

Then I washed up here, where there WAS a bookstore every few yards and I said “Well, then, this must be home.” and decided to stay. I stopped buying online. And so I sat down to read Greenwood in Dymocks one day and Clive nearly scared me by locking me in at closing time and if he hadn’t started sweeping and singing, I wouldn’t have put my head up over that rack. And Erin Saelzler then told me over our magical internet wires that the stores in Ohio were closing and I watched Angus & Robertson disappear from Fremantle. As I watched New Edition move from South Terrace to High Street and bought my first copy of the AWM, Borders opened in Perth and I said a silent prayer of thanks. And then I found myself at Borders and Dymocks across the country in lines waiting for cricketers to write a message to my father who amassed a collection of birthday and Christmas gifts that I felt were my silent argument against the Grisham and Clancy diet. Save for the one time I stood in line for Pratchett for Murtaza A. T. and cried afterwards because nobody wants him to die and leave Discworld behind when there is more of that story to tell.

I never managed to work at Elizabeth‘s despite the Lit degree but I stood behind the counter at New Edition for six months. And that was a lifetime ago because now it has coffee and clothes too and somehow never enough crime fiction for me. And then we all found out that Borders would close and there was a wound when Borders in Singapore faded away till there was nothing but Marks and Spencers on Orchard Road. My checked shirt after decades of wear, finally had a hole in it. And I looked at it and wondered if I could wear it for that little bit of comfort anymore. I still do. And so there we were with no Borders but Book Depository, no Angus but Amazon, with Kinokuniya’s new branch in Sydney, Elizabeth‘s going strong, and New Edition growing rather odd. And Dymocks was there. And I, I was buying less, borrowing more. Reading voraciously and buying my Pratchetts, my Greenwoods, my Bradleys from there.

Until last week, when with 40% off signs, Fremantle’s Dymocks closed. And my heart sank and I didn’t dare go in to laugh with Clive like I have done for the past decade and ask him “What will you do now?” because I was too consumed with what I would do now? Where would I sit on the floor and read the books I couldn’t get in New Edition or Elizabeth‘s now because this little port town needs a plethora of different bookstores to supply its inhabitants’ tastes? Where would I find my Kerry Greenwood Christmas present to myself, my Pratchett pick me up, my Gaiman giggles?

Sure, I could buy online, get free shipping, get excited when I go to get my mail but I could waste time on the carpeted floor in a bookstore in the middle of a town I love, laugh and joke with the staff who would shake their heads at me and possibly get locked in at closing time with a sales assistant who loves showtunes. And then buy a book. And maybe get it signed for someone I love.

There were so many bookstores along the way that my family and I stopped in wherever we went – chains, independents, second-hand ones – that to lose any of them hurts. Like the one in Fremantle near the op shops packed to the rafters with books and one feisty feminist owner. Or the one somewhere, was it Melbourne or Brisbane, where i and a former lover meandered in to find Persian cats that were willing to snuggle up with me on an armchair while I read – reading free, kitty cuddles free, books cheap, experience priceless.

I am not someone who finds it easy to buy books online much as I love and appreciate the benefits of doing so. And when bookstores are no longer there or no longer really bookstores, then it’s time to pack my library into another suitcase and find another home.

And I am sorry that this was so long that it was almost a book in itself. And such a ramble. Apologies.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

One Comment

  • J.D. Hildebrand

    The universe is huge. Time is impossibly vast. Trillions of creatures crawl and swim and fly through our planet. Billions of people live, billions came before us, and billions will come after. We cannot count, cannot even properly imagine, the number of perspectives and variety of experiences offered by existence.

    We sip all of this richness through the very narrowest of straws: one lifetime, one consciousness, one perspective, one set of experiences. Of all the universe has, has had, and will have to offer, we can know only the tiniest fraction. We are alone and minuscule and our lives are over in a blink.

    All of this strikes me as terribly sad, and if I believed Someone were in charge, I could muster an argument that our awareness of vastness makes our tininess unfair.

    But here’s the thing. Literature lets us experience life through a second consciousness. For a time we share the perspective and experience of the author and his imagination. Our experience of the universe is broadened, multiplied.

    Without literature, we are all limited to our own lives. With it, we can know something of what it is to be other people, to walk in their shoes, to see the world their way.

    Literature needs no further defense than this, I would say. It is our species’s most advanced and successful technology for cheating dismal fate out of the abstract aloneness it would otherwise impose on us.

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