Mme Sand: I’ll publish an account of your behaviour.


Two tradesmen are discussing the political biographies outside the window as they enjoy hot pies from the bakery. (It is freezing outside but they are comfortable and enjoying their break.) They say that there is no need to read these things; you can just see it all on TV, same shit, different day. But then one of them allows that the Julia Gillard book is good as his wife has read it. His friend quickly agrees.

An older man tells me his is very interested in Pat Barker and that he would like to see book shops continue.

I watched a concerned mother follow her adult daughter around the shop murmuring that there is a better edition of that book…and that book…and that book…she comes over to tell me that her daughter and granddaughter are mad for books and that she is too. The daughter certainly looks mad.

Patrick White was furious a lot too. I know because I am reading Flaws in the Glass and I have it here next to me and The Shorter Pepys.

Patrick White’s furious face. I admire it very much as I do all of his books but I don’t think I have any useful scholarly reasons.  But this may in itself be useful as it leaves me more time to read and drink champagne.

A small girl says to her father who is reading  Asterix and the Banquet: what do you mean that this is funny. She asks him three times and he says: wait until you grow up.

An old lady tells her grandson that he does not know what it is to get old. He asks her: but what about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and she says: let’s just sit for a while. He reminds her that it is important because his teacher is reading it to the class and she is reading it too slow. He says: hey Grandma, what book will you get then? And she tells him that she likes a nice love story or Virginia Woolf. When she was young she always read Virginia Woolf……her grandson tells her that he cannot see any wolf books.

I am asked why Nineteen Eighty Four is still so significant.

A young man, who looks like a Viking, tells me that Game of Thrones was actually based on two wars: the Hundred Year’s War AND The Wars of the Roses. People tend to think that it was only the Wars of the Roses. Do you have China Miéville? Then he tells me that he’s been waiting for Tamora Pierce to put out another book and that he’s been waiting for ten years now. He looked at his watch to demonstrate himself waiting. Then he asks for The Shepherd’s Crown (Terry Pratchett) but I don’t have it. He says that I should have has many Terry Pratchetts as possible as these books are more significant than people realise.

An older man bought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and rode off on his motorbike with the book shoved down the front of his leather jacket.

I have some books to sort and shelve. I am keeping Pages from the Goncourt Journals (Edmond and Jules Goncourt) for myself. This is because I admired the cover and opened the book and read an entry, a reference to George Sand. I know nothing about her but I do know that I must read this book.

End of January 1852

Argument between Mme Sand and Clesinger:

Mme Sand: I’ll publish an account of your behaviour.

Clesinger: Then I’ll do a carving of your backside. And everybody’ll recognise it.

Robert comes by to pick up more volumes in his Myths and Legends Series and I show him the Goncourt Journals. He tells me that he loves the French. He said he has had three cups of good coffee and his brain is going mad…the best time to read. I said “Well, good luck with the Myths of the Middle Ages….” and he said that the election campaigns are  keeping us all stuck in the middle ages anyway.


Your shop is stupid and you are mean…


This morning I was told that the weather is filthy and my shop would be warmer if I fixed the faulty closer on my shop door.

And it is filthy outside. Yesterday somebody’s green bin went down the road broadside and there was a scene when a group of travellers found the bakery closed. They stood outside my shop and said that they ‘couldn’t believe it…’

Then they all left for Goolwa except for the Winnebago driver who stayed back, phoning somebody to tell them that he couldn’t believe it.

Arthur found a copy of The Spanish Bawd (Rojas) and was delighted because he only had a copy in Spanish at home. I noticed he had both pockets stuffed with paperbacks that he had bought before and was still reading. One of them was called Ferdinand and Isabella and it was packed with bookmarks.

He was going now to the bakery to read and I had to tell him that the bakery was closed for renovations. He said that he couldn’t believe it and went out looking tragic.

A young man, who was on the hunt for naval stories predicted that it wouldn’t stop raining until summer. But I am hunting through the counter for a pencil and I am distracted by Samuel Pepys and not concerned about the weather today.

Later, Jai told me a very long story of how the university threw him out of his course. He told me that they, the government and everybody including myself needed to listen to him properly and stop throwing him out of everywhere. He reminded me that I was unkind and that he knew I would throw him out of the shop as I did last time. He said that I was mean to him because he never bought any books and also I had not bought his own book even though it did not cost very much. He said triumphantly that the shop is stupid.

