Sunday Blog 12 – 14th November 2021
So said author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett, when talking on The Australian ABC’s Bookshelf podcast in a recent episode. It struck me as true, in a very brutal real way. “What that book has to give me, it has given me” – once the story is told, the ideas shared, the book itself is a husk that can be re-gifted.
When I left my flat after six years in London and traveled to Greece in 1996, I left most of my books, but I did take my hardback copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with me. It soothed me to re-read it, and I figured having spent just four weeks learning how to be a teacher before getting my first teaching English as a foreign language gig in Greece, well, I would need some soothing.
Almost immediately on my arrival in Greece, I knew I should have packed the whole bookshelf. Getting hold of something good to read in Greece in that far away pre-Google, very-early internet world was an expensive and often fruitless endeavour. I re-read Pride and Prejudice because yes, I needed soothing but also because I often had nothing much else to read.
Another feature of mid-1990s Greece was that phone boxes were a big part of my life. I had no mobile, no landline, just public phone boxes at my disposal. Buying a phone card from the kiosk, dialling the many numbers to reach the other side of the world, not getting it all said before the phone card ran out – these were regular occurrences. Back and forth I might go sometimes, between phone and kiosk, trying to get all the conversations I needed to have.
One particularly trying day in a particularly trying period (the teaching was every bit as hard as you would expect, with such a short training course) I had my sacred copy of Pride and Prejudice with me when I made the trek to the phone box. Somehow in the miasma of unfinished conversations and a fug of homesickness, I walked away from the phone box, leaving the book there.
It took me a few blocks to realise, and I rushed back breathless – it was gone. I know if it had been me who arrived at that phone booth I would have stashed it away like so much gold and scurried back home as soon as I could.
Once I left Greece and returned to Australia, I was once again able to immerse myself in books. I read many more different books and learned the truth of Ann Patchett’s pronouncement. Books are replaceable.
But still, if anyone has seen it out there, do let me know…