The lady who bought books for her grandchildren.


A lady has chosen a stack of children’s books; she can hardly carry them all. She is walking around looking jubilant and this turns out to be because she has found a copy of The Cricket in Times Square which she had though lost to her forever. She puts the books on the counter and they fall in all directions. Outside the shop her adult son is waiting, and smoking. He has to carry all these books and he turns around, startled, and says: oh God, mum! And he is trying to wave smoke away from all the books.

She has bought them all for her grandchildren.

When we went out for the evening somewhere and there were books behind the bar.



I liked it here, wherever it was, somewhere on a mild night in the city. Because they had placed books behind the bar, in small rows and in one long row across the top, behind the ladder, dim in the yellow light, the leather ridging beautiful in the yellow light.

Perhaps not many people saw them. The books did not have much to do, just sit there superbly, which they did, above the heads of the bar staff and over the life and heat of the evening. The bar staff were making cocktails, pulping green apples, swirling ice with ice, faultless, making cocktail after cocktail, spinning lids, confident with glass and colour and audiences. And the place was filling up, the music was louder, it was getting darker, except for a glowing mezzanine floor up high and behind an iron balcony. Up there were lamps and a group of people, just their silhouettes moved to and fro. One woman danced by herself, she poured champagne from a great height, the bottles glowed emerald green, she was Aladdin in that smoky light, Aladdin or Scheherazade perhaps, belonging only to herself.

Young people enter and leave and enter and leave, following some unknown tidal rule. There is shouting at the front. The barman presents four cocktails at once and with a flourish and there is cheering. There is a surge of interest in apples and ice and whisky.

Near to us, a young man drops his glass to the floor, he is leaning on his friend, they are arguing, there are two young women sitting nearby and they draw in their legs, looking at the spilt drink, the ice and the glass and the young men. One of the young men begins to weep.The books on the shelf lean back, complacent, having seen it all and already containing it all.

Up behind the balcony, the dancer dances on, consulting nobody.


The world is fucking flat…


A young man came into the shop, fervent, purposeful. He stood at the front, agitated, and looking at me. Then he asked me for a book by its title: did I have it; did I know it, had I read it??

But I hadn’t.

He said in a low and significant voice: this book proves that the world is flat.

I said: oh wow.

He said: it’s an important book.

I said: oh wow.

He asked me if I might find a copy. I looked on the internet while he paced and sighed and wondered and I did find one. I said: it looks like an interesting book.

He corrected me: it’s a true book.

I offered to get it in for him and he flung the required money onto the counter, ecstatic.

He said: the world is flat. The world is fucking flat.

He went off to roam the rest of the shelves, not a single book of which contained the correct information regarding the shape of the planet. But he was respectful; he handled the books with reverence. He was particularly gentle with a copy of The Wind in the Willows.

He said: my sister had this book.

Then he added sadly: but people get annoyed with me, for things, you know…


I’m going to read every book that has been written …


Robert is anxious that he will die before he finishes all the books he has at home. He said this morning: oh my, oh my, there is not enough time. I agree. I am reading Olga Masters and Hal Porter and there is The Count of Monte Cristo still waiting.

Robert left, carrying his book in a bag, high above his head, a trophy.

There is a man outside the window talking on his phone. He doesn’t know how loud he is. He says: I have a caravan and I’ll be staying in that. Don’t worry about it, I told you I have the van. It’ll do.

Then he closes his phone and goes into the bakery.

I am asked for To Kill a Mockingbird, Smoky Joe’s Café and Photoshop Elements 15.

Then: Charlotte’s Web, The Wounded Woman  and The Big Sleep. A man is collecting the complete set of The Great Writers library, he tells me there are 52 books in the set and he once had them all but a careless friend stored them for him and got them wet. He looks at me bitterly.

He found four of them and placed them on the counter. He said he was still not going to read them; he just wanted them all back.

Two girls asked for the Divergent series.

A small boy asked for the Bear Grylls Mission Adventure series.

I am told that at least the weather is improving.

A vey young reader demonstrated for me how she can speed read and I am very impressed. At home she has her own reading chair and it’s really good. She tells me she is going to read every book that is written, except for the ones that are not very good.

Sally reads to Max


I saw this photograph, of Sally reading to Max today. And although I am not there I can imagine the reading very well.

Max will be delighted to do anything with Sally. Sally will be delighted to do anything with Max.

Max will hold on to the book with all his small strength. Sally will be unable to turn the pages, she will encourage him to let go, she is unfailingly kind. Max will work hard to let go. He will shake both sides of the book at once. He will turn the pages too fast or turn the same page over and back and over and back, trapping Sally’s hand inside the book. Sally will laugh, she is unfailingly gentle.

Max will scratch delicately with one fingertip the pictures on the pages. He might be able to get one off the page and eat it.  Sally will be amazed, she is unfailingly encouraging. Max will close the book on his own nose. Sally will help him over and over to open it again. She is unfailingly patient. Max will chirp and bubble and this is how he reads. Sally will consider his efforts and be proud. She will say: Max is reading.  And thanks to Sally, he is.





