// you’re reading...


Norman Wallis returns to the Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane.

Norman Wallis - fictional character - returned to the Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane, on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, June 9-11, at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Two million second hand books went on sale, many for dirt cheap prices. A lot of these books had obviously been cherished for decades, and Bookfests were a good way for these books to be passed on to people who’d appreciate them. Lifeline is a charity providing services like phone counseling. They also provide Bookfests - twice a year in Brisbane.

For many years I have been perturbed by the apparently dual nature of the apostrophe. It irked me that a piece of punctuation should have to take on two roles: to show possession, and to show a missing letter. It seemed inappropriate somehow. But at the same time I wondered if there was a plausible explanation for this apparent duality. Surely there was. And then I found The English Language, Its Grammar, History and Literature, at the recent Lifeline Bookfest.

It was a big hardback, with a slightly decayed brown cover, published in 1905. The book, by Professor J. A. Meiklejohn, included many interesting etymological and other tidbits. According to the good professor, the possessive form of a word in Old English was made by adding “es”, like, maybe, bulles horns. And the possessive apostrophe today is for the missing “e”. So there was nothing duplicitous about the apostrophe after all.

It was a fascinating book, and it even included examination questions from 1897. And I found plenty of other interesting old books for very cheap prices at the recent Bookfest.

My first port of call was the Quality books section. I walked alongside the long wooden tables lined with books, scanning the upturned spines, my large black sports bag at the ready. I kept an eye open for Blackwoods magazines and anthologies, but they seem to be getting scarcer with each Bookfest. And I used to find a lot of Robert Orben jokebooks, too, but I haven’t seen any of them for a while either. Nevertheless, I picked up some gems including:

Jeeves Omnibus, by P.G. Wodehouse. A solid, green hardback, no discernible publication date. Well-structured humorous short stories. I can see the influence of these on everything from Peter Cook to Viz to Frasier.

Typee, by Herman Melville, with some excellent lead pencil drawings by Jacques Boullaire. A hardback with original dust jacket, 1950 edition.

More Jokes and Witty Sayings – For Dinners – smoke nights – socials. An obscure book of jokes collected by Harry Harrington, 64 pages, published in Melbourne, I’d say no later than the 1940s.

A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, edited by Nathan Ausubel, 1948 edition. This was packed with hundreds of tales and anecdotes, with a good section on humorous stories.

The History and Origin of Language, by A. S. Diamond, published by Methuen in 1959.

The Passing of the Third Floor Back, by Jerome K. Jerome. A real time-warp, this one; a book of nine stories by the author of Three Men in a Boat.

The Fabulous Showman, by Irving Wallace. A biography of P.T. Barnum.

I picked up a few other curiosities, too, for a total of $99, which was great value. And you won’t believe how inexpensive the Unpriced Section was, when I visited that the following day.

I returned to the Bookfest on the Sunday, with a recently retired colleague. We walked past the Quality and Priced Sections, to the far end of the hall and the Unpriced section. Here you simply filled your bag with books, took them to the cash register, and the volunteers gave you a total price. We passed the security guard and headed inside, parting ways to pursue our respective forrages. As usual the wooden tables all had signs above them, saying History, Humour and Oddities, Penguins, Childrens, Languages, Travel – I’m getting an adrenalin rush just thinking about it. It’s a buzz wondering what amazing books you’ll find. I threw the following books into my bag (and you won’t believe the total price):

Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Rabelais.

The Theatre of the Absurd, by Martin Esslin.

22 Strange Stories, Collected by John L. Hardie.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway.

The Penguin Book of Restoration Verse.

The Penguin Book of English Romantic Verse.

The Penguin Book of Australian Verse.

The Good Soldier Schweik, by Jaroslav Hasek.

The Age of Enlightenment, by Isaiah Berlin.

Humorous Stories and Recitations, published by Foulsom in 1957.

Laughing Gas, by P.G. Wodehouse.

Mad’s Don Martin Cooks Up More Tales.

Don Martin Bounces Back.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, by Dr M.R. James.

Mr Norris Changes Trains, by Christopher Isherwood.

Jizzle, by John Wyndham – a book of short stories.

Plus a bunch of other books. I would have kept looking for more but the announcer called my name over the p.a. system saying that my colleague was ready to leave. For the next few days people at work asked me if I’d enjoyed the Bookfest.

And the total price? Five dollars. That’s right; you read correctly. Five dollars for all those books.

Lifeline Bookfests are an idea that someone should take up overseas – for a worthwhile charity, hopefully. If I had any money I’d travel overseas to go to one of them.