May and Tales of (M)O(u)ld: Busy busy, mould and book grief. Observation Notes 103-104 and Reading Notes 44-45.

May has been a challenging month with very little pleasure reading. Once again, I am using SuperWendy’s TBR challenge theme for May “Tales of Old” to guide my post.

Observation 103: Same old same old back to being busy busy. Between running workshops for the road safety organisation that I work for (hmmmm – did I mention this weird and out-of-the-ordinary new career move???? I don’t teach driving LOL I instruct on the affect of emotions/moods on driving decisions), I have been teaching a citizenship and communications subject at the university, and I was a tad preoccupied with the Federal election (well….how could I not be happy with the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – he is my local member, he is not a right-wing misogynistic theocratic liar, and his first visit as the new PM was to Marrickville Library, the cultural heart of the community. He did not go to the pub or to a church but instead went to the most inclusive public space dedicated to keeping people informed. I think this speaks volumes as to the evolved role of 21st century libraries as secular, participatory and social meeting places for the exchange of public knowledge but it also speaks volumes to the new approach our change of government is heralding). All this busy-ness has meant that I have not read any books or magazines or anything at all close to pleasure reading. Even my viewing is nearly at zero – a bit of Mike Myers’ The Pentavarate (meh), a couple of Season 2 episodes of Bridgerton (hooked but waiting to binge-watch the rest), and I could only get through 20 minutes of Senior Year (Rebel Wilson can only play one character, right?).

Observation 104: Tales of Mould. Sydney (and much of the East coast of Australia) has been deluged in a La Nina. There have been devastating floods across the state, especially in the north at Lismore, and on the outskirts of Sydney. I don’t know anyone who has not had some sort of water damage, either from leaks, mud, but mostly the mould that is growing everywhere. As I am allergic to mould, I am knocking myself out with fans and heaters trying to keep the house dry, but it has been hopeless. Clothes have mould, shoes have mould, couches have mould everywhere. Some I have washed and treated, others I have happily discarded. It doesn’t help that my kitchen has had water leaks. Every time it rains, I put out towels and blankets to soak up the water. On the worst day we had over 20 leaks. The walls are stained and so is my ceiling. I can’t fault our insurance company who ensured we weren’t in danger but any repairs understandably have to wait while more urgent cases are dealt with. But the absolutely worst discovery of all, was finding my books in the sunroom/study have mould shot throughout them. Devastatingly, I threw out over 400 books. I may have cried.

Reading Note 44: My Book Grief. Like so many avid readers, I tend to keep my books, especially those which hold meaning and significance for me. Shelved throughout my home, they give me comfort. Many were gifts. Many I have read and reread and rereread and travelled with and slept with and swatted with and marked with and just relished in the memories they gave me. Some were gifts and others were inherited, inscribed by myself, by friends, by my parents-in-law. Many were read to my sons who pawed over them, sucked on them, chewed on them, drew on them, read on them. Hours and hours, days, months, years and decades of my reading life – novels, true stories, comics, travel guides. All marked with mould. They were too far damaged to keep especially with the impact they could have on my asthma. They are all now in the recycling bin. Here are just some photos to memorialise my book grief:

A Truman Capote Reader: I remember my older sister buying this book. We shared a bedroom at the time and we kept our books in this large white bookcase with glass sliding doors one of which was broken. In the same week she bought this book, she was given a second copy which she told me I could have. I remember starting with Breakfast at Tiffany’s as I had seen the movie. I then read through all the rest of the short stories, I have only vague recollections of them, with the exception of Capote writing about Marilyn Monroe

Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Hot Chocolate: I can’t recall who recommended I read this book but I know that it was well before the 1992 movie was released. Take note that the book has its original title, its later editions (and the movie) being called Like Water for Chocolate. I always was annoyed at this change in the title. The recipe in the book is all about using water rather than milk for hot chocolate. This recipe intrigued me as my Θείο Νικολάκη (Uncle Nikolaki) made hot chocolate in his coffee house in my mum’s village in this way.

