Monday, January 19, 2009

All Booked Up


Just another day at the office with apologies to Tracey Emin

A bird caught in a room is supposed to bring good luck. I’m more superstitious than a coven of witches on a black cat motorway so I’m inclined to read the recurring incident which I’m about to relate in a positive light. Amongst the prodigious array of wildlife that calls Seat of Pants mi casa is a pair of particularly curious sparrows. One of them is fearsomely adept at falling down my chimney while the other is skilled at screaming encouragement or calling the fire brigade. I don’t yet speak sparrow so I’m not sure which is the case. I must learn as I sure would like to be more acquainted with its motivation. Any road up, it usually happens early in the morning. The birds around here drink strong coffee if their dawn-timetabled hyperactivity is an indicator. The episode commences with a lot of screeching and scratching as the hapless creature grabs frantically at the metal circumference of the flue which, by chance, is right outside my bedroom. By the time I’ve downloaded the dishwasher and filled the mini Bodum, it’s made it to the lower storey and is pecking furiously at the glass door of my quaint cast-iron stove. Luckily for the adventurous avian, the stove is always clean. After beating down unpleasant Hitchcockian fantasies and ensuring that all windows and doors in the vicinity are wide open, I unlatch the stove door and stand back. The little bird flies to freedom. There must be a life lesson there somewhere.

Life lessons are something at which I can be relied upon to score an ‘F’. Like the sparrow, I see a chimney and am immediately overwhelmed by an instinct to dive straight in. Unlike the sparrow, I don’t have anyone waiting at the bottom to free me, although there is usually no shortage of eager attendees to show me the door in any given scenario. A lot of people these days feel as if they’re surplus to global requirements, in fact I suspect it’s one of the definitions of humanity in a world where commerce is the lingua franca. I like to think there is an alternative to the bleakness of the marketplace.

You can see from the picture of my ‘office’ above that I inhabit a universe quite apart from anything you will see in Elle Decoration or even Ikea at sale time. Having no television, I find myself frequently drawn into something called ABC Radio National which is a cross between BBC Radio 4 and a motivational tape. Fortunately, it’s more Radio 4 and is strangely heartening, not least of all because no one is badgering you to purchase air conditioning. Yesterday I was listening to one of those ubiquitous and mellifluous Americans who’ve carved a comfortable living from ego therapy explain that there is only one road to fulfilment in the post-industrial age and that is through the imagination. Suits me. I imagine much better than I do most other things.

Even an imagination as wild as mine requires occasional stimulus. Books are my weakness but they are expensive in Australia, unless of course you frequent library book sales. Modern libraries are struggling to reconcile the reading desires of the general public with their traditional role as repositories of literature. Larrikin’s Enders want car manuals, Dummies’ guides, blockbusters, romances and westerns. Consequently the monthly book sale can stock you up on former Booker and Pulitzer winners and plug the gaps in your classics collection very nicely thank you. Last week I got six books for 25c each, a discount of around 99.3% on the full retail price. One of my wise purchases is Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1989 Booker winner The Remains of the Day. This book began its public life as a donation to the shire library services from The Washingtons of Eagle Point. I know this because their name and full address has been embossed on the frontispiece using some kind of fancy letter press. Why would anyone do that and then give the book away to a municipal library? I just don’t get people sometimes. Used to be that library books had a little sheet in the front stamped with the return date which enabled you to see how many times the book had been borrowed. The bar code scanner did away with that but the desire to peruse a book’s borrowing history remains. Now there’s a grid sheet cunningly placed in the back enticing you to interact with its accompanying tome as follows,

I have read this book and this is my mark.

Mostly these grids are completed in the kind of laboriously elaborate rendition of initials and dates which signal an exacting but quite elderly individual. I’m always tempted just to etch in a shaky ‘X’ for some reason. The Remains of the Day offers an insight into its readership history in keeping with its calibre,

ELA writes,

Beautifully written, understated, wonderful!

A clearly captivated CWD contributes,

Into the mind of a faithful robot – poignant, limited, humorous and deeply sad. A fine book.

Then again, an anonymous and clearly disgruntled punter simply offers,

RUBBISH – although capitalised and double underscored, it is rendered in pencil, which suggests to me at least, a modicum of restraint.

I guess one reader’s remains is another’s detritus. Still, it’s an ill-tempered wind that doesn’t blow someone a little fortune and the library service’s quest to replace an erstwhile comprehensive collection with multiple copies of every single Clive Cussler and Catherine Cookson volume, ensures that my personal library continues to expand. In the future you’ll have to come to me if you want to read Patrick White or Elizabeth Jolley. Perhaps I’ll do a Sylvia Beach and open a subscription lending library. Nothing wrong with my imagination. Perhaps I should give thanks for that little bird too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must roll over and get back to work…