Firestar, Tigerstar, Leafpool and Jayfeather


A divine young reader said that she can read a book per night. She is reading all of the Cat Warriors. When she tells me about Cat Warriors she leans forward and her face is intense with joy and concentration…it seems as though it is a complicated task for her to come away from her thoughts about these cats, about ThunderClan, RiverClan, Windclan and ShadowClan. But suddenly she turns to her mother with some more news and says that she chipped her front tooth at school today. Her mother is telling me something but she stops in mid-sentence upon hearing this news.

The child continues helpfully: but I have already been told off by dad.

Her mum said: did he? Well ok then.




The Ideal Reader


A fisherman from Kingston came in looking for Terry Pratchett and told me that once he bought a Terry Pratchett in Mt Gambier. He said the beach along the Kingston coast is a mess but that is the fault of developers and the council. He said that Terry Pratchett would have said a thing or two about that! Hahaha! I agreed with this and he went out very pleased.

I remember one morning this week, a man was waiting for his small daughter. But she had found The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth and this book is book five of The Chain of Charms series. She was about seven years old, kneeling on the floor to read the book and her father was moving impatiently. His work boot nudged and toppled Animalia and she rebuked him silently with a lifted finger. He stared through the window, rattling keys, obedient. Suddenly she stood and showed him the cover; she was radiant and suddenly, so was he.

A man said that his hallway was lined with bookshelves and it was the length of a cricket pitch. His wife said she did not think it was this long.

I have finished with the Edith Wharton and I read the best stories in this book twice over so as not to miss anything. I am not reading anything else, not yet, because the story Mrs Manstey’s View will not let anything else in.

I was asked for Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons and Secret Servant: The Life of Sir Stewart Menzies by Anthony Cave Brown. This reader told me that Nagal’s Journal, which he found here last time, is the best thing he has ever read. He said that the diaries on the ships, as kept by the captains are the best reading there is. He squared his shoulders and stood back to see if I might disagree.

Three teenage girls were talking and talking. One asked for Sherlock Holmes. She hopped up and down when she told me how much she loved Sherlock Holmes. But sadly, I had none. She said: imagine this, imagine Sherlock Holmes in hardback. I really want to find this…Oh my God.

Her friend said: look at this, I am so into this. Oh my gosh guys. What will I do? Oh my God, I am going to have this.

What is it?

It’s Harry Potter. They all bent over the volume, close together and suddenly speechless. They whisper: it’s a hardback, it’s in another language. Oh my God. They place the volume on the counter and look at me dazed. She says: I collect them. Then they left, leaning on each other, hilarious, rapt.

A tall man in front of me examines the Wordsworth classics and is intense and frowning. His wife is amongst the Art. He leans back; as usual there is nothing for him! He returns to Art but his wife is not finished. She says: I’m not nearly done. She is frowning now too; he moves away and she stops frowning.

One man was intent upon the histories. Then he came away abruptly from the shelf and regarded his son who was texting angrily outside the front door. He said he might come back another time. He closed the door politely but also angrily.

I was told that Dick Francis wrote better books than his son. A lady told me that her fifteen year old grandson loved to read fantasy series but she was going to buy him a biography of a yachtsman instead.

A very tall and smiling man bought Martin Chuzzlewit and said that Charles Dickens had the most extraordinary way with words. He said he was reading them all, he did not like Bleak House but the rest, just marvellous indeed.

I have only read two books by Charles Dickens and they are not easily forgotten. I told him that when Daniel Quilp drowns in The Old Curiosity Shop I was glad! He said: yes indeed!

Two men together were talking about their teenage sons. One man said that his son would not show him how to use the remote for the television because he learns too slowly. His friend said: hahaha.

They asked me for a copy of Watership Down.

I was asked for books on card tricks and a young girl showed me a plaster dragon she had just bought from the goodwill shop. I was asked for the Wind in the Willows.

A man said he had a lot of time for Willa Cather. He asked me had I read her. I said that I planned to but right now I am with Edith Wharton and he said …AHHH…and he looked very happy. He told me that when I get to Willa Cather to read Death Comes for the Archbishop first.

I am floundering and falling amongst all of the titles, all of the must reads and the best reads and the don’t miss reads. It is a good way to be.