I wondered if he would like a cup of coffee at the bakery (which is closed) but luckily he said he did not need stimulants. Then he left furiously, trying to bang the door but it wouldn’t because the closer is faulty.

I am wondering if I have a proper job when Margaret drops in to lend me another music recording. It is Kathleen Ferrier and she says that I will like this. She says it is good against the winter.

Outside somebody drops a whole bag of fruit onto the wet pavement and I see them leaned against their car in despair.

I look to Samuel Pepys and I read that he often had to lie a bed for a long time. And that in June, 1665, he became terribly sad and was forced to buy some roll tobacco to chaw – which took away his apprehension and the bad smell of himself.

A young reader tells me that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is so textured that it is almost real. I am immensely cheered up. When I am packing up for the day I think that Samuel Pepys is so real that he must have been real.

…so I sent for a barrel of oysters and they dined, and we were very merry….


This morning I am asked for The Art of Memory, The Gifts of the Jews, Gustav Klimt: His Life and Work and Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. I am asked if Carl Sagan is a real person or a scientist.

A gentleman answers a phone call from his wife using speaker phone and we all hear that he has left the back tap running for over an hour.

Karl buys a copy of The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks which he tells me is about King David and that he is willing to give it a go. He says that it is no use trying to find any answers in novels. The more we read the less it matters anyway.

A lady picks up a copy of David Copperfield and exclaims on the weight of the volume; she wonders how he found the time to write these things. I show her a copy of The Shorter Pepys which weighs in at about 1100 pages and we both admire this book which is for another customer but which I want to read for myself.

Some visitors tell me: “Thank you very much and well done indeed.” as they leave, although they did not purchase any book. I wonder if they approve of my gatekeeping. Me as some sort of custodian of the past, pleased with me for preserving vintage experiences such as browsing second hand books.

The Shorter Pepys is a huge book, sitting on the counter and  blocking out the light. I read that he had trouble with his nose swelling up in the cold weather and once even had to go to bed because of it.

But I block out Samuel Pepys and continue reading The Stone Diaries, alarmed to find yet another brilliant Canadian writer that I could have missed completely. Carol Shields.

Outside, the street is silent and dark. A young local reader drops in and asks me if he should read the new Star Wars series or the old one…

The tradesmen are in and out of the bakery all day long. I think I might go in there too.

But I go back to Samuel Pepys instead and read that when he drinks too much he has to hide from his servant.

I am going out for fortifying doughnuts and orange juice. When I get back, Brian is waiting for me because he wants to pick up his copy of The Weather Makers. He tells me that there is so much space junk orbiting the earth that now the reflected sunlight is going to slowly bake us all for dinner. Then he goes slowly home for his dinner, carrying his book and five John Wayne videos that he borrowed from a friend.

I read that Samuel Pepys once had this for dinner: a lovely chine of beef and other good things, very complete – and drank a great deal of wine. (Then he had to go to bed where he had exceedingly bad wind all night.) When Annette arrived at the end of the day for the book she ordered ( The Shorter Pepys ) I confessed to her that I ordered a copy of my own and that I didn’t realise that he was such a significant literary figure. She replied that he was a scoundrel.

This book, The Shorter Pepys, I am thinking about as I read The Stone Dairies by Carol Shields. These two books have nothing to do with each other. They glance coolly at each other, both superb and both knowing it.

A couple came in, on their way out to travel the outback for a couple of weeks and wanting some books as they hope to be reading without interruption every night. They chose a great many but then he became distracted by the Pepys which I had left on the counter and began reading it aloud. He read aloud that Pepys had once eaten a whole barrel of oysters and then wet his bed.

He thought this was so funny that he began reading it again but his wife told him to stop it as she wanted a cup of coffee now.

Serenity stopped by to tell me that her book on ballet had drawings at the back of all the proper ballet positions with all of the words in French.

It is quiet again and I am back with Pepys, who could be any one of us, now, tomorrow or last year.

I lay and slept long today. Office day. I took occasion to be angry with my wife before I ris about her putting up of half a crowne of mine in a pepper box, which she hath forgot where she hath lain it. But we were friends again, as we are always.

Samuel Pepys 1661, The Shorter Pepys






I am barely surviving my reading group!


