Catalogue of Curiosities, by Karen Andrews


Artwork by  Shauna O'Meara

Artwork by Shauna O'Meara


I adore libraries. There hasn’t been a town, suburb or city in which I’ve lived where I haven’t joined one (or more) of the local library branches. They occupy an essential space and embody an ethos of inclusivity that is becoming rarer and rarer. Imagine the opportunity - the luck - we have to be able to access knowledge through all sorts of media for free. I was a curious child and while my childhood country public library was somewhat limited in its resources, my curiosity was satiated with the help of my large school library. These curiosities ranged from Egypt to vampires, ghosts to medieval fashion, and more. I currently work at the State Library of Victoria, so you can imagine how happy this makes me!

Photo by  Chris Phutully

Overheard conversations

Mass transportation is arguably the best place to eavesdrop on conversations. For example, airports are excellent. Time is punctuated by pockets separating the near and the far; the here and beyond. There are signifying side glances at the departure board, a trip to the water fountain. However, observing people can be hard if you are a nervous flyer, as I am, and suffer from preoccupied anxiety as to your own upcoming trip. I do much better on trains. Inappropriately loud phone conversations, watching toddlers gleefully press their noses against the window. The uniformly tired faces of the night time commute home. It’s all rich with life, especially if you are treated to a group of teenage friends sitting together, all knees and neediness, laughing at the absurdity of the world, as is their right.


I collect different editions of Dracula, my favourite book and certainly one that’s been significant to my life so far. Most of these books are packed away in storage, so whenever I buy a new one I worry I already have a copy. I think I have about eight now. My obsession with the tale saw me drag my family to Whitby when we visited England in 2015, as that is where Dracula first arrives in the country. It is a picture perfect town. I recommend the tour. (And the novel, too, of course.)

Old Favourites

The biggest of my aforementioned curiosities was about what is described as the ‘Golden Years of Hollywood’. That means different things to many people, but I was particularly struck by the period from the 1930s to the mid-1960s. I kept a very large scrapbook full of the sorts of clippings you see above. Anything about the movies or the actors and actresses from that time were fair game for my scissors, including blurbs from the TV guide back when there was still such a thing as a regular midday movie. There was the understandable glamour factor to capture my interest: beauty, costume design, romance. But it was also a compare-and-contrast exercise. What stars looked like in their heyday as compared to what they did at that time, if they were still alive at all. I ignored the antics of the 80s Brat Packers – I preferred the likes of Frank Sinatra.


“Melancholy is the happiness of being sad,” Victor Hugo wrote. Much of writing – good writing – is about surrender. To relinquish control, to lock up the inner critic. If I take too long an absence from writing, or hit a creative sticky spot, my access to this unfettered state is compromised. Many writers have written about melancholy from a variety of perspectives; for me, it can feel it can stem from a frustration of confused direction. The intent to accomplish worthy work is present. But friction occurs if this desire is thwarted by our own self talk or if external forces descend and force plans to change. If I ever start to feel down about lack of productivity or rejection, I try to get over it as soon as possible. Rather than being sad, if you think about it, indulging instead in a little melancholy could be helpful. So the next time you listen to your favourite comfort soundtrack (mine’s the stage version of Les Misérables), don’t feel guilty. At all.



Karen Andrews is an award-winning writer, author, editor and publisher. Her work has appeared in many publications throughout the country. Her blog is a two-time finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition and she regularly conducts workshops on the subject. She can be found on Twitter @KarenAndrewsAU