*Brought to book

A convention of second-hand booksellers.

A convention of second-hand book dealers.

Recently I moved house and, yes, it was a great big old pain where I should have pleasure, but even I, a massive whinger, think the ‘so-called experts’ are overstating matters when they claim that doing this is almost as stressful as the death of a loved one or getting divorced, blah blah. Yes, it certainly is a colossal drag to deal with removalists’ customary amazement at the sight of a flight of stairs, which equals that of the mermaid in Splash when confronted with the concept of wearing clothes the way the humans do, but it’s not as though moving will inevitably lead to the writing of a memoir with a picture of a doll’s house broken in half on the cover or having to listen to ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ on the panpipes as it is disseminated through a crematorium. But there is one potential component of moving house that can, indeed, make you feel as bad as would the death of a loved one or getting divorced, and that is attempting to sell one’s unwanted goods to second-hand dealers. There’s a scene in the novel Candy in which the eponymous heroine, in her first act of prostitution, has sex with an Acland Street pawnbroker for forty dollars, to boost the twenty-five that she gets for hocking a silver chain that is of great sentimental value to her. It is this event that signals her descent into a classically sordid life, whereby if she’d not been fictitious, met a sad end and an Age journalist had happened to say hello to her occasionally, a great deal of ink could have been spilled on the topic of their astonishing bond. At any rate, as someone who had goods to sell, Candy was much on my mind.

Out of all the items I wasn’t looking forward to having a conversation about selling, the one I was least looking forward to having a conversation about selling was my guitar. It was obvious that doing so offered me the biggest opportunity to look like an idiot, given how much merely typing the words ‘my guitar’ makes me look like an idiot. I purchased the instrument fifteen years ago, not having realised how much playing it would resemble rubbing an egg slicer, hard, across the delicate pads of the finger. Had I persisted with the instrument, I’m sure that I would, by now, be able to play at least part of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’, and not have to change chords with the deliberation I would show in conducting a breast self-examination. However, I didn’t persist with it, so that guitar has followed me from Sydney to Melbourne, lurking around like it is the deranged Douglas Breen in The Fan, and I am Lauren Bacall, having, even though I’m being pursued by a homicidal maniac, decided to stay by myself in an enormous beach house. Unable to take the thing’s mute accusation any longer, I had to carry it along Chapel Street in a case, troubador-style, like the man in Once, to find someone on whom I could offload it.

As it happened, a seen-it-all gent in a second-hand musical instruments shop offered me forty dollars; however, it occurred to me that what I really wanted, having seen their big posters, was to try my luck at Cash Converters. Once I was at Converters, there was, however, no wholesome young blonde lady flogging her jewellery for untold riches: there was merely a man with a whole lot of tat, including some broken dolls, who was determined not to take a cent less for them than they weren’t worth. I dealt with a patient young member of staff, who offered me forty-five dollars, having knocked five dollars off the amount he had originally offered once he realised exactly how old the strings were. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think he realised that they were so old they could have voluntered at the Sydney Olympics; if, that is, they’d been a pack of annoying freaks willing to wear incredibly stupid clothing.

Upon visiting Dixons, my good fortune continued, as, to my surprise, they have the kindly, civilised approach of suggesting that a person trying to sell them things leave for five or ten minutes while they assess them, rather than contemptuously flinging the ones they don’t want onto the counter. Even my most terrible CDs they placed politely back into the bag, without any smug talk. Now, I don’t wish this to seem like a sponsored post (though I only wish it were one) but I also fondly recall the man in Dixons at Camberwell, which, unfortunately, is no more, sharing my excitement when I was purchasing a copy of the Australian movie Oz, which I’d been dying to see since its release in 1976. This was despite the fact that when I was an eight year old, I was, in the manner of a small Bill Collins, highly judgmental about this film’s updating the story of The Wizard of Oz to the then-present day and setting it in the world of ‘pop music’, even speculating furiously that it would have made Judy Garland weep, were she alive, not yet being of an age to realise that this would have been low on her list of priorites, after debt and drug addiction.

