Booklovers at Booklovers
Karri Anzini Crabbe, from California
My Dad had a restaurant on Cannery Row called The Outrigger. The very edge of Cannery Row is the dividing line between two counties – Monteray and Pacific Grove. Now it is where the new Monteray Bay Aquarium is. They took over what used to be Doc’s Lab. Doc was one of the characters in John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row, but he was a real person and did marine biology research there. Monteray Bay is as deep as the Grand Canyon and that’s why it’s pretty widely researched.
We had a whole class on just John Steinbeck books. That was driven by an English teacher who had a real love for his literature, and the school let her run with it. The time when I took that class was when my parents divorced and I wasn’t doing well in school. The teacher decided to give me East of Eden, and she asked me to describe to her what the word ‘Timshall’ meant, the Hebrew word he talks about in that book.
‘Timshall’ means to choose. It has to do with twin boys and their mother ends up being the head of a bordello, and one twin is bad, he thinks he had inherited his mother’s blood, while the other son is like the father and follows the strait and narrow path. And there’s a Chinese man who says you have a choice of what you do, you are not bound by your parents’ sins. I think the teacher made me read that to show me that my life was my own, that my parents were putting me through hell but I could live whatever life I wanted.
I married my high school sweetheart. About a year and a half after we were married his grandmother died and as we were going through the house, which was nearby, we went through all the books, and there was a first edition of East of Eden and it was autographed by John Steinbeck. I said, ‘If I inherit anything from this family, I want it to be this’. My husband’s mother put it under her bed for me. I felt it was a message from God when I picked up this book and said ‘This is my book!’ I had never explained to her why till I took care of her recently after she had a fall and I went to nurse her. She brought it up. She said, “You know where it is!”
Ginette McDonald from Wellington
At school, in study time in the afternoons in Standard Two, we were allowed to read for half an hour. I was reading my Secret Seven, and the next thing Mother Rankin lent over my shoulder, saw it was Enid Blyton, went into a fit of apoplectic rage. She tore it off me, ripped it off its spine – it was a hardback – and hurled it into the rubbish bin.
I was gobsmacked. My father used to model how to tenderly read a book: ‘Hold it by the spine, turn the page at the top, don’t lick your finger…’ When I reported the incident at school to Dad, he thundered, ‘How dare she? You destroy a book, you destroy life itself!’
He used to say, “Go and read a book, lass. You are never alone with a book.”
One time we were both reading Puckoon by Spike Milligan, which was side splitting. I was in my room cackling away, and I could hear Dad’s mad high-pitched cackle in my parents’ bedroom.
It’s funny how people always zealously return a bit of cracked Tupperware or some other plastic container into which you have decanted leftovers for them to take home. They bring it back in a plastic bag and hand it to you. But nobody ever returns a book they have borrowed. Books just disappear.
Brian, film preservationist, from Los Angeles
I always thought Tintin was very capable and on to it, but in the cartoon version he’s like ‘Wow! What’s going on here?’
I have been obsessed with the books since I was six or seven, growing up in Alaska. A friend had come back from England with one. My family was going to England the following year. I came back with two Tintin books, and after that my mother bought us one every six months. She recently sent me my whole collection.
My wife is a schoolteacher. The mother of one of her students was working on the Tintin film Peter Jackson made. When she found out that I was a major Tintin fan, she sent me a Tintin watch. I’ve got Tintin ties – but they are all worn to shreds.
Angelo, from Sydney, Australia
What I liked best about Sarah Bennett’s The Best of Wellington was the author’s honesty. She says this is a great city – and then she adds ‘but we would say that’! She says the people are friendly – and then she adds, well, not everyone, but most of us. ‘That’s because we really do live in a large village… We’re a town of cheery smilers, random chatters and bus-driver
This is the part I really like: “Exploring the city on foot is recommended as many attractions are within an easy stroll. Don’t be put off by the hills – take your time and enjoy the endorphin-high and the views. Zigzagged steps and hidden shortcuts abound; parks and reserves make scenic thoroughfares and locals will happily help you find your way.”
(Copies of Sarah’s The Best of Wellington are available at Booklovers – to take with you round the city).
