“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

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It is hot today. Customers are exhilarated and expansive because Christmas is over and the Hard Work is done.

A lady who suffers terribly from insomnia tells me that this is lucky as it gives her so much time to read. Her husband said that he has no time to read, never has had. He looked at the volumes of Ngaio Marsh she had set aside to buy. He said he doesn’t know where his time goes these days. She told him that it has probably gone to the pub.

A little girl asked for Harry Potter but her mother reminded her that there would be no time to read it. So best leave it.

Kerry said he can get through one thriller a night. I asked Robert how long it might take him to get through The Gnostic Mysteries and he said he will never be done with that book, even after he dies he will still be reading it. And when the government discovers his body still reading it they had better be worried.

A little boy said he could read a Geronimo Stilton in 5 minutes but his sister said that this was a lie.

I have time to continue polishing the cover of a Henry James (Selected Novels and Stories) an impressive 1087 pages, and to think about Daisy Miller.

Fran picked up her order and said that there is no technology yet that can track what happens to the human mind when we are reading. It can track the activity of the brain but not of the mind.

I tried to imagine what my mind was doing at the end of Bel Canto or at the beginning of Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees.

Robert, who is still here, said that if the government knew what his mind was thinking when he was reading they would put the watch dogs onto him. We asked him what he is reading (besides the Gnostic Mysteries) and he said The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. And that we would find out more about what’s going on in the world by reading that book or Homer because everything in the newspapers is an insult to intelligence. And that includes the weather.

There were some new visitors from interstate. He was hilarious because he had just found a copy of The Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett and it is the Exact Book he is up to. ‘I’ve got so many books to read, so many, just so many, we are always just buying other ones. I sit there in the caravan park and I’m just laughing out loud, it’s so funny. I will have to read for ever. I think it’s possible, that’s why we get so many. I am collecting every book by Terry Pratchett, I read them more than once and they actually GET FUNNIER.

Then at the end of the day, a small boy asked me for a Christmas book that had been in the window last week. He said he saw it and wanted it and when I brought out the stories that were left he pointed to a heavy dark green Faber anthology of Christmas stories and poetry. His mother told him that it was a book for adults. His father told him to leave it until he was older. But he gave me all his money and whispered that it was the one he wanted. He defended his choice patiently to his parents, told them that this book would NOT run out of pages. The other books there would run out of pages. He was 6 years old.

But I understand. I have been reading Henry James for a long time and there is no end in sight. This pleases me too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructions for Reading the Ocean

DSC0110__880 Jenny Adler

  1. Blue Chipped: this describes the first piece of ocean glimpsed from the far away approach. This seen fragment has extraordinary power to evoke memories of salt, satisfaction and joy. Likewise, it refers to the inner blue fragment that stores our unbounded collection of reading experiences. This blue chip is activated when a reading experience is anticipated.
  2. On the Shoreline: this refers to the situation of when a singular book first draws our attention (for many different reasons) and the colour of the water, the play of its surface and the imagined temperature of the pages  are at their most significant here.
  3. Sandshift: this refers to the ability of the brain to comprehend with pleasure the shift from land to sea or from oxygen to print. It acknowledges the risks of the new environment and the need for gills.
  4. Just In: means the allowing of influence and falling into print. It is one foot into the surf while assessing the sand.
  5. Quarterways: is the decision to continue. It is attempting the water and feeling pleased with the bravery. It is hoping that others will notice that we are the carefree, caught up easily in the moment type, careless of cold. We will allow the cover to show and the bookmark to be prominent. We might add this to a list of books already read because we are just beginning it.
  6. Submerged: refers to our giving permission to ourselves to be completely taken and held by the book. All we are hearing now is water roar and seagull and we are no longer people of the land. The bookmark will float off and anyone glimpsed on our same beach is damningly invasive of our reading boundary.
  7. The Strong Swimmer: the delightful play of energy and water volume, the clear eyes, the swim of muscle and the grasp of plot and structure for added buoyancy. Sometimes emerging from the waves of print is hilarious, the after-foundering with streaming eyes is exciting and the unexpected twists of plot and salt are stinging and embracing.
  8. Sounding the Deep: confounded by the lens of water, able to hear only water, regarding in alarm the monstrous aquatic lives that are released through reading: anger, sorrow, terror, joy and loneliness. Sounding can also describe the sensation of floating on a current of word flow, sentence fall and also the spiky drift into cold pools of unaccustomed thought. Sometimes intense activity causes a swell of emotion and a crash of beauty.
  9. Archived: this refers to the phenomenon of losing land. The swimming mind is so completely submerged that it loses bearings and becomes emperor of its new environment. This means that the aquatic experience has become complete and is now being calculated from a dizzying height. It also means that upon completion, the swimmer may remember only a few details of the story… might instead struggle to describe a newly minted understanding, a freshly washed distinction or a seismic shift in perception; for example, the sound of human breath, the history of shells or the felt sympathy of emotion. It means that the flow of seawater, seaweed and collected works has trickled and run so deep as to be now unseen and unheard.
  10. Emergence: sensing conclusion on the surface. Remembering gravity and needing sometimes to swim backwards through pages to check nets for facts and also to delay the landing for a little while longer.
  11. Closed and Completed: the end of the book, that final page and sometimes a sense of loss, sometimes a sense of achievement. It is when you must plod splashily out and over the warm minerals of a thousand fonts. Coping with the changing temperature causes disorientation. It is groping for a rough towel to comfort the smarting eyes and aching muscles as the soul enlarges to cater for its newly plunged and challenged self. It describes the completing experience of lying on hot sand to regain heat and process finale.
  12. Feeling Broadsided: when you realise that your established thoughts and beliefs have just been well and truly baptized. It is trying to clear water from your ears and regain the old balance. It is feeling rinsed, ruined and rich. It can include the loss of car keys and so temporarily unable to get home.
  13. In Remission: means coming to terms with a possibly new and uncomfortable clarity that the story has delivered. Also it is an anxiety to return again to that same stretch of beach as exploration there has barely begun. It is glancing backwards in case a fin breaks the surface as you leave. And it includes, as high priority, the preservation of library and marine environments and the pursuing fidelity of better and better books for your stretch of sand. It acknowledges the need to continue visiting the library of consternation and the alarming choices thereof.

