Thursday, 12 January 2012

Old Movies, New Books....

You've Got Mail was on TV last night. It's a weird and spooky thing that there have been so many book related happenings around me since I started this blog. The reality is, they're probably always happening around me, it's just that my awareness of them is heightened.

I do love that movie though. I first saw it in the cinema with a friend who lived next door to me at the time and we went because of our habit of leaving each other notes tucked into each other's respective front doors when the other was out. He's one of the few people I know (including myself) who still writes letters - on pieces of paper, in envelopes, addressed by hand, stamped and sent through the post. While it is a delightful romcom - and what's not to like about Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks??? - there is the underlying story of the independent bookshop up against the big mega bookshop chain. I can't remember exactly when Borders first hit Australia, but clearly it's what Fox Books in the movie is based on - with the couches, armchairs and cafe, in addition to the many, many books in stock. I found it ironic to reflect, while watching the movie last night, on the recent demise of Borders. For all the justification of greater stock availability, better prices and more discounts, it seems that bigger doesn't necessarily mean longevity. Obviously, there are probably whole bookcases of factors behind Borders going under, but while the convenience of their stores was undoubtedly a plus, I have to admit I gave a cheer for the small independent bookshops who would benefit.

Our local bookshop is called Oscar and Friends. My second admission of the day has to be that I was there earlier today...and my bookcases have a new resident. This book is a kind of blind date, in that it doesn't actually have a blurb. But, based on the small bites from the reviews on the back cover and that it is an English translation from the original Hebrew of a new book about contemporary Israel, and I'd been craving something new and Jewish, I bought it. It was also under $30 and over 300 pages, so that's excellent value for money!

Oscar and Friends isn't a large shop. It's on a corner, opposite my favourite local cafe. It has a couple of very comfy armchairs tucked in between the bookcases, and a tiny table and chairs in the middle of the children's section - which is mostly furnished with child height bookcases. There are no plastic carry bags for your purchase, the staff ask whether you would like a paper bag for your new books. And, they have a loyalty card, so you get a discount after you've bought ten books. The stock is eclectic - there is a small supply of best sellers, but there is always a selection of really interesting unexpected offerings, like the book I bought today, A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev.

I'm still reading Timepieces. I'm forcing myself to take my time with it for a change, instead of gobbling madly. Now that I'm back at work, the pace of my time has increased by some horrible increment, and the imminent move doesn't help the sense of urgency in each day, so moving gently through Modjeska's elegant prose is a way of slowing down and taking the time to savour the care with which it was written.

Kathleen - Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail says when you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity like no other reading does. I have a handful of titles like that: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hobbit, The Silver Sword, Black Beauty, Seven Little Australians and The Silver Brumby. But I don't know that that experience is necessarily confined to childhood. Maybe it's just that I've read compulsively all my life, but at every point of my life, in amongst the piles of books I've worked my way through, there have been some books that have had significant impact - that now form the backbone of my collection. Perhaps it's a legacy of having a mind that can immerse itself totally in the book I'm reading at the time, inhabiting the world of the narrative, becoming part of someone else's story - and sometimes, that is an experience that remains long after finishing a particular book.

Reading Timepieces is a bit like that. I've just read the essay where Modjeska writes about reading Poppy, her autobiographical novel that explores her relationship with her mother. My mother gave me my copy of Poppy, it was the first of Modjeska's books I read. I wrote reams in the journal I was keeping at the time in response to what I was reading, including repeatedly pondering about why exactly my mother had given me that particular book. We never really did have that conversation so I'll never know if she had some underlying motivation other than to gift me a beautiful book. Reading the back story in the essay is fascinating. It's not often we are privileged to get a glimpse of what is behind a book.

I still have this week's assignment to wrap up - nearly there, but not quite - and there is packing to start thinking about. But, there will be necessary down times and now that I have a new book waiting to be explored, I feel as if - imminent chaos notwithstanding - all is well with my world!

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