My lifelong love affair with books started with non-other than Noddy. I was six years old and had just learned to read. The little Noddy books were sold cheaply at newsagents and were more like tiny, stapled magazines using large print than real books. Still, I treasured my hero with his blue hat driving his red and yellow car. I read the same stories over and over under the doona when I should have been asleep. My torch was stowed under my pillow and was retrieved the moment I thought the coast was clear. There was something delicious about my clandestine reading, like sucking on a boiled sweet and making it last as long as possible.
I didn’t have many books as a child, and I treasured each one I was given. Within them, I could go to faraway places, join a heroine on her quest and experience a life completely different to my own. Movies were fun but they ended far too quickly. I liked to savour the story and let my imagination take me places. I loved that I could travel in time, forwards and back and sometimes to magical kingdoms where laws of nature didn’t apply. I could be swept away on a magic carpet, see a genie emerge from a bottle or be brought back to life by a kiss.
Even back then, I dreamt of having my own library. My first attempt to make this dream a reality came when the librarian at Elwood Central culled some books at the end of the year. She sold them at $5 a box. I scraped together my pocket money and carted my haul home. I don’t remember much about the books but there was one on African animals that had an elephant embossed on the front cover. I ran my finger over that elephant as if I were reading Braille.
In my 20s I was lucky to work in a bookshop for several years. I remember my first pay packet. Half of it went back into the till, notwithstanding the 10% staff discount. ‘Don’t worry, this happens at the beginning. You’ll become more discerning,’ my boss Margaret said, as I walked away with an armful of books. She was both right and wrong. I did become more discerning but that didn’t stop me from spending money on the books I loved.
Later, when I went to university and read German authors, I yearned to add their books to my shelves. I began to go overseas regularly and always came back with a large number of books. Back in the 1980’s, I posted them using a now defunct postal discount that applied to printed matter only. It made sending books anywhere in the world affordable. Once back in Australia, I collected parcel after parcel of books I had found in bookshops or flea markets. Opening these boxes, after a twelve-week journey by sea, was always a delight. I could barely remember what I had packed in the boxes and surprises always awaited me.
Like Umberto Eco, I haven’t read every book in my library. I often buy a book because I know, one day, I will want to read it and by then it may not be readily available. I have an eclectic taste in reading and love that I will never run out of reading material or ideas to explore. Like Umberto Eco, I value my unread books as they symbolise infinite possibilities and remind me of just how little I know.
5 thoughts on “Books”
Lovely! Simply lovely.
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I love this – you see those shelves as full of possibilities! I see books as conquerors – I want some to go away – but I lack the willpower to do a savage cull!
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Have you read any of Stefan Zeig’s novels or short stories? As we were travelling through Eastern Europe, I happened upon his works and loved them. I went in search of his home in Salzburg and finally found it just as it closed. Nonetheless., we walked around the terrace and enjoyed the view that Stefan described.
I love your writing.
I loved Noddy and also Famous 5 !! pleasures start young…my mother was opposed to Enid Blyton as libraries in Oz started banning her books ! such a disappointment for me..Nice memory depiction Viki
I’m surprised. I saw a young boy borrowing a copy of The Famous Five just last year. When did Australian libraries ban Enid Blyton and why, I wonder. I used to love her books.