With books, there is no end…


A young reader, Ben, thanks me for his horse book. He says: thank you for that horse book. Do you think that you could now find a book about how to look after dogs and maybe put it out the back to save it for me or something? As they left his mother said: well that was a lucky find, I reckon.

I rang a lady to tell her that her books were here but her husband said that she is in hospital now and may never come back out.

Outside is full of tradesmen, laden with food and jogging back to waiting vehicles.

Robert has had the flu. He said he caught it in the art gallery and said that he cannot even taste his cigarettes and has not been able to read properly. He is outraged about catching the flu in an art gallery and said that this is typical Adelaide.

David said today that it is very difficult to stay focussed until a whole poem drops out. He said: I just cannot do it, but my mother could.

Outside now the street is empty. There is only a police car and they are in the bakery.

I finish Gould’s Book of Fish and Anaïs Nin (A Woman Speaks).

Two sisters are circling the table of children’s books, eyeing each other and the books on  display.

Karl tells me how important it is to have a chair in a bookshop for the customers. He buys Brother Fish because he knows personally about the Korean War and advises me to keep going, do keep going. Jenny brings a biography to the counter: Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking. Karl reads aloud from the back cover and she tells him to be quiet.

A family come in, a man with a young wife that the children call by her first name. He stands back hopeful, but she sits down and is exhausted. The children are pleased with the books, finding Geronimo Stilton and Zac Powers. She offers to buy them any books they would like but they put them back on the table, even the Geronimo Stilton Red Ruby.

I am asked for Saigon by Anthony Grey and any books by Tamora Pierce

I have found another book to read for myself and it is by an Australian writer called Elizabeth Jolley. It is called An Innocent Gentlemen. I can sense another ambush and I put the book back down for now.

A small boy asks if it is ok to come in if you are wearing soccer boots.

Last night I finished Anaïs Nin and today, the whole day, is about Anaïs Nin again. Once Margaret Atwood ambushed me this way and I could not get away for a long time and it was The Blind Assassin that did it.

A man stands outside the window and stares at a biography of Germaine Greer. He has been standing there for a long time. Another man tells me a long story about a library book that he lost in New Zealand. I decide to re read The Blind Assassin.

I am asked for Memoirs of a Geisha and advised to read it. I tell the customer that the day is alive with choices.

A man kneels with his small daughters amongst the Fairy Wishes books. He says: put them back properly remember. Don’t leave your beanie. The younger sister tells him that she wants every single book. He leans into the shelves to consider a safe response.

A lady says to someone outside, out of view: Stephen, this town has book shops. Later she came back to get a book she saw in the window. She said her friends are at the bakery and she lied to them about where she was going because they said she could not buy any more books. I said that I understood her predicament. She said that not everyone is interested in books.

She is gazing along the shelves, reaching for Sir Walter Scott and she says: with books there is no end.



I have a daughter.


Peggy came to visit. She came to find some rubbish to read because her daughter has recently died and she is struggling to get going again. I do not know how to offer consolation on such a profound loss. She said: give me some rubbish to read and it’ll help get me going. Then she said: I didn’t do enough and this is why I need to be distracted. Do you ever think that? I said that I think this every single day. She said she has been reading all night long and wakes up suddenly when the book hits the floor. She recently stayed in bed all day with Tolkien and Georgette Heyer. I admire her more than I can say.

Then she said: I am getting old and cannot remember things well. You should put it into words, the details about your children. Also, I am going deaf.

I  am thinking of the details.

David came in and said: what are you doing? I said that I am writing some words about each one of my grown children so that I can preserve these details. David is emotional and dramatic. He said: oh I see, I see. He told me to write in images, not in words. But I am unsure of what this means.

A couple, looking through the Hesperus Press editions straightened up and said: our grown children…there are few words to describe it, the grown part. That’s hard.

David said to us all: I do not have any children.

This couple, who had come in for The Canterbury Tales and bought instead The Mill on the Floss said that sometimes they did not always want their grown children to visit.

I am writing just a few words for each one, so that, as Peggy reminded me I will not forget:

I have a daughter and we can argue on anything. We did not start like that but we became like that. We argued on the small things, the big things and then needed to argue on all things; the loss of the toaster, the temperature of cheese, the origin of grain. And then the position of pain, the right to comfort, the clarity of lies, the theft of the past. She is a quarter boy who struck the bell for every quarter hour that I was not honest. This is how I learned to be honest and it is how I learned that honesty is important. I am speechless with criticism and respect.

I have another daughter who can realign the hours and take care of the days. I look to her confounded and follow her example of gentle lists and goals. Together we have enormous quantities of fun and then suddenly she is a stranger to me; brave and fearless. She is completely apart and I am envious of her being completely on her own road. She can sound and show all weathers and allow crying.

