Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Riverbend Party

On Thursday 25 July I was MC at Riverbend's 15th birthday party, which featured special guest David Malouf.

Here is an extract from the introductory speech I gave:

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes.

I’ve never been entirely sure who ‘they’ are, but I think they probably have a point. There’s a lot to lose, not least an aspect of your own inner voice – that voice that you give to books and their authors, and that has come to be part of you; in a way someone you’ve invented, but most certainly someone you think you know. We know our authors, and we know our heroes, because they articulate and enrich a particular kind of dreaming – the one that you get to part author yourself. Who wants to lose that? And yet if I had my chance, I think I would always choose to meet my heroes.

A colleague tells me on Twitter that he made Riverbend’s first book sale. When I asked him which book it was, he replied, ‘Well, it was the 90s, probably something about Provence.’ I pressed him to remember more. Yes, he remembers selling a lot of the Peter Mayel, many copies of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and then also The Liver Cleansing Diet which, I quote, presents an “eight-week plan for promoting good health and longevity by effectively cleansing the liver” and “comes complete with groundbreaking recipes for healing soup and raw juice concoctions”.

Some of you may have bought all three. If so, I should ask you how your livers are, and whether you ended up getting to Provence. But if, like me, you find liver cleansing a slightly terrifying thought, then I suppose there’s some solace in the fact that diets do tend to come and go, and it seems can always be left off until after the weekend. I hope no one is thinking too much about their liver tonight. We are here for a birthday party, and to celebrate being 15, when presumably all livers are yet to need cleansing.

Diets are meant to be forgotten, but good books stay on, and like people they sometimes gain weight as the years go by. We return to them, read them in different ways, and experience our heroes afresh. Each time, we listen to them differently, and this allows them to develop with us. When I first arrived in Brisbane, I had some trouble understanding how I’d come from Iceland to England to here. I was coming up to my own fifteenth birthday, but didn’t quite know where to put the changes that had occurred in my life.

But the first book by a Brisbane author that I read gave me an introduction to the city, or perhaps to a new way of thinking about the question of how I belonged here. It was a book that revealed something that, perhaps strangely, I hadn’t yet associated with Brisbane – writing and language – and helped me to realise that my imagination had not yet caught up with the fact of my migration. If I wanted, it could. For in this book Brisbane was not only a place of beauty, but, as importantly to me, a place of beautiful language. It was Antipodes by David Malouf.

David Malouf cuts the cake

So, I am meeting one of my heroes tonight, after all, as I’m sure others are, too.

They don’t always need to be here in person. We meet them, most profoundly, in their writing. And bookshops are the places where those first meetings so often occur – the pleasure of chance encounters, of browsing, walking in without a book and walking out with one. As with libraries, friends’ studies, guest house collections, bookshops give us more than a set of choices; they give us a shared bookshelf – just as books give us shared voices.

Pics: Riverbend Books