Sensitive to Air



Istiaque Emon

My first customer today asked me for a book about water colour painting. The book is for her 9 year old daughter who loves to paint, and who is a very unusual girl because she is sensitive to air. I said to her: ‘But what does it mean?’ And she replied that she didn’t know, it was something the daughter said herself. But she thought it had something to do with reading, and that was ok by her as she was not one for interfering.

When Tricia picked up her Complete Works of Chaucer she said that nobody reads Chaucer these days, but she does because she attended a convent school. And this made her sensitive to the best works. She told me that she made a policy of never reading a book that had won a literary prize as these books are all pretentious. Her sister, a librarian of 45 years, and who always appears awkward in photos has never given up trying to tell her what to read. And when that same sister got asthma, back when it was fashionable to have asthma, she could have told HER what to read too, to help with the asthma, but she didn’t. But Chaucer, he was worth reading, no matter what your situation in life was.

Joe told me that even though he was in his fifties he could still remember the first Little Golden Book he had ever read, and was trying to find and buy it again. It had a birthday cake on the last page.

Eric said that his nose is so sensitive that he has been known to follow a woman for a mile for the sake of her perfume. I suggested that maybe he should not do this, and he answered that it is ok as it is for the sake of her perfume.

Robert told me that The Book of Raziel, although only 76 pages long, is so profound that it makes him cry out loud.

I remembered that last year, a young reader called Lori had copied out a poem for me about a beetle from a book she had, and brought it here for me to keep. She said that it was good that anybody would even write about a beetle….

It makes me wonder today if  Rieu wrote about the beetle because he is sensitive to beetles or to life in general? Did Lori like it because she is sensitive to beetles or to writing in general? It is a truly beautiful piece of writing.

Rendez-vous With a Beetle

Meet me in Usk

And drone to me

Of what a beetle’s

Eye can see

When lamps are lit

And the bats flit

In Usk

At dusk.


And tell me if

A beetle’s nose

Detects the perfume

Of the rose

As gardens fade

And stars invade

The dusk

In Usk.

by E V Rieu


Today I have been asked for Storm Boy, The Readers Digest  Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers, The Farseer Trilogy Book 2, The Wearing of a Sacramental Tapestry, Independence Day, anything by Anna Funder, On Cats by Doris Lessing and anything about Judi Dench Who is Divine. Then later: Death in Venice, The Glastonbury Map, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Lord of the Rings, preferably in one volume. Has there ever been written a history of rainwater tanks? Is Clive James still alive? Who wrote Dracula? Has the Green and Gold Cookery book been rewritten using proper measurements?

I answer everything as best I can. I try to be sensitive to air. I try to think that the stars invade the dusk for everyone in a different way.

Are we sensitive to air and therefore must read? Or does reading cause us to become confounded and therefore sensitive to air? Does this mean that we are complex or confused?

Leon said that I may need to have a root canal because sensitivity to air originates on the gum line. I said that this was not what I meant. He suggested that perhaps vampires might be the answer as he, himself,  is aware of the possibilities of the True Blood series actually coming true. I said that this is closer to what I actually meant.

Meryl and Norman came from Goolwa, hoping for a copy of The 39 Steps by John Buchan because it was Norman’s favourite film, even though the 1978 version had Richard Hannay hanging from one of the hands of the Big Ben clock in London, trying to slow time down…

Meryl, herself didn’t like the book because she had to study it in Leaving and this has made her unable to stomach the it anymore. But she loved her Enid Blytons so much that she painted the covers with lacquer when she was a girl, hoping they would last longer. But then, when she had to leave her marital home in a great hurry, she lost them all. And, to add to that, she does not get to see her grandsons very often.

A lady told me that we are all getting tired of the frantic pace of life and that is why books and bookshops will always be of value, because in them, time can rest. As she said this to me, she looked tired.

If we feel sensitive to something we can explore the heart of it, deeply and intensely and achingly through reading. Like a beetle. Or cats. Or pain.

And it is true that is does cause time to slow down. And I might understand now a little of what it means to be sensitive to air. Because I am reading The Three Sisters by May Sinclair and every page turn is agony like cold clear air on an aching tooth.


Photography by Istiaque Emon


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