Rain

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Albert told me that he has been unwell. “I’ve been unwell, you know, confined to barracks! I catalogued all my books… well, two shelves anyway. Spanish Literature and the Mystics to the left and Latin and Early Church to the right. Travelogues on the bottom.” He bought another George Borrow; he said it already had a place on the shelf waiting. He loses his gloves in the shop and when he stacks his book to leave, he has picked up somebody else’s purchases. He says it is his own fault because all he can think about these days are the Spanish writers.

A couple were walking along the shelves, talking about the opera. She kept saying: yes, yes… but this one here…

It is very quiet. A bus load of visitors across the road are all looking at the sky, and then they one by one climb back onto the bus. Except for one lady who is arguing with the bus driver.

David told me about Clive James, Barbara Hanrahan, Alan Moorhead, Jerome K. Jerome, Jean Rhys and Patrick White and then he purchased another biography of Anais Nin that I wanted for myself. I look at him reprovingly and he says: well, it’s too late now.

And a couple buying mysteries tell me that the weather just will not brighten up.

It is raining. Still the lady across the road argues with the bus driver who is hunched against both her and the rain.

There are some young people kneeling in front of the self-help books. They have the Bhagavad Gita and Jonathon Livingston Seagull on the floor side by side and they are talking to each other about them in low voices. They have left their rucksacks by the door of the shop and another customer, a regular gentleman who only reads political biographies tells me that the bags people carry around these days are very odd. He is cheerful because he has found a copy of Alistair Cooke’s America and he thinks that now he will branch out. The young people are all standing up now and motionless, gazing into books with open mouths, the rucksacks are forgotten. I ask them later where they have travelled from and they tell me they are from Crafers.

I am asked for Catcher in the Rye, The Hobbit and anything by Garth Nix. I am told cheerfully that rainy hours are for reading.

When I go next door to the bakery it is full of ambulance officers, all in uniform and all eating furiously as they stare out at the day.

Back in the front room, visitors are all staring silently at the shelves. A boy, about 14 says YESSS and then he is holding a Patrick Rothfuss book (The Wise Man’s Fear) in front of his sister; she shrugs and refuses to look at the book.

I go back to the counter and I can continue to read a short story that I like called The Day Begins by Morris Lurie and I am reading it twice and then again because it is fabulous, although I am not sure why. I don’t read short stories but now I do.

There is a man here from Singapore. He he has found Hemmingway, Thoreau, Pearl S. Buck and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He tells me his home is in Singapore where he is a chemist and in Singapore people must really concentrate to be still and take a breath. And so he will put these books on his shelf and look at them. He has no time to read. In Singapore there is NO TIME TO READ. But this literature puts the humanity back in him. Daily life takes it out and these books can put it back in. Literature shows that we are all the same and there is no single answer. Sometimes there is not even the time to just look at things. That he is staring at things but not looking at them. He told me he is caught in work, caught in family, caught in trying to pay the bills and caught in aging parents and not quite knowing what to do.

In my car park (in the rain) when I am going home, there is a magpie on the galvanised iron fence and it sings a few small notes, it does not mind the rain.

Sculpture “Rain” by Ukrainian artist Nazar Bilyk

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I’ve had lunch you dickhead!

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As I am unwrapping a parcel of books there are two workmen passing the window and they are hurrying and cold. One says: I will buy you lunch and the other answers him: I’ve had lunch you dickhead.

They are loud and an old lady turns to me and says “Well!”

Another older couple came in and stride grimly through each room and then tell me as they leave that the weather is ridiculous.

I am unwrapping some books and they are for me. They are my last two volumes of the Journals of Anais Nin and have arrived in the post today and I unwrap them and say to a customer that I ought to lock the door and just read now and they say it is hardly fair that I live here in paradise.

But Robert is approving. He is on the way to a funeral but stops here to complain about the bank. He does not appreciate having to wait in a queue because this robs him of reading time. I said that I understood.

A young man bought A History of Chinese Philosophy and said that it would see the cold weather out.

Vernon discussed Game of Thrones with me and said that I should not become attached to any of the characters, not even the direwolves. He said that all history is ugly and Game of Thrones at least portrays things as they really were, apart from the dragons.

Then he gave me a list of Bernard Cornwell books that he needed and went off to work. He said good luck with what happens next at Winterfell.

I look at the Anais Nin journals for a while and think about Anais Nin.

A child outside says: mum can we check in here for the ‘just shocking’ books that I still want to get. They continue slowly past in serious discussion. The child lists the titles he needs and he jumps in the air as he recites each one.

