On Thursday, November 8, we threw ourselves a birthday party to commemorate 41 years of business. We were joined by more than 70 loyal customers, trade representatives and past and present staff to share a toast to independent bookselling. Surviving for over 40 years in any industry is an achievement and we are proud to remain Adelaide’s oldest independent bookshop. Thank you to all those who attended, as well as the maker of our beautiful cake Mim Gollan of Four Seeds – it was the star of the show!
Local author and long-time customer, Carol Lefevre, was kind enough to say a few words to mark the occasion and we have included the full text of her speech below.
Carol Lefevre’s birthday speech
In a time when things can change in a flash, it is wonderful to think that Mostly Books has endured in our midst for forty-one years, and this through one of the most volatile periods in the history of publishing and book selling.
The business was founded in 1977 by Jacqueline Cookes, and bought by the current owner, Charmaine Power, in 2008, the same year I moved to Unley.
But that year, as well as Mostly Books, there was a book shop in Unley Shopping Centre. And later there was a second hand bookshop on the corner of Arthur Street and Unley Road. Going further back, when I returned to live in Adelaide at the start of 2005 there were many more books shops in the city – Borders, Angus and Robertson, Mary Martin’s in Rundle Street. You probably know of others.
Slowly but surely, with the rise of the internet, eBooks, and massive online stores like Amazon, these lovely stores closed their doors. Technology can do this, promise to lead us towards the light, and we are swept along. But at some point we look back, and that’s when we see that familiar lights have gone out, that the places we knew have gone dark. For a while it seemed inevitable that we would lose all our book shops, and I remember feeling very gloomy for the future of paper books around that time.
There is a quote I often return to by the English writer and critic G.K. Chesterton.
The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost.
While I have never needed to be reminded to love books, that quote does make me think about the things that gradually slip away – because we’re busy, we’re tired, we’re stressed – and a little while ago I started to make a list of the things that have vanished in my own life time, everything from milk bottles and milkmen, to dip pens, blotters, cursive handwriting, typewriters, vinyl records, steam trains, outside bathrooms and dunnys (no real loss, you might say). But the suburban delis that were once on so many street corners – I really miss those. Then, one and two cent coins, dollar notes, petrol stations where someone pumps the petrol and checks under the bonnet, reel to reel tape recorders, cassette tapes, sixpences, bonfire night, with skyrockets and sparklers, slide evenings, department stores with lift attendants who recite the contents of each floor, and so much more.
And then there is the endangered list – public telephone boxes, suburban letterboxes, handwritten letters, possibly even the entire postal system, including stationery and beautiful stamps, postmen, and the joy of finding a personal letter in the letterbox.
I read recently a list of endangered, or at least fast-declining professions, and these included things like photographic processors, and travel agents. Libraries, too have been struggling in many places.
Buddhist philosophy teaches that the way to face change and impermanence is by developing non-attachment. But while I have successfully achieved detachment towards milk bottles and vinyl records, and even to the extraordinary sight of an ice-man sprinting up the drive to deliver a block of ice for our old wooden cooling chest (and that was a very long time ago) I will struggle long to relinquish the joy of receiving a handwritten letter, or of being able to browse in a real bookshop.
For like letters, books put us into an intimate conversation with the writer, and this conversation can extend across time and space, so that I can pick up the diaries of Virginia Woolf and hear her speak to me, as sharp, as engaging, as fully alive, as the morning or evening she sat down to write.
Just as the whole of a letter is greater than the words on paper, a book is more than the sum of its materials, and carries a meaning that springs from the heart of the writer. Once you accept that books are a special way of speaking, the next thing to consider is what will be lost if they should ever entirely disappear.
I remember a night when there was a great storm here in Adelaide and the trees in the street thrashed wildly until, inevitably, the electricity went off. With all the usual distractions suddenly unavailable, we lit candles and gathered together in one room, and we read aloud to pass the time. The children still remember what a great night it was, and for a long time afterwards I considered organising simulated blackouts, so that we could do it all over again.
Bookshops have always been a particular source of hope and inspiration for writers. Sometimes I pop in to Mostly Books to see what’s fresh off the press, to check on what other writers have been beavering away at while I have been busy with my own work. Sometimes I come to order a book, at other times I am hoping to stumble across something I haven’t heard of yet but that I will read and absolutely love. If I am struggling with my own writing I sometimes need to come in and visualise where my own book will be shelved when it’s finished, and this sends me back to my work with greater determination and purpose.
A long time ago now, I moved to an island that only one book shop, and I didn’t discover this until I had arrived. It was small, not very well stocked, and situated at the opposite end of the island to where I lived, so each visit required an expedition.
The island’s libraries weren’t well stocked either, and for a long time I suffered for a lack of books. Eventually, a branch of the book chain Ottakers opened: two floors of books and a coffee shop! I wept for joy the first time I went in! I was a beginning writer then, and in my lunch hours I would walk to Ottakers to work my way along a shelf reading all the first lines, all the first paragraphs, or all the first pages. I bought many books there, but I also used the shop a bit like a library, and the staff never complained. Because that’s another thing about book shops – the people who are drawn to work in them are usually extra special human beings.
And so it is with Mostly Books, and I’m incredibly happy to be still sourcing my books here ten years after first crossing the threshold. My own books have been on the shelves. My latest book The Happiness Glass is on the New Releases table now, which is a special joy. I hope Mostly Books continues to flourish, and I know that it will, as long as we readers continue to choose and read real paper books sold to us by really lovely, knowledgeable book sellers.
So Happy Birthday Mostly Books! And thank you.