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Norman Wallis returns to the Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane.

The Lifeline Bookfest is a book lover’s paradise held twice a year at the Brisbane Convention Centre. You walk into a giant hall filled with millions of excellent and rare second hand books, going for next to nothing. Book hunter, and fictional character, Norman Wallis writes this report on the June Bookfest.

I once heard a retired English literature professor say that you could never read all the books that were worth reading in one lifetime.

But he seemed to be giving it a good try recently; he had a stack of hardbacks balanced up his arm at the Lifeline Bookfest.
The most recent Lifeline Bookfest, held from June 10-17, was the longest one to date.

The professor was one of thousands who couldn’t resist the lure of millions of quality second hand books going dirt cheap.

I drove in on the first day of the Bookfest, a Saturday, at about 10 a.m., parking my car in the back streets of South Brisbane.

Then I carried my bag a few blocks to the Convention Centre.

There didn’t seem to be that many people outside.

Occasionally someone would walk down the front stairs of the Convention Centre building, carrying a few plastic bags full of books, but that was it.

But once I climbed the stairs I saw people sitting on the blue carpet outside the hall, going through their bags of books, and I could hear an ominous murmur from within the hall.

When I entered the hall, I saw thousands of people, shuffling along the long wooden tables full of books.

I was glad to see Major Winston Bargins, retired, of Lake Victoria, once again.

He was walking around in his trademark English explorer’s outfit, complete with helmet and moustache, microphone at the ready.

His clipped English accent resonated over the speaker system, asking people to keep an eye out for a book someone was looking for.

Later he said the Bookfest was the greatest book sale of its kind in the world, and he said all proceeds would go to fund Lifeline charity services like phone counselling.

Frankly, my interest in the Bookfest was purely mercenary, and I had a plan of attack.

I headed down to the end of the hall to the Unpriced section – where books went for as little as 20 cents regardless of their quality, and I started scanning the spines of the thousands of books that lined the tables.

It was hard to beat the thrill of surprise when you found some fascinating second hand book that was going dirt cheap, and then found another and another.
I gathered an eclectic assortment.

On one of the tables I saw a green hardback with no dust cover and its spine half eaten away.

You couldn’t see the title on the cover, and most people probably hadn’t bothered picking it up.

It was Who Wanders Alone, a 1954 travel book by Peter Pinney.

Peter Pinney served as a commando in the Australian army in New Guinea during WW2, then after the war he started walking around the world with nothing but a passport and a string bag.

His books chronicled his somewhat picaresque travels through Europe, Africa and Asia. He was an elegant yet down-to-earth writer, with a fine sense of humor.

You could never find his stuff nowadays, and I picked up Who Wanders Alone for 20 cents.

Later I found one of his novels – a hardback: Ride the Volcano, also dirt cheap.

Another find was The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, a master of suspense – also about 20 cents.

Plus I bagged Shakespeare’s Comedies – an Anthology of Modern Criticism (Penguin); Byron, a biography by C.E. Vulliamy; Alfred Hitchcock’s Skull Session – a book of suspense stories; They Called Me The Little Master – an autobiography by Australian rugby league international Clive Churchill, published 1962; Nightwing, by Martin Cruz Smith, a skilful plotter, and about 20 other books – for a grand total of $23.

My sports bag full, I didn’t hang around and check out the Priced and Quality books sections.

I somehow carried my bag the several blocks to my car, drove home and started reading.

But as the week went on I kept thinking about the Bookfest.

I knew there would be a lot of other great and cheap books waiting there for me.
I didn’t like the thought of other people getting them.

I started thinking about the Quality books section in particular.

This was where the rare old books were sold, like first editions, or memoirs from people from the 1920s, or extinct journals from the 1930s.

I wondered if they’d have any more Blackwood’s magazines. Blackwood’s was a monthly magazine from Edinburgh, published from 1817 to 1980.

It published a lot of real life experiences of people living throughout the British Empire, and I loved the insight Blackwood’s gave into that vanished world.

One of my most treasured books was a hardback anthology of Blackwood’s humor stories I found one year at a Bookfest.

And there was no telling what other books I might find.

But I wondered whether I really needed to return to the Bookfest.

I already had more books than I could ever hope to read.

My bookshelves were stuffed with books.

If anything I should have been simplifying my collection, donating books to Lifeline, not buying more.

Maybe I wasn’t really a reader, or even a book collector.

Maybe I was just a hoarder. It was a cause for some concern.

I returned to the Bookfest on Saturday, June 17.

-Norman Wallis continues next page.