We ventured into a very comfy, very shabby secondhand bookshop with couches, because I had read my way through everything in the bedside pile and demolished most of a manuscript someone sent me yesterday afternoon. I am reading too much, compulsively. I’m bored. I miss the necessity to fend with the scurrilous street life of ratty Berlin. While we were browsing in the bookstore a man came in carting a tea chest full of hardcovers. He plonked it on the nearest couch and said to the guy at the till, “Enjoy.”
Within moments a lady in leashed spectacles and with very bright blue eyes had come out from behind her desk to peer inside. “Dave!” she said, sharply. “There are silverfish in these!”
Dave stopped counting out the books I had stacked on his counter and ran to lug the whole tea chest back out on the street. As the blue-eyed lady came over to serve he began opening the impaired donations on the flat of his hand and dropping them into the recycling bin.
Sixty dollars later and after my companion had grown bored and wandered further along the street I emerged with two wrinkled plastic bags full of reading material. Books about literature, books about music, books of literature… and a stack of a dozen Mills & Boons. 12 for $5.
“Ah,” he said, “you got your romance novels.”
We climbed back into my Mum’s car with our straining book bags. “Are you sure you are learning, from reading those?”
About writing? No. “I don’t learn anything from them. That’s the point. They’re my comfort reading.”
I had chosen old copies, published in the 70s and 80s, often with old bookshop stamps inside the front cover: Tweed Book Exchange, 20 cents. One was called The Kindled Fire and a previous reader had carefully filled in the T so it disappeared: He Kindled Fire. Very occasionally they’ll have spidery names inscribed on the flyleaf, Lorna, Myra, Elsie Sommers. As we roared along the curving spine of the hill I said, “I dunno. Maybe I am subconsciously learning something deep down, and one day some huge project will break the surface & get started. But I don’t think so. I think I just like them because they’re familiar. I read them by the thousand when we were kids, when we used to stay on the farm with Nanna and Pa. I would have my half-dozen Puffins that I was allowed to choose for myself every term, and once those were gone, I just read everything in sight. Nanna had fruitboxes of Mills & Boons under the beds. And I read old Womens Weeklys and Family Circles, Womens Days. Readers Digests. I was like a caterpillar, devouring everything in sight. If I ran out of books I would read recipes.” He cupped his hand round the back of my head. “My little silverfish.”