A Gentle Silence, Cool Breeze, And the Faint Smell Of Mildew


I visit an antiquarian book dealer once a year in Melbourne. No matter what the temperature outside – boiling or freezing – the atmosphere inside is precisely the same. See the header for the best description I can give. I am assuming the odour is the books, not the owner…

It is like being in a genteel but slightly over-decorated public library. The cataloging is precise, but the library has been supplied with a very eclectic mixture of material. There is trash alongside treasure. You can tell the two classes apart – the rubbish is highly priced and the good stuff is impossibly priced. There are carpets. And chairs. And places to prop books open. No-one has a mobile phone.

I was astounded and offended by the prices when I first discovered them – charging Christie’s prices for Folio Society stuff that turns up regularly in secondhand bookstores in Perth. I had the public library mindset. But then I looked more closely. There were gems that did not attract this sort of pricing, and if I was nonchalant about it I could get them past the basilisk at the desk without raising an alarm and get them home where they were safe…It was a game.

This has allowed me to fill out a shelf of Surtees’ hunting books as well as his society comedies. I am currently gently striding through this year’s purchase – an 1896 comic novel by a heretofore unknown  author in a 1960 reprint. It cost $ 40 and I have harvested far more than that in period phraseology in just 3 chapters. I feel as if I have had a win. I spent an hour prospecting and I’m sure it did my soul good.

I should be sad to see the demise of printed book stores, but despite the shrill predictions of the internet, I do not think that I shall be worried – bookstores are still here. I suspect they will be here long after Kindle and Amazon have been found out to be the frauds that they are and have been consigned to the remainders table of business. And after that, my bookshelf will still amuse, horrify, enrage, sooth, and titillate as well as before.

* The Book Faerie lives with Mistress Chelsea Bunz and comes out on rare occasions.


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