I have another daughter who can lie in her own shape and regard unconcerned the future. I look to her with awe and relief that such an attitude is possible and with such bravery and distain. Because I am unable to disregard the hours and days and imagined chores that I need to earn my train pass.

I have a son and I admire him intensely from close and afar. He is rare. He does the things of men. But he can work within all the things of women. Despite my pacing and motherhood fury during his infant days, he achieved all this. There is no more to be said.

I have a new daughter who has joined up with enthusiasm, blended everybody and excludes nobody. She is focussed, generous and excellent. She has the future sketched and is delighted with it and is a gate keeper, making sure that everybody gets though. And we can no longer do without her.

I look at these words and wonder about them. I would show them to David but he has taken his biography of Anaïs Nin and gone home.

A lady bought three books by Ngaio Marsh. She told me that at home she has books open on every surface, everywhere, all the print lying there face up and ready.

A young man said that he does not like the whole world building premise, the land spreading structure etc and this is why he did not read The Wizard of Earthsea even though his dad did.

I am asked for The Nigella Express and for The Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones.

Elaine would like a copy of The Shepherd’s Life. When she drops in she tells me that she is distressed because her daughter, who is 55, will still not answer her mobile phone.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin


Dean picked up his Ghandi and talked about the Bhagavad Gita. He said that apparently it very much inspired Aldous Huxley who wrote among other things, Brave New World. Then he said cryptically that this is only the beginning. He also said he is worried about his electricity supply.

I said conversationally to a young council worker that it was hailing here not half an hour ago and the sky was black. He said: there’s no way!!!!! Then he said cheerfully that he doesn’t read much, he just wanted to get into the warm.

Anaïs Nin…..

Red Rackham’s Treasure (Tintin) has fallen on top of American Sniper so nobody can see the sniper anymore. I decide to leave it this way.

Jeanne picks up Sisters of Sinai and asks for me to look out for Pomegranate Soup for her and that reading gets her through the winter.

I am asked for Reading the Oxford English Dictionary: One Man, One Year, 21730 Pages by Amon Shea. The customer says: imagine doing that! Writing Home by Alan Bennett, a huge and heavy volume sits on the counter and looks impassively on, dubious of  anyone reading the entire dictionary.

A customer I have never met suddenly buys Writing Home by Alan Bennett and there is a gap.

Anaïs Nin, A Woman Speaks


Outside a lady tells indicates the General Cosgrove book in the window and tells her husband that she has already read that but…..he tries to edge her toward their car.

Amelia messages me that soon she is going to spend an obscene amount of money on Zola. Especially on Nana, the only book she had no copy of at all.

Margaret brings me tangerine cake that she made herself. Soon the entire shop smells of tangerine.

David bought Byzantine Art – he said that he coveted this book. And that life is difficult.

A visitor says that he lives in Yorkshire, England but now he wants to live in Echunga.

A man rushed in and asked me what an Encyclopaedia of South Australia was worth. I said that I did not know. He said he did not want me to give him $5 for it when it was worth, say $20. I thanked him for his concern.

A lady suddenly said as she stood there with a copy of Heidi: I do enjoy reading your blog. I am shocked and do not know what to say.

A man wandered around and told me that he had Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now on tape. He said: I can relax and listen to things. I can come out once a week and this is my day out. I am also learning to use a dictionary. I have never read a book right though. What are these, this old Pauper’s library here? Who is this Midsummer Night Dream? Who is this Thomas Moore? Who are the Irish Melodies? I told him about some of the books and he said: sweet!

A young woman said she just had the best half hour of her day. She displayed her choices in front of me, all paperback penguins, Hesse, Sagan, Gunter Grass, Bellow, Marquez, all old and worn with delivery.

The market across the road is busy, the street is busy. Someone has put a flower on my windowsill. People outside read aloud the titles in the window as they pass by. A young woman holds up books to her infant daughter through the glass. But the child, outside with her father, is distracted by the balloons above her. Her mother taps crossly on the glass so that the young man quickly turns the child to look at Angelina Ballerina. But the child is disinterested. The father looks through the glass, worried.

The day is Anaïs Nin; inside everything is Anaïs Nin because she said: create your own creation and be stubborn with it.

A lady said to her friend: we are inside a gem.



Henry buys books on bread making or books by Liane Moriarty. He stopped by today to tell me about Big Little Lies:  there are these families and their lives and everything and even at the end you still don’t know what is going to happen and Liane Moriarty just weaves it all in and out and in and out and it is amazing, it’s storytelling, proper storytelling and then she won the New York prize. I’ve heard it’s so hard to do this!

