Telltale: Reading Writing Remembering

Carmel Bird

Telltale: Reading Writing Remembering
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Telltale: Reading Writing Remembering

Carmel Bird

‘I was confined, locked into my library, tracing my heartbeats from way, way back.’

In Telltale, Carmel Bird seizes on an enforced isolation to re-read a rich dispensary of books from her past. A rule she sets herself is that she can consult only the books in her house, even if some, such as the much-loved Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, appear to be stubbornly elusive. Her library is comprehensive, and each book chosen - or that cannot be refused - enables an opening, a connection to people, time, place, myth, image, and the experience of a writing life. From her father’s bomb shelter to her mother’s raspberry jam, from a lost Georgian public library with ‘narrow little streets of books’ to the memory of crossing by bridge the turbulent waters of the Tamar River, to a revelatory picnic at Tasmania’s Cataract Gorge in 1945, this is the most intimate of memoirs.

It is one that never shies from the horrors of world history, the treatment of First Nations People, or the literary misrepresentations of the past.

Original, lyrical, and hugely enjoyable, Telltale, with its finely wrought insight and artful storytelling, is destined to delight.

‘A book about books that dreams you through a library of life.’ - Bruce Pascoe

‘I have so loved this book! It walks us through the encounters of a lifetime, always with a delightful eye for strange connections and elusive memories. It is testimony to a life of great intellectual generosity and human compassion. It is irresistible.’ - Michael McGirr


When I was a child one of my favourite books was titled Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library. The premise being you are thrillingly stuck, surrounded by bookshelves, where reading is the only option available to you – heaven, really. Carmel Bird’s book holds the same principle, except instead of the library, it’s her home, and lockdowns during Covid times are what keep her restricted to her shelves. Telltale is Bird’s memoir of sorts, told through her collection. This premise allows her to shift from her childhood to now, to create bridges through diverse titles and to identify what titles have influenced her and why.

Bird spends time reflecting on stories that have changed in meaning. She says, whereas the telling of history changes and different details come to light, fiction on paper is frozen in its own shape. But ‘frozen’ fiction still allows the reader to ponder who they were when they first navigated the words. With this idea as one of her foundations, Bird welcomes us readers to witness the evolution of her writing influences.

Telltale is the perfect read for anyone who considers themselves a reader, who visits a home and ponders what a bookshelf says about the inhabitant, or who has sniffed an old book, or kept one safe. It’s for anyone who still has vivid memories of what they were reading at pivotal times in their life, and for those who have followed this fine poet of a writer through her previously published works and thoughts. It is a reader’s book in the very literal sense. It is a book that is meant to be savoured and considered, and it will influence you to pick up your grandparent’s copy of Dickens, or a battered childhood copy of Brer Rabbit, and ruminate how everything changes over time – except, of course, for the joy of reading.

Chris Gordon is the community engagement and programming manager at Readings.

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