Book Blurbs: No. 1.
I have often wondered why I’m addicted to crime fiction.
I am not into the hard boiled stuff, or serial killer genre—I leave that to David—but love the mystery genre, the bright spark sleuths, the police teams where intuition plays as much a part as skill.
My guilty pleasure is to put away the reference books and the edifying history tomes to dip into something slushy and escape for a day or two into a well crafted crime novel. The penny dropped the other day. David had been at our lock up, moving boxes, emptying others, pulling our books long stored. He opened a box of kids books and out tumbled Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators (not really all of them, just their books). I had of course devoured all as a child, including The Secret Seven, Famous Five and Five Find-outers and Dog. How could I not be enamoured of crime books as an adult!
And if my childhood reading had such a significant impact on my adult life, so too did my childhood love of book lists. When I was at school, a company called Ashton Scholastic sent around lists to subscribing schools and the students would select what they wanted from the catalogues. Parents would then send in a little cheque and voila! a stack of books would turn up every month or so. I loved receiving those catalogues, reading the book blurbs and then choosing which ones I wanted to read. My mother loved reading and she never stinted on my catalogue selections. Perhaps too, as my siblings were not overly interested in reading, she had enough funds to cover the selections for just one avid reader.
To my dying day I will be grateful to my mother for providing me with lots of books, constantly! Even as a littlie, she weekly bought me a Little Golden Book when doing the groceries. They were only 20c in those days and the supermarket stocked them on spinners I think, near the checkout so kind (or harried, with screaming children) mums could select a title at the last moment and pop it into the trolley. As I grew older, Mum donated to me all her own childhood books (most, now, alas gone) and kept me well supplied at birthday and Christmas times. I remember one Christmas receiving a big suitcase full of books! All read by the end of the long holidays, just in time for my birthday and a new supply. And whenever a new Enid Blyton came out, it would appear in my book case—oh yes, I had my own special bookcase, made by Uncle John. Still have it, by the way, although, in a house of built-ins, it is now used for CDs.
On our holiday of a life time to Surfers Paradise when I was nine, Dad took my brother and sister to the beach while Mum and I trailed through all the bookshops looking for more Enid Blytons for my collection. All gone now. I had left them in storage at my grandparents when I grew out of them and they went all mouldy so Dad had to turf them. I have never replaced them. And I have never forgotten those mother/daughter forays into bookshops, looking for another elusive title. Guess I still have that in me: as a bookseller, we are always on busman’s holidays/weekends off in other bookshops.
Mum was a great reader and passed her passion to me. She always had her nose in a book. As do I. I often gave her books as gifts and, as we had similar taste, I would read it first, leaving a little Vegemite stain (I was and am a Vegemite kid) and my personal guarantee that all the words were there. I can no longer pass them on to her but I have a friend who, like me is a voracious reader, and in many things our tastes coincide so, if I think she will like something, I put it in ‘her pile’. Sometimes, I even find myself choosing books deliberately because I know she will like them! It is wonderful to share something with someone you know will appreciate it.
Dad too, had an important place in my childhood reading. He was in charge of the bedtime story. My favourite was The Taxi That Hurried—one of those Little Golden Books!—and he had to read it over and over again. When I was five and had to have my tonsils out, he even came to the hospital each night to read it. One night, I slept through his visit and missed my story. I awoke and howled, ‘I want my Dad, and he has to read my story!’ Poor Nurses. 9.30 p.m. and all should have been quiet on the children’s ward, with visiting hours long over. But still I howled so they rang Dad and told him to get there on the double ‘to shut that kid up’. He did. He read my story. I shut up and went to sleep, happy.
When he died a few years ago I desperately wanted a copy of The Taxi because of the memories it kindled . Luckily, David found a copy soon enough at a market stall. I was in seventh heaven but, as I read it, I recalled not one single word, nor one image of my long ago favourite. But that did not matter, I had it. Until one of my friends (not the one I share books with) had a child and I thought it should go to the home of someone who would appreciate a much loved story. But then I regretted my decision and when the child had outgrown that sort of story, I screwed up my courage and asked for it back. The mother could not even remember it. I was devastated. But David found another copy at a fête. Better condition and now treasured, never to be parted with, even if it is the last story book in the world and every child of my acquaintance is clamouring for it. (David even found a version of the story record and book, you may recall the sort of thing when Tinkerbell sounds her little bell, turn the page. They are both on my bookcase.)