Charity begins in Bourke St

By Rhonda Dredge

Publishers are rushing out Christmas specials this year to make people think. Myer’s sells cards to support the needy but the publishing industry can be just as charitable. 

Boxes were arriving at bookshops as early as September. By October the specials were laid out on tables for bookshops to recommend.

One delivery guy arrived at The Paperback in Bourke St and was surprised to find a note on the door: “Back in 10 minutes”.

That meant he had to hang around on a busy working day.

He could have spent a few choice words about those who make their living, selling stories to the public, but he didn’t want to sound like Barry from Brighton.

“Keep your doors open,” Barry would have said. “Otherwise you’ll miss out on your Christmas specials.”

Something more subtle was required, particularly as the delivery guy was feeling a bit like Joan of Arc, in that he was delivering a box set of novels dealing with the angst of the middle class. On offer was a special release on poverty in the 21st century with first-person accounts by the homeless. Some have a choice turn of phrase.

Take the guy they call Toots. He’s a professor at one of the universities. They gave him a chair to get him off the street. Barry wasn’t sure why he’d traded in his nice little perch on Bourke St for one in the back blocks of Wollongong as the place was tootling along at a great pace when he arrived.

Waiting outside the door were a bunch of readers – a publisher, an interstate visitor, a barrister, a Filipino smoker and a new homeless guy called Tony. He had stayed put rather than take up a chair in academia and Barry respected him for that.

It doesn’t take much to spark up a reader. Soon they were having a party. First the publisher bummed a smoke off the Filipino. Then the barrister shared a story about cricket. Then the visitor admired the publisher’s works in the window. Then the homeless guy butted in.

“I’ll sign for the books mate,” he said.

Tony is a solid bloke with a beard and an existential air about him, so Barry handed him the docket and was just about to offload at the doorstep when a dark note played in an otherwise upbeat cantata.

“Not there,” Tony instructed him. “Or someone‘ll pinch them. Leave them here.” He patted the ground beside his little stool.

The gesture took a while to summon up the appropriate Christmas spirit in Barry. He was a trusting kind of character but he knew he was carrying gold. Only the most sensible reindeers were put on the Christmas rounds and Barry didn’t want to let the company down even though his sleigh was double-parked and the inspectors were as prevalent as elves in their little Noddy caps.

“How long will he be?” Barry asked, once again inspecting the note on the door.

“I saw him dash down the hill,” said the publisher.

Well that decided it, what with Dasher and Prancer and all of the other reindeers making a hullabaloo outside the door, Barry put down the box on the doorstep and prepared himself.

A kind of Christmas fever had struck his fertile brain and he had gone way past the point of return when the idea of a nativity scene took off.

“Welcome,” he cried. “Welcome to the 2017th Christmas. It has come early this year.”

He knew there were several copies of the homeless tome in the box and he offered one to their new saviour.

“What’s it called?” Tony asked.

If only Barry had read it.

Paperback Books is recommending several fictions for the Christmas period, including Atlantic Black by A S Patric, First Person by Richard Flanagan, Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, Winter by Ali Smith and Under the Cold Bright Lights by Gary Disher.

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