When Grandpa got nothing at the bakery


An older couple came in with their grandchildren, a girl and also a boy, slightly older. They often come in, all of them are avid readers.

They always, all of them get to choose one book each. She chose some Australian outback history and he had an art book. The small girl had an important pony book with silver stars on the front and her brother had a Derek Landy: Last Stand of Dead Men. He told me that there are ten books in this series. But when they came to the counter, Grandpa found his wallet quite empty and he stared, incredulous. He said: you took my money!

His wife agreed that she had. She needed it and so she took it. The children raised themselves on tiptoe, thrilled with the travesty. He found a mere $5 in his outraged back pocket. So Grandma would have to pay the rest. But now, because of this, Grandpa would get nothing at the bakery.

Her grandchildren gazed at her in adoration. Then they all filed out to the bakery. The children were buoyant, they floated. The pony book held them afloat. Last Stand of Dead Men was held aloft. And Best Of All now was the bakery. They would have a doughnut and possibly fanta. Grandma would have a cup of tea and a dull cake. But Grandpa! He would get nothing. They all left the shop, delighted.

When Max kept on sleeping.


It is my turn to look after Max and he is sound asleep. He is stretched out, serene, reaching to the heavens, the emperor of his own cot. He is breathing strongly and won’t wake up even though I dropped three books at once. I hope he wakes up before his young mother arrives home so that I can claim weariness and be hard done by and so on. But he won’t wake up and I am disappointed. We might have looked through the windows at the night moths or heard the galahs still arguing even this late in the warm night. We might have read Goosey Lucy again.

Later I drop another book but he breathes on, smiling and strong and guessing at the absurdities of grandparents.


Noah’s face has a lot of work to do


Noah’s face has a lot of work to do.

It stretches in outrage and subsides in sleep. It must move to find milk constantly and must house the breath taken second after second after second and onward for always.

He contorts and folds, stretches and bleats and allows his eyes to open and examine the nearest shapes and colours in astonishment and anger. Where is the milk?

The young parents are busy exchanging the intense talk of young people. They all stare down and talk about his eyes and his toes and the lost sock. Noah’s eyes are nearly black and they are very liquid. He closes them in exhaustion and retreats to deep sleep and dreaming of tiny babies which is then often mapped out on his face. Noah’s face has a lot of work to do.

The lady who found a set of books she had been chasing for 23 years..


The lady, who had never been in before, just came in to have a small look. But then she found a set of books she had been after for 10 years. She called to her teenage daughter to look at these books, these Louise Cooper books, that she has finally found after 15 years. Her daughter did not look up at them.

She then rang somebody to say she has just found a series of books that she has been looking for – for  exactly 23 years. She lay on the floor in front of the science fiction and read all the titles aloud on the lower shelves. She said to me: mind you I have read this entire shelf. She then told me that she can read at an impressive 1000 words a minute. Her daughter continues to be unimpressed.

She said: mum get up. Her mum said: there’s a good Hobbit here, but her daughter did not reply.

It is raining and nobody much is coming in. Passers-by move slowly, unused to the rain and angry with their umbrellas. One man said to his wife that he’d told her so many times to get a new one and she said: keep moving Frank, the car’s there.

But I am reading Four Frightened People by E. Arnot Robertson, it is a Virago Classic which makes it very good by default and so I am not looking out closely at the rain and the people today. Robert came in excited for his Bhagavad Gita which is coming from India, but it was not here. He was not upset though, as it means he can spend his money on cigarettes today instead.

Glenda bought The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes; she said she is hoping that this history might include women in it.

Imogen, who is 13, is going to read everything by Chesterton as she loves the Father Brown stories. Bradley came in with his Christmas voucher to buy all of the Skulduggery books; they must be in the same size.

Ricky rang to find a copy of Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones but I told her it was not being published until May. She said: well that’ll teach me then, won’t it! Outside it is warm and dark and still raining and the galahs are noisy and Ricky says: I can hear those birds over there!

When Harry picked up his art book he says: God, the galahs are ruinous.



Noah Linden Hood: The last days of waiting.