So, I was, comparatively speaking, riding high after my visit to Dixons. Then, however, while happening to walk past a second-hand bookshop, I did what I had sworn I would never do again: approach whatever bearded twat might happen to be working in there about the possibility of my selling some books to him that he could then sell at a profit of approximately one thousand per cent. I had a selection of what I felt to be high-quality works and, while originally I had been going to give them to charity, decided on the spot to try to convert them into ‘bread’, as I was confident I had some posh books that even Beard might like. (Obviously, I’m hanging on to such objects as my Neighbours novelisation, the back-cover copy of which wonders of Jim Robinson ‘how can he come to terms with the feelings he has for his mother’, even though I don’t recall this kind of incest-flavoured juice in nineteen-eighties-period Neighbours. In fact, I recall an episode summary in the TV guide that read ‘Max is shocked by the size of his phone bill.’)

At any rate, I walked into the musty cave and asked Beard if he were buying books, in answer to which I received an extremely qualified yes. When I said I would go and get my books from the car, he yelped in protest at my effrontery in going to collect these articles without first giving him a full briefing on them. I dangled in front of him the prospect of a first-edition hardback of a work by Great American Novelist – I can’t claim the credit for this, by the way, it had belonged to the man I live with – and he reluctantly gave me permission to set foot again in his filthy old shop. When I returned with my wares and placed them on the counter, he yapped at me to move them to one side, as he needed space in which to work. Admittedly, from what I’d observed, not doing fuck all would have been a concept so novel for him that it was entirely understandable he felt extra preparation would be required.

In the final reckoning, Beard gave me forty dollars for my collection, which was forty dollars I hadn’t had before but, really, why did he have to be such a colossal arse about it all? I appreciate that things are difficult for second-hand book dealers, as they are for first-hand book dealers, but, first, being beastly isn’t going to improve things and, second, many of these people have been like this since the days that Triple J was actually any good. It has always surprised me that these individuals demonstrate such loathing for what they are, after all, selling. Dealing constantly with quavery voiced junkies hadn’t given the man in Cash Converters the personality of Serpico, and he wasn’t getting to sit quietly all day in a café-lined boulevard filled with non-violent people. Believe me, I’d like to be screaming with grief at the disappearance of second-hand-book stores but dealing with their proprietors can make this difficult. And it shouldn’t be difficult at all, especially when you consider this is the variety of shop that is statistically most likely to have cats lolling around in it.

20 Responses to “Brought to book”

  1. Martin says:

    You should probably put a sign outside your new place saying “Not guitar on premises”. Your popularity may have been suffering if the item was stored within vision of guests.

    Did we ever get rid of the annoying freaks from the Sydney Olympics? Aren’t there still a few stray weirdos in Ken Done clobber wanting to help with directions and hand out bottled water? I seem to recall they wanted to be given medals after the event, a demand that probably signaled the end of the The Olympic Spirit and got us back to the days of shrill whinging.

    As for Jim Robinson, maybe that suggestive tag line was added in to piss off the actor Alan Dale who apparently made everyone’s life miserable on set. Given that he then went on to marry a Miss Australia winner and gain relative success with minor roles in quality US shows, I’m thinking his life might be ripe for a TV adaption.

    • I thank you for your hilarious comments, Martin. How annoying were the volunteers? Remember, as you clearly do, how they hung around for months afterwards wearing that daft clobber? I’d forgotten that about the medals, so I thank you. Speaking of Alan Dale, one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen was a Young Doctors reunion show, in which Dale was appearing by satellite, as he was living it up in Hollywood, and patronising the rest of them. I remember seeing Doctor Steele working in a shop in 1982!

  2. Ryan M says:

    A few years back I returned to Australia after eight years in the UK. I spent £830 having 33 boxes shipped to Melbourne. Owing to the rock-bottom prices and sky-high quality of UK second-hand bookshops, about fifteen of thee boxes were books. While part of me is glad I hung onto them and the joys they continue to bring, a much larger part of me is all too aware that some of the boxes silently sit, unopened, in a hallway cupboard, the 2011-era sticky tape yellowing and the books themselves forgotten.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Ryan! That amount of money shows truly admirable commitment, may I say. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to sell those books to any of these people. They, and you, deserve far better.

  3. Andy says:

    I had a similar experience perhaps 17 years ago with a second hand book dealer that came to my house the night before an advertised garage sale. My mind still shys away from that horrid experience and I am STILL fuming I got ripped off by that hand wringing desperation vampire. People crap on about secondhand car dealers but book dealers take the cake. I hate them.

