I’m going to put my school bag in the bin…do you reckon I should?

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School has begun again in this small town. There are mothers gathered together at the bakery, looking thoughtful and eating risky cream cakes. I am asked for Dougie Starts School, and then Girl Stuff for the Preteens by Kaz Cooke and The Definitive Guide to Icecreams Sorbets and Gelati. …but we are unsure who wrote this one, the lady who has requested it looks annoyed with herself. Another lady tells us she is soon to move to Strathalbyn as it has a good chemist. She buys The World of the Horse while the icecream customer is looking for her Google app.

Outside there are no children clattering past on bikes or scooters. It is quiet and cloudy, not even a breeze. A young man asks me for books on cockfighting but I have never even seen one. Another customer watches him leave and looks disgusted.

Yvonne puts her head through the door and shouts: how is that grandchild of yours?

I reply that he is thriving. She says: that’s the way.

A man asks me for Douglas Adams books, especially Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I show him all the copies and he says: good upselling. I think that it is hardly necessary to upsell Douglas Adams! He chooses the leather version, it is purple and silver and I think I should have kept it for myself and I take his money feeling bitter. Later I think that I might have a problem with hoarding books.

I am reading an anthology of literature, prose, poetry and plays. It is a student’s version, heavy with onion skin pages and scribbled notes down the margins. I have discovered Katherine Porter, John Cheever, Somerset Maugham, Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston. I did not know that D H Lawrence wrote short stories. Or John Steinbeck. I have now read The Fall of the House of Usher. I have now read Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and which is set in Spain. When there is a gap in here, I can keep reading.

Robert wants a copy of The Physics of Transfigured Light. I show him my anthology and he admires the weight of it. He says: there is not enough time to read. I tell him that Ernest Hemingway shot himself and he answered that the world has always treated its artists cruelly.

A lady told me that her young daughter reads the same books that she once did and that this makes her very happy. The books they both love are the Sweet Valley High Series. After school two young girls spend a long time looking through the shelves. They are about fourteen years. One chose two penguin classics in the orange and cream covers – Isabelle Allende Eva Luna and John Updike’s Run Rabbit Run – she did not know who the authors were, she just loved the orange and cream covers.

Scott stopped to say that he is now reading all of the free throw out books from the library even though they are all crap.

Later, toward the end of the afternoon the school children come past again, in groups and heading for food. One boy drags his bag along the footpath and tells his friend he might put his bag in the bin. His friend says: you should.

 

Small Things Like Shapes

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A child said to me that he likes my lantern because he likes small things like shapes. He said that when he looked into the glass he could see cars going past and that the cars looked better in the lantern than they did going along the road as real cars. His mother said to him that there were some Beast Quest books on the shelf and he said: maybe.

She said there are also some Star Wars and he said: maybe.

A lady was pleased to see a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. She said it is on her to read list which has a thousand books on it already. She said it is quite wearying. She did not see the lantern.

It is Australia Day. The family with the small boy who likes shapes are across the road, they have been to the bakery. The father is trying to interest the child in some food but he is standing with his nose pressed against the fir tree, he must be looking at more shapes. The father looks weary. The child drops the paper bag on the ground and looks down at the spilt food. He makes binoculars with his fists and looks down at the broken food. His knees are bent with concentration. The parents are having an argument.

On the pavement, outside my shop, a man has opened his esky on the pavement and there is no ice. His wife asks him why he can’t even pack an esky properly. He raises both hands in the air and stands there motionless but she has got back into the car. Then she locks all the doors.

I wonder if anyone will come in for a book today. But then I remember that the small boy who likes shapes had chosen a book called Pharaoh’s Boat which had pyramids on the front.

The Bath

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A young reader visited the shop and asked me not to remind him that school begins again soon.

January is slowing and it is quiet.

After finishing The Historian I have chosen to read Daisy Head Mayzie by Dr Seuss and also Green Eggs and Ham. I read The Big Cheese and Bartholomew Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. David asked me: But what happened to Edith Wharton and I said: bother Edith Wharton, who cares about her!

Some grandparents brought in their granddaughters to use gift vouchers and one of them, aged about nine years, chose the entire Narnia series. I told them about Max and they said I should give him a voucher, a voucher to my own shop and I was speechless to not have thought of it first! I rushed to write one out and the grandmother said she thought The Gingerbread Man was an ideal first choice. The young reader who was not looking forward to school beginning said his first book was The Secret Seven and is friend said: no way man!

