Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Chance and Choice

Being part of the over-educated, over-thinking the small things, under-thinking the big things, will-vote-for-Rudd-to-keep-Julia-in-power, no-junk-mail, anti-capitalism-but-buy-my-wares demographic, I find buying new things very frustrating.

Walking into a store full of multiples of bright shiny units, I don't feel excitement, and I don't get the 'poor thing, let me take you home and love you urge' as other seem to, especially when they are faced with large shiny appliances. I don't like trophies.

Mind you, I don't think I'm a hunter, either, like many of you who regularly go on expeditions to all the local op shops, sifting carefully through the racks in search of whatever your holy grail is.

I'm definitely a gatherer, but in a very soft and random way, no order or system or structure.

I prefer meandering past somewhere, popping in if I've got the headspace, looking vaguely over the shelves and rack and having something snag the edge of my vision. Sometimes it's just a lonely object calling for someone, anyone, to buy them a drink and remember the old days. If it's not something I can think of a use for, I'll reposition it on the display in a way that calls more attention to it, and wish it luck.

Other times, I'll be trying to remember what I came in for (do I need trousers that fit me? How's my stash of crap printing tops?) and I will find something that will totally transform my whole wardrobe with a single wave of its magic wand. Or a book that I've been wanting to read for ages, and now is just the right time to buy it. Or not, but it will take its place in the bedside queue, and maybe even jump the queue if it's really alluring. It's all about serendipity.

Or when I'm going shopping for something specific, I prefer the op shops, because they have dedicated racks to jumpers, jeans, dresses, all arranged in sizes, so that I can head to one particular spot and see if the thing I want is there. If not, I'll go without. If I really really need it, I'll reluctantly go to a retail shop and find it. I tend to go to the same (big, cheap) retail shops because little boutiques either don't stock my size or they do my head in with all their tricksy ways of laying out their wares.

Which is a long, roundabout introduction to the fact that last week my lovely auntie Lou gave me a Border's frequent buyer card with five of the boxes stamped, one more to go, and then you get a free book. She doesn't have a Borders where she lives, and she knew that I'd love the chance to buy some new books. Present! yay! We love gift cards and vouchers in my family. But the action of choosing is sometimes crippling.

When I got to Borders (I didn't waste any time, Lou!), I wandered around, thinking, two books. I have to pick two books. The problem is, I could have taken home at least fifty in my first glance. For some reason, in a secondhand book shop, the books whisper at you:
Psst, have you read me?

Hey, you, yeah, you: I bet your copy of me is all bath-bloated and dog-earred. Wouldn't I look good on your shelf instead?

Mmmm... did you know that I'm signed by the author?

The minute you walked in the door, I could see you were a...
But in a new-book store, they are shouting at you:





And the colours are all fresh and bright and there's repetition everywhere, even though the covers are different. The neatness conflicts with the chaos, and the room smells like cleaning fluid, not paper; old books have an aroma that lures me in. A while ago one of my Mackay workshop participants sent me a cartoon from the Australian? the Age?: A booth for iPads with a long line of people waiting to look and touch one, and next to it a small table with a sign saying 'Book Sniffing & Fondling', with one person standing at it, their face in a book, joyously sniffing.

So, there I was, wandering around Borders, two books for the taking, with about twenty minutes to choose before my movie started (The White Ribbon, which was amazing). Thank goodness for the movie, because without a time limit, I would have been lost. I should have walked in with a plan, a shortlist, clipped reviews, or something. Instead, I had vague memories of recommendations, and a profound regret that I hadn't clipped out the list of post-apocalyptic novels listed by Colin Steele in the Canberra Times a few weeks ago, since I always forget sci-fi titles when I'm faced with the crap covers and endless sequels in the Sci-fi & Fantasy section. Why isn't there a Speculative Fiction section? Who decided Science Fiction and Fantasy belong together? They are nothing like each other, apart from the fact that no-one seems get published unless their manuscript can be divided into at least 12 volumes.

Time was ticking. Best Beloved was in JB HiFi, his favorite browsing shop, and the only place we bother to get gift cards for him, and he was due to come back and grasp my elbow to propel me towards Dendy at any moment. I'm a Libran, I can't make choices under pressure. I couldn't come back, I don't get moments like these in shops very often.

I would like to say that I chose offbeat, quirky titles that demonstrate my superior alternate demographic (see line one), but I didn't. I ended up standing in front of the New Release and Bestseller racks (next to each other at the front of the store) and chose Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and So Much for That by Lionel Schriver. Books that everyone has been telling me to read, and that I would normally wait to snap up at the Lifeline Book Fair because they will be there in force after everyone else has read them for their book clubs and disposed of them.

Still, two new books! Not to be sneezed at... because they won't be ready to sniff until they've experienced a bit of life.

(Thanks, Auntie Lou... you're a champion.)


Ulrike said...

Love this post. The first paragraph in particular is sublime.

Mummy/Crit said...

See, I quite like the smell of Borders - new books and bad American coffee. It smells just like the US to me, but I can see how it would be unappealing to most people.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already cracked open your copy of Wolf Hall I can loan you mine and that way you can choose a whole new book! wazza

Ampersand Duck said...

Ta Wazza, but I'm well into it and loving it!

Thanks, U, glad you liked it.

yeah, Crit, I found much about the US unappealing, but I was 12 at the time. I'd like to go back and try the more obscure bits, would be fun.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

The cartoon sounds like Leunig to me.

What a lovely post.

Ampersand Duck said...

It's not Leunig, but it is quite Leunig-esque. I was looking at the signature yesterday (I've stuck the cartoon on the BookStud pinboard) and I can't quite make it out.

librarygirl said...

Wolf Hall will consume you.
And you will be bereft once you finish it!

Mindy said...

I second Librarygirl. I didn't want it to end, I desperately want to read the sequel, but I also don't because I sort of know what happens and it's going to be bad, but I suspect I won't be able to put the book down regardless.

jo said...

Having recently been accused of being over-educated, I wondered if you had a definition. I'm not sure there's such a thing.

The Shopping Sherpa said...

I'm pretty sure I kept that list: want me to have a dig and see if I can find it for you?

And now is probably not a good time to mention I saw Wolf Hall at Salvos Belconnen last time I was in there, is it?