The Cooperation of Glow

Manuela Schwendener 

A customer explains why her art collection contains so many children’s picture books. She has always found the most profound artwork this way because many artists find this a successful medium to deliver their work to the public. And it has to be good – children are an audience that can be difficult to please. She explained to me that to get the attention of children is easy but to hold it is complicated and difficult. The best artist does not insist on clamour, but instead relies on ‘holding’. This means to deliver a true and genuine note through the cooperation of illustrations and text within the book.

I said that I thought I understood. The first time I came across a copy of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak as an adult I was sabotaged instantly by memory. The book must have terrified me once and it must have struck deeply. I wonder now what exactly it was that washed me in terror…the wild things themselves or the even worse truth that we all contain them. That book is a simple vessel loaded with a vast and ancient cargo.

A child said to me once that my shop did not have any books about the rat. I could not make out which books he meant but he insisted they were about the rat. He was troubled that I did not instantly know about the rat. He was more troubled about this than the fact that I did not have the books in the first place.

I know that a single world can stand for an entire landscape, an entire world. Words like radiant, collide, desolate, incandescent, tremblingly, unalone, cascades….and rat.

Vivy came in to tell me that her flatmate needs a book. The flatmate has a disability and so needs a really good one…

Isabel asked for a copy of The Australian Merino by Charles Massey, a fitting gift for her son, a farmer and could I have it in by Christmas.

Bruce came in to for a copy of The Magic Faraway Tree to read to his grandchildren and also for himself to read because it is never too late to start something new.

Dianna came in with her mother and was told that she is not to read anything that had magic in it. She asked me for Charlotte’s Web and told her mother that it was about farm animals so that was ok. I agreed with her that it was a good choice under the circumstances.

Steve stopped by to see if I had The Hunger Games. The movie, he told me, is shit but the book might be better.

Clay asked for Treasure Island because he has just seen the DVD and he wanted to make sure the DVD had the pictures and maps correct. I said that I doubted it.

Margaret bought two picture books by Brian Wildsmith. She collects them as he and Charles Keeping produce the best of the children’s books. I offered her my new knowledge and described the cooperation of picture and text and she was pleased. She said yes, it is the cooperation of glow.

Was it Christopher Marlowe who described a book as an infinite treasure in a little room? Here I must hold infinite treasures in little rooms in little rooms. All of them prepared to cooperate their contents for somebody who would like it.

And somebody wanted a Complete Arthur Conan Doyle and somebody else wanted The Crucible. I always like to ask…why do you and how did you know about this book?

And why do you hope specifically for this edition or that one….why?

(I asked her to get me a lovely old copy of The Magic Pudding, but she didn’t get the right one. She was educated you see and didn’t realise which copy to get. She got me a new one. I would’ve preferred the old one….the heavy one. It’s the weight of it, equals the contents in a way….so I’ve dropped in here to see if you have one of the older versions…)

I was informed that one cannot begin a series until all of the volumes have been bought. Otherwise there’s no point starting. This customer asked if I had the complete series of the George R R Martin books as he is hoping to stitch them up over the summer break.

Jayden came to remind me that I am missing volumes 3, 6, and 11 of The Wheel of Time series. (Shouldn’t you have these?)

I will get them.

My friend Frank can hardly breathe now.

My friend Peggy is moving to Queensland. She said now she will have to rely on Amazon for her books but she won’t get many because they are all morons.

Emma visited to pick up her book The Red Pyramid. I wondered why she is not at school again. She lingered to tell me a few notable things. You should get Ransom Riggs she informed me. To have walked out without sharing this information is impossible. I understand this.

TJ has asked for a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo which he saw on TV.

In here, in between customers, I am reading Reading Lolita in Tehran and it has filled me with alarm. I am reading about a reader who is writing about her reading with a reading group who are reading Lolita in a place and time where it is simply forbidden by law to read Lolita. And Lolita is about them, this small hidden group of reading women who somehow manage to survive the confiscation of their lives. And through this convoluted path the true meanings of these forbidden classics such as Lolita, The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice reach me like drops of hot glass.

The uncomfortable glow, it shows me how little I know.


Photography by Manuela Schwendener











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