‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…’

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‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value…’

People come in and out of the shop. But sometimes I am preoccupied and do not fully notice them, at least only as shadows…of specific height and hardly any sound. I am happy for them to drift and wander for as long as they need.

But one young woman, barefoot and strong and purposeful, brought her stack of books immediately to the counter with her packet of cigarettes balanced on the top.

This young woman had Dante, Graham Greene, Andre Gide, Hemmingway and Huxley, Orwell and Zola. She said she was glad I had Zola and that once she had an argument with somebody about Gide. She didn’t say any more than that about it. I tell her it is good to see people reading the classics.

She called back loudly as she left that the books were beautifully displayed here and I wondered what she meant, if they were neat and tidy or in categories that are easy to follow or if she liked the front display where all the books this week are green. I wondered why she was reading those books that she chose and how she came to choose them anyway. I wondered what was going on in her life, especially when she had told me that she was waiting for her belongings to arrive from Darwin and she didn’t want to be alone until then.

Leon dropped in; it has been ages since I have seen him. He came in and said: it is ages since I have seen you. I know that he has not been well. He asked me if I have been well, and when I told him that I am fine he says: ‘Honestly, Kerry?’ and made himself laugh.

He looks at a selection of books on the counter, penguin classics, and asks me who would read those…with the print so small. I ask him if he likes the displays of books in the shop and he answers that he doesn’t care about them because the shunt in his head is giving him chronic headaches. He can’t even read his vampire books. And it is hard to walk. But he can still make good jokes as I should know. I told him it is good to see him again.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.  C. S. Lewis

 

…even the dictionary….

 

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He came into the shop, he bowed slightly and he asked for Elizabeth Moon and Gene Wolfe. But he stayed on to tell me that he has just moved house, is on his own now and trying hard to turn his house into a home and for that he needed books. His ex-partner had stolen all of his metaphysical books…….

His wife though…..she has died… but they once had had a house with the entire second storey filled with books and there were bookshelves on the stairs. He demonstrated for me how he used to reach for a book while climbing the stairs.

He originally grew up in a market garden with a kerosene lamp for the evenings and there was a wall of books there. And in there somewhere was a copy of the Greek Gods and…you know… all those heroes that used to fight them, take out their eyes and all of that. Well, he never stopped reading since then and those books (which were his grandmothers) started it all off. And since then he has also thought that he wouldn’t mind having a go at reading everything and that includes the dictionaries! Then he told me that he was in love with Judi Dench but not to tell her. He thanked me and bowed again as he left.

Yes, But Kids Just Don’t Read Anymore…

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It is the school holidays. Teachers are hilarious and free and collecting Colin Thiele for Next Term. The bakery is busy.

A young family visited with three teenage children who scattered immediately to different areas of the shop. The boy brought back Specky Magee, the youngest girl brought back three volumes of  the Eragon series and the oldest child brought back Lonely Planet Africa, Wolf Hall and Heidi. They were told they could have one book each. They obviously expected this and launched an onslaught… unfair…..not right….can’t believe it….omg……

The parents remained unmoved. The imploring continued.

The parents offered the bakery as reward for a quick exit.

The children remained unmoved. The boy now held a copy of Asterix and the Banquet.

The oldest girl turned her back on her family and asked me if I had any of the Mammoth Hunter books or Here Be Dragons  by Sharon Penman, which is, she said about medieval Wales and Prince Llewellyn.

The youngest girl was holding the Eragons with desperate eyes. But I could not collude as the parents were standing hard by. The children moved aside to whisper furiously over their dilemma. I wondered if they would sacrifice some of the books back to the shelves but they didn’t.

The oldest girl added the sequel to Wolf Hall to her pile. The younger girl added two Enid Blytons and the boy held onto the Asterix. I avoided eye contact with all parties.

There was a long discussion about lack of space at home.

The mother was sure that they already had a copy of Brisingr.

The boy added two Skulduggery books to his pile and then brought out his pocket money in an envelope. And broadsided his parents with the offer to buy the whole lot.

This won the day; the parents paid approvingly for everything on a credit card.

When they left, triumphant and laden, the father turned back and winked at me. He said there’s nothing like kids arguing well for what they want and wanting genuinely what they argue for. Then they went to the bakery.

