“Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


A young boy told me that his school was hit by lightning and so there is no school until Thursday. He had a Captain Underpants book and he looked pretty happy.

A lady said: I only read when I travel, but I would like to talk about Pearl S. Buck and also can I have a look at the books that you are reading right now…I show her a tangled pile of books that have been lent to me and on top is Gould’s Book of Fish. She looks at it and says ahhhh…

Dean asked for Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World and a little girl hoped for Monster Street.

An old friend drops in unexpectedly and tells me that she has a brain tumour. She says that the MRI scans are worse than the tumour. Then she says, don’t worry, I just get on with it, it’s what you have to do and who knows what could happen.

A lady, who has been before stopped to tell me about her adult son with autism. She has never known family life without a son with autism and there is no growing up and leaving home and the worries and concerns of childhood do not end and there is no sit back. No  resting. But she was cheerful. She bought a book about fairies and a copy of Billy by Noel Morrison which is about a child with autism and then went to buy potatoes around the corner.

She also told me that he is a good person, he draws and is courteous. She said his drawings are especially good. The amount of information he holds in his head is distressingly huge.

A lady spoke aloud about Han Suyin; she is reading aloud from the back of a book, possibly reading it to me. But I am reading the back of Gould’s Book of Fish and could not attend to her:

This book is an enchantment of presentation, but that is just a prelude….

The lady is humming to herself, impressed with a stately copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Soon she goes into another room, looking for the historicals. She says she has been here before but I cannot remember her.

I have been ambushed by Gould’s Book of Fish.

I was asked to find The Grimm Grotto, book 8 of A Series of Unfortunate Events and volume 3 of the Wool trilogy and then Beautiful Chaos, book 3 of the Beautiful series. I am asked for Paddington.

I am told that my Charlaine Harris books were in the Wrong Section and firmly advised to move them.

I was asked for directions to Milang.

The day is folding up, beginning to rain and soon I will go home, taking  Gould’s Book of Fish which I will read along with The Arabian Nights. They have nothing to do with each other.

My life is not long enough to do this reading that I want….


“Renaldo the Fox or Reynard the Fox….I am sure that was the fellow I read about when I was a boy. Something about cherries and this fox.” This customer stood for a long time trying to retrieve this memory of his long ago favourite book.

Another lady was also telling me how amazed she was that her daughter chose a book: ‘I can’t believe she did, she usually has to wait until something really gets to her, it takes ages and ages.’ The child had chosen a second volume of a series that she had never read before. I was respectful and did not question her choice.

I was urged to watch the series Game of Thrones before I committed to the books as I would be better off that way.

Two children stood and stared upward at the Harry Potters for a long time. Their father said that he just needed to get something for himself first and then he would get the Harries. They stayed there, quietly watching their books that were stacked on the highest shelf.

A young woman brought up a volume of Poe and George Eliot’s Silas Marner. She said: my life is not long enough to do this reading that I want.

A child wrote carefully for me on a slip of paper: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams with good pictures please.

The boys waiting for the Harry Potters finally got them and they carefully separated their father’s Stephen King choices and placed them far away from the Harry Potters, at the other end of the counter.

Outside, passing tradesmen told each other to go get a book. They laughed and told each other to go read the Julia Gillard, the helicopter lady.

A man said it is surreal to find book shops still open, especially two in one town.

Margaret rang for a copy of Coffin Road. She said they are underwater and flattened by the wind where she lives.

A young man said the Asterix books are now printed on the wrong paper and a man swung a biography of Jack Nicholson to the counter and quickly paid, he said, in case somebody else got it.

I was asked for The Miniaturist and The Forger’s Shadow and advised to read The Historian.

I was asked for the dates of Antique Fair and for Gangsta Granny by David Williams and I was reminded that Thursday felt like summer but more rain was coming.

