I’m hopeless at buying books. There’s no research. No book club for direction. No reviews clipped and saved for future reference. I don’t listen to Oprah or The Guardian or even the lifestyle bloggers who seem to squeeze 20 book readings into every month between charity dinners, product launches and pedicures. So when I find myself in a bookstore it’s a potluck scenario.
Today Ben, Annie, Chelsea and I drove to Newfarm then walked along the river into the city, which felt like it was flying at half-mast. People were out shopping and eating ice-cream, but it all felt a bit grim.
Three months ago Howard Smith Wharf buzzed with people having picnics on the grass and drinks overlooking the river. Now it’s empty, with yellow tape cordoning off outdoor dining areas like they’re a crime scene. In the mall, some larger stores have mask-clad staff checking customers’ temperatures as they file in. Restaurants serve 10 diners a-piece, leaving tables empty while people wait at the threshold, like orphans holding out their bowls for a ladle of gruel.
Ben and I had a takeaway coffee from a favourite café in the Tattersalls Arcade. We shared a toasted panini, standing, and looked through the windows of all the closed shops. Hunt Leather was open, so I went inside to say hello. They told me business has been brisk the last few days, with some people buying luggage. That’s optimism.
I didn’t need to shop. My life is not short on stuff, certainly not books, but I went to a bookstore anyway, hoping to buy comfort or distraction. I wandered the aisles, blissfully unconcerned about social distancing for a while, eventually deciding to explore work by venerated photographers. But the art section couldn’t deliver, offering a slim selection and only fashion photography, which is not my bag.
Instead, I grabbed a handful of random volumes and a jigsaw puzzle of Frida Kahlo. I chose titles that tickled my fancy with pretty covers and comfortable content. I scanned the jackets for independent reviews but these, unsurprisingly, were rare. As most media outlets have slashed arts coverage, not all books can expect to be reviewed. Instead, publishers plaster their back covers with glowing endorsements by other novelists, which all sound suspiciously sycophantic.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams is about, well, words and why they matter, which is something that interests me. The book has been given a big thumbs up by author Tom Keneally, so it must be good. Endorsements aside, it’s an Australian woman’s first novel so I’ll read it out of solidarity.
Geoffrey Robertson is neither a woman nor a first-time author and hardly in need of book sales. But art and its appropriation is another issue close to my heart and I can’t wait to read Who Owns History.
The recipe book? My shopping buddy Chelsea chose it. She’s been drooling over sauces with radicchio and gorgonzola and the like all evening. I’m looking forward to seeing the transformation of these recipes from the page to my plate.
As for the book with the yellow cover, that gem is for Annie, who’s wedged firmly in the doldrums and needs some assistance digging her way out. I found this title in the Humour section, not Self-Help, and I’m hoping it will do the trick.