Text & Pix by Chris Marais
The past seven years have been an incredible Journey of Books for Jules and me through the vast Karoo region of South Africa.
First, we got to know every second-hand bookshop between Port Elizabeth and Putsonderwater – with all points in-between – in the search for printed matter on the Karoo, our home base since 2007.
We found tattered old copies of The Plains of Camdeboo (Eve Palmer), Karoo (Lawrence Green), Footprints in the Karoo (Joan Southey) and somewhere, in a farm attic, a slim volume called 100 Proofs That Earth Is Not a Globe by someone called Ernst Lodewicus Venter.
100 Proofs had very little to do with the Karoo per se, but I snapped it up anyway. I’m still chewing my way through it and wondering: didn’t anyone show Mr Venter the snapshots from Space?
We loved the process of it all: chats with the bookshop owners, finding a love letter from 1934 tucked away between old pages, some kid’s scrawlings and, more often than not, an ancient shopping list, probably used as a bookmark.
We learnt as much from where the books came from as from the books themselves, it seems.
In the process, we learned how to imagine a book before it comes to life, what a collaborative job it is and just how much care a small family printer in Singapore puts into the printing of it. We also learned that such a book – 10 000 sold and still counting – has the power to make lots of people happy.
We still speak to many of those people. They phone, they write, they ask for advice on holiday routes. And, if we’re not out there on the road ourselves, we oblige with information.
The owners of the 70-odd outlets that carry our books, most of them padstalle and gift shops flung over the vastness of the Great Karoo, became our friends. We would make deliveries to them in our dusty bakkie, spend time chatting and then move on to the next town, the next face.
Now the rollercoaster ride continues, far into the digital age. We’ve created no fewer than 6 ebooks (one free) for the first phase of the Karoo Space e-Bookstore, working with Cape Town-based designer Neil McCreadie who has been with us since the early days of the Karoo Space website.
We have many more Karoo e-books in the pipeline. They’ll be launched over the next few months.
“But your lovely books are just perfect for paper,” an old friend said to me recently at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, where we presented on the Karoo.
“I can’t imagine reading them on a tablet.”
Well I can. I have. And they all look great. The text has been enhanced, the images pop out at you and the whole production is clear. I think e-books rock.
Wait. I actually think all books rock. The old dust collectors in the back section of an antique store, the bright new hopefuls on the front racks of a place like Exclusives in Sandton, the leather bound literary tomes in your favourite uncle’s home library – and now the pleasure of having a thousand titles waiting for you in a slim-Jim electronic tablet that is dropping in price every day. In the words of Willie Nelson (or was that Julio?): I love them all.