Skip to content

The pile on the bedside shelf

How do you choose the next book you want to read?  The majority of mine are currently being selected from either: (a) a pile I put aside when we were putting the rest into mid-term storage (while we’re living with family) — I saw this as a good opportunity to force my hand and try to make myself read books that had been on my to-read list for ages; or (b) a stack I bought at the last second-hand book fair run by Lifeline (a biannual event, and man can you score there!).  I have a massive to-read list at present, even limiting myself to those two sources.

When I’m buying books second-hand, I’m far more likely to take a punt on a writer I’ve never heard of, or a book I know nothing about; I guess it’s because financially there’s less at stake (I’m a genius).

Carefully-orchestrated pic of my bedside reading

Carefully-orchestrated pic of my bedside reading

But there may be more to it: in second-hand bookshops, and along the groaning tables of the Lifeline Book Fair, books are just books.  I find, whenever I’m in regular bookshops — uh, first-hand bookshops? — I’m overwhelmed and disoriented and a little surprised to find books at all.  I admit, upfront, that I hate shopping and I hate malls and therefore am usually tensed up and crankypants by the time I even get to a first-hand bookshop, so that might have something to do with my overall negative perspective on such places.  But as far as I can tell, first-hand bookshops are always swimming with advertising paraphernalia, posters and danglies from the ceiling, and huge intimidating towers of books with their authors strutting all over the covers, toothily grinning and insisting upon their authority.  It’s sensory overload.  The cash registers are nearly hidden behind stacks of twee spontaneous gift ideas, like magnets or precious tiny books of quotes or wry little books of sayings and cartoons, or tiny boxed “kits” of the giftish variety.  Racks and racks of whatever is on the Top 10 list at present, instructing a bewildered and overwhelmed public as to what they Should Be Reading. Oy, I’m breaking out in hives just thinking about it.  I think that’s why I like the second-hand places so much more: the books are priced and then distributed according to subject matter then author’s surname, and, well, that’s kind of it.  The rest is left up to the tides.  What comes in and what gets sold are not predicated by pushers and sales reps, but by luck and circumstance. That kind of appeals to my romantic side: the fact that I was able to score Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma yesterday at the second-hand bookshop thrilled me to pieces, because it was so unexpected and statistically fairly unlikely, so there’s a sense of treasure discovered.  I wonder who finished it and passed it on?  I’m grateful to them.

I chose three books at the second-hand bookshop yesterday: the aforementioned Pollan, a book of Sylvia Plath’s poems, and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.  I’ve heard a lot of excellent things about The Year of the Flood, Atwood’s most recent novel, and as I cast my dusty, steam-and-gear-powered memory back to Year 12, I recall reading The Handmaid’s Tale.  I really liked The Handmaid’s Tale: it stayed with me and gave me a lot to think about.  So why, I am astonished to ask myself, have I not pursued Atwood’s stuff further?  To that end, I sought her titles out at the shop and procured Alias Grace, more or less at random.  It was only after I left the shop that I realised I had my first introduction to Sylvia Plath in Year 12 as well.  I remember liking some of the imagery, but I rejected a lot of it outright, in keeping with a fairly well-established and easy-to-find bias against modern poetry — indeed, most modern arts — that some of my family and peers carried. It was easy to conform to that, so I did so, and I fear that I may have deprived myself of years of fantastic reading.  So now I’m reinvestigating her stuff.   I think, just between you and me and the rest of the Internet, this is the first book of poetry I’ve bought off my own bat — not as a required text for a course or anything like that.  Huh, fancy that.

When one of your dilemmas in life is selecting which of many interesting books you will read next, life’s pretty fine. I still feel as though I am rediscovering reading: I want to hold books up to people and ask if they knew about this strange new technology or witchcraft. It’s pretty sweet.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *