February 2020

31-Jan-2020 Of course this would have been your regular end- of- summer ‘how good was that’ , Scomo style appreciation of a season where you can relax and read and read and contemplate the year just gone, and the one to come. But, oh no, this was no ordinary summer, as we all know now. Let me share just one story of ours:

On the weekend before Christmas, I was scheduled to make with one of my regular trips to Gleebooks Blackheath,  van loaded with 20 + cartons of books, many customer Christmas orders and essential stock. It was the peak of the fire danger in the upper Blue Mountains, and Blackheath was the town most threatened by the inferno in the Grose Valley, as the national parks fires spread. The homes of our staff members in Blackheath and nearby were threatened, and some had evacuated. The highway was closed and we couldn’t get through on the Saturday, so decided to go up first thing on Sunday. It was a very eerie feeling, travelling to, and arriving in, a town that was both empty (many had left) and alive with extraordinary activity as fire trucks (RFS and regular) screamed up and down the roads on the three ridges in Blackheath where people and property were  most threatened. The atmosphere, physical and otherwise, was heavy and it seemed absolutely, almost offensively absurd to be opening a shop. And very soon thereafter we were advised to leave. I felt a strong sense of our irrelevance to things that really matter, at a time when we are normally front and centre to everyone’s attention.

So, Christmas at Gleebooks was anything but usual, and certainly no bumper crop. Who knows what 2020 will bring, but we’re here, we’re keen, and there’s plenty of good new books, great events (in Glebe, Blackheath, Dulwich, as well as a very exciting Sydney Writers’ Festival in late April) and general all-round Gleebooks bonhomie. We’ll be working on organising book clubs, to take place on a regular basis upstairs at Glebe. We’ve been asked about offering this service for many years, and would love to hear from you if you’d be interested in taking part. James Ross, our events manager, and I would love an email (james@gleebooks.com.au or david@gleebooks.com.au) expressing interest, and we will outline our ideas of how it might work. We’re also interested in hearing from anybody who might have an interest in leading or moderating a group.

It has been, as I said, a peculiar summer, to say the least, and my own reading time was much disrupted. But coming back to Elizabeth Strout and revisiting Olive Kitteridge in Olive Again only confirmed that she is one of the best writers around. These are connected stories, re-imagining characters from Strout’s other books. Rich, immersive, full of emotional connection, and yet so tough-minded. As good as Alice Munro, and that’s high praise indeed. And Le Carré’s Agent Running in the Field is just brilliant. I’m an irregular reader of crime and spy books (having said which, I’m loving Dervla McTiernan’s new Cormac Reilly Irish crime The Good Turn—due early March). But I am in awe of every aspect of Le Carré’s mastery of the genre. Agent Running is superb, and this from a writer aged 88. It is an anger-fuelled, but grimly humorous look at a riven Europe, through the eyes of a veteran ‘agent-runner’. Astonishing that Le Carré, more than 50 years on from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold could recreate that world so brilliantly. David Gaunt