Thursday, 20 March 2008

A Few Days in the Life of a Bookseller

I'd like a bookshelf for every time I've heard the words, "I'd like to work in a bookshop". As if the job only entails reading books all day, interspersed with the odd literary conversation with customers only too happy to throw money into the open till! It is a wonderful career, which you follow for love, not money, and it certainly has compensations for the hard work of getting books on the shopfloor and into readers' hands(and that's another topic altogether!)

I was pretty damned lucky to attend a booksellers' conference in Alice Springs just recently. Yes! Booksellers have conferences! Likeminded owners and employees of independent bookstores gathered together, discussing and learning about various topics, book and business both. But the highlights are always the authors, who are coerced/cajoled/carefully selected to address the gathering.

This year we started with the inimitable Don Watson regaling us with tales of his travels by train within the USA and the book, American Journeys, which was the result. What an amazing companion he would be (and you know, he's not that bad-looking either...)

Kate Grenville was there, surprising an assortment of interstate booksellers who did not recognise her, when she casually joined in conversations and was generally a warm and witty presence round the tables. Kate is working on a new book concerned with one of the most interesting characters on the First Fleet. I don't know how much I can say, so will leave it there, but suffice to say, it will be eagerly awaited by her many fans (and the booksellers who she so impressed!)

One of my favourites was Thomas H Cook, an author of the most exquisitely unfolding psychological thrillers. Usually in his books, a death has occurred, and it is not the police procedural that is important, but the profound effects of the death upon those around. What a delight to meet him - a charming southern gentleman, with a glorious drawl and courtly manners. His new book will not be out till July (Master of the Delta) and it certainly sounds worth waiting for!

I had the great good fortune to share dinner with Geraldine Brooks one night. She is witty and perceptive, has the most infectious giggle and a great and abiding interest in the people around her. I think each one of us at the dinner table came away feeling we had met one of the most interesting and intelligent of people. I loved her new novel, People of the Book but so have many others, making it a well-deserved number one bestseller.

David Michie took a room full of booksellers and showed them how to do a two-minute meditation. Let's just say there were a lot of people who may not have been open-minded about the subject, but might now see the benefits. Have a look at his new book and you might also be convinced!

One of my favorite historical novels last year was Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani Anita has an interesting personal story herself, born of a Lithuanian mother and an Iranian father, and she was a most interesting speaker. Her book is on the Orange Prize longlist this year.

Tim Winton was the 'surprise' guest speaker this year, but it's pretty hard to disguise someone like Tim in a town like Alice (sorry, I've been dying to slip that allusion in!) We were privileged to hear him read from his new novel due in May, Breath What can I say? It will be something beyond special.

The gala dinner speakers were Judith Lucy who has a new book also due in May, called The Lucy Family Alphabet. I reckon this will be tragi-comedy writ large, and will have the added advantage of showing you your own family, no matter how odd, is nowhere near as eccentric as Judith's. The other big name to drop from the conference is Peter Carey. He also read from his novel His Illegal Self. Not my favourite of his works, I'm beginning to think he should start on topics nearer to his life - or go back to the great imaginings of his earlier stories. But one should be grateful when famous authors acknowledge the booksellers. Shouldn't one?

So, yes, working in the book trade can have its moments of true pleasure. What a shame conferences only come but once a year - thankfully the books come more frequently! Lindy

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