Bookshops and libraries have been part of my life for as long as I can remember reading: primary school libraries first of all, then the local dairy in Blackball with its westerns and Pan Piper war stories at 1/6d; the tiny lending library down the road at the Workingmen’s Club and Mutual School of Arts, serviced by the National Library Service van every few months. Our house was a house of reading: only the radio, one station, 3YZ and no television. How privileged I was.
At high school in Greymouth, the library was a step up from this and later, the local bookshops: Miss Brislane’s and Kilgours, even Woolworths with their bargain bins, hallowed emporiums where I began to build up my never-ending private library with funds, goodness only knows how, my cash-strapped mother provided. I’ve never stopped, gladly (and sadly, there are no treatment centres for biblioholia).
A return trip home to the land of my birth in the 1980s had me goggled-eyed at the shelf-stacked bookshops of Albion: the new, the secondhand, even a whole Welsh town (Hay-on-Wye) devoted to bookshops of every stripe. A six-year stint working for Waterstones in Kent and London – all these temples of print made sure I would not die wondering as to how great a good bookshop could be.
Returning to study here in 1997, I made the acquaintance both of UBS and Scorpio Books, as well as the late, much lamented wedding-cake towers of Smiths Bookshop Manchester Street, a slice of secondhand book history to rival any I’d seen in Britain, since sadly brought down to earth by the terrible earthquake series beginning in 2010, punishing all the old buildings in the city for the next four to five years, along with their inhabitants, we readers.
I cannot truly pick any one of these waystations on my own writing journey, but as of today, UBS still stands firm at the university where I am typing now, surrounded in this office by a shelf of close friends: from an 1852 Wiremu (the New Zealand Dictionary, 2nd edition, compiled by the Rev. Wm. Williams, Archdeacon of Waiapu) to the majestic Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. I visit our campus bookshop every week; my most recent buy was John Le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel.
They hosted the launch of Blood Ties, my beautifully made New and Selected Poems 1963-2016 a few weeks ago; as shortly afterwards did Scorpio, with Mākaro Press’s lovely imprint of Dylan Junkie, my fanboy poems for Bob. Both events were full of life and energy, people like me who love to read and who – without such oases of cultural riches – would be poor indeed.
Have smart phones and tablets and laptops displaced the paper book? Who knows? It looks that way when I walk through the university library these days and see the waves of screen-babies staring at their machines with hardly a book in sight. Some days, the old words of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer come back to me:
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts … and there is no health in us”.
Was that prophetic? Should I lay down my iPhone and repent, turn again to the halls of print and hold a book like a talisman once more, a reminder of how truths on paper have set me free: truths of the imagination, of science, of faith? Visit my local bookshop while it still remains and buy New Zealand made? Yes, I think so.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman – 2017
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman was born in London in 1947 and immigrated to New Zealand in 1950, living out his early years mostly on the South Island’s West Coast. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.