Reading is among the great loves of my life. Discovering books has brought untold happiness and joy, introduced me to the world of words, ideas and imagination and, at times, steadied my floundering ship. I was the girl who tried to read every book in the school library and the one who leapt onto a bonfire at ten to save precious hardcovers deemed outdated or unfit. I still have those books, a little tattered and blackened around the edges but safe, nearly 50 years later.
Growing up on a farm in Central Queensland and with no television, I started reading early. My world was rich in newspapers, magazines and anything else I could lay my hands on. I read labels, instructions, notes, notice boards, anything. (There were no secrets with me around). My mother was a prolific letter writer and it was always a highlight when the mail arrived. I was the first to collect it, the first to read it. Years later when home from boarding school, Mum would hand me all the letters she’d received so I could devour news of her friends and their families.
I discovered books because my parents read to me every night. I never quite knew what really happened in Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Dad changed the ending every night. Every year on my birthday I asked for a book. I still do. There’s no better gift. All through school I read a book a day. In Grade 5, my friend said my eyes would “get stuck at book distance”. She was right. By the time I was in my 20s, I was so short sighted, I couldn’t see beyond 20cm or “book distance”.
After leaving home at seventeen, books remained my companion while friends, flatmates, colleagues, boyfriends came and went. I chose handbags for their book-carrying capacity. I read on buses, planes, trains, in cafes and restaurants, at airports, on park benches, under trees, at the beach, waiting for friends, at appointments and in bed every night of my life, no matter the hour. I would have read on boats too if I wasn’t the world’s second worst sailor (Dad being the worst).
At eleven, I discovered Daphne du Maurier’s thrilling Jamaica Inn, set on the windswept Cornish coast so loved by the reclusive, introverted Daphne, and re-read it every year for the next two decades – an annual pilgrimage to Daphne. A lifetime of collecting “Daphne” includes some prized first editions, lovingly tucked into my bookcase. When I finally trundled down the cobbled mews of Fowey in 1992 – many named after Daphne’s novels or characters – I sat on the steps of a teahouse stucco-ed with seashells and wept for the beauty.
My Australian “collection” includes many classics from the golden era of Australian literature – astonishing works by Miles Franklin, Eleanor Dark, Ruth Park, D’Arcy Niland (after whom I named a dog), Katherine Susannah Prichard and Alan Marshall.
It’s impossible to choose a favourite because so many have touched my heart. I’ve sobbed, laughed, bitten my nails and read through murderous migraines. When travelling, I read books set in that destination to get a sense of the place. And inside my books, there are my own stories – twenty, thirty or forty years of memories secreted between the pages – a Brisbane theatre ticket, a Melbourne tram ticket, a London bus pass, a faded bookshop or restaurant receipt, a love letter, a note from the person who gave it to me, an inscription from the author, a record of a school or Sunday School prize awarded, a postcard from my travels, a bookmark.
My home overflows with books. I have most ever given to me – all read at least once, often twice, sometimes more. Others foraged from garage sales, fetes and fairs and passed around family and friends are now shared here with you. Please take a book, or give a book and if you feel inclined to add a little review for the next reader, please do. If you’d love to chat more about books, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I’ll look out for your words.
Your librarian (what a thrill to write that)
PS I never did read all the books in the school library. Although I diligently devoted many lunch hours for 10 years to the mission, I struck the iceberg that was the Encyclopedia Britannia collection and suddenly it was time to go to boarding school.