The day is ending. I will go home and get back to The Arabian Nights, which are colourful and violent and began with a long introduction which I skipped. Robert said he has the most astounding volumes of these, in a slip case and rabidly expensive but were beautiful enough at the time to throw caution. He also said: there’s one good rainbow over Woodchester, a proper arc.

Margaret left her bag right in the doorway when she stopped to tell me about her reading group that is doing Red Dog by Louis De Bernieres ‘who is not even Australian!’ (They are just back from Europe and dying to get back to their bookshelves.)

Sunday is cold and raining hard and people are dashing past the door to get to the bakery. Some people stopped and considered Mao’s Last Dancer through the window; peering through the glass and shouting over the rain something about the book.

What will we be like when we claim all our own resources….


Perhaps he could no longer walk calmly and safely on a level floor because he mistook it for a rope. Hermann Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Rowena told me that I should keep doing this. Keep working in a bookshop. That we should do what makes us happy when we can. And that some people will do what makes them unhappy because that actually keeps them happy. She bought a copy of The Hunger Games.

John stopped me at the bakery to show me his mountain bike, all packed and prepared for his trip to Tasmania where he is hoping for mild weather. Since he retired he rides everywhere and he can’t wait for August when he will leave and tour alone around the cold Tasmanian roads with his History of Abraham Lincoln for company.

I have not seen Leon for ages,  not since he told me that his migraines were getting worse and worse but to have the second volume of Twilight ready for him anyway.

Robert said that nobody (certainly not the government) will thank him for all the research and writing that he is doing until long after he is dead. But he does not care because there is power in death.

Monique told me that she will be looking for a new series to read very soon and hopefully as good as Cat Warriors.

A lady told her husband to shut the door and not let in the cold but he couldn’t close it because she was in the way. She asked him if he couldn’t just be careful for once in his life. But he is looking at the Ian Flemings and does not answer. She tells him to go in the other room. But he is laughing out loud at the Ian Flemings because “these books were a lot of fun!”

I had said to Robert, imagine if we all thought that we were actually ok, and didn’t need to keep tiredly striving for whatever it was. He said nobody will ever claim all of their own resources as being enough because our culture tells us to do otherwise. Like Apple and Ikea. Then he said he needed a coffee.

But I think it’s true that reading allows us to relent and relax on our careful hold on our lives. When people tell me about something they have read, they let go of everything and concentrate only on that one thing they are remembering: The Tower or the Smoke Catcher or the Chinese Riots of Lambing Flat.

And then our cramped clockwork can stretch and release and light out for a solo run without us.

I felt inspired and told a lady who was looking through the Colin Thieles that it is nice to see children reading the South Australian writers. But she put the books down and said that she might get her grandson some lollies instead and did I know if that old lolly shop was still in High Street.

I am asked for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Bully for Brontosaurus, for the location of the art gallery and advised to read The Fall of the House of Wilde. I was reminded that tomorrow would be 22 degrees, (practically summer) and that there was a horse float parked in the bus zone. I showed my Herman Hesse, some new reading for me, to a customer but he said he does not read the Germans.

My friend, who is 84, sent me a bag of books and the news that her daughter had died on Sunday. My friend is a braveheart. She has always followed her own self to her own self and not bothered to strive after anything that outshines her own remarkable life, because so far nothing has. She has read everything, favouring bloodthirsty thrillers above all else. Along with her devastating news, she sent me a stack of bloodthirsty thrillers.

You carried everything that mattered inside yourself….to live with yourself in affection and trust. Then you could do anything. Then you could not only walk a tightrope but fly. Herman Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Photography by Rubee Hood

20% possum, 10% silk, and 70% merino


An old lady came in from the tourist bus across the road; she was in a tremendous hurry because she said that the buses leave on the buzzer and won’t wait for an old lady. But another lady, on the same tour and going through the cook books at a great pace said that “This is nonsense, Dot, don’t tell people that.” Dot asked me for some outback books, a good read or something and she chose Douglas Lockwood and then she circled the shop looking for her walking stick which we found hanging on her arm.This pleased her very much and she cut out for the waiting bus at a great pace. The other customer said to take no notice but I privately admired her energy and enthusiasm and complete disregard of the winter.