As I had no books by Moriarty or anything about bread making, Henry chose Helen Garner. He said that Helen Garner is a brave writer. He told me about his friend, an old lady in a nursing home who reads outside walking amongst trees in the garden. He said she must do this to get that home out of her system, especially the smell. And she reads Helen Garner.

A lady said to her friend: look at all these books…we are inside a gem.

Marnie said that she felt that she needed to read The Hate Race. She just felt it. She looked at me but was unable to explain further. I said that I understood.

A young man passing the window says: Please don’t tell me that Julie Gillard has written a book! His friend hustles him on and tells him not to worry about it.

A lady bought The Magic Faraway Tree because of the way it looked.

Then she bought Twelfth Night because of the way that looked too. When she picked it up she said: Oh no….

Two ladies argue next to the food and cook books. They become cross with each other over Margaret Fulton.

A copy of The Living and the Dead by Patrick White has appeared from somewhere and I keeping looking at it. But I already have enough to read. Patrick White’s biography (David Marr) is shelved opposite me and Patrick White is pictured on the front. He looks angry. The picture is so refreshing. I receive another email from Glenda urging me to read the new biography of Oscar Wilde. She said it is so disturbing.

A girl of about 14 years has been looking at a slip cased volume of Johnson and Boswell ( Journals of the Western Isles). It is dark green and gold and heavy.

A young boy asks for Poe’s Pit and The Pendulum and his father says: I don’t know what he wants that for!

My friend sends me a photo of a set of Penguin 60s she has just received for her birthday. The titles are luxurious, chantable and I want them. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Krishna’s Dialogue on the Soul, Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps, Castiglione, Cervantes, Dante and De Quincey, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Aristophanes and Anonymous.

The books I am reading and that I have read are colliding.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Arabian Nights

Stravinsky’s Lunch, a return.

Gould’s Book of Fish is still gruesome.

The Shorter Pepys

The Stone Diaries

Joyce Carol Oates…

I run up to the post office to post a book interstate. I wonder if people say: there goes the book keeper. But it is likely they say nothing. When I get back, Joan is there to tell me about her nephew and Harry Potter.

I am asked for  Wintersmith,  A Hat Full of Sky and Cloudstreet.

I think about Zola.


Photography and artwork by Bing Wright

No day is ever the same.


Two boys sat outside on the wet pavement and removed their football boots before coming into the shop. They walk about in football socks, whispering hilariously.

Margaret rushed in needing some reading glasses; she said she couldn’t go up the street to get any as the committee had only given her one minute. She told me that someone has left football boots outside the door.

Dion rang. He is still very ill, too ill to read. He said sadly that his eyes hurt too much. He said he keeps his chin up otherwise he would go around the bend. He took his mother with him to the specialist, and if she hadn’t been there he would have had a certain few things to say to that doctor,  but he could not speak that way in front of his mum.

A young boy told me that he only likes short stories. He likes short stories because with them, you never know what you are getting, like Paul Jennings. And also, you get more.

Another young boy asked me for anything on cars please, not trains or bikes, ‘as I hate them. I just want cars.’

Toward the afternoon I complain about the cold, but a visitor, a stonemason, says that where he lived in England they had to light a fire on the building site to thaw out the builder’s sand. He said: this here is summer!

I am reading English Fairy Tales and Legends.

I am reading The Arabian Nights

I am reading Gould’s Book of Fish which is gruesome.

I am advised to read Go Set a Watchman.

I am told I am lucky.

I am asked why I read so much.

I don’t know why I read so much.

Daryl waves his arms hilariously to demonstrate the charm of George Borrow travelling through Spain and conversing with the gypsies, and as he gestures he knocks over a Wodehouse biography. He said that he never thought much of Wodehouse anyway, but the Spanish, well, they were a different thing altogether. He has chosen Into the Looking Glass Wood by Alberto Manguel.

The thing I know about Alberto Manguel is that he loved reading, and I tell Daryl about The Library at Night, one of Manguel’s other books. Daryl asks why I tell him about books that I don’t have here, and I am apologetic. I consider lending him my own copy but decide selfishly not to.

No day is ever the same.

A girl comes in asking for the 72 Tree House Stories but I tell her these are only newly published. She says that’s ok. She made her dad stop the car anyway.

Sandy asks for the Boy Versus Beast books and Dawn cannot find her copy of Heidi. She says she know exactly who took it.

Before I close up for the day, John tells me a long story about electricity.