A.C. Weisbecker’s Cosmic Banditos: This was a library discovery. The collection librarian where I worked was a total book snob and would snort if I suggested he purchase any romances but he was 100% on board for buying kitsch, weird, absurdist novels for me when I would find them reviewed in the international trade publications. I was deeply amused by Cosmic Banditos and its premise of a band of drug runners in Columbia having stolen a physics professor’s suitcase. They discover his textbook manuscript which they proceed to read and then debate over quantum physics and the meaning of life. I bought this copy for myself, and years later found out that the book had a cult readership having failed in bookshops but having taken off in US army barracks once Weisbecker sent his remainder copies to troops. At least, this is what I recall – it has been thirty years so I am happy to be corrected.

Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife: I’m quite sure that I first saw this book being reserved, borrowed, returned at the library where I worked on the circulation desk every Sunday while I wrote HTML code for the district “virtual library” website in 2002-2005. These were pre-web2.0 days and I was writing and coordinating content for this site, an early iteration of work-from-home with the first manager of the project which was slammed by the manager who took over. She was infuriated that I coded at home and insisted I sat in a library office to do the exact same thing. Sound familiar??? Anyway, these were book-slump, reading desert years when I had babies and I read nothing at all. Between running from this job to my TAFE library educator job (community college for the non-Australian readers), and taking care of my sons, reading was a past pleasure until, one day, I have no idea what compelled me, I sat down and read The Time Traveller’s Wife in the one sitting. I started some time after lunch and I finished it at 3am. It was the first novel I read in 7 years and it was enough to fire me up again, starting me on a book binge that propelled me into further study.

Gary Larson’s The Far Side: These Far Side anthologies belong to my husband who is forever amused by Gary Larson especially the cow comics. Absurd and anthropomorphised animals going about having human lives, Larson’s quirky and gentle humour held such an appeal for both of us, and both these books were early dip-in-and-out reads for us, though I don’t think we had done so for over a decade.

Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box: As a young uni student in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I depended on cheap and free movies for much of my entertainment. One place I would frequent was the long ago shut down Valhalla movie theatre, halfway down Glebe Point Road in Glebe. I would go and watch cheap pics there all the time, often on my own, and often with no knowledge of what I was going to watch. On such a day, I sat down in the Valhalla, and on the screen came a talking head, ruminating on love, life and himself. A one-and-a-half hour documentary that sent me into indie bookshops in search of Gray’s books.

Tama Janowitz’s American Dad: I loved Janowitz’s books. I know I had read all of them, but I only own one. The pity is, that as much as I recall loving her books, I do not recall anything about them. The sense of the book is greater than the story it told.

Hugh Lunn’s Over the Top With Jim: An Australian journalists childhood memoir, I remember loving Lunn’s writing style. At a time when Australia was venerating Clive James’s childhood memoirs (which were ok but a tad boring in comparison to his TV show at that time), Lunn shined gently for those who wanted someone who actually liked and lived in Australia rather than Clive’s Aussie who has escaped Australia reflections. I also threw out Clive James’s books but I didn’t take photos of them.

Amanda Filipacci’s Nude Men: Though I enjoyed it at the time, I think that this book can’t have aged well. I recall a messed up sex scene and I am too scared to revisit the book for a reread. Not all favourites need to be reread, right?

Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary: No, I will never reread this book. But I wanted the symbolism of it on my shelf. The book that shifted so much understanding of women back in the nineties.

Various classics: I threw out many tattered, moist classics. I guess I should be upset but knowing that I can download digital copies free from Project Gutenberg or buy cheap new copies, I wasn’t really fussed. I’m much more upset about the out-of-print books I had to throw out.

Reading Note 45: Four decades of reading life. There were so many other books that I didn’t photograph that have now been sent for pulping. Children’s books, with Where’s Wally being thrown away alongside Babette Cole, Roald Dahl, Nick Sharrat, fairy tale retellings and so many others. All my travel guides from my carefree intrepid years. Those tomes with dog-eared and tattered pages. Some water stains. Some oily stains. The occasional food and coffee stains. Pen marks and highlighters, some sticky post-it notes, my trips around Europe, the shops I chose, the accomodation I chose. These books showed my reading life trajectory, my fleeting interests, my impulse buys, my keeper buys with their marginalia, these books showing my life route, my travel maps. It saddens me that I had to throw them out. I did not feel the same grief when I discarded my old e-reader.