    • Thanks so much, Andy! Even as I feel for you, your comment made me laugh my f..king head off – not least at ‘desperation vampire’.

  4. Sharon says:

    Great stuff! You’ve a horrible memory of mine rushing back, good god I thought I’d buried this one for good. Before I moved to the States I had the adorably naive idea that I could make some extra cash selling off my beloved books. I had nowhere to keep them, I couldn’t take them with me. So I spent one Saturday driving a modest bootload of books all over the great city of Geelong, from one secondhand book seller to the next, every time being handed back 99% of what I’d brought in & leaving with about 10% less dignity each time.
    I worked at a commercial laundry for a time and even we didn’t sneer at customers bringing in a washing basket full of soiled garments the way these DOUCHEBAGS sneered at me for having the temerity to think they might pay me for some clean, unsoiled books. Oh man. I cried uncle at the fifth shop, who sent me away for 30 minutes only to have me cart the same 2 boxes of books back out to my car that I had brought in. That was the last straw. “Soul-sucking” does not even begin to describe that day. Oh and of course I made a completely pointless amount of money as a result. Bleuch. Never again. Never ever ever.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Sharon – and for sharing your horrifying story. I thought I’d had some shocking experiences with these people but there’s been nothing to equal yours with 30 Minute Man – what a total c**t.

  5. Nibbles McBobbinsworth says:

    Oh it’s all so horrid, and beastly! How *dare* that beardy ragamuffin! How dare he I say!

  6. Paul says:

    I once had the pleasure of seeing a slightly bewildered teenage Cash Converters employee endure an over enthusiastic demonstration of a piano accordion.

  7. Anthony Morris says:

    I believe the reason why many secondhand book buyers are so shitty to deal with is because many of them – especially the older, snootier stores – get most of their stock from estate sales. They only get out of their chairs if grieving relatives are offering them an entire house full of books (that the relatives have no idea the true value of) – living customers with only a box or two of books are beneath their notice and are treated with the contempt they “deserve”.

    • Thank you very much for this insight, Anthony – geez, I hadn’t thought of that! I’ll have to pop back and see him when next I’m a grieving relative.

  8. I gave up after schlepping around to a few of these seedy sellers and donated my boxes to the Salvos.I felt doubly clean.
    Oh, and thanks for “The Fan” reference, a guilty pleasure Sunday arvo flick. I remember a campy musical number with Bacall.
    The book is better… but I donated it.

    • Many thanks for your comment, Adrian (not least for the special attention you have showed The Fan). I agree that charity is the wisest road – not unusually, I let greed overtake me!

  9. Cath says:

    Can you please do your devoted readers a favour and go back to Beard’s shop? I’m desperate to know how much he’s charging for the first edition hardback. Finding out could finally tip you into memoir-writing territory…

    • ‘Devoted readers’, ho ho! But, Cath, thank you, that is an excellent point – I’m terrified at the thought of what I might see in his dusty old window.

  10. Peter Hill says:

    This article made me all nostalgic for those days of the 70s and 80s when second-hand-book shops were all over the place and came in all shapes and sizes. They weren’t solely confined to the inner-city and tourist locales and they weren’t all boutiquey or antiquey-type places where a yellowing 70s paperback edition of Day of the Triffids will now set you back $9.50. I long for the little second-hand book stores you could find along a suburban shopping strip or in any medium size regional town, crammed in between a hairdressers and a laundromat. They were small, plain, musty smelling but goddamn it, they were honest. One wall was usually stacked high with Mills & Boon- I once visited a store where they were required to be purchased by weight, like bunches of grapes. The rest would be (usually) sorted into categories- drama, thriller, historical romance (one notch up from Mills & Boon)and westerns with the smallest pile being the war & sci-fi section. I would usually make a bee-line for the stacked piles of black & white A5-sized British war comics- War, Battle, Commando, Air Ace. You could get them then for between 30c and 70c each, having to dig through the musty stacks for the ones you hadn’t read yet. Now they are sold in plastic envelopes for $5 each. Most of those stores are gone now, killed off by the internet.

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