Max is my new grandson.

Max was born in the night and at the end of exhaustion. We looked at him confounded. He gripped his mother’s tired thumb and hummed in sleep. We are trying out your name, examining your face, pushing to be chosen to hold you. When you are all fraught, so are we and our faces mirror yours and we can’t help it.

In the maternity ward and up high near the roof there is silver tinsel and there are baubles and bubbles of purple and green and outside is alive with gum leaves and Christmas wind. But we can’t take part in these things, we are so rigid with pride and respect for you and your young mother that we move through Christmas forgetting it is there.

You are busy with important work; breathing, drinking and sleeping. But none of us can get on with ours.

Max can gaze at things without a single blink. Away from his mother he is outraged because she is the mothership and also his every horizon.

I tell everyone that he looked at me first but this isn’t true. He looked at his mother, Abbey, first and tied his infant breath to hers.

“Come see the true flowers of this pained world.”


Outside, a young boy threads his way across the road and through the traffic. He is guiding a small dog on a lead and he is not watching the traffic. But the traffic watches him and slows down, the drivers look at him kindly. He takes such a long time, encouraging the dog around and through the terrifying dust, the awful engines. He doesn’t pull on the lead even once. And I think that I have never seen such a magnificent show of gentleness.

The last week before Christmas: people are anxiously considering gifts and hoping that I gift wrap. A man brought the Women’s Weekly Farm House Cookbook to the counter. He said: my wife has been looking for this for ages. I don’t know if it will improve the cooking though.

A lady told me that she has a horror of bushfires.

Robert is anxious for a copy of The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manley P. Hall. He comes in to discuss psychotherapy and theories of dreaming.

Three young tradesmen pass the window, one was lighting a cigarette. He said: this is a magic little book shop isn’t it. His workmates ignore him.

I said to a child visiting with her grandmother: do you like to read? And she said: no.

One morning two women are buying science books and they are frantic because they must get to the airport. They loom over the counter and over Robert and criticise baggage limits. They have chosen books on philosophy and they sweep Robert out of the door with them on gusts of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

I can continue to read The Historian in short bursts. I should like to ask someone about the Slovenian Alps. It seems logical to me that Dracula is still alive. I had asked Robert about it and he said: we are all brainwashed by the government.

Then a lady said to me she had better go and get her husband to come and have a look. He was over minding the dog. Soon she came back without him. She said he can wait, she decided to come back herself and have a good look at the Agatha Christies. She said he was moaning at her to get him a couple of good detectives but she wasn’t going to bother with him right now.

I am asked for A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and The Philokalia Volume 4. Then I was asked for Crafting Qualitative Research: Working in the Post-Positivist Traditions by Pushkala Prased.

A retired customer said to David that the unstructured life is very very satisfying and that 50 is when we begin our creativity. David said to her that when we read Haiku we use both sides of the brain, that when we read the final line both sides of the brain are engaged and this accounts for the power and profundity of Haiku. They regard each other, very pleased.

A customer came in with a motorcycle helmet and wearing a T-shirt that said: Holdens were created to keep dickheads out of Fords. He asked for Wilbur Smith and Danielle Steele. He talked for some time about Bryce Courtenay.

Then it is quiet again.

June came back to talk about Spike Milligan; she couldn’t phone me because their pensions did not allow them the expense of mobile phones. She told me that John was tricky to live with, (she said it cheerfully)… been with him a long time. But you know, maybe he might change.She’d always thought it, you know. June is brave. She holds on to the counter as she talks, holds on to her hopes.

Outside a motorcyclist is rebuked for parking in the bus zone. Inside, a small boy is leaning over the biographies, leaning against the window and he says: everybody gets mad at Christmas, like my teacher. His mother is looking through the vintage books and first editions. She says: never mind. Here, don’t lean on Nelson Mandela, you might read that one day. But he replies that he probably won’t.

He says: can we get gelati now?


“Come see the true


Of this pained world.”

Basho Matsuo: On Love and Barley

Why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer?


