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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Dee Pfaff Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

I hadn’t been up the brick steps and through the glass doors of the com­mu­nity li­brary in years. I had moved to dis­tant sub­urbs and then to a dis­tant city. But now, walk­ing into the build­ing to at­tend a func­tion, I re­mem­bered my 15-yearold self.

Back then it was my older brother or my older sis­ter who called the shots. It was only if they had the in­cli­na­tion that one or both would an­nounce: “We’re go­ing to the li­brary. If you want to come, we’re go­ing now.” I would scurry around gath­er­ing up my scat­tered li­brary books and, with the en­gine run­ning, I’d pile into the back seat of my brother’s Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle or my sis­ter’s yel­low Cortina and we’d be off.

I would sit there on the cracked vinyl seats with a pile of books on my lap, shuf­fling through and de­cid­ing which I could bear to part with and which ones I des­per­ately needed to hold on to. My lit­tle sis­ter next to me had no such dilemma. She changed all the books ev­ery time we went to the li­brary, whether she’d looked at any of them or not.

In the li­brary carpark we would spill out and charge up the steps and in through the glass doors. Then we would dis­perse. My older sis­ter headed straight to the fic­tion sec­tion, where she stocked up on pop­u­lar nov­els such as Go Ask Alice or Rose­mary’s Baby, which she would de­vour in just a few days.

My brother browsed the DIY sec­tion to find in­struc­tional books, such as how to build elec­tric cir­cuits or how to plug a ra­di­a­tor leak.

My younger sis­ter was an om­ni­vore. She would weave in and out of the shelves, pick­ing up what­ever caught her eye, and usu­ally came away with a mix of books that spanned sub­jects from macrame to Robin­son Cru­soe.

I would go to the 130s sec­tion, which was at the far end of the li­brary where no one else usu­ally ven­tured. Kneel­ing on the car­peted floor, I would lay out my se­lec­tion in a semi­cir­cle around me — maybe eight or 10. A trans­la­tion of Richard Wil­helm’s sem­i­nal I Ching — How to Make Your Own Horoscope, com­plete with pages and pages of plan­e­tary charts; the beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated Tarot for Be­gin­ners: Div­ina­tion by Num­bers; the colour­ful See­ing Auras and oth­ers. Then I would choose my four-book quota. I might not have wanted to give up Linda Good­man’s Sun Signs for the third week run­ning, so I might have a choice of only three new books.

I would be com­pletely un­der the spell of th­ese books. If I could un­lock the se­crets they con­tained be­tween their cov­ers, I might reach a higher plane of un­der­stand­ing.

I might find some­thing unique in my­self, a spe­cial tal­ent or power. I might, for a short time any­way, es­cape the mun­dane, pro­saic world in which I lived.

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