“The ideal reader is the translator, able to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down to the marrow, follow each artery and each vein, and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.”

Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader by Alberto Manguel







She said to me that heaven better be a library or something or when she gets there she will say: What the hell?


Peggy has a new t shirt: it is milkshake pink and says: Dance with the Fairies, Ride with the Unicorns, Swim with the Mermaids and Fly to the Moon. She said to me: Here I am, 84 and shifting house again!

I said: well at least you aren’t moving interstate anymore. And why don’t you move up here to Strathalbyn anyway? She said: God!! Imagine it! It’s too quiet here. I need action in my life. I said well, when you get old you will feel differently. She said: I’m twice your age and she shrieked laughing and made her little dog jump in alarm. She always brings him into the shop even though she isn’t allowed to.

Joe was waiting patiently to talk more about the Nullarbor. He said the best way to see it is in a truck. He reminded me that he needed some more books about seeing the Nullarbor from a truck.

Peggy listening in said: Strewth! That would be pretty boring reading wouldn’t it?! She told me how when she lived at Woomera, her wretched first husband burnt all her books in the back yard to get his own back.

A small girl in the front room told her dad that if he didn’t make thirty runs at cricket today he would be dropped back to the B grade. He looked glum. He had a small selection of science fiction which he put back on the shelf. Best spend his time at the stumps…

Yvonne was in a mess with her chocolate rum balls – she rang to say she would come on the weekend to pick up the Uncle Remus.

I was asked for anything by Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. And then for Pride and Prejudice.

Dick, who is 94, came by to pick up a tennis biography and would not use his gift voucher. He said he would use proper money thank you very much…

One morning a young reader told me that it upsets her that people do not know about Swallows and Amazons.

On another morning a very young couple bought some art history books and Robert peered over at their selection and later said that he had wanted some of those books. I told him that he had to look around more carefully and he was aghast. Then I triumphantly produced his volumes two and three of The Journey to the West (translated by Professor Anthony Wu) from under the counter and he was ecstatic. He added that he can now play most of Fur Elise on the piano and it is good enough to make a recording.

I am asked for The Mayan Trilogy. A young father told me that his son, who is twelve, is devouring the Ancient Greeks.

When I went to the bakery, three old ladies were scolding their friend for reading the road signs wrongly and getting them to the wrong town. They told her: if you won’t wear your glasses you’ll have us on the moon next. But she was eating an enormous iced bun and did not look sorry. I wondered if they would visit me next door but they didn’t.

Instead there was Sharon waiting at the door and looking stricken because there was a volume with an olive green and silver cover she could see through the glass but could not get at it. She said to me that heaven better be a library or something or when she gets there she will say: What the hell?

She always talks and talks, taking flight into a new idea with each volume she handles. She examines every book with reverence. She wants to own every book there is. I understand her completely. She tells me that she gave her Moby Dick away and then suddenly wanted it back. But she had to buy it back because they would not give it to her. She says: oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh….

She murmurs half stories and quarter lines but no complete stories. She says: I read Bonjour Tristesse in college and it was so sexual….

…my sister has all of the Wizards of Oz but she’s not going to read them, she’s such a bitch like that…oh my gosh this is The Pepys….do you remember….Alison Uttley…I will get this Blake…I will get this Dante….I might get…this…do you have The Good Earth….I want to read Hemingway….do you have Virginia Woolf still….do you like my shoes? I just got them for an interview this morning…..maybe I will get this Poe…do you have Han Suyin……












You mean all the different lands and that? That’s easy!


A young girl, about twelve, galloped past the door when I was opening up one morning and her father said: there’s your book lady, say hello, and the child trumpeted a huge hello through her custard tart and filled the air with coconut. She said: do you remember when I came in? I agreed to the memory and then she told me that The Diary of Anne Frank was really good. More of her tart dropped to the ground and her father said: careful with the cake.

I am still setting up for the day. I am preoccupied and slow and there is a wasp on top of the biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. There are two people waiting patiently and soon the husband begins to explain to me that he is a prolific reader. Then he said: look out there’s a moth in here and his wife said to him: you must have opened your wallet!

