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Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane, January, 2009

If you can get to Brisbane from January 17 to 25, the Lifeline Bookfest is on again. I kid you not, this is absolute paradise for book lovers, and there should be something like it in every capital city in the world. All the proceeds go to the charity Lifeline, which supplies services like phone counseling. Fictional character Norman Wallis reports…

Come with me as we peruse some of the treasures on my shelves. Gems yielded from the biblio-mine that is the Lifeline Bookfest, held twice yearly in Brisbane. It’s on again for nine days in January, in Halls 3 and 4 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Brisbane. January 17 to 25 to be exact.

There will be two million second hand books on sale, all laid out neatly, spine upwards, on nice long wooden tables, by volunteers for the charity Lifeline. Lifeline runs services like phone counseling.

The Bookfest is where I find books that I would never have even heard about otherwise. Books written when people knew how to write. I can’t wait for those doors to open at eight am on that first day. I’ll be there with the usual crowd standing on the blue carpet, staring at the large doors to the Convention Centre Hall. A whistle will blow, the doors will open, and we’ll stream in. Not in a mad rush, such as you’ll find in those after-Christmas sales at department stores, but at a dignified and determined pace, devoid of desperation, as befitting book lovers.

We’ll saunter into the usual three sections at the Bookfest. Rare and Collectibles; Priced; and Unpriced. There are a couple of schools of thought as to which section to go to first. Some head for the Unpriced section, and gorge themselves on books going for as cheap as 20 cents each.

Then they finish off with a trip through the other sections as if on a post-prandial stroll. Others head straight for the Rare and Collectibles sections, racing the book store owners, first edition hunters, and Ebay entrepreneurs for that rare hardcover blast from the past.

I must say, in recent years I’ve joined the latter camp. But, I’ll be bound, there’s nothing stopping me from heading to the Unpriced Section when the doors open at 8 am.

That reminds me, Where’s my trusty black sports bag? You must have a large bag when you go to these Bookfests. I remember one fellow walking around with a skyscraper of books tucked under his chin. He had to put them all down on the table to pick up another book and give it a once-over. It was inconvenient and to be frank it looked amateurish. Some rent shopping trolleys, or buy cheesecloth bags at the Bookfest. But I like to bring my trusty black sports bag. In fact, I’m tempted to get one of those granny shopping trolleys with the little wheels to pile my books into. That would not be out of order at all.

But as I say, let’s take a look at the top shelf of one of my bookshelves for some of the masterpieces I have unearthed in previous campaigns. Ah, yes. These are like trophies from past victories. But more importantly, some of the best reads I’ve ever had. I’ll limit my catalogue to the hardbacks, some more than a hundred years old, all bought for a relative pittance.

Humour by Stephen Leacock. The Tales from the Outposts, in a Lighter Vein, which is an anthology from Blackwoods Magazine.

Broken Hearted Clown by Butch Reynolds, a nice memoir. Our Sandhill Country by A.M. Duncan-Kemp, a memoir of a woman’s life in far South-West Queensland, published 1933. My Life and Work by Henry Ford. I found a business card from the 1920s in that one.

Coco the Clown by Nicolai Poliakov, another fascinating memoir, covering the ugly years of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and life in the circus as Poliakov traveled through Europe. Secrets of a Solicitor by Edward Maltby. What a brilliant book that was. A solicitor from Victorian and Edwardian times, talking about some of his cases.

Dylan Thomas Collected Poems, 1939-52, a hardback in mint condition. Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural by Algernon Blackwood. And great books of humor in hardback, by people like Bennett Cerf and Robert Orben. Here’s an interesting one: William Blackwood and His Sons, Volume 3, by Mrs Gerald Porter. It’s a biography of the Blackwood magazine and publishing dynasty, or at least the bit from the mid to late 1800s. And these are just the hardbacks and kind-of collectibles I’ve found over the years.

I could tell you about the paperbacks, but it’s not feasible in this short space. Everything from histories to novels, Dell to Penguin, poetry, you name it, I’ve picked it up dirt-cheap at these Bookfests. So take my advice. If you like reading, and you can afford the ticket to come to Brisbane, come check out the Lifeline Bookfest. There are plenty of great books for everyone.