Of Alex Miller and Christopher Hitchens

 

Helvi Oosterman

I’m missing my books, they are physically here, in milk crates and sturdy boxes, stacked high in the garage of my temporary dwelling, but I can’t get to them without disturbing the equilibrium of our possessions waiting to be transported to our permanent abode in three months time.

It’s not only the books I’m missing but also the simple white built-in book cases, we had on the farm. One wall in the family room was ‘sacrificed’ to our old and most faithful friends, books. The bedroom shelves were a home for books in process, not to be written but to be read.

This small townhouse is easy to heat, we have nice neighbours, the living room is cosy and sunny, enough rooms to house the grandsons during school holidays, a garden for Milo, and not too far from shops, coffee lounges and libraries. This will do for us but I find myself complaining about the lack of shelving. The second bathroom eats up too much of the space; a space that I could use to put up a bookcase, however temporary. I’m totally unfair, and find the handy floor-to ceiling shelving in the laundry irritating. I’m even angry about the dishwasher: What’s wrong about using the kitchen sink!

What an unreasonable woman, I hear Daughter muttering to her dad behind my back, fancy complaining about a dishwasher when there are so people who are homeless. Thank god the little boys are outside on their bikes; otherwise they would join in with their homilies: Don’t you know Oma that the poor African children don’t even have books.

I’m fair enough to realise that family is right and that I’m being totally selfish, or did I hear the word ‘childish’. Looks like I have some explaining to do. See, I promised not to buy any more books, life’s too short and it’s time to downsize, libraries are pleasant places, I’ll swap my existing books with family members and friends, and I’ll have enough reading material till the end of my days.

All those promises were made when I was in the middle of the moving, when I was tired and fed-up just looking at yet another box waiting to be filled. Now it’s different, I’m close to shops selling new, second hand, and even antique books; I’m an hour away from my favourite flea markets, those Meccas for book addicts like myself.

I give up, I have a low chest of drawers next my bed, it has a good reading light, ear-rings, bottles of perfumes (some never used= wrong choice of Mother’s day present),last week-end papers, a writing pad and other such things sitting on it. I clear it all away sniffling a bit, no, I’m not crying, I have the flu, I leave only the lamp. I now have room for at least five or six stacks of books, I’m cheering up.

I have finished the Updike memoirs, so I place Hitchens’ Hitch-22, a memoir, carefully on top of it. Some other lovely finds in between and on top, the one I have to read in more or less in one session: Alex Miller’s Lovesong. It’s beautifully written by an older Australian author, it’s hard cover, and what a cover!

The jacket is so eloquent that seeing it you almost believe that you CAN judge the book by its covers; in Alex Miller’s case, you can. Now I have to get the rest of his books…

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