 

Instructions for Keeping out of the Ocean

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Reading is an immersive activity and reading is also an active immersion. But it does not have to be this way. Reading can be a mere paddle, a comfortable stroll, a shallow wading amongst familiar pools and rocks, safe from danger, cold and wind and depths. There are instructions and steps to follow to keep your reading life exactly where you want it. Pin these notes to the nearest sand dune and refer to them when feeling unsure.

  • If you must read then choose a rock pool instead.

During the monsoon season that is your life there is much noise, activity and alarm in your environments. It is best to read quick instructional and devotional tracts only. There are endless pools of such reading material. These explain clearly how to achieve just about anything as quickly as possible while the activity of your life and mind rains down and down. Of course the monsoon season of your mind can never end if you tend it carefully enough.

  • Choose a safe pool.

The people that hire out these tiny glittering shell filled pools are courteous and enthusiastic. There is no space for swimming in them but that is ok because maybe you can take one of the shells home. Those that do dive to retrieve a shell will find, sadly, that they are mere reflections of light on the sand anyway. If you do not dive for one at all, well that is your own fault. Watch carefully the sailors from the publishing ships that come out out in the early morning. They will check the shark nets for rogue literature and re peg the best seller lists for hopeful profits. Then they will re glitter the pools of shallow hopes and retreat back to the ship deck to read the How to get Rich Quickly best seller that they sold to themselves last week

  • Choose a shallow pool.

Some people read for entertainment and to cool off. They dip quickly and with pleasure into known shallows, find out what they already knew, emerge with satisfaction and hurry on to the next task. They return to the same tepid bath consistently for a thousand years. Eventually the bath silts up with the sand of repetition. The next swim will be in the dry wind, also entertaining.

  • Choose a small pool.

Reading without risk means that points of entry begin to shrink. Soon any point of entry is just a mere ankle bath but this can still feel dangerous and exhilarating.

  • Choose a sheltered pool.

Then you can read without discomfort whilst also checking for danger. Eventually, everything you do not immediately recognise will seem dangerous.

  • Choose a noisy pool.

Reading for distraction means that the monsoons rage more and more loudly beyond the sand hills. These readers are forced to select books that can produce noise equal to or noisier than the current prevailing winds.

  • Choose a pool with a handle.

Because reading for reinforcement means hanging onto the jetty pier even though there is no current. You must also continue reading books about the strength of that particular jetty.

  • Do not look away from the pools.

Away from the pools there are things to consider such as the weather, the wind, the sun, the depths, the currents, the sand, the salt, the isolation and the monsters of the deep.

Perhaps though, you are looking seaward over the pages of your current recommended beach read.

In this case, a guide should take you out to the known atolls. There you can gaze at the catalogued and labelled tourist attractions at no risk to yourself. Consider a condensed version of the reefs or even a tiny authorless sea sample to take home and put on the wall. There is no need to read the entire book. Many swimmers take picnics to Reviewers Reef where you can stroll the edges and collect everything you need to without going in. Here also are The Shoals of Interpretation and although crowded with quarrelsome fishing boats is none the less also a lively place to visit.

