On rescuing books

So I haven’t told you much about my new job at the Adelaide Fringe, which I have been enjoying for the past month. I’m working predominately on the Opening Night Parade.  I can’t tell you much yet (partly because I probably shouldn’t, partly because we don’t know exactly what we are going to do yet) but something I can tell you is that despite not working at a bookshop any more, I am still working with books somehow. The exact details are a secret, but I have been collecting books from second hand bookstores once a week since I started. Mostly, I have been getting books from Oxfam books off Hutt Street.

Lucky for a non-for-profit like the Adelaide Fringe, Oxfam is generously giving us all the books for free, but I do feel melancholy whenever I stack the boxes of books in the back of the Fringe Van every Friday. Why you ask? The books I collect are doomed. Every week Oxfam has to get rid of a trailer load of books, because they simply receive too many books to be able to place them all in their store and sell them (and this is a large second-hand bookstore – there are six bookshelves worth of children’s books alone). If the Fringe didn’t need these books, they would be taken to the rubbish dump, and left to rot. And not all these books are rubbish worthy! Some, I must admit, I understand why they haven’t sold – as well as battered, torn books, there are books on subjects like the positives of a cigarette brand, the catalogue of a New Zealand Library, and I Ching – but there are many that I wish I could save.

My colleague rescued a perfectly good copy of The Great Gatsby, which she has never read, and a biography of Martin Luther King. Another grabbed a copy of a 50s sci-fi novel that has the perfect cover for her one-woman Fringe show – she is going to use it as inspiration. I was lucky enough to find, balancing on the top of an overflowing box, a copy of Alice in Wonderland from 1947, practically falling apart (but that was part of its charm) and a 1951 edition of The Wind in the Willows with a curling, cloth-bound cover. My workmate and I agreed that they were far too special to be either dumped at a rubbish tip, or even used in the secret-special-Fringe-project that the rest of the books we had collected were for. They both accompanied me home.

I live fairly close to Oxfam Books, so on the weekend I strolled through the doors to have a browse of the books inside the store on shelves, rather than in boxes in our warehouse. I found a lovely edition of The Incredible Journey, complete with a child’s scribbles on the back cover. It was only my lack of coinage that stopped my purchasing a whole stack of books. I know that many people are now turning to the Kindle to read, and I more than anyone love the smell of a brand new book, feeling its pages give as you turn the front cover for the first time, but I ask of you – this week, have a look in your local second-hand bookstore. You might find a hidden gem. You might save a book’s life! After all, not all books can be saved for a secret-special-Fringe-project.



  1. Hmmm, I wonder if this secret project has something to do with a fantastic installation that I wish would turn up in Brisbane…..

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