My great grandmother used to read in bed…

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I received a note under the door this morning which said: The Book Keeper: Sorry I was laid up half last week after surgery, then forgot to collect my book order. It was not signed. It continues to be cold and I do not expect many visitors today!

I was asked for Live Right For Your Type…please don’t confuse it with Live Right For Your Life.’ I said that I would take care to not get that one (as it doesn’t exist).

I received an email urging me to: go ahead and get The Patriots and The Nationalists. Then another email which said: also The Imperialists, locally.

Yesterday a man asked me for Len Beadell – he said he used to talk to him over the back fence. His grandson is also looking for Beadell books and that is because he is taught nothing at school. He said he feels that he has had an influence on the boy and he is pleased about that. I told him that my great grandmother used to read in bed and that this was my favourite thing about her and this had an influence on me. Actually it was all I knew about her.

He said that things like reading trace down the lines, jump the centuries and come out the other end, flying.

When he left he said: ‘Well done. Well done for being in an easy place where I can stop the ute and also go to the bakery. Then he came back and asked for books on pruning. He rejected the two that I had, pronouncing them as no good at all.

I was asked for the new Harry Potter, preferably second hand.

A man called Errol wrote out a long note for me which asked for A Modern History of Ireland: The Nationalist Movement. Nothing before the Nationalist Movement. The latter sentence was important, heavily underlined. He said that he couldn’t stay because his wife was forcing him to go and have lunch.

A lady stopped to describe for me the incompetence of the local council and their obvious disinterest in the town.

I received another email: Long time, no see. Last delivery. I need a 1976 Rigby publication called Coorong by Colin Thiele. I also want The Rock, Cradle Country and Range Without Man. Please put aside as I used to correspond with Colin T. Best Wishes, Ian.

I am impressed with Ian.

I am asked for Peter Gordon Bland: a Book of Poetry and told that if this man was alive he would be 80 years of age. Then: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. A young reader asked for a copy of Shatter Me and Size Twelve is Not Fat. Irene rang to ask for Graham Greene because she loved him. But not The Power and the Glory.

I received an email: I don’t think I’ll get up the street today. All is well. I just don’t plan to go anywhere. Do you have The Food Doctor by Vicki Edgson and Ian Marber.

I was asked for One Shot by Lee Child – not the copy with Tom Cruise on the front cover. (Please not that one.)

I have not sold a single book at all, but the day is bulging with enquiries and requests and the council rates.

I was assured there would be lots of people visiting during the Antique Fair.

Do you have Nana by Zola, hardback only?

Do you have Push by Sapphire?

Do you have In the Steps of Saint Paul by H V Morton

Do you have Mary Poppins…

Do you have The Order of the Stick?

But I did not sell a single book. I am cold and am going home to read Gould’s Book of Fish in bed because my great grandmother’s love of reading has jumped the centuries and come onto me, flying.

Pressed against the sky…


I am asked for Nan Witcomb’s The Thoughts of Nanushka, Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond Feist and Pony Pals, numbers 9 and 10.

In the front of Gould’s Book of Fish there is a quotation: My mother is a fish. William Faulkner. This book, by Richard Flanagan, sits next to me. On a day where there are hardly any visitors to the shop, I read and read it and feel busy.

Outside the window, a tiny girl admired the wooden cat. She tapped on the glass, and pressed her nose on the cold glass against the nose of the cat. She said hello Mrs Cat and her mother says: come along, come along.

An old man, outside the shop, turns when his wife asks him if he would like to visit the book shop. He says: but I haven’t bought a book in 40 years.

Inside, a brother and sister are kneeling over the Goosebumps. They began to argue over which of them is taller. Their mother is in the Wordsworth Classics; she is not interested in intervening as she has Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

Everyone is coughing today.

A couple look intently through the historicals for a long time, pointing to and discussing the titles, gently tapping the spines.

A man said that he was introduced to Emile Zola during his teens and has been hooked ever since. He said the translations from the seventies are the best but it is unusual to find them anywhere. Then his wife said that they have too many books at home.

I was advised to read Clive James. I was intensely interested in a story someone tells me of  how Ezra Pound wrote a long poem and then distilled it down to just three lines.

A lady said sadly that the council have lopped her trees after the recent windstorms. They have done it so incorrectly that she fears they will die. She buys West With the Night by Beryl Markham.

I am asked how to get the census booklet in paper form and advised that the government has not thought this census thing out properly.

A man tells me that he is planning to read all of Proust, sometime in the next hundred years. He said there is something in one of those volumes about a church or an old building that is pressed against the sky. He would do anything to find those words again but cannot remember where they were.

I am back with Gould’s Book of Fish which is a novel in twelve fish, is Van Diemen’s Land, convicts,  our awful history.