We line up, buzzing in anticipation, clutching our gold coin donation. People wander by murmuring; wonder what’s going on here?
It’s the annual Rotary book sale.
Only the book lover can understand the thrill of the hunt.
I eye off a guy leaving with a handful of books, did he take all the good ones? I remind myself that one of the joys of reading is the huge spectrum of genres and tastes and he’s got a dark and angsty pile of ‘Game of Thrones’ books anyway. Meh.
A woman behind me is chatting to a friend on the phone. ‘I heard a quote that reading books and collecting books are two very different activities!’ She says with a laugh. I turn around and nod profusely, thinking about all the strays, the books at home sitting on the shelf, unread. Like countries you’ve been meaning to visit.
We chat about reading, blogging, studying writing. Finally, we reach the front of the line.
An army of the elderly stand, COVID-safe proffering hand sanitiser, free canvas bags to fill with books and a bucket for your gold coin. I walk into the room packed with tables piled high with books. Cardboard boxes nestle under the tables bursting with books; the vaguely musty smell of unopened books, weathered by years of dust.
Rotary members scuffle by, neatening book tables, replenishing empty spots. I start browsing, systematically, so as not to miss anything.
There’s always a bunch of Marian Keyes with bright pink and red covers, a tonne of ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ and ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (of which I have zero desire to read). There’s the thriller section, with all black spines with bright red titles, mainly written by men.
The room thrums with the weight of a billion words. Whole worlds contained within the pages, spilling out from the imaginations of solitary people slaving away over a computer. What a joy, to have these talismans at our fingers, taking us far from the normal, ordinary drudgery of life into strange new worlds.
“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” Anna Quindlen
I pick up ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, Helen Garner’s ‘House of Grief’ and a Bill Bryson book on trekking the Appalachian Trail. I’m drawn to non-fiction; in awe of writers who can paint the real world with vivid strokes, take me to real places I might not have the chance to see.
I fell in love with Helen Garner at university; ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation’ was on the reading list. I was never interested in true-crime but Garner deftly weaves the story, characters and her own relentless curiosity of people who are pushed to the edge into something addictive. She’s honest about her biases and intuition. It’s a little like sitting through a harrowing court trial with a witty, sharp-eyed friend.
I shuffle past people, self-conscious of my protruding belly, painfully aware of how much more space I’m taking up.
It’s usually around this time of pregnancy, that rather than buying new quilts, cushions and candles, I find myself lining the shelves with new and exciting books that will spark some neurons while my tired, sore body is nursing a new baby. I hope to expand the world in my brain as the world around my body shrinks to the size of our living room.
It’s optimistic, I know.
There’s a gazillion studies on women’s brains and the tectonic shifts that take place once a baby arrives. All unnecessary information is pushed out to enable laser-like attention on this new human.
But I take comfort from other people’s words on the transformative effect of motherhood. I know from experience that my writing and reading life bloom under even greater restrictions of time.
“…since becoming a mother, when I did write it was as though a million subterranean channels had sprouted and multiplied within…suddenly I was broken open-alive to my life in all its colossal beauty and horror.” Rachel Power
I spot books which cause such a deep well of love to bubble up, I want to grab a stranger and shove it into their hands. ‘Have you read The Opposite of Loneliness’!? Just buy it. It’ll change your life.’
Since having my daughter, I read books differently; perhaps the words are coursing through new subterranean channels, exposed by the vulnerability of having your ‘heart walk around outside your body’.
I feel stories about family relationships; a parent’s ache, resonating through chambers of my heart I didn’t even know were there.
I work my way through picking up a few more: Girt (an unauthorised but apparently very funny Australian history), The Weekend by Aussie author Charlotte Wood, a collection of short stories by Anita Desai and 1984 by Orwell because I can’t remember who I lent my last copy to.
Babies might make you take leave of your intellect for a time, but they plant you deeply in the present moment. When you’re elbow-deep in milk and nappies and a haze of sleeplessness, it’s difficult to be anywhere else.
I clutch these books like a lifeline to my brain. I know the fog will pass yet I still brace myself for it. I remind myself that the newborn haze is only for a period of time, and the books will still be there when I emerge.
And when I do emerge, it will be with an even deeper connection to the physical world and tangible evidence of love as laboured through the body in childbirth and the long, lonely nights of feeding.
I leave the building with two large bags bulging with titles and realise that I’m stuck-I came here on foot and they’re too heavy to carry home. I sit and flick through a book while I wait for my husband and toddler to come by with the pram so I can load them up and take them home.
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