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From the trenches

So, the Editor said what about another missive from the trenches, and I never disobey. But then, we’re not really in the trenches now are we (a possible second COVID wave notwithstanding)—and you could hardly describe our experience of the last three months as war participants anyway. It has nevertheless been an extraordinary time, for us and you, and it deserves some reflection.

In the last gleaner I speculated on a few things which (unusually) drew some pretty sharp, even anxious responses from readers. First, I should allay alarms about our imminent demise. Yes, it’s been very difficult (we made well over 1000 home deliveries across six weeks!)—but sustained support from our beleaguered customers and the amazing dedication from gleebooks staff has helped us manage across weeks of store closures, inevitable staff absences, reduced hours since reopening, and a badly mangled supply chain. But Jobkeeper (and yes, I know it was a Labor initiative) has been the gamechanger for survival, as it has for many businesses. It’s manifestly unfair that for so many parts of the Arts Industry, Jobkeeper wasn’t made available. We can only hope that those workers somehow survive, and thrive. And spare a thought for the writers whose books have been released in an environment of great uncertainty, or delayed for months—or indefinitely—because of this climate of economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, can I reassure the many people who took umbrage at my remark in the last gleaner  that ‘after all, when it’s all said and done, we just sell books for a living’. It wasn’t said tongue in cheek, we’re proud of what we do—no doubt—and happily acknowledge there is more to working in a bookshop than just selling stuff. I was just striving for the right note in a world where so much was at stake.    

I also want to use this opportunity to mention some personal milestones in our journey. At Christmas we farewelled  Lynndy Bennett, long standing manager of our Children’s shop, who is now enjoying the bracing clean air of Orange. Our much loved Glebe manager, John Walsh, was forced by ill health (get well John) to take his leave in March. And Scott Vance, who has worked with great commitment and enthusiasm in the Glebe store, is relocating to Perth. On the plus side, it’s a pleasure to note that our Dulwich Hill shop celebrated its 10th anniversary in June. Hats off to Morgan Smith, the now veteran-class Gleebooks bookseller whose idea it was in the first place, and who has managed the shop with her customary warmth, flair and intelligence. Her deep knowledge of books is only matched by her enthusiasm for selling them. It’s a rare gift, believe me.

And what about books? Two months ago I said I was too stressed, for perhaps the first time in my memory, to read. I’m happy to declare that I’m in recovery and hope to tout many of the really good books I’ve missed over the rest of the year. And very pleased to report that the book I broke my fast with was A Room Made of Leaves—Kate Grenville’s first work of historical fiction in about a decade. It’s a cleverly wrought re-imagining of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of notorious wool baron, John Macarthur, in early colonial Sydney. It is written as a rediscovered secret memoir. Thanks Kate, as ever, for bringing our history to light and life in such original and memorable ways. David Gaunt