I have often wondered why I am addicted to crime fiction. I am to into the hard boiled stuff, or serial killer genre, but love the mystery genre, the bright spark sleuths, the police teams where intuition play as much a part as skill. My guilty pleasure is to put away the reference books and the edifying history tomes to dip into something slushy and escape for a day or two into a well crafted crime novel. The penny dropped the other day. David had been spending a few days at the lock up, moving boxes, emptying others, sorting through boxes long stored. He opened up a box of kids books and out tumbled Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators (not really all of them, just their books). I had of course devoured all as a child, including The Secret Seven, Famous Five and Five findouters and dog. How could I not be enamoured of crime books as an adult!
And if my childhood reading had such a significant impact on my adult life, so too did my childhood love of book lists. When I was at school, a company called Ashton Scholastic sent around booklists to many subscribing schools and the students would select what they wanted from the catalogues, parents would send in a little cheque and voila! a stack of books would turn up every month or so. I loved receiving those catalogues, reading the book blurbs and then choosing which ones I wanted to read. They were mainly American books and at this great distance in time, I cannot remember what any were, but I devoured them. I was very lucky. My mother loved reading and she never stinted on my catalogue selections. Perhaps too, my siblings were not overly interested in reading so she only had to cover cheques for one voracious reader. To my dying day I will always be grateful to my mother for providing me with lots of books, constantly! Even as a littley, she weekly bought me a Little Golden Book when doing the groceries. They were only 20c in those days and the supermarket stocked them on spinners I think, near the checkout so kind (or harried, with screaming children) mums could select a title at the last moment and pop it into the trolley. As I grew older, Mum donated to me all her own childhood books (now, alas gone) and kept me well supplied at birthday and Christmas times. I remember one Christmas receiving a big suitcase full of books! All read by the end of the long holidays, just in time for my birthday and a new supply. And whenever a new Enid Blyton came out, it would appear on the bookshelves, either from my pocket money or hers. Heavens, on our holiday of a lifeline to Surfers Paradise when I was 9, Dad took my brother and sister to the beach while Mum and I trailed through all the bookshops looking for more Enid Blytons for my collection. All, alas, sadly gone now. I had left them at my grandparents in storage when I grew out of them and they went all mouldy so Dad had to turf them. I have never replaced them.
Mum was a great reader and passed that passion onto me. She always had her nose in a book and that was one of her ‘things’. I often gave her books as gifts and, as we had similar taste, I would read it first, leaving a little vegemite stain (I was and am a vegemite kid) and my personal guarantee that all the words were there. Even now, I still think that this would be something she would like, but I can’t pass it on to her. But I have a friend who, like me is a voracious reader, and in many things our tastes coincide so, if I think she will like something, I put it in ‘her pile’. Sometimes, I even find myself choosing books deliberately because I know she will like them! It is wonderful to share something with someone you know will appreciate it.
Like me, my mother would always make time each day to read, even if only 10 minutes. If she could not, it was as if someone had cut off her last breath. I have the same feeling if deprived of time to read. Of course, there came a time when her last breath was cut off, and, naturally, almost to the last she was reading. On that terrible night, that first terrible night that heralded a new life without my mother, I picked up the last book she was reading. She had left her bookmark in it and I continued to read. I finished the book for her and turned down the corner (don’t tell the collectors or book purists) of the last page she had read. It was Bryce Courtenay’s April Fool’s Day (coincidentally, it was April, tho; not the first) and perhaps not my first choice for the last days of my life, or for the first days of grieving but strangely, it did help as I focussed another family’s struggle with love, life and loss. It still sits on my shelf. I won’t read it again but it triggers memories so I will not part with it.
Dad too, had an important place in my childhood reading. He read, and reread constantly to me when I was a littley. He was in charge of the bedtime story. My favourite was The Taxi That Hurried, and he had to read it over and over again. When I had my tonsils out, he even came to the hospital each night to read it. One night, I slept through his visit and missed my story. I awoke and howled! ‘I want my Dad, and he has to read my story!’ Poor Nurses. 9.30pm an all should have been quiet on the children’s ward, with visiting hours long over. But still I howled so they rang Dad and told him to get there on the double to shut that kid up. He did. He read my story, I shut up and went to sleep, happy. I was a very lucky child. When he died a few years ago I desperately wanted a copy of The Taxi because of the memories it kindled up. Luckily, David found a copy soon enough at a market stall. I was in seventh heaven but, as I read it, I recalled not one single word, nor one single image of the five year old’s favourite book. But that did not matter, I had it.
Had a great time recently hitting the tables at a local bookfair. Lots of goodies, but what really stoked me most was adding to my stash of old movies. Long have I wanted to pick up Mrs Miniver, smaltzy emotionalism at its best. Every time, I searched in vain. This time I forgot to look for it specifically and when I passed by the video shelves on route to the ladies (or at least that was the excuse I gave David for disappearing) there it was. First title I saw. I later picked up Brief Encounter. Another long term must have (that music!) and Some Like it Hot. Delicious Marilyn, Jack Lemmon as a delightful Daphne and Tony Curtis and his delightful sendup of Cary Grant’s accent! David swears that he has the latter but neither of us have found it in his Marilyn collection, despite many searches, and when we viewed it the other night, neither recalled watching it for some time. Lots of great Fred Astaire and Cary Grant films, too (including His Girl Friday which was a bit of a coincidence as I was reading a WWII diary last night and the author went to see it on board the ship taking him to Canada!) and another Doris Day which I did not have. I will just mention here that I was not born when many of my old favourites were first screened, and my parents were only youngsters and then young adults themselves but I did see all in my formative years thanks to Bill Collins’ Golden Years of Hollywood. Thank you Bill for sharing your love and passion of great films which to me, still stand up and are classics all.