David came into the shop this morning and confessed that he is barely surviving his reading group:

“I have to tell you that I barely surviving it. I like if of course but I am really not even sure about that. There is such a frantic race to share our information, but….I am not sure if….we are allowing the books to do their job when we are forever….pecking out themes and plots and opinions…how can a book do its job if we are firing such a barrage of ammunition at it, we don’t let it anywhere near us really…”

“Oh God, what am I saying? Do you have any Herman Hesse? Or Lilly Brett? God, I need Lilly Brett to get me through the reading group.”

Later, after David had gone, a lady said this: “Frank McCourt is my favourite book, Angela’s Ashes, oh my darling, oh my heart, I can’t tell you, it made me so happy, I just love him.”

This lady leaned back and closed her eyes and said again: “I can’t tell you, it just makes me smile it was such a splendid book but I cannot tell you why. Every night we are in bed early you know, both of us dying to get at the books. Isn’t that a disaster! I had a list but I’ve lost it, I’ll just ask my husband, he’s outside minding the dog.”

And he was outside, looking through the window at his wife and tapping the glass toward the biographies. He was also minding the dog, which was called Butter. They all three of them seemed incredibly happy. Later, they went back across the road hand in hand carrying The Uncommon Reader and The Life of Pi and she was reading from the back covers out loud to her husband.

All reading, when we allow it, adds to our survival value. All readers are gradually accumulating imperishable resources with which to transcend our wear and tear. This wear and tear unites us all.

Geoffrey was reading aloud to himself from his volume of Catalina by Somerset Maugham which he had just purchased. This caused him to run into the door and he said: “bother YOU Somerset Maugham, your last book has just caused me a head injury.”

Late in the day, Mr Reedy sat reading Hiawatha near the heater and then he came to show me a book he carried around and was very much enjoying: Positive Education: A Victorian Context .He showed me many of the photographs and read pieces of the text to me.

He said that when he attended to Geelong Grammar School he had the most miserable time. And he, a mere clergyman’s son, was no match for the elite hoards of THAT day and he suffered for it. And so he discovered reading. And when he became a master at one of the Melbourne Grammar schools, he had another miserable time. Well, thank God for reading.

“And that music master back then was a tyrant, a rogue and rotten to the socks. But now…look at it now, look at way education has changed, it’s marvellous. Look at this book, I’ve never read the like. Things have changed and it is for the better! The only thing they had right back then was giving us Rudyard Kipling.”

Ashley, who is 12, said that she can pick which book she wants to read next just by looking through the window each day. Then she goes to the library and gets that book. She said that I could change the books in the window more often.

Leah asked me how I was going with The Stone Diaries.

It is a quiet day so I shall begin The Stone Diaries  and then change the books in the front window.



…all things try to keep on being themselves; a stone wants to be a stone and the tiger, a tiger. Jorge Borges


Yesterday morning a young woman put her head in the door to speak to me. It was raining hard and she said that as she was soaking wet, she couldn’t come in – and she really was soaked through. She said that she was really enjoying Angela’s Ashes. She looked at me anxiously and I wondered why this was. Then I remembered that I had said to her when she purchased the book: I hope you enjoy this book, let me know what you think.

And she did. She came back through the winter morning to tell me that she did.

Then a man came in and stood by the heater in obvious enjoyment. He said that when he dies he will have his ashes scattered in a book shop. His girlfriend looked at me and then said to him that nobody would want his ashes.

I am still reading Dorothy Parker and I carry it around. I think that if she could write how it was then I can be who I am.

A lady brought some children’s picture books to the counter and said: these are me, these are my life and they make me feel happy. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, maybe I never will but I am going to collect these books for myself anyway as they are about who I am.

A group of people all came in together and one man said to me: you have there Zen for Cats….well, I have a friend whose name is Zen!!!!!

He leaned in toward me, bright with delight: And my name is Brian, so there you go! He waved his arm at some nearby shelves and said: not too bad at all. His wife tried to edge him out but he was still too happy with his observations to leave yet.

A lady asked me what I thought of The Water Babies. She said she might go for a smoke and then come back and grab a copy. She said that this here (my shop) was a peaceful little cubby hole.

Outside, the dog lover’s club had gathered outside the bakery and laid out a carpet of rugs and blankets. The cyclist group stood nearby, famished and eating silently. Margaret came in and commented that it is hard the walk the streets these days.

Tina and her family came in for more Enid Blytons but the children picked a large craft book instead. Tina told me that they would scribble out all of the witch and magic activities and her mother said, alarmed, that scribbling in books was also bad. Tina was outraged and answered that she had always told them to block out the bad things. I watched the mother herd her family out of the shop to go home and consider this New Problem.