Oddly enough, though all these mould ridden books sat side-by-side with my Mills-&-Boon collection, it was the other books that were affected. Fortuitously, all but 5 of the romances were fine. Not even a spot of mould. A lot to be said for good paper stock.

My shelves are now bare. I’ve cleaned them with vinegar and detergent as I have not been able to find oil of cloves anywhere. Now to decide what I can risk putting on these shelves.

12 thoughts on “May and Tales of (M)O(u)ld: Busy busy, mould and book grief. Observation Notes 103-104 and Reading Notes 44-45.

  1. This is so sad! But the irony that the “trashy books” are not the ones going into the bin.

    • Yes. I thought that was funny too.

      PS I sneaked in a quick edit and added a few photos toward the end when there had been no stats indicating someone had read the post. You must have been reading while I was editing. Ooops! I’ve been caught out! 😀

  2. You’re too honest: if you hadn’t mentioned the edit I would just have read the auto-emailed reply and not realised anything had changed 🙂

    • But what if I referred to something I had written and then you would be confused thinking “what on earth is she talking about, there were no pistachio nuts in her blog posts”.

      • OK, where are the pistachio nuts? Is this an attempt to imply something which isn’t there is there (and therefore isn’t a lie, so you’re not being dishonest, but is misleading) in response to my allegation re your extreme truthfulness? Or did I miss something when I briefly looked the post over to try and work out what had changed since I first read it? Will I ever know for sure? [Drifts off into the distance with a suspicious, bamboozled look on her face.]

        • I fibbed, Laura! I fibbed big not for any other reason than thinking it was funny to throw in a pistachio nut mention as I was eating some when your comment came through. You have every right to be suspicious and bamboozled 😀

  3. Oh, I’m so very sorry! For those of us who have gone largely to digital reading, our paper books have become even more special artifacts, I think. How devastating! We have had a couple of somewhat similar occurrences — my mother had a silverfish infestation in her huge collection of cookbooks that required getting rid of most of them, and she was heartbroken. For me, it was when we moved house from one with a dirt, unfinished basement (where I never stored ANYTHING) to one with a lovely brick finished basement. I put our sizeable collection of board games down there, and after one rainy season, they all got moldy. Some had to be thrown away, but my kids still reminisce about sitting at the kitchen table with paper towels and disinfectant, wiping clean the pieces of their favorites.

    On the bright side, both of these incidents resulted in years of gift-giving pleasure when someone was able to find a used copy of something we all thought lost.

    • Oh thank you for your kind words. Perhaps I too need to take that final leap into digital reading. I have only resisted as a way to have some non-screen time reading plus I like my post-it notes sticking out of my books. I didn’t even attempt to clean the books. Mould spreads and I needed to make sure it didn’t go any further. That said, I have yet to check the books in the other three bookcases in the house. Fingers crossed!

  4. On the one hand, having moldy books while being allergic to mold: one of those “drastic times calling for drastic measures”.

    On the other hand…oh my heart. You are a strong, strong woman.

    • Yep. It was drastic. My cousin’s son was with me when I found the mould and he refused to let me keep the books. Every time I cried, he insisted I remember how sick it makes me. It was not easy. 😦

  5. Oh my heart! I’m so sorry to hear about the mold – and while it sounds excruciating, you did right by the surviving books. Mold is insidious and will spread like wild fire.

    I’m reading 100% digitally these days but still own a sizable print collection. There’s something about “seeing” print books on my shelves and around The Bat Cave – they make me happy. And a girl needs all the happy she can get.

    • Thanks Wendy. I really went in hard. Some books had only one mould spore but it would be 4-5 pages deep. It would go. I still need to get through another 3 bookcases in the lounge room but so far I have been too scared. I pulled out my John Travolta Staying Fit book and it looks like it has some scary signs. Must Travolta go, too ???? 😦

      I continue to read print books (though sadly very few). Not in any luddite attempt to hold on to the past but mostly because i need some off screen time. I’m still a bit too wedded to my computer.

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