Do not swim too closely to the islands of curriculum, as the seabird colonies there are overcrowded, tired and inclined to argue. If you do, make sure you swim a safe path and at a safe depth. On no account emerge from the water and make your own silly campsite there. For if you do you will find in the morning that the formalists have been and examined your ideas for textual references during the night. Note the Bay of Deconstruction that lies between the School of Resentment at the eastern end of the island and The Canon at the westernmost point.

Other places of interest include Camp Kindle: a thriving nudist camp for readers without books. Around the corner is Glum End, a sheltered and beautiful corner of the island set aside for kindle refusers and for predicting the future.

The Oulipo Straits, an outlying rocky channel which features an elite diving school called Prisoner’s Constraint is located further out than most readers are prepared to go. Experiences offered here include the seeking of new submarine structures and patterns, and deep sea mathematical hilarity. Members are rarely visible as they are consistently preoccupied with palindromes, lipograms and the deep diving needed to avoid ascenders and descenders. Apparently the deepest divers here have encountered seventh nouns. Obviously not for the faint hearted.

But if you still find yourself edging the older rock shelves and looking into the emerald depths at books sitting on the bottom, unregarded but intact, then it is important that you know the catastrophic size of the world that you are going to enter. The safety rules for entering the library of consternation are unfortunately always written in the language of difficulty which prevents many swimmers from leaving the jetty. However, it is possible to ignore these and simply make your own.

  • A warning about associating with the swimmers of contempt.

Avoid watching the way these swimmers, probably your children, flounder, float and fly your beach.

Ignore how they, while regarding the surf with terror and anticipation, can enter regardless, with all eyes ready, goggles and snorkel clutched and uncomfortable,  anticipating deeper waters and the step away from the sand shelf, the skin ecstatic and the mind swung wide and breathing toward new marine stories.

Note how they can abandon the water at any time and do not time their swimming sessions or count the number of pages that should be read. They can start a new book at any time, end an old book at any page, and will wade excitedly across to new rocky areas, gleeful in all depths, unregarding of sand, salt or of completing a dull swim just because it was begun.

All significant books completed contribute to the formation of an exhilarating and personal marine atlas. They are not deleted from reading lists just because they have been read. Cartographers of the library of consternation rarely carry reading lists.

These swimmers also do not read the instructions for keeping out of the ocean.

Colours Quarrel

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When David came to the shop today I made him listen to me tell him about the large squares of coloured glass I had already received for Christmas this year from my husband. These were being fitted into and around my front door which received a drenching of light every afternoon. I imagined a cathedral but really this was just my front door. I had my colours organised but the glass artist changed them because he said my colours were not going to obey me. He said that colours quarrel. My dark colours would go black and stay there. They sulk.

He changed my panes to rose, champagne, sage green, ice and an invisible gold. I complained that now there was no colour. And there wasn’t. He said there would be, that these would cooperate and allow each other a fair turn in the light and that they would change as the light changed and show all of their personalities. My dark ones would just turn their backs on me especially if they did not have enough space.

I said I did not know any of this. He replied that it was understandable, everyone is busy. But there is nothing so busy with its own concerns as a piece of stained glass. Each piece of glass thinks it is right. They needed to be treated subtly and with cunning to get them to all do what you want without them knowing.

Well, my glass panels are up and fat with warmth and light and they are breathtaking and the artist, with his dreadlocks and tools in the dusty workshop was absolutely correct. In the morning they are quiet and smooth and rich, in the evening they become hilarious and show blue and purple even though this is impossible.

David said that this is true:  colours, like books, are impossible.

 

(Photography by Ramin Rahmani Nejad)

 

 

 

 

 

Sell Your Cleverness and Buy Bewilderment ( Rumi )

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The reason to write about something is to disturb the essence of an encounter and then protect it.

The thing that the piece of writing will need protection from is the writing itself.

What I am writing about will need to be protected from me. A small story that is shared with me here at the shop is not necessarily small. It just has a small entry point. Then, later it comes to me that it was actually a vast story.

When I write I do not want these stories to be viewed through mere glass.

Barbara came to the shop and I wrote about her. The writing is the lens through which I understood her; but her small story was not small although my understanding and ability to share it is small. Instead of looking at Barbara through glass, which is too clear and hot, I ought to be gazing through something like a polished coin of opal, through the shadows and complications. If I see her too easily I might understand her too easily and thus wrongly. There ought to be a courtesy of space and shadow so that her real story can survive.

I should not just paste these stories on glass. But if I run them through opal, they will be preserved. This means writing less.

I should not be able to see a frozen clarity because there is no such thing. A proper and courteous view is melted and distorted.  And while it is grazed and cracked and furious it is also beautiful and awful. I must write responsibly to be fair.