Maree talked about reading Huckleberry Finn and about the difficulties of being a grandparent. She said she felt unappreciated and that the other grandparents had an unfair advantage. She held onto the door so that other people could not get through and when she felt the door move she gave a small scream.

After she left I thought that life is not easy for anyone.

David is here and he watches her leave too and he said: goodness… and then he talked about Peter Porter and Clive James. He said that he engages emotionally, deeply, with these poets. He said that soon he is going to explore the Indian Mystics.

On Wednesday Robert told me that once he ate a roast chicken at a pub and it was a poor meal indeed. He told the publican: this is a poor meal and the publican sacked the cook. Then he said cryptically that this is just like that damn fool in America. He said it’s time someone did something about that too, and that he is about to add his voice to the battle soon as he has paid all his bills.

I am sorting and shelving books and considering my own tangled reading. It won’t stay still or become coherent. I am reading Olive Kitteridge because someone lent it to me and it is tough and fabulous. And I have finished the Edith Wharton, the stories of New York and sometimes in my head I am hearing Olive Kitteridge and sometimes I am hearing Edith Wharton. Sometimes they may be the same person. But they are not. And my daughter brought home from the university library another volume of the Westerly, Australian poems and short stories and I plough though the glossy thick pages with joy because for some reason I have missed out on the Australian things. These heavy journals are full of words and sand and heat and the back streets of Sydney and our own awful history.

I asked Kody: how do you keep all the books and things organised and not mixed up in your head. He said: that’s easy.

That was all he said, as if there was no more needed. That it is not a problem anyway so why was I asking it. I am always impressed with Kody who has read all of the Deltora Quest books three times. I said to him: but what about all the different countries? And he said: you mean the different lands? Like Araluen and that? That’s easy.

One morning the shop was full of grandmothers. This had never happened before.

One grandma told me about her tiny brilliant granddaughter; that she was so very brilliant and could read anything. The child sat still, magnificent in her stroller and then suddenly flung all of the chosen picture books to the floor. The other grandmothers looked away politely.


Map of Literature by Martin Vargic


















Life is an icecream.


An earnest young woman explained to me some details of her thesis on George Eliot’s Silas Marner. She talked about rationalism and the connection to community and the spiritual climb to redemption. She said she is moving to Strathalbyn because it has the correct number of bookshops which is any number more than zero.

I remember reading Silas Marner. He was a weaver.

I was asked for Theodore Roethke: The Collected Verse and Bel Canto. I was asked to put aside some Manga books please.

I was asked for Tagore. Because his writing is so very beautiful. The young woman stood for a long time trying to find the words to describe Tagore.

Leon came by to make sure that everything is ok. I asked him about his reading and he said: well, that’s another story. As he left a woman and her mother came in and spend a long time in the crime fiction. When they left, the young woman said: I told you mum, I told you that I just go in there, in that shop, right, and I just freaking find stuff. Oh my God.

Her mum said: that is all very well but right now my hip is aching.

I was asked if I had Annie Dillard and I do. The reader said he wakes up and reads early each day. Reads until the break of day. Every day.

I am envious of the break of day reader and wished that I had thought of doing this first. Roy comes in with a hopeful list of outback novels for me to look out for. I tell him about the man who reads for hours every morning but Roy said that he would prefer to sleep.

I am asked for Faunaverse which was only published a few months ago. There is time for me to continue with Edith Wharton and to clean all of the windows and to listen to an argument that is raging across the road over a car park. One driver says: Well, you can’t park here mate, that’s all I can say so don’t be a moron about it.

I go to pay my electricity rates and feel resentful.

Peggy has sent a family messenger with some books for me and a message that life is an icecream. I ring her but she does not answer. I always urge her to wear her hearing aid but she says it is a bugger of a thing and refuses to use it, just as she refuses to wear her glass eye. But this has never stopped her from getting the most out of life. Nothing has ever done that.
















Snails are a good thing too…


I was asked for Oakleaf Bearers, Erak’s Ransome and Heir of Fire. I was asked about Theodore Roethke. I was told about the Country Women’s Association and the Calendar of Cakes and I delighted a reader because I had book one of Game of Thrones.

An old lady told me that her hardcover edition of Winnie the Pooh with illustrations by Ernest Shepard disappeared with her daughter in law. She said she would not go into the rest of that story.