Sharon and Lauren


Sharon and Lauren came to the shop to pick up two books that Sharon had ordered in.

But Sharon has not a single defence against the yelling of the other books that crowd the shelves and lean impudently outwards. She moves from shelf to shelf in an agony of indecision. Lauren, however, is younger and wiser; she has birthday money but is not going to spend it here. She knows where she can get a new copy of The Treehouse books for a really good price. I admire her self-control and ability to plan because I have neither of these things when it comes to books or liquorice. Lauren, who is nine years old, moves serenely around the shelves, considering and thinking and planning her day.

Sharon has found a copy of The Last Days of Pompeii, a singular beauty, but I don’t mind as I already have a copy. She is anxious not to miss out on The Art of War. She finds volume one of an Aristotle but not volume two. She finds Ben Hur. She finds The Arabian Nights, a weighty volume with beautiful illustrations that I coveted for myself even though I already have a copy. But I allow it to go to Sharon; it will have a fine home. She puts aside Anne Frank and Confucius and Ruth Maier’s Diary. She spends some time in Art and becomes upset. She recognises The Silver Brumby. She is limp with love for the silver and blue Snow Queen and other Fairy Tales but I do not encourage it because I also want this one for myself. If it does not sell, if nobody wants it…..obviously it may have to come to me. I will have to advise Sharon that she does not want it. But she has found George Orwell, the complete novels of Jane Austen and then she returns to Art.

Lauren stands serene. Her pocket money is intact. She moves near to the door, a signal for her mother to stop looking now. But Sharon has found an autobiography of Ernest Shepard, she cannot leave just yet.

But Lauren stands firm, she opens the door and they are out, down the street and Sharon calling back thank you, thank you…


Thea Stilton, I just love you so much…


It is the school holidays again and outside the shop this morning there is a car laden with camping gear and with two small bikes attached to the back. There are children waiting there, one is lying across the back seat with his feet out of the car door, the parents are at the bakery.

They have been instructed to stay put. But the smaller sibling, a little girl, has her face pressed to the window of the shop and is saying Thea Stilton, Thea Stilton, Thea, Thea Thea, I just love you so much… in a sing song voice…until her brother tells her to leave it and get back into the car.

So she does, and she gently closes the door on his foot as she passes to the other side. He  twists around and looks at her in amazement, he might yell out but then suddenly the parents are back and there are sausage rolls and juice and buns and the father going back because he forgot the tomato sauce.












I have The Count of Monte Cristo and it is mine.  I tell people about this when they come into the shop and watch them flush with admiration or envy or disbelief or complete disinterest.

There was no need for this purchase; I have far too many books now than I can ever read.

Robert said that this is no reason to stop getting more books.

I admitted that gluttony prompted me. It is a second hand volume and, although mildly damaged, is still very handsome. It wears leather, blue and gold with crimson accessories.

It weighs as much as a small leather building.

This book has, at some point landed in a pool of water, briefly but definitely. Its underside is swollen, injured. The gold edged pages are beautiful; the book closed shows a solid gold box. But the water damage has loosened the gold edging on the bottom and it now showers me in gold whenever I pick it up, it shares its gilding with me; when I open the book to read its golden heart, more gold is thrown at me.

I keep on telling people about The Count and how I might read it in the garden on the warm evenings. I have never read The Count of Monte Cristo, only read about it…Damien said there is a TV show about it, a guy locked up like a fool and all that. Good show.

The sheer elegance of the book wins all; the sheer heft of the book wins again. And leather.

David said: you won’t like it.

One old lady said: oh dear, that uneventful thing, it went on forever.

I pack up the shop and head home through the afternoon to my good, good evening.











Gin and Tonic


A man came into the shop and told me that he is reading Henry Miller as an experiment. That he was documenting his own reading as a history of his own reading and so far it was amazingly erratic.

His little girl said: ohhhhh is Henry here?

A young man said: I am going to read the Harvard Classics. The whole lot, all 51 books, I saw them in a list and they are all very important: He was pushing a pram with an infant daughter beaming from inside,  watching as he found a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

He was hoping to get His Autobiography by Abraham Lincoln as this is the first one in the list but was content with the others instead. He angled the pram out expertly, his books stacked on the top along with a copy of Possum Magic, the first volume of Baby’s Harvard Classics.

An old lady came in with her friend and saw me drinking from a water bottle. One of them asked me if it was a gin and tonic.

But I had to tell her that it was just water.

She said that the river in The Wind and the Willows was just water too…

It is September but visitors are already thinking about Christmas, they argue over books, intending to gift them to that family member or this family member. One boy said: dad, don’t get it, that book is shit. He won’t want it.

A lady bought two Asterix books, one for each grandchild. She was laughing and laughing, she said that Asterix is just so funny.

Another old lady tells me that motorcycles should not be allowed in Strathalbyn anymore.

The steam train comes in, the bakery is busy, the street is warm, three young boys pass the window with skate boards on their heads. There is an altercation between small dogs tied up outside and the owner comes in and tells me that he wished he had not brought the bloody dogs down the street, but his wife makes him. And have I got a copy of Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler?






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