Today we are going to the river in Strathalbyn for your baby shower. I have bought you a swaddling cloth and a brush from Argus House and also two books so we can begin the reading as soon as possible. It is warm and cloudy and I am at the shop waiting for the last customers to leave so I can bring your gift down to the river. The Aunties are making cheese platters. Your baby cousin, Max, will be reclining at ease, either full of milk or asking for more as these are his two most passionate interests. We are all wondering when you might be born.


Today your young father dropped in to our house in Kanmantoo and took his boots off inside and left there a pile of sand on the carpet. One day you will do that in their house and I will laugh and laugh.


Soon you will be born. Yesterday I came out of the door of my bookshop and there was your mother standing on the kerb and assessing the traffic. There was too much traffic for her to cross safely with you as cargo. So she went further down the street.


And now you are born, last night when we were all unaware and caught off guard and everyone shrieking the news to each other. Another grandson. Another!

On the way to the hospital this morning the youngest Aunt drove much too fast. I said: don’t drive so fast but she was leaning forward urging us all toward the hospital. We did not want you to grow up and leave before we got there. She tells me that giving birth is hard work.

And it is autumn, warmer than warm, leaves swirling and still we are driving. Then we are there and gazing down. You are wrapped up, a dot swaddled, your father exhausted and your mother triumphant.

So now: two grandsons:

Max: awake since 2.30 am and crowing and singing through the rest of the night, emerging into the morning, gleeful and waving from his mother’s drooping shoulder. He can still fit easily on his grandfather’s one arm.

Noah: crumpled and tiny and yawning strongly. You would fit into your grandfather’s one hand.

What are you reading now?

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A child of about 12 visited the shop and asked me: What are you reading now? What’s that book? I showed her The Wide Sargasso Sea, I was reading it again.

She is happy with this news.

She says: Well, I just love John Flanagan because I just love him. I have read all the books twice and some three times. I have all the books twice, including the Brotherbands. But first of all I heard them all because my mum read them to me first. She read out each one. Each night she read some of one to me.

She pushes both hands together, as if in prayer and tells me the titles of the first twelve volumes and which one was the best one (volume seven: Erak’s Ransome). She has not chosen any books to buy because she only reads books by John Flanagan and she already has them all. As she leaves with her family she tells me that she might read something else one day but also maybe not.

Artwork by Lee Jungho


Looking at the stars with the stars


A young man is in here looking for books for his road trip around Australia.

His girlfriend is in the car and he has to be fast. He is kneeling in front of the classics and he calls out that he wants the big jobs…like Moby Dick etc. This is because he wants to be in the outback with Moby Dick. He wants to look at the stars with the stars.

He shows me a list of the books that has been recommended to him, a list of all the Big Jobs and from these he has chosen Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. He says: this is sweet. I always wanted to read Ken K and here he is! I must go… I’ve got the fam in the car.

But he doesn’t go. He wants a book on snakes: he tells me that there are patterns to everything and you know this just by looking at a snake.

Now he thinks he might try Catch 22 and The Count of Monte Cristo. He also might try Ray Bradbury. He also might try Middlemarch even though that one was for women. He confesses that he has been thinking about reading War and Peace. Then he looked out of the window toward his car where his furious girlfriend is looking back at him and tells me that he must go and that there is a pattern to everything and don’t forget to look at snakes as closely as possible because that’s what he always does.

Photography by Sebastian Spindle











This is nonsense.

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I think that my grandson, Max, has super powers, but my mum says that this is nonsense. When she dropped into the shop yesterday I said that Max has survived his first hot summer, and she said that this is nonsense. That when she was born in Broken Hill her mum had to put the cot outside in the summer because the corrugated iron house was hotter inside than out. Her mother hung wet nappies around the edges of the cot so that the hot wind blew cool. Her mum always put the cot under the pepper trees. She said the dining room table bowed in the heat of those roasting dark little iron rooms.

I said I would like to put that story on Facebook and she said that Facebook is nonsense; who on earth would want to read about her.

When my mum was 14 years old she made her own dress at school and wore it for a photograph sitting. I have that photograph, and it is one of my favourite things. They were very poor and she only ever had one photograph taken. She said her dress was pretty good, probably the best one made, and her mum had told her that this was nonsense.

