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