Three adult daughters brought their mother in to help her choose some books but when they came into the shop they realised that she was not with them. They brought her back again and she pushed magnificently past them all to introduce herself. She chose a small and superb collection of books and left again while her daughters were still muddling in amongst true crime.

A young man bought Romulus My Father. He was dressed for work, a suit and tie and briefcase and he was silent. When I considered the title he said suddenly that the film of this book had affected him profoundly. When he went out he left his wallet on the counter and I had to call out to him in the street where he was reading as he walked away.

A small boy bought Monster Blood Tattoo (volume one) because the dragon on the front looked like his dragon he had at home. I was impressed. I saw his parents look quickly at me to see if I might be impressed. The child was unconcerned with what I thought because he had his book and a dragon at home.



“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”



Young readers are not troubled by where a book is placed on a shelf, nor by the section of the shop where they might find it. But if they find a book I say I haven’t got they think this is hilarious.

Many adult readers are very agitated if they find a title in the Wrong Section. Many will move them for me. One lady advised me strongly to move the Rolf Harris books right out.

I am asked how I choose the books. This is easy: they must be good books.

Or Christian books? I was asked.

I say again: good books.

Some books such as Peter Ackroyd’s massive biography of Charles Dickens must be a 1200 page satisfier because people lug it out beaming with happiness, impressed with its weight and fortified against the winter. But Schapelle Corby’s book is handled with doubt…They say knowingly…I don’t really know about this… and then they buy it anyway.

I have shelved Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro and Mazo De La Roche in the front room; the Canadians enjoying the sun together. I have put Judi Dench nearby, these four would get on.

Miley Cyrus (her autobiography), I am dubious. The other books all lean away from it, amused.

The Count of Monte Cristo stands aloft in blue and gold. Robert always admires it. He says it is the triumph of art over imprisonment.

The history shelves are always in shambles. The sports shelf remains untouched. The fantasy novels shimmer impressively under a string of lights. The classics are old and worn and in constant demand. The biographies are quarrelsome and constantly changing positions. Lance Armstrong has been jostled to the back. Oprah by Kitty Kelly always seems to have a whole shelf.

The children’s books are pulled out and sampled and moved and reshelved and retrieved and relocated in a triumphant cycle of search and selection.

The Dr Zeus books are never there.

Stravinsky’s Lunch sits on the counter so I can look at it.

The art books are forlorn, still unchosen, wishing that the erotic art books didn’t always go first.

Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is an odd shape and always falls from the shelf and once was trodden on. I thought: serve you right! And no matter where I hide To Kill a Mocking Bird it is always found and rushed to the counter.

Gary says my science fiction is quite good and is glad I stock the old stuff. He instructed me to separate the fantasy from the science fiction because to shelve them together is Wrong.

I was asked if I realised that Donald Trump had written books. I said that if they are good books they could be here. Therefore none of his would be here.

I was told that Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines should NOT be in the Australian section.

Shelbe wrote me a list of all the books her dad has brought from my shop. I asked her if he has enjoying them and she said he has not read any of them and that at night time he just watches TV and drinks beer.

I display Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and it sells within one minute.

I display Wind in the Willows in many confusing places so it does not sell and I can keep it.

Max says his collection of Australian memoirs and histories is now equal to mine.

The shop won’t stay tidy.


“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I pick radishes for a job now.…


The weekend is gloomy and I ask Scott why nobody is coming to visit the shop and if the kindle really is taking all the readers away. But he says that it is just because it is raining.

And he informs me that he is not going to buy a book because he doesn’t want one. And he has to get his gopher fixed.

I have time to read more Dorothy Parker.

Sue picked up the books she ordered and she is furious because when her brother helped her tidy up her book shelves he threw out every book that did not look tidy. Then she asked him to leave and he was offended. Today she took her books next door to the bakery to read them there amongst the warmth and coffee and toasted sandwiches. When she came out she looked very happy again.

I have put strings of lights through the front window and I admire them immensely. When I was a child I would have loved my own bookshop. I would have come in hoping for Enid Blyton and Milly Molly Mandy and so I have these books on the shelves just in case I come in. I told this to Serenity who is in grade five and she thought that I should also have Harry Potter there too as it is better than the books from the old days. She is drawing the bookshop, standing at the counter while she draws and the view she draws is from the outside. She tells me she can draw just about anything from anywhere and that she has read three pony books and one book about butterflies.