 

 

Tubby and the Lantern by Al Perkins

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This was my first book and the most overwhelming and terrifying story that I have ever read. There is no book that has yet surpassed this one for terror and bravery.

The reasons for this are: on the first page of the book, the baby elephant (Tubby) is allowed (amazingly) INSIDE the house.

On the third page I learned that Ah Mee’s bed is terrifyingly small and this has caused me 45 years of anxiety. They lived in a town by the Rolling River and their house was on the Street of the Golden Lanterns. This is the most enchanting place in the world, wherever it is.

Their house has no kitchen and this caused me more consternation. The whole family, including Tubby made paper lanterns and this seemed quite logical.

Tubby the Elephant decides to make a special lantern for Ah Mee’s birthday. This was fun but the very small bed and the inadequate blanket pictured at the beginning of the book overshadow everything with doubt for now on.

Tubby makes a fabulous lantern and accidently floats away in it, over the town and over Ah Mee, who quickly realises that Tubby Is In Big Trouble. This was true, but the trauma of the blow away lantern is nothing compared to the size of that bed and the insufficient blanket.

Ah Mee pursues Tubby successfully and they float together in the birthday lantern all night. The starry sky is undoubtedly cold and so the terror begins to build once again. The candle in the lantern extinguishes itself at dawn and the lantern drops toward the sea in a distressing kind of way, but the sun is coming up, everyone will be warm and the lack of a proper blanket will no longer matter.

They run into pirates but cunningly escape on another, friendly boat using the birthday lantern. As they float to safety, the little elephant looks over the side of the boat and there is NO GUARD RAIL. This is incredible. The ship floating in the sky using a lantern as ballast is not really that incredible.

But the worst is yet to come.

The whole town celebrates the safe return of the heroes and holds a boat party on the Rolling River but the boat is TOO SMALL for the guests too move. And this illustration caused me immense sadness.

Then, on Tubby’s birthday, Ah Mee makes him a bed; a double bunk with Tubby the Elephant on the bottom bunk and Ah Mee on the top bunk. But Ah Mee has no pillow, the bed is still too small, his purple blanket is still inadequate and Tubby has no blanket at all. They both dream that they fly away on the bed (which is tied to the lantern) into the beautiful starry sky and come back safely every morning. There are no guard rails or handles on the bed.

Terror triumphs completely.

I still have my original copy and cannot part with it.

…delve meansa…

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In good company your thoughts run, in solitude your thought is still; it goes deeper and makes for itself a deeper groove, delves. Delve meansa ‘dig with a spade’; it means hard work. In talk your mind can be stretched, widened, exhilarated to heights but it cannot be deepened; you have to deepen it yourself.

It needs sturdiness. You will be lonely, you will be depressed; you must expect it; if you were training your body it would ache and be tired. It is worth it. There is a Hindu proverb which says: ‘You only grow when you are alone’.

 Rumer Godden, Thus far and no further

A couple, grandparents, were choosing books for their family. They decided on Mr Magee and Who Sank the Boat, Hairy Maclary and then The Very Hungry Caterpillar. They were determined to get those grandchildren away from the hand held games…..and try something new!

If you are reading, are you spending time alone? Robert said that yes he is alone, alone with so many thoughts that he usually had to go out and have a smoke to calm down. He picked up two more of the Ainslie Roberts Dreamtime books. He told me that he finds winter difficult.

Don returned, back from New Zealand, a stupendous trip and I would be amazed at how many Maoris there are over there. Then he added that perhaps that’s as it should be…He couldn’t stay as one of his drivers had been attacked when he was away and he had to start work again immediately.

The car park is being dug up; there is a problem with the plumbing. One of the tradesmen came in and said it was his last day and then he had no job anymore. He was looking for The Art of War by some Chinese Guy…

A customer was delighted to find a copy of The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson and Richard phoned to say that The Rosie Project was a strange book and what did I make of it. I told him that I am reading Maus by Art Spiegelman and nothing feels ok about that either. He asked if he would enjoy it and I told him that it was a graphic novel and he said he’d never heard of them and did it count as a real book.