Max, my grandson loves colour. He leans toward colours and frowns. His head wobbles  when he catches the purple of my glass necklace. He leans in panting and dribbling, wanting that slab of cool glass in his mouth. But we have coloured glass slabs around the front door, too. These are wine red, mint green, champagne, butter yellow and icy pink. In the fading evening light they change character and jump. Max stares into the hot colours and is silent and noisy; breathing and ingesting colour. Soon the red becomes purple and the greens turn to blue. The yellow turns to cider. The pink fades to clear, cool water.  He stares for minute after minute at the thick glass, dripping with evening colours.

Then later, my daughter says that he won’t go to sleep, and I say that this is nonsense.












The Ravens


In Strathalbyn, a little of the outside always comes in through the door. Today, there are leaves there; these are Chinese elm leaves and seemingly the first to fall.

A lady came in to talk about The Forsyte Saga. She was showing me her mother’s copies of the series, small books in dark green with gold lettering. Then a couple burst through the door and fresh from Cox Scrub! They were looking for Sun on the Stubble but wanted to tell us about their hours in the scrub because autumn is the best time to be there.

She said they had seen a New Holland honey eater and the European bullfinch but her husband said they had not seen the bullfinch. She said they had seen a red wattlebird and her husband said that they had indeed and also a brown tree creeper but his wife said they had not seen the tree creeper.

We admired the massive camera she carried and I thought I do not often seen people so excited by these little birds they film.

She said she had a thing for owls and her husband agreed that this was true. Then he told us about the time he stood on a common death adder when they were on the Yorke Peninsula. He showed us how he stood and how the snake was hidden under the leaf litter. And his wife said that this was all true. But she thought that there was not that much leaf litter. He said they are the fastest striking snake in Australia and she said that this is true.

He thought they might go to the bakery now but she was remembering something else. That at home, she had seen a white bellied sea eagle and it was just incredible and there it was eating something in the paddock as calm as you please. Her husband said that this was true. They gazed at each other, so happy that this had happened – but that wasn’t all. That while she was filming this white bellied sea eagle as it sat there eating –  there were three ravens attacking it.

And she had taken photographs of the ravens up close as they attacked precisely and furiously,  showing their small mad eyes and the eagle just sitting there as calm as you please.












The Slow and Careful Regard of Things


A man bought Julia Gillard’s My Story because he had just met her the other day walking her dog at the Seacliff Caravan Park. He said: I just looked up and there she was. And so now, I am going to read her book…I bet it’ll be good.

He left here, with his book, tremendously pleased with his good fortune.

Peter told me that the difference between Kingston and Robe is that Kingston is sincere. I waited for a little more of the story but there wasn’t any. Then he told me that the Kingston Council didn’t even deserve a jetty.

Many details are shared with me in the shop, all of these things have a careful place in the lives of their owners.

I was told that reading Dickens is like pulling teeth, bloody hell. This man said that in one book, Dickens takes three pages just to describe a grey coat and that this is unnecessary. He spent a long time in the Science Fiction, only coming out to tell me that Isaac Asimov is not a good as people say.

One man browsed quietly for a long time and then came over to say that he once read only Famous Five and Biggles. He said that I would have read Pollyanna and What Katy Did. I said that I didn’t. He said ha ha ha ha.

A lady told me how The Other Grandma gave her a voucher at Christmas time for a clothes shop and it was a plus size clothes shop and she was hurt.

My friend has a friend who told me her grandchild is growing existentially.

(But I did not know what she meant). She came looking for some books to read on life in Ireland. She wanted to be a grandmother that did lots of things. Lots and lots of things. She seemed very anxious and determined to make sure she did enough things. I thought why is it that all women think they have never done enough things.

A small girl brought volumes two, three and four of The Series of Unfortunate Events to the counter. She spread them out so that I could see that there was no volume one. She and I both looked at the gap left by the missing volume.

In the letters of Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert urges Elizabeth to consider the slow and careful regard of her health and life….”For what cannot be achieved this way?”

Photography by Rubee Hood