Good Reading : September 2016
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING SEPTEMBER 2016 18 � � I’d been writing the end of my father without knowing. At least that’s what it felt like when, during one of the many drafts of my novel, I received the phone call. Cured of cancer, he’d had a stroke the next day, leaving us slowly in the week that followed. He’d been helping with my novel for years by that stage. A poetry-loving economist, he’d searched for the logic of my book. ‘What is it about?’ he’d ask. I’d read tantalising scr ibbles from my research that I was certain held the answer. ‘The skin of old books, the smell of newspaper but sharper, age spots on paper, books ageing differently, ageing like humans with lives on their skins, history,’ I’d said. ‘It’s about the history held in secondhand books.’ ‘Yes, but what’s the story?’ The answer was somewhere in the secondhand shops I’d visited – The Known World Bookshop in Ballarat, and Alice’s Bookshop in Carlton North. It was somewhere in shelves aching with history, in loved copies of Dickens dusted with dreams. While writing this piece, I looked over my notes from Alice’s Bookshop. My research for fiction isn’t ordered. There are no dates; past and present blur. Time feels loose, I’ve wr itten in my journal. Without dates, I can only write that I met Ellen, then co-owner of Alice’s Bookshop, years ago. She sat behind a glass counter containing delicate books. I didn’t learn her name on that visit. I don’t learn it until I return to say I’ve finished writing my novel. By that visit, Ellen and her husband, Josh, will be living overseas, having sold the bookshop to Luke Terbutt and Selina Braine. It will be bookseller Ruth Gamble behind the counter. Ruth, who answers the question that lingers from the day I met Ellen: What does the front counter remind me of? She will tell me that the counter ‘makes the books look like cakes’, that it looks like a patisserie. With her careful way of speaking, pausing as if to pluck the words needed from the books around her, it will be Ruth who informs me of the shop’s changed history. But first there was Ellen Boyd Green, who spoke passionately about her love of ephemera, a thrilling conversation about books being vehicles for history. About her search of every book, selling them on with the memories she found still inside. After I met Ellen, I became more obsessed with secondhand books. I located my old copy of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, to see again the line drawn around Hart Crane’s quote from ‘The Broken Tower’ – ‘And so it FULLY BOOKED Cath Crowley The lives of ‘Books, like lovers or friends, mark and change us. And we, in turn, mark and change them.’ Melbourne novelist CATH CROWLEY writes about her longtime love of secondhand bookshops, and how the histories she found and imagined there led her to write Words in Deep Blue.