Ryland parked his scooter at the front counter and unpacked his new football boots. He said that he just could not get his old boots to last the season and that also he was in the middle of about ten books. Then he said that his mum knew nothing about Star Wars even though she thought she did. He came back with a Jane Jolly book and said that Jane Jolly was his library teacher and that he didn’t have this book. He pointed to the name of the illustrator and asked me did I know that she had many different draw- ers for her books. He looked at the name Di Wu for a long time. He said he thought that this name came from a different language.

I was asked for The Navel Diaries of Jacob Nagel and Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Later it was Throy by Jack Vance, a triple volume (number 5) of Herge and The Green Bicycle by Al Mansour Haifaa.

David is 88 and he pulled from his bag a jumper and asked me to read the label on the back of the jumper. I read: 20% possum, 10% silk, and 70% merino and he said to me that it is an amazing garment because it looks good, feels nice and keeps him warm. He unpacks his bag and tells me the story of each item he is carrying: chocolates for his friend who has Alzheimer’s, three hats to help him through the weather, pickles from his favourite store, his remarkable jumper, a scarf, a book called Historic Homesteads of Australia and a volume of CJ Dennis which he has just bought from here.  When he left he said that there is a story about Old Father Time who walks up behind an old man in the street and taps him on the shoulder. That is the whole story; it made David laugh and said that the story would not mean anything much except to an old person.

He piled everything on his walking frame and thanked me for having such a lovely place here. He made his way, slowly, slowly across the road toward home and now wearing 20%possum, 10% silk and 70% merino.

Margaret came in as David left and told me that she is not a committee person; they make her shudder even though some people simply live for them.

Now it is quiet again, I can continue with Dorothy Parker and gaze at the descriptions of authors that I admire from the 1920s and 1930s being excessively mean to each other.

Max stopped to give me some ginger chocolate that he bought from down the road and high recommended.

A couple bought a biography of Aaron Copland for their adult son and argued over how they might present it to him. But I am still reading (without interrupting their discussion) that Dorothy Parker did not in any way like A. A. Milne and I am astounded.

Now I stand and look at the shelves and wonder about all these books and Dean comes in to pick up his Bhagavad Gita. I tell him about the astonishing quarrels of great writers and he said that nothing has changed. Then he told me about the difficulties of honey.

Playing With Fire


A father and son stood by the door and had a lengthy argument about Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. I did not have a copy of this book and so could not assist them in clarifying their positions. But the discussion became heated enough for them to each accuse the other of not having read it.  A lady came in and thanked me for helping her buy a calendar last week from the post office. Then she passed back outside and the Stephen King dispute, which had courteously paused while she spoke, continued on.

But for most of this cold day there is nobody here except for Pepys and me

Until a couple came in from Tasmania and commented that our weather is quite fine and that the thing with reading is that you can do it whatever the weather anyway.

A lady bought a book, light romance, nothing too taxing, for her sister and presented it to her at the counter. The sister said that she was a scallywag. They admired Samuel Pepys which still sits superbly on the front counter and said that he obviously did not have enough to do with time to write a huge book like that. I said that this is only some of his diary and that actually he was always busy.

And this is true. On October 20th, 1663 having risen at noon, he found his coachmen having a fight in the street with strange fellow and he, Samuel Pepys,  had to cuff the drunk fellow several times on the chops and then left him on the street, very satisfying.

