Years ago, when I was fresh out of high school, I worked in Onehunga (way before it was cool) at the Hard to Find but Worth the Effort Second-Hand Bookstore. My boss was famous for never wearing shoes. I don’t know how I got the job – I was very young, impractical and from Masterton. I knew who Maurice Gee was, and Shakespeare, but at 18 years of age, I didn’t know that much more. However, I was someone who would rather stay at home and read a novel than go out and I’ve always had an honest look. Perhaps they felt sorry for me.
The shop itself was an old house, upstairs and downstairs, completely full of bookshelves. I used to think that the only thing holding the walls and ceiling up were the solid, towering stacks of books. I learned in that shop that there are just as many types of people as there are types of books. I loved the job. I was surrounded by books and people who loved them as much as I did.
On the long drive to work I listened to Kim Hill on morning radio. It was the first time I’d actually listened to people talk about intelligent ideas on the radio (I grew up listening to commercial radio stations) and between Kim, the customers and the bookstore, I learned a lot about politics, people and books that year. I think of it as the beginning of my education, of my time as an adult in the world.
To pay the rent, I also worked as a waitress at the brasserie in Debrett’s Hotel. My boss there wore very nice shoes and smoked cigarillos that he imported himself. Half the ex-cast of Shortland Street seemed to ‘work’ there. I put that word in parentheses as the ‘out of work’ actors didn’t seem to do much apart from look glamorous and talk to diners while I got all sweaty running diners’ orders. I learned a lot there too, but I never felt like I belonged.
Twenty years and many jobs later I’m back working in a house filled with bookshelves. The office of Victoria University Press was a family home many years ago, but now it houses the staff who run the Press. My new boss wears shoes and, as far as I know, doesn’t smoke cigarillos. My office is lined with shelves, with titles by some of the very best writers working in NZ today. By some strange planetary alignment Kim Hill is back on morning radio this week. Something feels very right about it all.
Kirsten McDougall is the new Publicist at Victoria University Press.