Booklovers guests on aspects of New Zealand
Theodore, from Austria, who found a job as a supervisor in a mechanical workshop
Do you know the word “smoko”? Is it only Kiwi or is it a general English word? I learnt it today in the workshop when a man said “We are going on smoko.”
I said, ”What’s smoko?” He thought I didn’t want them to go.
He said it was a break, for a cup of tea.
Later I asked the manager if it was okay to say “no” when the men wanted to go on smoko.
He said, “Definitely not!” – but that the break should only be ten minutes.
Nancy, a regular guest who lives in Dunedin
When I first came to New Zealand from the United States, I couldn’t understand the newspapers. I realised it was because they did not add the words “that” and “which” or put commas between the verbs and run-on clauses. I would read things out to friends and say “What does that mean?”
Then I started reading the newspaper articles out loud in a New Zealand accent and then I was able to understand them. You have to know the vernacular!
Michael, a helicopter rescue paramedic from South Africa
New Zealand is very apologetic for being New Zealand and I don’t know why. They have so much to offer in every aspect. They don’t need to stand back from anybody. They really have a lot to contribute to the world. They have got a “can do” attitude. They are very much achievers.
I have worked with a few Kiwis overseas, in conflict zones in the Middle East. They have got a very methodical approach to things. They are very slow to judge. They have got very much a “let’s sit back and see” approach. Let’s not make up our minds. Let’s wait and see and then make a decision. They are extremely non-aggressive.
This is one of the most hospitable countries in the world. The most hospitable people are the Irish, but the friendliest are Kiwis. When people say, “How are you?” here, they mean it.
Jill and Pete, English immigrants living in Marlborough
Jill: Cars do a lot in this country, according to the media reports. The number of cars that “leave the road” or “plunge into a river” – and trucks that roll! These naughty vehicles!
I think it is a matter of people not accepting responsibility for their bad driving and blaming it on the car. I don’t know if it’s a New Zealand thing, but I’m collecting examples from our local newspaper.
Pete: I think it is more a New Zealand thing than an English one. You abrogate your responsibilities here more. You blame the vehicle rather than the driving.
There was a notable example that set us off. A woman was driving at 130 kms per hour through a 100 km/hour speed limit zone on a twisting road on a dark night. She had her four-year-old daughter in the back. The car caught some gravel, she over-corrected the steering and the car “plunged into the river”.
In the newspaper report, the woman was portrayed as a hero for having rescued the child – instead of as an idiot for having been driving like that on a road she didn’t know. The headline was “Car plunges into creek”.
Profiles of Booklovers Guests
James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small – that’s my backyard.
Wind the clock back: I was always a bright lad, always near the top of the class. But I was a single-parent child and my mother remarried when I was about 10 years old and took me away from the security of my grandparents. I went to live in a totally different environment, and I failed the 11-plus examination to get into a grammar school. So I missed the opportunity for a good education.
Looking back, it was a conveyor belt. You left school, you got a job (I became a printer), you got married. You were encouraged to marry. It was more about Mum and Dad wanting their own space. “It’s time you were married.”
After 25 years of marriage, I got divorced. I was 50. I just had this inner feeling, this inspiration, to write. My subject was the Yorkshire Dales. I did several books and sent them off to publishers. They came back with nice letters, encouraging – but not good enough.
I was about 52 when I got my first piece published in the Dalesman magazine – June 1994. Wow! It’s a high, isn’t it? The next year I had four more published. So I was in! It’s like everything else: they see what you are producing and they like it, and you’re accepted.
I had a new woman in my life – more inspiration and encouragement. Encouragement creates inspiration.
Maybe a year later, when I had done about 10 articles, a publisher came and said, ‘Would like you to do a book?’
I just laughed. A book? From a relatively uneducated working-class background? But I did it: Pub Walks in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s a tramping book. There are 25 circular walks of 5kms to 16kms from public houses in bush terrain. With pen and ink drawings. I took a photograph and the artist did a line drawing from it.
The next year they asked me for another book, same format, on the North Yorkshire Moors. And the following year, 1997, they asked me to go back to the Yorkshire Dales and do teashops. I have now done 13 books. Each time we reprint I do updates. There’s a series of five, each with 10 gentler walks of 10k maximum, aimed at families. They’ve sold thousands.