I am asked for Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving, The New Bandsaw Box Book, A Biography of Cleopatra by Margaret George, Heart of Darkness, The Brothers Karamazov, Catcher in the Rye, an autobiography of Jimmy Barnes and Vargic’s Miscellany Book of Maps.

A lady asked how much the peacock outside the window costs but I said it was mine and not for sale. She said she had one the like but her friend took it.

A customer returns to lend me her copy of The Magician of Karakosk.

I am looking through a Heath Anthology of American Literature, two volumes which also arrived for me today and they are heavy. And each of them is 3000 pages long and they are second hand, inexpensive and the contents pages list Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton and Elizabeth Bishop…and Flannery O’Connor and more and more that I have never seen.

Robert comes back and I show him the Anthologies of American Literature and he says: ‘wow’. I show him the contents and point out the African American writers, the American Indian writers and the women writers and I know that this will please him. And it does impress him because he wants to buy them both but I have to say that these are not for sale but he can borrow them when I am finished. He says how long will this be and I tell him 100 years and he is even more impressed.

Photography by Roman Kraft

 

Grief

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I remember when a couple lent me a book they loved. It was called Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards. I wondered if I would find the time to read it. But then I did read it. I was caught by the first paragraph which described a young woman who has attempted to cut off her own arm. I read the whole book and will never forget it.

I returned the book when they came back to my shop and thanked them. They said that this book was respectful and very very good and that their own daughter once attempted suicide. And the second time she succeeded.

They stood there, she, the mother with her book: Growing Roses Successfully and he with a book by John Grisham and me standing there with nothing at all.

 

I brought you a tomato.

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It is not hard to begin the day when you have been given a tomato.

I was presented with this tomato, a gift, because I had a lucky copy of Cranford which was urgently needed. All day I looked at the tomato because I have never been given such a grateful or unusual or heartfelt gift.

A young man who bought The Little World of Don Camillo said that the tomato was a nice one and that all Don Camillo books were iconic.

Janet bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman because it is on her reading list for next month and hopefully she will get in ahead of time. She said sadly that she cannot keep up with her group no matter how fast she reads. That Pepys got in the way of Salt Creek. And Salt Creek was just flung aside… but then Lady of Hay moved in the front of everything but now she was reading Oliver Sacks. And so on…

I showed her The Commonwealth of Thieves and said that this book came up because of Gould’s Book of Fish and had taken over Olive Kitteridge even though both books were equally good. I said sadly that now I was being devastated by Game of Thrones and that I could not cope with the death of Lady, the wolf hound. Janet was horrified and said I should have tried to hold out for longer. She herself had the whole set at home but had not read them and couldn’t tell her son as he had given them to her for her birthday. I showed her my gift, a tomato, and she said it was a fitting tribute to Cranford because that was written by Elizabeth Gaskell. As she left she told me that her reading group are doing Gone Girl which is good but the sex scenes are far too graphic for her. Also the group does a thorough physiological analysis of the text but she herself just wants to enjoy it.

I had a small amount of time to remove a spider and look through the Game of Thrones paperbacks to consider the reading commitment.

I am told that Elizabeth Jolley does not let the reader make any easy judgements.

Andrew drops in to explain the history of the Lannister family and the brilliant character of Tyrion Lannister. Andrew is sympathetic regarding the death of the wolf hound but warns me not to become emotionally involved with the characters.

A lady has a long conversation on her phone about being in a coma. Then she buys three books by Mary Gentle and tells me that they will come in useful.

I am asked for Rachael Treasure and Herman Hesse

A lady tells me how to dispose of unwanted books and cutlery.

Another customer, looking through the Boy and Beast books with her grandsons tells me that she is really into books. “But where I used to work we couldn’t even give them away, it’s good to see people still trying.”

She tells her grandsons about William Shakespeare, that he was a great literary artist. But one brother was looking through his Skulduggery book and did not attend her information and the other just wanted to go to the bakery.

Harry is looking for King Arthur books and recites several times for me his lines in the play: Young King Arthur and the story of Excalibur.

“And you sir are a rapscallious rascally hooligan and the first cousin of a degenerate scoundrel.”

I am impressed and another customer, David, tells him to keep up the good work. He said he was quite an actor himself a long time ago and once acted in King Lear.

David is here to find a gift for a true friend who lives in Tailem Bend; he is searching for not just anything and wants a book that can express a lifetime of gratitude. I said that I understood; that I too have such a friend. He tells me he might go for Herman Hesse.

He asks about the tomato on my table and I tell him it was a gift and he says the simplest things are the most profound and that I should hand it on, symbolic of all things true.

Serenity, who has dropped in to help me pack up, says that I should eat the tomato and that for a present she would rather have Hover Soccer.