I wanted a copy of Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay. There were copies all over the internet, but it was hard to find a Melbourne secondhand seller that was offering one at a cheaper price. After browsing on Abebooks, I found several copies that came from a Melbourne seller with their own website. Apparently they were open in Prahran on all days except Sunday and Monday, so Saturday had to be the day to find them.
It took me about three quarters of an hour, and two trains (from Thornbury and Flinders Street) to get to Prahran. I've always found their train station weirdly dislocating, since it's two blocks away from either of the tram-lines in that area, and I'm never sure how to tell which from which. I popped into the pub on the corner opposite the train station, which was just opening, and asked the guy, who was just opening up, "Excuse me, do you know where Carlton Street is? It's got G___ bookshop on it."
The guy had no idea, but he pointed me to the fish and chip cafe across the road, telling me they'd been open for ages and they'd know for certain. I bounded across the street and into the cafe, but they had no idea either. "Try the lane behind the park," the guy said, "I know there's a bookshop there, though I know it's not Carlton Street." I walked another few blocks or so and crossed the park, but the only bookshop I could find there was the ubiquitous adult's bookshop. Not the sort of thing David Lindsay went in for, or myself, I'm afraid. Also, the 'lane behind the park' turned out to be Malvern Street, along which one of the tram lines went.
So I walked another few blocks until I came to one of those small chain supermarkets, halfway between a 7/11 and a Safeways. I went in there and asked the Indian woman behind the counter politely if she would be able to tell me where Carlton Street was. She looked up at another Indian guy standing behind the counter, who looked over at a swarthy moustachioed dude in a Sikh hat, also behind the counter. (It was a big counter). The Sikh guy wordlessly flipped open his mobile phone, punched a few numbers into it, and stood there looking at his phone for a couple of minutes.
After another minute or so of silence he looked up at me and said 'First street on the right after Chapel Street.'
I thanked them and bounded out of the restaurant and down beyond Chapel Street, and after walking around a bit I did indeed succeed in locating Carlton Street, or at least a shabby little cobbled laneway - between the dingy, unpreposessing confines of the 'Prahran Bingo Centre', and another nameless hall - that turned into Carlton Street. Peeping out from behind the end of the lane, I could see the bookshop, with graffiti all over the front, and bars on the windows.
I charged into the bookshop, which was thankfully still open (it was probably about three-thirty by this time). Normally I like to stop and leaf idly through random books in secondhand bookshops, but not this time; I was charged with purpose. The book was extremely hard to find; the whole first floor of this bookshop was mostly special interest books. (There were a whole lot of chess books, and history books, and art books, and poetry books, and so on). I found my way upstairs, where much of the main fiction, the classics, and the science fiction shelves were to be found. However, after looking through the Science Fiction shelves (well stocked with classic magazines and hardbacks), I had still failed to find the book. Although apparently the store had four(!) of them!
I went back down to the guy at the counter and asked him if they could help me, I was looking for a copy of Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay, and if they could find it for me. He punched the name into the computer, and finally - after having the spelling in the title corrected by me - managed in locating not one, but two copies. "There's supposed to be one in this case" he said, gesturing towards a locked glass cabinet and flourishing the keys.
If I felt a little pleased to have a shopkeeper flourish keys to a locked glass cabinet on my behalf, that pleasure soon turned to abject fear when he said, in a casual, offhand manner, "These are ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS!" (Yikes!) We browsed through the case but couldn't find the book. So he went off to another spot in the store, flourishing another set of keys, and returned with their second (or should that be first, and only?) copy of the book, which he handed to me. It was, indeed, David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus.
"This," he told me, "Is one hundred dollars." But, because there was a one-third sale on, he was going to knock the price down to a measly sixty-six dollars. (Almost half the one hundred and twenty dollars he was originally thinking of charging me!) I should note, at this point, that there was nothing remarkable about the book - no colour illustrations; it's a bit difficult to find, but certainly not rare (Minotaur Books, apparently, are selling a cheap, newly-published paperback version as part of the SF classics series); and only some two hundred pages.
I apologised and returned the book, saying sixty six dollars was still far too expensive, and that I would have to continue looking around. Perhaps I felt a bit ashamed of making the guy going to all that trouble for nothing, so I had another quick look around the bottom floor of the bookstore - the guy gestured vaguely to the back, saying "There is a whole shelf devoted to the Lindsay family... Norman Lindsay, Joan Lindsay..." I didn't tell him that David Lindsay was British, and it was unlikely that he was directly related to his Australian namesakes.
Since it was just past three-thirty, I decided to walk up Chapel Street to Penny Syber's excellent secondhand bookstore. She had an excellent science fiction bookshelf, and there was just the slightest chance that I'd find Voyage to Arcturus there. I wasn't at all sure that it would be open when I got there (it was the weekend, and the walk was about fifteen minutes). However, when I arrived in Penny's bookstore, I took a look around the science fiction bookshelves, and sure enough, wedged in between Moorcock and Lewis, I found a copy of the book which, on my opening the cover, turned out to be priced just...
I uttered several glad crys and tucking the book under my arm, did a little victory lap of the tightly-packed literature bookshelf, and came up to the queue behind the counter. In another minute, and set back by just ten dollars, I emerged out of the bookstore, with my prize now put away in my bag.
It has a crappy psychedelic illustration on the cover, an introduction by the dubiously-named Galad Elflandsson, and the book is evidently just a cheap 1970s edition - and I look forward to reading it very much. It's not every day when you manage to turn a potential one hundred and twenty dollar buy into a ten dollar buy!
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