I must have had 10 books published when I got a letter from the managing director of the equivalent of a time-share company. He had read my book, and he and his wife had walked the 25 walks in the first book and never put a foot wrong.
He said, “I can tell this has been written by a walker. Will you do some work for our company?’ The company was in Kent. I was horrified. I said to this chap, ‘No Geoffrey. There’s no way I can drive to Kent. I have never been there in my life. I told him, ‘My car comes out of the drive and always turns left,’
He said, “It’s easy, Richard. You keep in the slow lane of the motorway, put Classic FM on and in six and a half hours you’ll be here.”
And I did. He was a man of his word. To this lovely part of England from the harshness of industrial northern England. I was suddenly in a garden environment, of fields with hops in. I’d never seen that in my life – acres of hops.
People think they have to be academically qualified to write a book, and I’m not. I’m a relatively shy person, but if talking about it could encourage one person who has the desire to write, to do it, I am happy to share my experience.
Mike Hamblyn, Dunedin (who has since stopped running a second-hand bookshop)
When I was made redundant from my job running a research library at Otago University, I was offered a job in a small bookshop in South Dunedin.
The product was crap – porn and crime magazines. I was a seventies liberal; I thought it didn’t matter what people read. But these magazines had genuine autopsy and crime scene photos, and I found them absolutely vile, and I came to hate the people buying them.
After 18 months I was so depressed I was in the doctor’s office looking for therapy. My wife Carol, who is a librarian, said ‘Why not start up your own bookshop and show them how it’s done?’
I said, ‘For one very good reason – I haven’t got the courage’.
Carol gave me the look wives give husbands when they are disappointed in them. So I decided to give it a go. We opened on 4th July, 2004 – Independence Day! Carol thought of the name. She sat bolt upright at 2am and said ‘Read On!’ I said, ‘Done!’
I wasn’t having 20 wooden bookshelves that didn’t match. We got standard metal shelving – like in libraries – and good carpet and lighting. We have classical music or jazz playing, and a couple of easy chairs – which lonely pensioners take full advantage of.
We don’t accept any rubbish. A book has to look as if it has been read once with care. We don’t have signs on the shelves. We encourage people to ask where things were so we can direct them to the section – or the book. If you hand a book to a customer, it’s harder for them to let it go.
I rub all the book covers with eucalyptus oil. It has antibacterial properties and it makes the shop smell fantastic. People remember the little things about places.
Everybody says, “Are you making money?” I say, “No.” I make less than a beneficiary. It’s a scary existence, but it’s a joy to be self-employed. The other joy is what I call “rat running”. I run around the streets – like a rat runs and sniffs and scrabbles about – going to the op shops, buying books, then bring them back here and clean them up.
When I was a student at Victoria University, I used to think all businessmen were bastards. Now I’m one of them, I just love it. We pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for our stock – and that goes into people’s pockets and puts money back into circulation. When you run a small business the important thing is cash flow. When people come in with a carton of books, I might offer them $50. They often say, ‘I might as well give them to charity’. They don’t understand that if you don’t have money on hand to pay bills, you go bankrupt. Unless you’ve been in business, you have no idea.
The customers are just wonderful. We’ve made so many friends in this place. We get asked out to morning and afternoon tea, and dinner and have them round to our place. There are several women in their eighties who bring me morning tea and flowers – and they can get quite competitive about it!
I spend a lot of the day sitting in my big chair in the window, reading and drinking coffee. I swing around and look out into the mall. I’ve seen drug deals, assaults, shop lifters being apprehended, people courting, marriages breaking up. One day an old pensioner trawled across the mall and came into the shop for the first time. I looked up from the newspaper and he said, “You live the life of Riley, don’t you?”
I said, “I believe I do.” He turned and walked out. Three days later he did exactly the same thing.
I used to worry that the internet – TradeMe and Abe Books – would kill us off. But that hasn’t happened. I can’t think of a more wonderful thing to do than sell books. The thousands of hours of pleasure our customers get from reading them. I feel I’m doing a bit of good.