Meet the Bookseller with Steve Bidwell-Brown
What’s the strangest experience you’ve had in a bookshop?
I once helped a budding Charlie Chaplin impersonator find books about his hero. He was a young method actor looking to audition for a mime school in France. Our exchange generally consisted of me communicating with words and him responding through mime. He’d pirouette on his cane to agree with something, and strum his fake moustache when perturbed. It was a strange, beautiful language he was trying to forge.
What’s the best experience you’ve had in a bookshop?
A couple of years ago I organised a poetry event with Polish poetry translator Marcel Weyland at a bookshop in Sydney. He read and discussed a bunch of poems he’d worked on, many of which were being translated into English for the first time. Some of the poems were found in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto after World War II, written by men who’d been incarcerated by the Nazis and were determined to pen their experiences. It was an incredible event to attend.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately and why?
Dal Stivens’ A Horse of Air. It’s an Australian novel about a wealthy mental patient who is encouraged to keep a diary and ends up recalling the time he chased an exotic parrot through the desert with a team of amateur naturalists. It’s one of those brilliant, out-of-print Miles Franklin winners from the 1970s that no local publisher has thought to re-release. It reads like an Australian Vladimir Nabokov writing his confessional equivalent of Tropic of Cancer – playfully cunning, fervently penned, full of animal insights and all about the nature of first-world freedom
What’s your favourite book?
Probably James Joyce’s Ulysses. It taught me more about language and consciousness and what the written medium is capable of capturing than anything else I’ve ever encountered. Reading about one typical day-in-the-life through 18 different forms was just an astounding experience. I often feel like I’m still reading it, there’s that much to it.
Why do you work in books?
Books make fantastic conversation pieces. One minute you’re discussing the Istanbul music scene with a community radio jock, and the next you’re helping a traveller choose the right book on Australian history. Just about everyone you meet is either curious or obsessed. It’s hard to go a day without encountering something surprising and grand.