Then, later, a long intense debate between two young brothers amongst the adventure series in the front room. The trouble was that there was only one Zac Powers left and they both wanted it. The older brother presented a compelling argument to the younger brother that he might prefer Beast Quest more….the younger brother was doubtful and so was offered Star Trek, Boy and Beast and Star Wars. But he was disinterested and kept his thumb on the Zac Powers, pinning it to the table. The older brother considered the shelves a little desperately and finally, triumphantly, offered Skulduggery: Playing with Fire and then they could both come to the counter, winners. I asked chattily if they could see the fallen pepper tree across the road and they said politely ‘yes,’ but neither of them could look up from their books.

People dropped in to tell me that it was freezing and that the pepper tree over the road had fallen over. I said that I had a photo of it on my computer and they are shocked that I already have a photo of it as I wasn’t even here yesterday.

I was asked for books of elegant photography, Babar, Go Set a Watchman and if I had seen the overturned pepper tree. John read to me the first page of The Memoirs of Richard Nixon and said it was a worry. He came in while he waited for the bus and said that the buses don’t have heating on them and everything, including his troubles fell to ten below every time he had to ride in one. He held the door open while he told me this so that the temperature in the shop plummeted to match that of the bus.

Dot told me about Gorilla, Gorilla, her once favourite book that was set in the Congo and that she stole from her brothers because they would not let her read their Biggles collection. She said she just devoured books and had done all her life but that her brothers were still fools.

The rest of the day was quiet. I can tidy up the histories which fall down and the Roald Dahls which are scattered and the Robert Jordans which are out of order and the Zac Powers which are gone. I thought about the lady who used to read Gorilla Gorilla and how she had looked so sad when she talked about her brothers that were fools. She had also said that her father had though a daughter to be a waste of time.

I can read more of What Fresh Hell is This? (Dorothy Parker) which is brilliant and look out at the cold quiet people in the street and I think that the ones carrying books look the happiest.


“Yes, indeed!”

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A child found a library card in the back of a copy of A Wrinkle in Time and said: What’s this? His grandma looked at the card for a long time.

It is nearly noon and a man told me that his north England accent caused him a lot of problems. Then he asked me if I knew George Orwell’s real name. He asked it twice so that I would not have trouble with his accent. He did not come to buy a book, just to take the air as he was a guest at his brother’s house and needed to get out of the place. I said that I understood the situation.

Two adult brothers returned three times, troubled over a book of trains in the children’s section. Eventually they purchased a DK Atlas and left, still troubled. But I was on the phone to Robert who had rung to see if his Tantric Yoga has arrived (it hasn’t) so I ask him might he let Mick  know that his Penguin History of Greece is here. Robert says that he always battles mental health in the winter and it is only books that get him through.

I understand because I am reading more of Dorothy Parker and I am still impressed that she wrote of her own darkness with no apology. It makes me think of that my own small clear stream of sadness and how I can keep it flowing and flushing.

A lady spends a long time looking at the cat books until her husband asked her anxiously to come along now. But she said that there was a book called Cats of Cornwall there and she must look at it more.

I was advised that the weather was lovely apart from the wind and the cold. I was told that the sky could use some more light.

One man was delighted with A Home Handyman by Readers Digest but he didn’t buy it as he thought his wife would be at him even more if he did. While he was telling me this, another man looked through the window and said:  here comes the train, full of damned tourists as usual.

A lady whispered to me that Anna Funder’s All That I Am was a great book.

I was asked for Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon and this customer said that the most important part of a shop is the windows and did I know that Belloc in The Path to Rome said that he worshipped windows. I said that I actually did know that and that he wrote about tunnels too, and light.

Meanwhile the rain keeps drumming the asphalt and visitors try to force the door shut as quickly as possible. Andrew was disappointed that his Knight of the Seven Kingdoms had not arrived. A man sung a Frank Sinatra song as he browsed until his wife told him to stop it.

Some new visitors bought some old and very attractive travelogues; he was planning to actually read them and not shelve them for decorative purposes and I was impressed. He told me a long story about Sir Ernest Shackleton, starting at chapter one which was titled Into the Weddell Sea and then he asked me if I read the vintage travel volumes and I said I looked for travel books written by women. He nodded politely but Jo, his wife,  came forward and said “yes indeed.” She bought a copy of Daisy Bates in the Desert.

