Love (Books) in The Time of Corona

29 June 2020 - 12:06
By Mila de Villiers
Love Books in Melville has reopened its doors to readers.
Image: Supplied Love Books in Melville has reopened its doors to readers.
The sanitisation station at Love Books.
Image: Mila de Villiers The sanitisation station at Love Books.

It's been seven hours and 15 days...

If only Sinéad O'Connor could pen a Saffa-related lockdown treffer to: 

a) encapsulate the agony which is a break-up from normality; and 
b) actively help us keep track of how long it has been since we were deprived of zol jols, traversing provinces and perusing in bookstores.

Emphasis on the latter.

For many weeks, bookstores remained closed to prevent the spread of the dreaded pathogen, barring those which sold titles deemed "educational" by the government.

This credo ought to be applicable to any and all shops stocking books, for as the inimitable Dr Seuss put it: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." 

Maar nou ja.

Fast-forward to mid-June: Love Books, an independent bookstore in the Joburg suburb of Melville, has reopened and hard copy-starved hoëvelders converged on the beloved literary haven - to be met with both a socially distanced sale and a list of Covedian protocols prior to stepping inside.

The following notice has been attached to all three ports of entry to be adhered until "we return to some kind of normal".

A six-step guide to (safe) browsing à la Love Books:

1. Wear a mask at all times.

2. Sanitise your hands with the hand sanitiser provided. 

3. Practice social distancing and stay 2m away from other shoppers. 

4. Stand away from the desk at the till point.

5. We recommend you tap your card or use SnapScan.

6. We will allow a maximum of five people in the shop at one time.

Said hand sanitiser was placed alongside a handwritten note urging patrons to cleanse their extremities and don a pair of disposable gloves for (safe) browsing.

The en vogue term to end all en vogue terms.
Image: Mila de Villiers The en vogue term to end all en vogue terms.

Step six certainly was complied with - there were only four other clients in the store. (Day one of their sale saw so many mense rock up that a handful of the maddening crowd were asked to "please leave and come back later". And return they did.)

A distinguished oom in an armchair, alternating between adjusting his glasses and Tommy Shelby cap as his gloved hands carefully paged through the tome in his lap, was one.

A woman with two bookish bambinas making a determined bee-line towards the children's books' section were the remaining three. 

(And me.)

Before book stores nationwide were legally obliged to remain shut to the public, a regular fixture on their social calendar was that of the perennially popular book launch: evenings of merriment devoted to all things literature and mahala vino.

Herewith a small intro to book launches BCE (Before Covid Era) and book launches DCE (During Covid Era):

Book launches BCE: 

From impersonations of modern-day Troilus' and Criseydes' (yes, fainting spells have occurred during over-attended launches - RSVPs = NB) to adjacent spaces being utilised to accommodate audiences (such as Service Station, the restaurant-cum-deli directly beside Love Books), these events were diarised and frequented by local readers - with a meaning that skriks for niks.

Exhibit A: the Love Books launch of Shirley Gunn and Shanil Haricharan's Voices from the Underground: Eighteen Life Stories from Umkhonto We Sizwe’s Ashley Kriel Detachment back in October 2019 which was ultimately hosted in Service Station. (That's some crowd, nè?)

The Love Books/Service Station launch of 'Voices from the Underground' in October 2019.
Image: Alistair Anderson The Love Books/Service Station launch of 'Voices from the Underground' in October 2019.

Book launches DCE:

Everyone's favourite mode of lockdown-communication (howzit, Zoom!), Facebook's video streaming services and Instagram LIVE have all been employed by publishers as URL alternatives to the IRL experience. 

And yes, virtual launches don't offer you the opportunity to pose for a selfie with the author or to rehearse your pseudo-intellectual question during the panel discussion, only to fluff it after hesitantly raising your hand and inarticulately posing said question to the scribe come Q&A session. (I'm an erudite English major, promise.)

And no, the digital nature thereof doesn't detract from the true purpose of a book launch: the opportunity for a writer to consider their craft before a receptive and appreciative audience. Plus, those who suffer from mic fright have found solace in responding with emojis as opposed to literally voicing their opinions. (See above.)

But sho (Madjozi), being surrounded by fellow bibliophiles while listening to an author chat about their writerly adroitness is as sorely missed as Marlboro Golds. (*cue "no woman, no cry/no skyf, no gwaai / Sharps aren't a vibe"*.)

Oh, and forget Madonna's 1992 classic Sex, for hygiene spray is your new coffee table centrepiece.

Not product placement. Promise.
Image: Mila de Villiers Not product placement. Promise.

Two masked millennials entered as the woman with the budding bibliophiles took their leave (in keeping with the "maximum of five people in the shop at one time" rule).

Neither of the kiddies seemed to have made up their minds about which books they'd be keen to read, but as the lady accompanying them said in a reassuring tone: "It's okay, we can come back tomorrow."

And, yoh, did those seven words not resonate with boekwurms throughout this nca country of ours, for to paraphrase the immortal words of one Arnie Schwarzenegger: "We'll most certainly be back."