Outside it is warm and quiet. A man tells me that there is no wall of their home that is not filled with books.

I continue with The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. I try to portion them off and read fairly but it is not easy. It is like eating a long rope of good liquorice, it is not possible to be sensible with it. Mrs Manstey’s View, A cup of Cold Water, The Quicksand, The Rembrandt…..

A child lurches forward and hurls a book onto the counter. It is I’ll Show You a Blue Kangaroo and I catch it neatly. His mother comes forward and she is horrified. He regards her closely. He said: you said I hap to. She said no, no, no, no, not like that. He continues to regard her curiously. He said again: you said I hap to.

His young mother apologises and tells me they are from Yorkshire, she said her son is unusual, he loves books but most of all he loves snails. She looks worried. He is now staggering forward with three more books and Robert,  who has just come in, tells him: good work! He drops all of the books on Robert’s shoes and Robert is delighted. He says to the young mother that snails are a good thing too.

He is here to pick up his Journey to the West by Anthony C. Yu in four volumes two of which I do not have…but his is attending to the small boy and the scattered story books and does not hear me.


Photography by Signefotar









He said: thank you for thanking us.


And his wife said: we lie in bed from six am to eight am every morning and read with cups of tea and we’ve been doing that for forty years.

I gazed at this old couple who are so happy with the volumes they have just chosen and I thanked them for coming into my shop.

And later, a whole week later, I rang them to talk about a book they wanted and when I rang, Thelma was reading Manx Mouse in the garden and she said: oh, my dear, my dear, my dear I am reading Manx Mouse out in the garden and there are no words for it. And then she said:  we should also talk about Oscar Wilde next time we come in. John is making a nuisance of himself in the shed; let me call out to him that you are here on the phone. I ought to also turn off the hose. Just wait a minute my dear…

I am thinking of Oscar Wilde all day.

I am reading The New York Stories of Edith Wharton and I am absorbed too completely in Mrs Manstey’s View.  When Mrs Manstey lingers at her window to watch a windy sunset die in bat coloured dusk I remembered that I had once seen that sunset through a glass window and I had licked the glass and it was hot.

A customer looks at my book and says she could never get on with Edith Wharton.

I feel that I cannot get by without Edith Wharton. The cover is beautiful; it is iced green with pink and presents itself as to be eaten.

I am asked for Catcher in the Rye and I feel like furiously saying bother The Catcher! What now about Edith Wharton…

A young woman asks for Thus Spake  Zarathustra and I am wondering why such a young person has chosen this.

Peggy sends me a message with her new address and that the James Patterson she bought from me was rubbish. I suggested Edith Wharton and I am limp with love for Edith Wharton but Peggy says: God, no.

Rita came in for an Australian Stamp Catalogue and she describes for me the difficulties of her experiences with greyhound racing.

Joe comes back with his copy of The Nullarbor Kid and tells me that his life of trucking the outback is entirely within this book.  He said: my lady used to come with me in the truck sometimes, so on the CB radio –  when the truckers knew she was with me, they cleaned up their language you see… for ten years she travelled with me… it was the best ten years of my life.  She said that the men of the outback treated her much better than men in suits back in that wretched bank.  But it’s different now I guess…I should like to read any more books this guy has written. Please look some more of them out for me.

I am asked for the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft.

There is an argument in the front room over Game of Thrones.

A small child hits her brother over the head with his Horton Hatches the Egg and he is devastated. The mother tells me that she is exhausted. She has purchased Cleopatra and Helen of Troy by Margaret George, each of these is a weighty 900 pages and she leaves the shop hugging her two weeping children and she tells me about her reading afternoon and she is ecstatic. I understand her ecstasy and that sometimes there are not words for it. I remember when I was looking at Wide Sargasso Sea, looking at the pages and the cover and David came in and said: Oh My God is that Wide Sargasso Sea and I said yes and he said: Oh My God! And there were no more words for it.

I understood.

There are all the details there, in these books, the greatest books, whichever they are. Details of the smallest things, the everyday things, so many and so profound and complicated that there is no dealing with them, not even with regular, careful breathing.

Paper sculpture by  Malena Valcarcel