I was advised to read Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac and to try David Malouf. I promised to see to it but am still tangled up with Dorothy Parker and Samuel Pepys and intend to be for some time yet.




“You are so lucky to work here…”


July and midwinter and everybody sits in cars to eat their dinner from the bakery and stare through their fogged up windows at my windows and I see them point to the books and say things.

I was asked for The Canadian series ( historical, eight volumes and terrifically good, it’s for my wife, she won’t come out in this cold ) and also for The Oracle of Rama ( doubt that you’d have that though). Then, Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, Game of Thrones (everything, please, please after book three, part one, as I am smashing through the TV series).  I was asked for A Farewell to Arms.

I was asked what was so good about the Justine Quartet and if Salmon Rushdie has written anything new.

I was asked for Dick Bruna and was pleased to have one small copy of The Lifeboat. The customer said to me that I have the best job and asked me what would we do without books.

I was told by somebody that he had always wanted to read a book about Shakespeare but he kept putting it off.

A lady said that even if I hid the good books, she will easily find them.

Outside it is still freezing. Inside it is warm and I am reshelving the Australiana and sorting the Travel.

Serenity comes in to admire her drawing that I have put on the wall. A family come in from Victoria and are delighted to find Specky Magee. I sell a Kylie Tennant’s The Battlers to a student who is not studying it. She says that she needs a break from reading for assignments and want to read properly for a while.

I am reading George Sand and I think that she is fabulously brave. And not ordinary.

An old lady complains that she can only take five steps outside and then it rains again.

I am selling about 5 books per day which comes to about $30. Only a second-hand book shop can get away with this because inside the bookshop is a gold mine.


Well, I found a treasure chest inside this book…

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A couple leaned into the counter and said ‘good on you mate.’ They admired my PayPal device and said it is good to see me bypassing those bastard banks. They like my displays, pronouncing them as creative.

I creatively display Proust next to Patrick White, chronic asthma sufferers together.

A young woman said that George R R Martin ought to look after himself better so he can keep writing more books. She said he looks as though he is on the brink of a heart attack.

John asked me why I don’t take a crack at Proust.

Two friends stood outside the door and said: don’t you just love kid’s books! Her friend said: don’t you just love little old bookshops! They were smoking and did not come in, but they continued to express admiration for the books, the shop and the windows. One of them says that the weather is Christ awful.

I was asked for Dr Who, the Mr Men books, Alice in wonderland and The Selected Essays of George Orwell. I was asked if there was a book containing all of the stories from our local newspaper.

A mother said to her children that fussing would not make her pick her books any faster. The oldest boy said that he wanted a finger bun from the bakery.

Birgett speaks rapidly to her children in English and then in Dutch, they answer in both languages without looking up from their books. She is always reading something, and so are her children.

A lady tells her husband to tie his reading glasses to his head.

A small boy who visits regularly told me that he had found a Tashi: ‘I’ve got a Tashi. You don’t need a creepy story do you? I’ve read the dragon Tashi. We’ve picked a few books here and, well, I found a treasure chest inside this book but tonight I am having a sleepover.’ Then he tells me that there are eight books that he loves and that he is five years old.

 His mother tells me about his bookcase at home, he now has more books than lego…she doesn’t really know why he wants all these books. As she tells me this her own arms are stacked with books she has just chosen. The child says again that he is having a sleepover later on and that he has a double bunk. He turns in a circle and jumps as high as possible. His mother says: ‘steady there.’

Jo suggested that the Australiana table was too crowded.

Robert told me that he had held himself together at Centrelink.

A family bought 18 Agatha Christie books for an adult daughter who only reads Agatha Christie and who does not watch TV, not even Goggle Box.

Jenny asks me if I think that computer books are taking over. I tell her that there is no evidence of that here.