It is important that I clear away the ropes and strings of words that the essence of my subject does not need so that the essence of my subject is not bruised.

Barbara came in and asked me to help her wrap some Christmas gifts for her grandchildren. She carries her purse between both wrists as her hands are too swollen and painful to grasp things. Her hands today are shaking. She said that her son and his family have told her that she must move into an aged care facility.

Her hands continued to shake in disbelief. I helped her wrap the small things she had, but it was her fading dignity that we were really wrapping.

(Artwork by Bing Wright)

The Structure of the Day

Alexandre Perotto

The structure of each day in the bookshop has become replete.

Each day forms nicely, bulges out and toward the afternoon, trims itself and tries to return to normal by closing time.

Each day the flow of information is generous.

Each morning seems to be about Henry James.

At closing time, I am anxious to get home to keep going with Henry James. I am slow. Leon told me that I am slow with books, it is true. But I am justified – The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James is a thicket of alarm bells. I have to go slowly.

Young families wash in on a tide of enthusiasm and spare time because the school holidays have begun and it is summer. And there is a new Star Wars film. When they leave the door is covered in fingerprints and there will be an empty juice bottle amongst the Geronimo Stiltons.

‘Where’s that book The Cross Sections of the Man of War? Is it still here? Last week it was.’

‘Nanna is getting us books and we can pick our own. This one is about the war but it is book 2 so do you have books 1 and 3. I’m getting it anyway.’

‘Do you have William Gaddis? I’ve been looking for The Recognitions all my life. It’s up there with Gravity’s Rainbow’ and books like that.’

In any spare minute I have another turn with Henry James. Not many people have ever asked for his books. I shall ask myself for them for now on.

Karl came in with his book list and told me that his eyes gave way earlier in the year which was disappointing as he has always been one for the written word. But now he is fine and ready to roll.

John complained that every time he went to the bakery his doctor would go pass the window and see what he was eating and then give him a rocket because of his irresponsible attitude – his cholesterol is way too high. ‘Small town bullshit that’s what it is. You can’t even take a piss without somebody telling everyone at Woolworths about it. I’m enjoying that Dick Francis though, the only one of those crime mugs that can actually write.’

I am lucky to receive a consistent commentary on the weather. The weather is a topic with a satisfying variety of expressions available to share it around.

‘How’s this heat? Keeping you busy?’

‘Cool in here.’

‘This heat is ridiculous!’

‘Good weather for reading, that’s what I say.’

‘Foul weather. And here I am out in it.’

‘Damn strange weather!’

‘Damn fine weather!’

‘This weather takes the cake.’

‘Don’t know how Christmas will go with weather like this.’

‘Heat’s bad but nothing like in the sixties.’

 

A lady told me that Gould’s Book of Fish has got her flabbergasted.

All day I am offered suggestions of the best things to read.

I freefall amongst the suggestions.

I think that behind each thing that is told to me, there is something of greater importance, not able to be said.

For me, to work here, serving out books, is like something I read –  a single line in a novel and I often wonder what it means when a line in a novel will not leave you alone. The way one single sentence can be heard as though it were tapped out with one of those little mallets used by geologists, the kind of mallet that disturbs, reveals and then preserves…

…..to sit on the stool and time would be forgotten. No hunger or thirst or desire for a friend or lover’s company. Just an awareness of someone in the distance hammering a floor, banging through ancient concrete with a mallet as if to reach the truth.

Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatjie

Leon’s Lights

Greg Rakozy

Leon has just been into the shop today to describe the weather in case I missed out on it. He also told me he is not making much headway with Twilight (even though it is such a Great Book) but that it was no wonder with the weather like it is.

I said it was a quiet day; the weather was why nobody had been in perhaps.

He reminded me that he was in. And not to let the weather bother me.

He asked me why I took so long to read everything, why was I still reading Lolita in Tehran…I said that I was not a fast reader and I had to re-read things all the time. I was re reading the part in this book about The Great Gatsby which I had read in school and hadn’t liked very much.

Leon then told me that he saw that film on DVD, about that rich fool and the green lights on the jetty, died in a swimming pool. Died for his dream and that.

He said that he wouldn’t die for any dream – but his dream would be to not have Crohn’s disease or schizophrenia. The reason he wouldn’t die for them is that they would kill him anyway. He said that some dreams just ruin everything else and better to keep your eyes on the road and what did I think was my dream?

I said that I hoped that my bookshop might survive.

He thought this was hilarious and said of course it will. He offered to buy a copy of The Great Gatsby to help things along.

I said there was no need and he answered, as he left, that it was lucky he didn’t need to get one as Twilight was a better book anyway.

 

Photography by Greg Rakozy