Today is grey, warm and quiet. The cars driving past are all headed for Christmas. A few visitors come in, looking idly for books; one man was looking for Milang. Albert dropped in to say Merry Christmas and that once, when he drove trucks, he took a load of books to Melbourne, thousands of them, all packed into crates. He said: I had a look in the back when they were unloading because they said it was an urgent load and I had to drive all night, books by some bird called Joan Collins. She was in Melbourne signing them or something. Do you think I should have read one of em? Who is she anyway?

I was asked for The Silver Brumby.

An older man spent a long time looking at a Geronimo Stilton. He looked puzzled.

A lady bought a complete Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. She said I love these, so much more than the Grimm Brothers. They were just so….grim! I just want to read them, I don’t need to study or know everything about them. I have a husband who thinks he knows everything. She looked grim.

There are two ladies in the front room and one tells her friend that her grandson said last Christmas: why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer? And so now she is getting him another book. They both laugh toward each other and laugh until one begins to wheeze and wheeze. She gasps out: if he doesn’t like it he gets nothing. But my daughter told me I should get him what he wants.

Her friend says OH FOR GOD’S SAKE!

And they both laugh and laugh again. They are silver and elegant and one has a small tattoo. Then they discussed their adult daughters for a long time, they did not look at any books.

Then it is quiet for a long time. I read The Historian… and it is very good. In this book it is mid-winter in England. And everything is freezing, including Dracula. Here it is hot, but the snow and dust mingle nicely and logically.

I am asked for The History of Tom Jones and then Rumpole of the Bailey.

Outside passers-by comment: this is a nice shop! But they do not come in.

An old man buys some books for his granddaughter in England. He is worried that the family won’t approve. He said: this might put me in the bad books again.

Some children paused outside to eat an enormous bag of chips. There is an argument. One child says they must eat them all NOW because he is not allowed to buy this many chips at once or he will be killed by his mum.

I see Robert hurrying past but he does not come in.

I wonder what else should be happening because it is Christmas…

Then a man came in and asked for a map book but I didn’t have one. He said he’s at the caravan park here, and leaving soon. He and his wife had travelled to South Australia, their last trip, she died of cancer soon after they arrived here which was four days ago. And he just wanted a map book; he thought he might drive a little further; he did not want to go home right now.

But I didn’t have one. He said not to worry, and he went to the bakery. I saw him there through the window, eating at a table all by himself. He had said they had 18 years on the road traveling together before she got cancer.


Photography by Markus Spiske











I might become a pirate or a rabbit catcher.


A lady brought to the counter a set of poetry books in soft green leather. She stood for a while, holding the books, stroking the covers and running her thumb over the gold on the spines. She said: I am having these.

I looked for the last time at the green and the silver and the soft rich gold of that precise seven volume stack and I said I will miss these and she said: yes.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. It gleams and glitters all around me.

A child asked me if all the pirates in books are actually ok. Because he might become one or he might become a rabbit catcher. He stood on one foot and showed the skill of balancing silently in front of the rabbits. I said: this is excellent.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. Although my accountant said I have completed another year without making any money at all. I told Robert and he said: what do they know!

A man said to his wife: I could spend all day in here and she said: well you’re not.

John rang to thank me for looking for his train book and I reminded him that I had not found it yet. He said: that’s ok. Keep looking. He asked if I had Triple Crown by Felix Francis but I didn’t.

Sharon messaged me to read Great Expectations over Christmas. She said she backed into a car at a shopping centre and it is Christmas that caused it.

One man looked at my Christmas tree and looked shocked. I said cheerily: only a few weeks to go and he said: oh shit. He bought an Encyclopaedia of Horses.

I was asked for Cranford, The Good Earth, Soul Mountain and The Secret Garden. Kody’s younger brother picked up Kody’s Boy Versus Beast Books and said: These are for Kody, but he probably won’t let me read them.

I am surrounded by glittering wealth in here.

A tiny girl, about three years old was wearing one pink shoe and one black shoe and she dropped her handful of coins on the floor. After half an hour her parents left the shelves to come to the counter and their child was still collecting her coins, slowly, painstaking, one by one. She had one shoe on and the other one was full of the coins. Her mother offered her Possum Magic but she was uninterested. She just wanted to continue her work.