I tell my mother that when I read to my grandson, he follows every word even though he is only four weeks old; he is advanced.

She said: well, maybe he is the same as most babies!

But I am doubtful.

I read I Went Walking three times. Then it was into the bath with Max where he floats motionless, heavy lidded with only his extended big toes showing the ecstasy.

I cannot get anything done. A small baby in a bath is just too absorbing and there is no retreat.

I showed Margaret a picture and she said: What a dear little man. She had come in for a book but forgot what it was, we were too busy looking at the picture of the bath. I said: I can hardly run my bookshop anymore and she said: yes, that’s right, it is impossible.

…all of the letters of Henry Handel Richardson…

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I am asked for The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, both volumes and published before 1970 before all the stupid words came in.  I am asked for Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism and for all of the Beatrix Potter books including The Tale of Pigling Bland which was quite frightening. I am asked for H. V. Morton’s England which I have read and I know it is divine. I said there are also his books on Scotland, Italy, and the Middle East. The customer was pleased with me even though I did not have any of them here.

I was asked for Lee Child and Liane Moriarty and Black Beauty.

Outside, passers-by are moving briskly, it has rained and everything is rinsed. We think it is cold now but actually it isn’t.

A little girl, 10, buys David Attenborough’s The First Eden because she is going to be a vet or a traveller.

John came by and told me more about Spike Milligan. I thought there might be nothing more to tell about Spike Milligan but I was wrong.

I have finished The Historian and I am done with the vampires. I am looking at The Little Prince and thinking I might read it again. But I also have some new books, purchased with a voucher I received as a Christmas gift, a very royal gift, and so I got to be a customer in someone else’s alarming bookstore in the city. This store, O’Connell’s Book Shop, towered with choices; I am a beginner here. There were cases of wood and glass and walls of leather; red, blue, gold and green with silver lettering. I saw Pepys on the higher shelves. They used to have a dog in here that sat in a basket and slept amongst the histories but he wasn’t here anymore.  There were ropes guarding the Easton Press. Shakespeare was lined up in black on the highest shelves of all. In the biographies there were too many men. I found in three heavy volumes of chocolate brown and gold all of the letters of Henry Handel Richardson ( who was actually Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson) and I am still in shock that they are now mine.

Shirley came to order a book and told me that January is now nearly gone and where did it go? She is outraged. Robert is also outraged, with his car because without oil it would not go. He said he will never get to complete his library when he has to waste money on buying oil for his car. He also has to get it fixed anyway. He has asked for a book in French, he is going to learn to read French while he waits for it but it will be worth it as so much significant literature is in French.

Two young men tell me that Lolita is a difficult book to read. One of them explains to me the confrontational value of literature.

I think that I might close early and go home and confront the Henry Handel Richardsons that are now mine.

 

 

 

You are the centre of this small home.

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Inside the shop I can look out into the summer. Outside the shop, two brothers quarrel in it, next to their car and holding icecreams. Their father ignores them; he is balancing keys, gelati, a bicycle pump and a bag of apples.

I am thinking about Max.

I am asked for books on Australian mammals and books for a nephew of extraordinary intelligence. Books for a step daughter who loves horses and also earrings. A copy of The Hotel Albatross by Debra Adelaide. Books about Vikings or Bart Cummings.

But I am thinking about Max.

You sleep so much, you hum and murmur and so rarely cry. The Aunts shoulder in, possessive. The grandmothers ring and ask the same questions. Your mother is sleepy, she bends over you, attentive, solicitous and when you move, any small movement, she is melted, she is yours.

I have spare time to read but I do not seem to be reading. I always hold you, when it is my turn, so that you can look at all the books on the shelves. There are acres of shelves, the Penguins, the Vintages, the Viragos, the Barnes and Noble, the Easton Press, the Herons, the Really Goods and the Nexts, all jumbled and stacked. Also Dr Seuss. You examine everything politely.

There is always somebody hovering over your crib limp with admiration. We cannot stop looking at your knees because you do not have any and we contort ourselves to be within your eyesight so we can cry triumphant that he looked at me!

Nanna say this is nonsense; he does not look at anybody at all, not yet. One grandfather proclaims: ….a great grandson….look at that!

You are full of milk. You are warm and round, your endless quest to live is constantly rewarded.

