The Human Mind that Reads…

Sean Brown

This morning in the shop,  a young man asked me for a book on how to be a good dad. He thought there might be one called exactly that: How to be a Good Dad.

I said I did not have anything like that. He said he just wanted to be prepared when the time came. I said that I understood how important that is.

Then he described how much he wanted to read books to the baby, all kinds of books because that is how he grew up. There were books everywhere and he was going to do exactly that for his children too.

He had just finished renovating his home and his partner suggested he needed a rest and to get back into reading again. As it was the best thing for the tired mind. He came back to the counter with a book by Sonya Hartnett which he said was the very thing for his afternoon in the hammock.

I said good luck with everything.

Leon returned to pay another dollar on his next Twilight novel and reminded me not to sell it to anyone else.

Peggy brought me some paperback novels for the shop, which she told me were all absolute rubbish.

Robert has arrived with a request for me: I’m putting an article in the Argus….would you just correct my spelling here and there. I’m writing about Tony Abbot because I think he’s a galah.

Then he ordered a copy of The Gnostic Mysteries of Sex by Tobias Churton

Dale is here: My friend read a book by a Dutch writer, about a ship called The Star of Peace. It is a ship that…..(he bent his head to find the correct words)……a ship that transferred the Jews……I want to read it. It had a plastic cover. Would you be able to find it on that computer thing of yours?

I said I would have a good try.

Peggy came back because she had forgotten to tell me that the trouble with Margaret Atwood is that she goes on and on about things.

Maye visited to pick up the books she ordered for her reading group. She said that there are terrible arguments going on at the moment because nobody can agree on anything. They are going to read The Mockingbird Next Door which is about Harper Lee. Margaret confessed to me that she didn’t even like To Kill a Mockingbird anyway but she daren’t say it or she’d get her head knocked off.

Gareth picked up his copy of Dearest Munx: The Letters of Christina Stead and William Blake, which he said was going to be sublime.

Tia ordered a copy of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale by Chaucer which was a gift for their church organist and would be a ‘good joke’. She said that the organist would understand it but nobody else would as none of them had read anything decent in their lives.

A customer told me this: I am reading The Janitor and it has made me cry. I was up all night.

Do you mean The Street Sweeper?

Yes, that’s the one. By Daniel Pearlman.

Eliot Pearlman?

Yes, that’s the one. In Detroit, that little black girl…….that old woman, I just can’t handle it. I love it.

When Gareth picked up his copy of Dearest Munx he also told me that books reveal themselves in layers, like the human minds that write them. And that there are thousands of layers… indeed, with some books, the greatest ones, there may be no end to the coatings of meaning and this is because of the human minds that read them.







The Emerald Atlas


I like the way that children read. There are young readers that are confident and young readers that are polite. By this I do not mean confident with the mechanics of reading. It means firm in knowing where they are reading at that exact moment. Sometimes it means they are not reading anything at that exact moment. They also know where (and when) they want to go next and are capable of making that decision in about 1.5 seconds, persuaded by something that I cannot recognise. These readers when I recommend a book will mostly examine it politely and put it back down immediately. The more quickly they can reject a suggestion the more secure they seem on their own reading map. Cartographers of a private emerald atlas.These words, from the title of a children’s novel by John Stephens were used by a young reader once to describe to me his ‘map of  books.’

Children who are subject to many good suggestions of books need also to be able to reject them all. If they do not get to do this they remain courteous readers at best. Because rejection is a significant part of finding the reading that was meant for you. Have we all been taught that to reject a book, especially a good book, is bad? However, readers who reject a book are not saying it is a bad book. It is just the wrong book for now. These books stand a good chance of a return. The polite reader does not revisit his choice as he did not really get to it in the first place. A fearless reader can always say why a book is brilliant. But they forget the books that were not. A polite reader doesn’t share why a book was bad and doesn’t always remember why a book was good. Buoyant readers do not always finish a book and do not provide a reason for this. They can read a tangle of many books at once. Or just one. They re read again and again, shaking the plot for the last drops of ink needed to colour their own coastlines. They are persistent in defending the right of a book to be on their shelf despite not having read it ever.

To read bravely and personally means to lose sight of the shore of courtesy and convention and pirate your way out to your own waters. This is an intensely private experience and cannot always be shared or explained. The private emerald atlas is coherent, complex and enormous. It changes in the afternoon light. One book can add a whole nation or a single new kind of dragon. One page can recolour the entire atlas. I think that when I ask a young and confident reader what did they think of The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 7: Erak’s Ransom, it is a callous question because they must unpack a great deal of landscape in order to get at the words needed to make that answer. It is kinder to just ask; was it good or bad? They will often manage: ‘ oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… it was really good.’

During the time it takes them to say that, I see them flick backwards and scan the entire novel in six seconds and retrieve their self that became entangled there. And they are often grateful that there is only ONE question. They can now go and sort through all the new books in the shop to find the good one.

I watch them scan a title and put it back. Or go a little further and open the first page and read…what? And put it back. How do they know so firmly that it is not the one for now (or ever)? Sometimes they come to ask if there are any more in a series. (Do they mean that one book is not enough?) I know to answer briefly and quickly.


To say more than this is unnecessary. They might come back and ask for more details. I know now to just give the titles but nothing more. If I attempt any brief summary at all their young faces re tether back to the polite expression.

It is a joy to sell books to young readers.