The old bus slowed to a complete stop this week as we heard the sad news of our dear friend and eminent children's author Max Fatchen's passing. We all have our favourite memories of Max and his gentle spirit will be missed. Max, we hope you are paddling in the sun in a better place.
This is a very beautiful, special Spring. Maybe, as a friend commented this morning, it's because of all the rain we have had. Maybe it's just a gift from the universe but it is magical to see the blossom on all the trees, the flowers everywhere in gardens and on the verges and to feel the softness in the air after winter. It brings with it the urge to clean and sort and dump unwanted/uneeded stuff. I have no idea why but spring cleaning is a real phenomenon in my house. My own version of this has been to sort my bookshelves and as I have been doing this I have reflected on just how much work books really are in my life.
Owning books requires one to house them somewhere - obviously - and this requires furniture and the takeup of space. Since I have a small house, not wishing to burden the universe with my heating and cooling bills, my space is limited. The books take up rather a large proportion of it. Not only that but they get dusty. I have to clean the shelves and the books themselves and not being a perfect housekeeper this can be a big chore when I do finally get to it. Then once a year I need to cull. Take some off the shelves and donate them to the Lion's bookshop which is where a lot of them came from in the first place. This process is very time consuming. I am a reluctant culler of books, possibly because I have trouble identifying what I may never want to read again. After all,I got the books in the first place because I wanted to own them, right? It is easiest with what I would describe as fast fiction. Books that are just time fillers; the sort you leave behind in the holiday house or hotel because to take it further is a waste of your bag space. Patricia Cornwell, Maeve Binchy, Robert Ludlum; books of that ilk get culled mercilessly. But all the rest undergo a patient scrutiny that can make the job a very long one indeed and since I have a habit of using anything to hand as a bookmark I first have to flick the book open to see what might be hidden between the pages.
Recently I was helping Emily Rodda, aka Jenny Rowe prepare for the Blue Mountains book sale she and a friend organise each year. This involves wiping each book carefully with Mr Sheen (who'd have thought?) and following this with a flick of the pages. The most fascinating things flick out sometimes. Death notices, photographs, newspaper review cuttings. We looked at what people had culled from their collections - rather a lot of the aforementioned style of works made up the bulk - but there were also a great number of the coffee table style of book that appears to have gone out of fashion. The sort that have been 'hand made' by Chinese workers applying top and tail bands, ribbons, sticking down the hard covers. The kind that don't fit on any ordinary presses. I was soon lost in thought about the place all those books had once occupied in the lives of their owners. Some so well-worn they were barely holding together. Others looking as thought they had never been opened.
All this reflection leads me to the 21st century's recent offering to book lovers - the e-book. No shelving. No dusting Heartless culling at the flash of a finger because, probably, the hard drive is full, and anyone can write one which means - what? Definitely it has led to bookstores closing down so fast the books haven't had time to leave their cartons. Is literature is being debased by things like FSOG becoming a multi zillion best seller? Should we worry that now anyone can write a book without the aid of an editor or publisher? Does anyone care about standards in literature anymore or are we all keen to leave those rubbishy books behind in cyberspace, hidden forever from dust, needing no shelves, taking up no room in our homes or our hearts?
I return to my floor, my enormous pile of dusty books. I replace them, dusting as I go, one by one.
Turns out I haven't got any unwanted books this year.
I eye the bookcase. It's not so big really; a very good friend like this doesn't take up a lot of space my in life when I think about it. And besides, my grandchildren have so much fun pulling the books off the shelves.
I think I will try the kitchen cupboards next. I'm sure I'll find at least two veggie peelers I dont want.
The spring air has warmed up the vegie oil in the ol' bus and we are jugging along at our top speed (a leisurely stroll) as we head into the best book-buying time of year (yes, it's time to talk Christmas in the retail world). Let's have a peek, shall we?
Following the success of Clancy the Courageous Cow comes a new picture book by the talented Lachie Hume. It doesn't matter how many times you (have to) read it, 'haystation' is always funny.
Speaking of Christmas (sorry, I mentioned it again), if you have to make an early purchase to post to a small person overseas, The Giftby Penny Matthews (illustrated by Martin McKenna) would make a super neat package.
For the bigger young people, we have the incomparable, inimitable Be Home for Armageddon by Luke Edwards. Guaranteed wackiness.
And for the history buffs, the latest from the ever-mysterious LS Lawrence, Hammering Iron. In this novel set in ancient Greece, Paramon's destiny is to discover a secret that will change everything, a secret that men will not hesitate to kill for ...
And that's not all! Check back soon for more lovely, lovely picture books and summer reading!