I was urged to read Poor Fellow, My country by Xavier Herbert. A young reader that I have never met asked me to show her a really good book that she would like.

Robert dropped in again to recite for me a poem about the Garden of Eden. I said to him that I am surrounded with glittering wealth in here and he said that I should get rid of the westerns then.

A customer has lent me The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova because it is phenomenal. I begin to read it. I am interrupted with another recommendation: The Yandilli Trilogy by Rodney Hall. Peter asked me to find him two copies of The Existential Jesus by John Carroll. He said it is the most important book ever written and that I should read it.







Goodbye, Merry Christmas…


The school term is not finished and Christmas has not yet quite begun. There is a small dip in between and we are all in it. Except for Robert who is busy quarrelling with the bank because they are trying to make him extinct. There are no lulls or lows in Robert’s life, just a fervent onwards. He came in to say that he does not enjoy Christmas and that he is going to begin reading Chinese History.

An old lady told me a joke she heard in the 1960s. She said it was from The Goon Show. She said this series made her husband very happy indeed. I know her husband, he is the one who bought a series of Spike Milligan biographies because his friend stole his originals and never returned even one of them. He said that friend was an arsehole. But here now, is his wife asking me to find and set aside a book on the Goon Show as a Christmas present for him

Many readers speak with authority: C. J. Box has a flowing style. Henry Lawson is so colonial. Simone De Beauvoir is essential. Tirra Lirra By the River is heavily symbolic. Richard Flanagan is masterful. Di Morrissey is non-gender specific.

Sometimes their faces have a desperate expression in case they cannot argue effectively on behalf of their book. But they always can. I always wonder: what is it you found in The Good Earth, Pinocchio, The Maltese Falcon, All Quiet on the Western Front? Or in Helen Garner, Will Self, Nino Culotta or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I always wonder what they found and why they did.

When I read Heidi, very young, I corrected my impression of bread and cheese eaten together and eaten outside. I do not know why or how this happened but I have always craved bread and cheese together and outside ever since.

When I read The Hobbit, I adjusted my idea of bravery and size. And when I read The Stone Book by Alan Garner and the child climbed to the roof of the church with her father, I could smell the hot stones and this made me very happy. But I don’t know why.

I was asked for the Implantable Defibrillator Therapy: A Clinical Guide and also for The Count of Monte Cristo.

A man advised me to read John Grisham.

Visitors are anxious to begin their Christmas Shopping but end up purchasing books for themselves.

Sharon is buying gifts for her children’s school teachers and she sits on the floor and reads out loud. She reads lines from the books and sometimes her voice drops into a new lilt. Then it changes and she sounds familiar to me again. Then again into a curious downward slide, with sounds and drops in sound exotic to me; it is Chinese. She brings some poetry books (Ted Hughes, Robert Burns, John Keats) to the counter and begins to talks to me of the cultural revolution in China in the 1970s. She said it was terrible.

She said; this is China, this is my country… literature was banned during this time, as was music… and children were encouraged to report their own parents and one boy, he did this and never saw his mother again. She said: can you imagine that? We stood silently looking out of the window together at the sunny road and tried to imagine it. I said no, I couldn’t imagine it. She says she must get going, there is so much to do, but she sits back down on the floor and begins reading out loud from her book again.

I listen to the words dip and wilt  and then then suddenly break from sound to sense for me and she is in English again and I am wishing that I could do this. She said to me: We must all read, must know things and we must just read…..then she said: goodbye, merry Christmas.

I am asked for The Good Earth (two copies) and Possum Magic and for details of the Christmas Pageant. A lady phones me for The Chronicles of Mavin Manyshaped.

An old man came into the shop and said: I’m back. But I could not remember him. He said: but I love to read Colleen McCullough.

He also said sadly that he has just been to Mannum to visit his friend. His friend is knocking on eighty years (and he himself has already kicked eighty in the backside) but he could not remember where his friend lived and so he came home again.

I found The Thorn Birds and hopefully presented it and he looked at it carefully. He said: but this is the one I have been wanting, how did you do that?

I said that it is just luck.

He said well, well, well!