I happened to win a prize at a Bingo fundraising evening. That was over a year ago. The prize was right up my alley – a $50 gift voucher to a cool bookshop: the kind of place I would love to frequent, if only to breathe in the smell of new books. A shop with quiet music piped through hidden speakers. A shop where the atmosphere comes at a premium of books which cost at least 20% more than I know I can get them elsewhere. But it’s an experience and sometimes that’s all that the book-person really needs.
So, I was thrilled to win this voucher and it burned a space in my wallet for almost an entire year. It wasn’t that I didn’t try and spend it. Oh no. At least twice I found myself slowly padding through this plush bookshop, skimming the delicate spines of books and trying to bring myself to spend that $50. But, I just couldn’t. It broke my heart. Each time I found myself vaguely excited about some title I heard a little voice in the back of my head squeak: you can buy two books online for that price! So I didn’t spend it.
And then it hit me. My kids love shopping and they love books. What better treat than to split the $50 between them and allow them each $15 to spend in this yummy bookstore … and it was as though someone had offered them a year’s supply of ice cream. For free. They pranced through this shop, making far too much noise, touching everything, pulling titles off the shelves, skimming them, returning them in the wrong place and all with such glee. It was like those Mastercard advertisements: Priceless.
So each of the kids got a book and I found myself with a few dollars spare on the voucher and a sale table of items to choose from. One caught my eye: A Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon.
As you know , I am not a native of the Australian Literary Landscape so I had never heard of Bill Condon… his name sounds a bit familiar but I’m not sure that I can quite place him. I am, however, now a huge huge huge fan. I simply fell in love with this book, truly, madly, deeply.
Condon has a special gift. His characters breathe. They leap off the page and it is as though they are sitting there in the room with you, reclining on your favourite couch, sharing a cuppa and a bikkie. They are real. More real than most people I know and despite their many flaws, they are incredibly endearing. Each character in this book has found a place in my heart and in my mind. They are people I don’t think I will ever forget.
I won’t lie… I related to the protagonist, despite the fact that she comes from a small town, that her mother died shortly after her birth, that she was raised by a single man with a child – all things that are very foreign to my world. I related to her from the first page: “There’s nothing quite as good as folding up into a book and shutting the world outside.” And I read this line at about 1am on the morning after over 40 people had enjoyed a dinner at my home and I had tidied the house, packed everything away, restored order, cleaned the floors and then folded myself into a blanket on the floor with a hot cup of tea and this book. I was Tiffany… or Tiffany was me … I’m not sure which … but it doesn’t matter … I got it: “If I pick the right one I can be beautiful, or fall in love, or live happily ever after. Maybe even all three.”
This was a book for me. When Condon quoted Wuthering Heights I almost cried. “I have twenty-five minutes to wait for my ride home. That’s plenty of time for me to visit an old friend named Wuthering Heights.” How true.
But what really touched me about this book was the tenderness that lay between these characters. How much they all felt. Bull, Reggie, Tiffany, Zoe, Kayla.
What a wonderfully magical book.