46 Great Opening Lines: 26

Alicia Martin,¬†‘Biografias’, installation in Cordoba, Spain, Photo courtesy of Toni Castillo Quero, Creative Commons

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Over the past decade university ­libraries have been systematically removing books from their shelves.

Michael Wilding, ‘University Libraries should Preserve Printed Books’ in The Weekend Australian, 23rd August 2017

Last week’s opening line came from a short story by Michael Wilding. Now I’m drawing on him again, but today’s opening line is no fiction. It’s sadly the absolute truth about our libraries. He has written at least three pieces over the past seven years to alert the world to the emptying of its libraries.

Wilding is in some ways a man after my own heart. I’ve been told that my local university library will one day be purged of old French books (among other foreigners), so I’ve been borrowing what I can to prove they are wanted, to keep them out of the book cemetery.

In March 2014 Wilding wrote ‘Libraries Under Threat’ in Sydney Review of Books, and revealed what happened to some books from the University of Western Sydney:

… skip loads of books deemed duplicates, silver-fish infested and surplus to requirements were thrown out and used for landfill.

Hold onto that word ‘landfill’. I’ll be back.

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46 Great Opening Lines: 25

Advertised it looked an interesting job: Writer requires an intelligent typist.

Opening line, The Words She Types, Michael Wilding, 1975

A few years ago I was staying in an apartment with bookshelves full of books. With only three days to read, I selected The Penguin Best Australian Short Stories and flicked through it, reading first paragraphs. Michael Wilding’s story ‘The Words She Types’ captured my attention from the start, from the opening line.

And from the second line I was completely into it. As someone who has been typing for forty-odd years, I saw myself in this woman’s shoes:

It sounded more interesting than routine copy-typing; and the ‘intelligent’ held out the bait of some involvement.

She is accepted for the job of typing up the handwritten manuscript pages of a writer, but over time his pages contain fewer and fewer words and she is expected to fill in and expand, and even to interpret blank pages. She knows he will publish the story, but will he claim the words are his and hers, or his, or hers?

Michael Wilding, by the way, is a much published author. No doubt, all the words in his books are his.

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