Monday, January 27, 2014

Bookish Quotes: The school library

When I listened to this passage from Breath by Tim Winton, I was reminded of my own adventures in the school library, although I never found a boyfriend there (my lack of success with men started early!). For me, the stories I read taught me about the lives of people in times gone by. I remember devouring as many Jean Plaidy novels I could, learning all about queens of England. How about you? What do you remember learning about from the books in your school library?

The quote comes from pages 77-79.

I did my share of whining when the new school year began, but in truth I didn't really mind going back. There was no more swell that summer, no opportunity to test myself any further, and the days began to hang heavy. Within a week of the term commencing, I rediscovered the aisles and recesses of the Angelus school library. There was nothing like it in Sawyer and the only other collection of books I'd seen was out at Sando's. During my first year of high school I'd turned to reading as a kind of refuge, but that second year it became a pleasure in its own right.

I started with Jack London because I recognized the name from Sando's shelves. After I saw Gregory Peck gimping across the poop deck on telly I tried Moby Dick, though I can't say I got far. I found books on Mawson and Shackleton and Scott. I read accounts of Amundsen's race south against the English and the ruthlessness that made all the difference. I tried to imagine the Norwegian eating the very dogs that hauled him to the Pole - something harsh and bracing about the idea appealed to me. I read about British commandos, the French Resistance, about the specialized task of bomb disposal. I found Cousteau and then mariner-authors who recreated the voyages of the ancients in craft of leather and bamboo. I read about Houdini and men who had themselves shot from cannons or tipped in barrels over Niagara Falls. I fed on lives that were not at all ordinary, about men who in normal domestic circumstances might be viewed as strange, reckless, unbalanced. When I failed to get more than sixteen pages into the Seven Pillars of Wisdom I thought the failure was mine.

It was there in the stacks that I met the girl who decided without consultation that I was her boyfriend. She was a farm girl from further out east and she boarded at the dreaded hostel. Like me, she came to the library to escape, but she was already bookish. Her name was Queenie. She was handsome and wheat-haired, with the slightly intimidating shoulders of a competitive swimmer, and there was plenty about her to like, yet I suspect I only really liked her because she liked me first. Although I did very little to encourage such baffling interest, I somehow got used to it, and even came to expect it. She slagged off my books of manly derring-do while I razzed her for her taste in stories about crippled girls overcoming cruel odds with the aid of improbably gifted animals.


  1. When I saw Tim Winton here in Tassie he mentioned his love of Jack London. I loved this book. Thought it was just brilliant. Love all his books really. Good excerpt from it.

  2. Love Tim Winton and his books. I loved Breath too. I'm waiting to see what he puts out next. I guess I dont recall much about the school library alas. I think all that came later for me.