As I, along with the rest of my travel-weary family and the multitudes of other similarly afflicted passengers inched our way towards a Customs Officer at Auckland International airport, my thoughts necessarily drifted to another long-ago passenger, Oscar Wilde, who on arrival at the New York Custom House, is said to have uttered, “I have nothing to declare except my genius”. Likely, amid this throng of humanity, were ‘remain’ and non-Trump voters, who, on arrival at the customs desk, might reasonably echo this 19th century sound bite. Whereas, I had nothing to declare but my waywardness. Evidence of which—one hardback and one paperback—lay concealed in my suitcase.
In truth, it wasn’t that I’d fallen off the wagon, but rather, stepped off it briefly to save a couple of books in imminent danger. Let me explain. We were holidaying in Cambodia and naturally, added to the ‘to see and do’ list was, ‘find bookshop(s)’. Finding them was not difficult. In fact, I discovered two fine Phnom Penh bookshops—D’s Books and Bohr’s Books—near our hotel.
What did prove difficult was comprehending the reality of what I’d found. Book-selling in Cambodia is not for the faint-hearted. Thanks to unrelenting humidity—even in January relative humidity seldom drops below 41% and can reach as high as 99%—Cambodian booksellers must contend with, what Andrew Lang once described as, “the first great foe” of books, damp. And, despite seemingly excellent air circulation in addition to overhead fans and air conditioners, its destructive presence—foxing in particular—was all too evident. So, if you’re in Cambodia spare a thought for these tenacious book-folk and please do buy some books.