In praise of secondhand bookshops and/or the search for the perfect book

Yesterday I was feeling out of sorts and terribly restless after a miserable Friday night so Saturday morning I was on a mission. I had to find the perfect book to keep me company. I wanted John Berger and I wanted him now, namely Here is Where We Meet: a story of Crossing Paths. I love the title. Obviously. (If this isn’t obvious see About Me).

Did my two local libraries have it? No! So off I went to Rice’s Bookshop, an institution in Newcastle, now in its 43rd year of trading. They didn’t have any of Berger’s books but I did find Rupert Brooke: Life, Death & Myth by Nigel Jones. God knows when I will get to read it as it is 461 pages long but it looks much more approachable than another biography I have of the famous poet, the man who many people considered to be the most beautiful in England.

Brooke has fascinated me for a long time and in 1997, after I read a collection of his poems, in particular his last entitled Fragment, he began to haunt my thoughts for weeks. Eventually I exorcised him by writing a long poem entitled Conversation with a Dead Poet.

Anyway, no Berger but a good book to read. Undeterred I headed off to Indigo Books further up Hunter Street. There I found a number of Berger’s but not the one I wanted. The excellent To the Wedding was there but I have read that and there were two others that didn’t interest me and were not the perfect book for a grey Autumn Day.

I  did find three possible contenders though, all short books and two authors unknown to me. The three books I bought from Indigo were another Ian McEwan,The Comfort of Strangers, one of his early ones; Waiting for Leah by Arnost Lustig, a Czech author writing about a Nazi prison camp in northern Bohemia in 1944; and The Quartet by Francois Emmanuel, a writer and psychiatrist from Belgium. One of his novels won the Prix Victor Rossel. This novel is about a sinister dossier and the links between big business and the darkest hour of Europe. Thank God for secondhand bookshops.

You will – eventually – find my reviews of all four on goodreads, the three short ones in the not too distant future. (Reviews done 31/5/12).


I hate Microfilm readers!

Firstly, I can never feed the film on and get it started. It takes me forever. I am not very co-ordinated and as I struggle with the stupid reel I feel like I’m back at school. Secondly I need the print quite large so I spend my time going up and down each page so I don’t miss anything. And guess what? After half an hour of winding and bobbing up and down I’m suffering from motion sickness. So, not surprisingly, I only lasted an hour reading the October and November issues of the Newcastle Sun, 1917 yesterday morning but found a lot to giggle over.

One of my favourite things is something called Men and Women Personal Paragraphs with snippets of information such as: “Mr and Mrs Penny returned to Newcastle from Inverell today.” Or try this one: “Mr and Mrs  P Gordon Campbell of Mayfield are spending a short holiday in Inverell.” Good to know!

And then there are strange ads for weird things like Fishers Phospherine, the Misses Tidey and Tinsley selling hats, Parisian Designed Frocks. Yes please. (Actually they didn’t look bad). There was a Mme Petrona in the movie The Panther Woman which sounds like it might give Sex and the City a run for its money and a news item entitled “Twice married woman thought husband dead.” I suppose she thought it was worth a try!

By this time I’m totally over the dreaded microfilm readers and haven’t found any ads for two cafes I know existed in Newcastle in 1922 – Tyrrells and Mitchisons. No more torturing myself on the reader. Instead next Saturday I’m going to do some research old style. I’m going to be flipping through newspaper clipping books, turning the pages leisurely and not listening to the crank of a microfilm reader.

Thank God for the snippers club at the Newcastle Family History Society at Lambton. They are a group of enterprising women who meet, chat and patiently snip out domestic and miscellaneous newspaper articles from the Newcastle Morning Herald and other local papers. Yes, I’m going there next Saturday morning and you might not hear from me again for weeks. After all I went there two years ago looking for the New Moon Dance Club who hosted the 1930 New Year’s Eve Dance Party at the Trades Hall in Newcastle and instead stumbled upon an article about a lost silver purse that inspired my current work in progress!