The Aunts discuss milk and feeding and weighing in. They discuss ear lobes and milk and a hair brush for babies. They discuss milk. They are in the orchard picking mulberries but they must rush back in case you need them. But you sleep on, uninterested; they are disappointed, they have pink hands and pink mouths and they refuse to return to the orchard.

You scream one day for more milk and the great grandparents say: he’s a one!

The visiting midwife arrives exhausted in the heat and sets up the scales and the charts and the baby book with an important pen. You urinate all over everything and your mother beams with pride. The midwife has seen a thousand babies and says: well, well, well!

Your Uncle, soon to be a parent himself, holds you astonished…he says: my God…

I was outside on the veranda nursing you so your mother could pick mulberries. It is warm. I am singing some nonsense song to you; I am thinking that I ought to water the garden. When I look down, your eyes are fastened on mine. The garden does not matter anymore.

In the shop I reorganise the Dr Seuss books again. Ricky comes back for her ancient histories and anything in Latin and she buys bookmarks for her granddaughters who have recently lost a pony and are inconsolable.

Robert is anxious because there are so many books he still wants. He is pleased with me for having a grandson. He tells me that libraries these days are no use at all and that the one where he lives hides all the good books so he can’t read them.

John drops in, furious because somebody borrowed his Peter Temple books and did not return them.

I say: look at this picture of Max!

The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….

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Outside the shop a child hurls her ice block at her father’s feet and he says: well that’s the end of that then!

I see James through the window, he is 14 and cycling slowly through the heat and up the road towing a cart behind his bike, I know he built and attached this cart himself. In the cart today there is an old leather bag and a glass lantern.

It is very hot and customers come through the door and tell me about the heat. Mavis brought me a bag of plums and told me she is unhappy with her hairdresser (no plums for her).

A lady piled books on the counter and whispered to me: oh this is such fun. She had an A. S. Byatt: The Virgin in the Garden and I stared at the cover; I have not yet read this. I felt envious of her pile of books. I told her irrelevantly that now I have my first grandson and she was enormously impressed. She said: Oh well done, well, well done. I felt better; I felt generous and showed her The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, the last copy and the one I was going to keep. When she bought it I did not mind because now I have a grandson.

I have just finished Wide Sargasso Sea and searched my own shelves frantically for more books by Jean Rhys and I did not have anything at all. I am disappointed with my own bookshop.

Jim tells me that wherever he goes, the internet is always slow. But he thinks it is because maybe he is slow. He buys Heart of Darkness because he saw something about it on TV. Angela wants Surrender: A Journal for My Daughter which she also saw on TV.

It continues to be hot but it is not quiet. The motorbikes are seldom quiet. When they leave in droves from the art gallery car park on Sunday mornings, the cars obediently stop to allow them to stream out in a group. The drivers are obedient but not happy.

I have not found anything more by Jean Rhys so I am reading The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith which is horrifying so far. It is also horrifying that have not read it yet. When I saw David he said: why haven’t you read that yet?

Some British tourists buy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson and they are anxious that now they will go over their flight luggage restrictions. But they take it regardless because it is worth the risk.

Peggy rang to tell me that she had bought a new car, a Mazda with Bluetooth, satellite navigation, reversing mirror, live streaming, anything you want to listen to but none of that stupidly new music. She also broke her foot, went down over the fireplace like an old fool. So she also went online to the Book Depository and ordered tons of books, none of which will fit onto her bookshelves.

A man told me that Nelson Demille only writes one book per year which is disappointing. His wife showed me how she carries her handbag so that thieves cannot snatch it. Paul, who is a regular, told them that his wife carried her handbag the same way. Then he told them how much he liked reading about gypsies and they were approving. The husband said: there’s nothing like a good book and everyone nodded.

A brother and sister told me a long story about reading the Narnia series by C S Lewis, they argued over many of the details and the brother accused his sister of not having read them properly. Their father, who had brought them in said: keep it down, you two.

At the end of the week, a Saturday for me, a visitor, a man said:

My wife has had a stroke but still she can read and I always buy her a Colin Thiele. I have got her Sun on the Stubble this time, glad you had it there. I read to her every night. I think that life does go on but I don’t understand how.

I feel that I must read the tough stories too, so that you know life goes on. The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….that’s the sort of books I read to my wife, every night…