Robert picks up some more volumes in his Myths and Legends series and he admires Serenity’s drawing while he waits for me. He shows me one of his books from home that has had the pictures of the Indians cut out and he wonders who would target this book in such a sinister way. Serenity tells him that probably a little kid cut them out with their crayola scissors because her cousin did that to her books about 50 times.

Robert considers this solution but I know he would like something with a little more conspiracy to it.

Taylor is a student and has been admiring the leather bound Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz collections for a few weeks. She wants to purchase them for herself but will announce to her family that they are for her children. This means that she can justify the expense.  She lingers to admire Serenity’s drawing of the shop and told us that she used to be a nurse but now she picks radishes and has never felt so good. Picking radishes was the very thing she needed to do, good clean labour and then come home to read, these gave her a window back out and she is now restored and is now also a paramedic student. She also bought a copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen because the cover was silver and blue. Serenity told Taylor that she is reading a book about magic animals and is up to chapter 7.Taylor told her to keep at it and also the drawing as anyone could see she had quite a future ahead of her.

It is getting cold and dark. I am back with Dorothy Parker who seemed to have lived in the cold and dark but dispelled it by writing exactly about it. Picking radishes and reading Dorothy Parker! Two good ways to dispel the gloom.

At the end of the day, a young man let me know that reading those nonfiction books that predict the future is a waste of time. That we must read the science fiction writers like Aldous Huxley and Armin Maalouf and Margaret Atwood if we really want to know where we are heading. He said that most nonfiction books in the nineties missed the Smartphone, the invasion of online privacy and the presence of ISIS.

He bought three John Grisham books because he said it is hard for him to concentrate on much else these days.

I was asked for Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, The Kite Runner, The Ranger’s Apprentice (complete series), Three Men in a Boat and The Penguin History of Greece. I was asked for directions to the town hall and to Meadows.

I asked Serenity if I could have a copy of her drawing of the shop to display.

Dieter came in at the end of the day to rest amongst the gardening books.

I read Dorothy Parker.

How valuable…

Martin Dorsch.jpg

With lightning

One is not enlightened

How valuable.

 Basho, The Complete Haiku

I am reminded each morning that now it is cold. I have lit up a string of red lights around A. S. Byatt and Virginia Woolf to remind me of warmth and brave living. People look at the lights across these books and say: this looks so warm with the red lights there. I have added Kate Grenville and also John Kennedy Toole, who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces and then died before it was published and before he knew how important he was.

My fist visitor today, after commenting on the beginning of winter asked for Of Mice and Men. She had always wanted to read John Steinbeck and also thought that my coloured lights were nice, just the thing for a dark day.

A young browser looked at The Imitation of Christ and murmured:”…well, maybe not today…”

Robert is going to challenge an unfair Centrelink request and he does not care if it takes the rest of his life, so long as he still has time to read.

One customer told his friend that it was a bloody good day and his friend answered that this was true and that she was full of water. He said that slowly the ground will become good with it.

A lady told me that she wanted to read The Diary of Samuel Pepys, some kind of reader’s version. I said that even that is just over a thousand pages. She decided she was up for it. Then she told me that when she was a librarian, the woman at the next desk did absolutely nothing and yet still managed to look busy. She said that this woman kept it up for about 10 years – and this is only a little longer than Pepys kept up his diaries!

In The Collected Dorothy Parker I read this: “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.”  Dorothy Parker was an American author, poet and critic who wrote across the early 1900s. She was a brilliant writer and she was very funny and very sad. This made it agonising for her to sit still – but clearly she knew this because she said it: “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.” And she wrote with unfailing honesty her stories and poetry and thoughts. This means that we can read them and then honestly claim our own stories and pain, too.

Although we are encouraged not to, I think that it can be very useful to sit still and risk a seeming achievement of nothing. This could make the activity of reading a challenging one. Perhaps this is why many people bring in printed reading lists…so show some progress.

A grandparent expressed her concern for her grandsons that could not sit still. She asked for some picture books about farm animals: she was going to begin reading to them and introduce a new kind of activity.

Reading is slow and accumulative.

I listened to a reader tell me many details about Tom Keneally’s Commonwealth of Thieves and I was convinced to try Mary called Magdalene by Margaret George.

“So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'”

 Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ in his 1948 book, “The Naked and the Dead.”

Photography by Martin Dorsch