Twenty years ago today, my heart burned with the dream of creating a better world.
On the 4th December 1994, my brother, my sister-in-law and I opened the doors of a tiny bookshop in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. It was all rough-hewn timber and zincalume shelves, bare concrete floor and, uniquely for the time, had a coffee bar up the back corner.
Red Books was our dream of sharing quirky, beautiful and thought-provoking books with those who lived in our corner of the world. In 1994, the defeat of the National Party, which had kept Queensland in cultural stasis for decades, was still fresh. Homosexuality had only been decriminalised in Queensland for a few years. The internet was still the domain of nerds and academics; ideas came from books and magazines on a slow-boat from overseas.
The bookshop kicked on for just over six years. For me, it was life-changing. I met people who showed me a different world; people who became friends; people who loved our bookshop so much they cried when we closed. Twenty years on and I’m still meeting people whose lives were changed by the books we sold, the doors our books opened.
I couldn’t talk about the bookshop for years after it closed; the grief and sense of failure were overwhelming. It’s only now I can see it through the eyes of others and I realise it was worth it. It was worth the heartache, the stress and the debt. We made our little corner of the world a better place for a lot of people who were struggling to find their place.
Today, coincidentally, I returned to bookselling. My aspirations may no longer be grand but that little flame is still there. I still believe that the right book in the right hands at the right time can change a life.