Among the books at Book Lovers Lane where she has volunteered from day one, Brenda Brown feels right at home.
She’ll be turning 80 next year but has no intention of hanging this particular hat any time soon.
“I feel I want to keep going on forever,” she says. “It doesn’t exhaust me, it’s pleasant work and it’s nice to be accountable for something after you retire.”
The former childcare centre director has 11 grandchildren, which perhaps explains her nose for children’s literature.
For 11 years she has sorted, tagged and bagged children’s books for Lifeline, first in their main warehouse and then when they opened the bookstore, housed in the Fyshwick Markets Niche Markets.
“When I retired, I figured there was a limit to how many lunches and coffees you could have in a week,” she says.
“I’ve always loved books, and have great respect for the work Lifeline does, so it all lined up perfectly.”
The national 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention charity is synonymous with books, thanks in no small part to its beloved annual bookfairs. Book Lovers Lane was a COVID-19 baby, born when lockdowns stymied these events.
Last month the store turned three years old. In this time about 28,000 boxes of books have moved through the store, each week raising funds to answer around 430 life-changing calls.
Brenda herself has been responsible for moving hundreds of them, if not as a volunteer, then as a customer.
“Each week I go in and tell myself, ‘I’m not buying anything this time’, but I generally end up with three or four books a week,” she laughs.
“It’s hard to resist when you see the quality of the stock coming through. Much of it has only been read once, and some of it is really special.”
The store is replenished throughout the week with new titles, and stock that doesn’t move is packed up and donated to other charities such as Vinnies or sent to Papua New Guinea to find a home.
Open Thursdays through to Sundays, Brenda restocks the children’s section early on Thursdays. For her it’s meditative work that often sparks a great deal of joy.
“Every now and again we’ll have someone come in say, ‘I had this book as a child’,” she says.
“It might be someone around my age, and they just can’t believe it.
“I know how it feels – you get a little jolt of excitement when you find something like that. I think, as you get older you realise those treasures you got rid of all those years ago were so special.”
Book Lovers Lane stocks hundreds of titles across all genres. The donations to their main distribution centre come from all over, including deceased estates. As such, sometimes rare and valuable books come through, attracting book dealers from interstate to Lifeline’s bookfairs and shopfronts, including Book Lovers Lane.
Brenda says for many, a stop at the store has become part of the weekly shop at the markets.
She makes sure to keep an eye out for anything she feels might be of interest to certain customers, which she says happens surprisingly often.
“If someone asked me whether we have a certain book, I’ll take their details down and keep an eye out for it for them,” she says.
“And I get so thrilled for them if and when it comes in. It’s such a nice feeling, to be able to make a person’s day like that.”
Book Lovers Lane is housed in the Niche Markets at Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets and is open Thursday to Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm.
For anyone struggling, Lifeline Canberra is always there. If you need support, call 13 11 14 at any time.