Good Reading : June 2015
GOOD READING JUNE 2015 53 BOOK BITE central Australia. She was living in a hostel and going to high school in the 400-kilometre-away town from where her mother worked on the national park. They saw each other occasionally but the daughter spoke only English – the language her mother had needed to save her, but didn’t have. One day I gave the mother a lift to town. She asked me to stop at the high school. I waited behind the wheel as she walked up and down behind the fence watching the children playing on the red dirt oval. I saw her motion with her hands and a tall girl wearing purple sneakers kicked her way across to us. The mother put the girl in the back seat and told me to drive out of town to the east. We drove for several hours along the bitumen then we left the road and picked our way slowly along a dry creek bed. We passed through a stand of desert oaks. The mother began to hit the heel of her hand rhythmically against the dashboard. She started to sing in her language. The mother was singing the country to her daughter – reading the story of the landscape to her. I looked in the rear-view mirror. The daughter sat slumped over her Walkman, tracing the little plastic sprocket at its centre with her nail-polished finger. She was wearing her headphones; she was deaf to the story. I read so I didn’t have to see what was in front of me. This was nothing new. As a teenager I used reading as a weapon against my mother. I chose books on the basis that she couldn’t pronounce the name of the author. The Russians got a good go – Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Solzhenitsyn. And I liked thickness. Great dense loaves of books that made my mother’s Georgette Heyers and Mills & Boons look like white bread slices. We were a television house, not a book house. The great writers of my family’s heyday were TV comics like Dave Allen and the Two Ronnies. My father’s only books were car servicing manuals and a couple of leather-bound Dickens he had bought in a junk shop just before we left England. My father figured he’d make a serious profit by selling the second-hand Dickens in Australia. Three months later, when our shipping container arrived, my father was already an Australian. I unwrapped the books from our winter sheets and placed them on a shelf in my bedroom where they gave off an unmistakable smell of England – of gravy. I read to protect myself against the dark. During the day I told the tour ists about the rich nocturnal life of the desert. I described pythons chaining across the cooling sands, bilbies emerging from their burrows to feed in the starlight, owls coasting on thermals between the dunes. But the nights inside Carrie Tiffany As a teenager I used reading as a weapon against my mother. I chose books on the basis that she couldn’t pronounce the name of the author.