Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bookfest (21 June 2006)

Queensland's biggest, occupying 4 exhibition halls at the prestigious Brisbane Convention Centre, and showcasing billions of books, thousands of CDs, records, DVDs, videos and audio tapes.

We hype about it weeks before it is here, preparing lists of what to fish for. It is permanently entered into our calendar, once on Australia Day long weekend, and once, six months later, at Queen’s Birthday.

We get up at 6:00AM, although the Fest doesn’t start until 9. Parked next to the lift at 7:30AM, we wander off to the Steam CafĂ©, the only thing open for breakfast that early. It is ok in January when it is steaming hot by 7, but now it’s winter and Southbank is chilly. We absorb the hot tea and toast in silence, each one of us already lost in visions of piles of books and lines of Brisbane’s most weird population – “the obsessive readers”.

When we get back to the Centre by 8.45, they are there already. Old pensioners with magnifying glasses, gaunt ladies of the society, young students, pregnant mums with prams, hippy 60 plus, bikies in black leather and silver chains, kids with accents, parents with no English, absent-minded academics and personas that look as if they spent the night on a bench. They come dragging suitcases, shopping trolleys, carton boxes the size of 90 litre fridges, backpacks, and all kinds of containers. The lounge is already open and there is a lot of impatient shuffling in front of the huge doors, while people chat in quiet voices as if in awe of this massive amount of knowledge awaiting them behind the doors.

Then the doors open and the stampede starts. Those who can run, do so. The less lucky ones shuffle, trot, push and shove. No decorum is left as the ORs focus on their destination, like lemmings falling off the cliffs. In the midst of the shuffle I try not to lose sight of Dan’s mousey locks as she heads straight for the CDs.

It is all pre-planned. Music first, because we discovered last January that we could get some really good stuff for $4 maximum per CD. A young woman with black eyes of a hungry raven shoves tens of children CDs into her shopping trolley indiscriminately. A rather dishevelled and heavy breathing gentleman next to me asks me what I am after. I respond, “anything non-Anglo” and he wipes a SALSA record into my hand with his sweaty palm. It doesn’t have a cover and is badly scratched, but he is so earnest I have no heart to tell him that he is a moron, so I take it with a smile and deposit it a few tables later.

By the time I get to the third table the CDs are spilling out of my hands and I badly need the loo. Supporting the loot with one hand and chin I desperately feel around with the other for my mobile. I have visions of having dropped it, or left it in a public toilet (been there, done that). Aisles away, Dan sees the panic and comes running. I hand her the music, mouth out “mobile” and run out into the safety of the restrooms.

(The mobile was in the car, by the way. So no panic. I am contactable still)

Now comes the turn for books. It took us from 9.30 to 11.30 to do two of the four halls and even that just broadly because Dan is allergic to book mould (plenty of this in subtropical Brisbane) and her eyes started burning. We managed to fill in 4 large backpacks, around 50 paperbacks in total plus 30 CDs. Much less than last year, when we went in there with a large suitcase each and returned three times to fill them up, in the end having to pull down the back seats of our Volvo SW and paying over 1000$ for the pleasure of erudition. Which reminds me.

A boss decides to sack his lazy cleaning lady.
“Look, Bridget, I can write my name in the dust on this desk.”
“Can you now, Sir?” she exclaims. “Isn’t erudition a wonderful thing?”

The amount of Christian books given away is just amazing. Not books about religion, but religious books. One would think that they are read, contemplated, cherished. But no; here we have endless manuals on how to get to the good old Lord, how to pray, why bad things happen to God fearing people, etc. And the buyers are all, invariably, over 60 and often non-English speaking. When Britannia Ruled the Waves, Christianity became a fad with the minorities that accepted the British protection in the face of the national liberations movements. Displaced from their own cultural milieu, these ghosts of colonial power now hope to join Churchill and Gordon in heaven. Many of the faces reminded me of my own paternal grandmother who lost it seriously in her late sixties and early seventies and joined the Pentacostals. Her bookshelves were as full of Bible commentaries and study aides as mine were full of Islamic history and Marxist theory. She was going up to Him, I assume, while I was going back in time trying to find out why I was in the shit I was in and how best to change it.

By 11.30 we are both tired, feet hurting and eyes burning and the backpacks are very heavy. We skip the middle section on account of me being a little short on cash (I am saving for the July holidays) and decide to leave. Besides, the dogs must be crossing their legs by now.
We are very good today as we decide to delay our gratification well after lunch. So off we go to the local hangout and I stuff myself with the best bangers and mash in South East Queensland while Dan nibbles on her Ceasar salad. Then we do our shopping and return home at 3.00 PM to our loot.

Coffee cups in hand, to improve intellectual functionality, we slowly tear apart the plastic bags enclosing our dusty, mitey treasures. Chaim Potok, Thomas Mann, Thurber and Heine’s poems in original German pour onto the floor. Paul Davis and JS Gould follow, as does Van der Post and Desmond Morris. There are books on the influence of Soviet Russia on Nasser’s Egyptian politics, on theory of communication post-McLuhan, on the history of South East Asia, on Australian slang, a book by Eric Berne I have never seen before, a novel by Koestner about WWII I haven’t read; Bruno Bettlehaim and Eric Fromm and Wittgenstein and the Oxford Companion to the Mind. Theory of Law lies cover to cover with some old Marxist friends and Lessons from the Koran by some Pakistani publisher. Among the music is a good Bollywood CD and Handel’s Messiah; Cha-cha and Greek bazuki, Canto Coro, Armik and sing-along Hannuka songs; some Indian yogi incantations and Andean panpipes, to mention a few. Books get sorted slowly, as Dan gets absorbed in this book or the other. CD casings must be changed as many of them are broken. Place must be made on our ceiling-to-floor bookshelves for the new comers, and I can almost hear the oldies murmuring to each other as collections get bunched together, “Hello, matey, where have you been? We felt sooo incomplete without you.”

Finally order reigns again. We need to vacuum the place from the dust of the many hands that lovingly (or otherwise) touched each of these books before me. They have come home to rest, and as long as I live they will be safe. I am a hoarder, and I do not part with my books easily. My recurring nightmare is the fact that I have so little time left to enjoy them. I lie awake at night calculating – with the amount of work I do I can spend two hours a day reading, which is about 60 pages. I have on an average another 25 years (if my eyesight doesn’t go). That is equivalent of about 18250 hours of reading. Or 550 thousand pages. About 1800 books. ONLY. It makes it much more difficult to choose what to read and what to drop. So many books, so little time.

I am sure I’ll forget all these qualms at the next Bookfest. I am sure…

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