I said that when it won the Pulitzer prize, many people asked that same question but it was definitely worth a try. Richard is 91 and always ready to try something new.

I was asked to recommend some books for a little boy that won’t read and I said I would recommend whatever he chooses. He chose Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, Star Wars: The Junior Edition and Captain Underpants and finally Dragon Blood Pirates: Death Diamond. He was told however, that none of these were suitable and so they left sadly because the little boy does not read.

Dylan said he is lost in the Robert Jordan Series. He only has 2 more to collect of the whole series and he said that these books made up for his being bullied at school so much.

An older couple spend 45 minutes telling me how they found a photo of their grandfather on the internet.

Everybody, it seems to me, is digging as deep as they can.

 

‘….if I had fifty three minutes to spend as I like, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water.’

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A young man asked me if he ought to read A Clockwork Orange. I said that it is a confronting book to say the least. He seemed excited and also purchased A Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Catcher in the Rye. He is not a student; he told me that he just loves to read.

Karl and Jenny buy two more Neville Shute books and they offer to lend me their entire collection.

I am asked how I find time to read. I am informed that really, there is no time to read anymore.

I am told today that Dashiell Hammett suffered diabolical health problems. There is a comment in his biography that he was possibly as skilled a writer as Ernest Hemmingway.

Outside it is grey; everybody keeps glancing at the sky…

People pass outside, heading for the bakery. They do not realise that their voices carry inside. One man says something about Moby Dick, he read  it when he was young. His friend says: huge bloody book, my mum had a copy. I wonder how my book shop made them think of Moby Dick all of sudden, there is no copy in the window.

The front road is packed with motorcyclists. They do not look at the shop.

I was asked on Monday if I had realised  the significance of the date: 04/04/16 but I had to admit that I had missed it.

I am also missing out on the football. Everything is scurrying quickly, including the summer and I am too slow. But Gould’s Book of Fish that I am reading now is not slow. Everything now is aching with Gould’s Book of Fish.

Ruth picked up her book about rocking horses and she bought photos of her collection to show me. They are very beautiful. She told me that making and restoring rocking horses is a thing of the past but it is her passion. She said that if people are unhappy, her advice is to make a rocking horse.

Somebody ordered the complete Series of Unfortunate Events.

Someone ordered any book on model railways that I can possibly find.

Apparently the weather ‘threatens a change’.

I sell a copy of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect. I am asked to help reluctant readers read and good readers improve. I am asked again how I find time for reading.

Sarah tells me that the world is coming to a bad end. Scott has ordered My Side of the Mountain but has forgotten to come back for it.

I accept a book to sell here on consignment and the author is delighted. The book is massive and must have taken a long time to write. I am impressed with how much she loves it herself.

A tiny boy stands at the window and says quite clearly “kitty cat…” eight times before his parents demand that he be quiet….. “…move away from that window, sir!”

Daryl buys a biography of Charlie Chaplin and tells me that the first thing any elected politician does is to demand a pay rise and write a book on why they were born to lead. And then…that’s it!

Richard introduced me to his friend, Cyril when he picked up his book The Ballad of Desmond Kale….they are on their way to play golf and then to the pub for dinner. His friend, Cyril is 6 months younger than Richard, that makes him 91. Richard tells me that Cyril had 6 kids and they are all useless.

Max orders The Little Prince, he is up to his 12th read of this book and he wondered if I realised that the books is heavily symbolic of life and humanity and is tremendously wise. He advised me to re-read and think deeply especially about chapter 13, page 71 where the little prince meets the merchant who sold pills that had been invented to quench thirst. I said that I would do this.

‘Good morning,’ said the little prince.

‘Good morning,’ said the merchant.

This was the merchant who sold pills that had been invented to quench thirst. You need only to swallow one pill a week and you would feel no need of anything to drink.

‘Why are you selling those?’ asked the little prince.

“Because they save a tremendous amount of time’, said the merchant. ‘ ‘Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty three minutes in every week.’

‘And what do I do with those fifty three minutes?’

‘Anything you like…’

‘As for me, said the little prince to himself, if I had fifty three minutes to spend as I like, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water.’

The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint- Exupery

Photography by John Wilson