Monday, July 18, 2005


I went to the Save The Children Fund book sale at UWA on Friday evening. It's an annual event that sets the area's biblionerds swarming like a cloud of well-read locusts.

To get the best books, you have to get there early, before it opens at 6pm, and stand in a line that stretches for several hundred metres. Tradition dictates that the first people in line are members of a local Science Fiction club, who claim their place in the early hours of the afternoon in order to be first to rush in and pick over the Sci Fi section, like fat, bearded, Princess Mononoke T-shirt-wearing seagulls.

I've done the lining up thing in my student days; this time I strolled in at 6.10pm. The mood in the throng isn't exactly cheerful, but neither is it hostile. It's tolerant, in the old fashioned, putting up with minor annoyances sense. Some of social niceties are lost, such as stepping aside to allow people to pass, or not hogging a space at an overcrowded table, but given that the people who do this don't give the impression of getting out of the house much, it's easy to be forgiving. There but for the grace of God and a well-developed case of Asperger's Syndrome go I.

I go as much for the people as the books. Rake-thin arts students in vintage jackets and wispy facial hair, thrifty suburban mothers buying piles of children's books, professorial gents pursuing a few tomes on their niche interests, wild-haired loons feverishly leafing through the psychology textbooks, well-bred retirees shuffling a little from late afternoon cocktails, Claremont matrons hunting down the one Maeve Binchy novel they haven't read yet... they're all there. Not surprisingly, although there's a vast range of ages and income levels, they're basically all from the upper echelons of the middle class.

This was borne out when I overheard one Western suburbs mother introducing her children to another. "This is Annabell," she said, "and this is Alexandra." It's a safe bet that in twenty years Annabell and Alexandra will be marrying boys named Hugo or Simon or James, and their class will continue in safe hands.


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