I’ve just bought a large box of books. Weight and space prevented me from buying more. I had to limit myself to what would fit into my box on wheels – a yellow plastic cube with detachable wheels and an extendible handle. I used to take a jaunty back-pack to work, then moved to a smart faux-leather computer case on wheels when my back played up. Now I don’t care how bizarre I look with my travelling cube – it holds more.
The biennial university book sale is on for four days. Tables groan with books that are replenished, as soon as some are taken, from full boxes stored underneath. An eclectic smorgasbord of donated books is offered, sufficient to satisfy all tastes, from popular novels and magazines, to art, history, philosophy, economics and science. Most are only two dollars – and on the final day, it’s ten dollars a box. Where else could you find a fifty year old copy of Manning Clark’s History of Australia, signed by the author ‘With thanks for showing me Brisbane,’ for eight dollars? Anarchic titles, such as Icelandic Gothic Architecture or Witches, Whores and Rogues abound. It’s recycling with style. What bibliophile could resist?
My current problem is making space for the new comers. I need to give away a box of books I already own. It’s necessity rather than choice. We have ten bookcases already, all of them full, plus there’s the dangerously teetering pile next to my bed. I like to categorise my books – roughly. There’s one bookcase for favourite authors, another for books I want to read soon – the overflow from the bedside. There’s two for novels, alphabetical by author, one for history and art and travel, others for philosophy, women, writing, research, and one that houses poems, short story or essay collections. No I’m not anal. Reluctantly at first, I categorised them after decades of time-wasting searches for a book I knew I had, to check a story, a line, a hunch. It’s still a loose arrangement . This new one by Susan Sontag could go into one of five bookcases – novels, philosophy, women, favourites or read now.
Obviously I can’t read the content of the box all at once, but I need to get the feel of each book before shelving it. So I’m sitting on the floor, surrounded by small stacks of books. I’m browsing – a leisurely activity – more spot reading than speed reading. I look at the covers, the beginnings and endings. David Malouf said at writers festival once that he chooses a book by reading the first and final sections and seeing if there is any interesting character development. He did add that he wouldn’t recommend it as a method.
Reading at random openings or following interesting chapter titles is an intriguing process. It’s not real reading of course, but it’s a little like wine tasting – some ideas hit the spot. There’s often a link in a book – an idea, a story, an era – that throws light on a problem I’m wrestling with. Browsing in this way is like being awash with ideas. They stream – flood into my brain. I’m drowning in books.
Then it occurs to me, as I sit, wrapt by this sea of words and ideas. I’m not drowning in books; my book constructions are a raft, taking me to places unseen and unexpected, lifting my spirits, engaging my imagination and determination to act in the world .