Sally and Jane live next door


Sally and Jane live next door and we call them the Fairy Canaries and they are always interesting, always unfailingly kind and always say really good things.

Sally says its good that they don’t live too far away from us.

We think so too.

This afternoon when I arrived home from the shop, Max has just spilled off his little bike into the grape vines and is fairly unhappy.

Sally and Jane can hear him from over the fence.

After school each night Sally and Jane have a rainbow life in their garden, front and back, and also out on the road with all their friends, racing thought the warm sunlight, inventing games and multiplying their ideas, their health and their life every hour.

When they hear Max, they ask after his health. They say: is Maxy ok? Is he all right? Kerry, can we see him?

I hold Max up and he stares over the fence in amazement at Sally and Jane being right there and he is covered in tomato sauce, biscuit crumbs, vine leaves and tears.

Sally said that when she was a bobbler she also had a fall from her bike and she showed me with her foot the exact place that she fell, which is where she is standing right now. She measures out a line and explains how she crashed right there. Then she examined the line and rubbed it out. She redrew it carefully about five cm to the left and said: no, actually it was there.

They told me that they are practicing for sports day.

They said that Max needs a bath.

They said oh well, never mind, Maxy, these things happen and then will you be ok again.

Then they went away and the afternoon continued on, moving through the dazzling warm light and the dust and the children playing and Max not wanting to go inside for a bath.












The Pleasing Group


A lady visited this morning to put a notice in the window. It is an excellent notice about a local art group, an excellent group.
She stopped though to linger over the bookmarks.
She said: I don’t really use them. She bent low over the bookmarks, stroking the cool flanks of the metal stems.
She said they were absurdly lovely, that she might get her daughter one, that the gold owl was very pleasing, that the fish was probably the one, that the gold dragon was handsome…she said they make a pleasing group.
I thought that the bookmarks, unvaluable trinkets that they are, went through some sort of metal and glass conversion when they were considered under the softened eye of a browsing reader. They do for me. They mark the beginning of a sliver of reading and then mark the end of that same fragment. They are only glass and pins and rings built one by one, slowly, across the summer evenings. But under the gentle fingertips of discerning readers they gleam slightly, the dragon stirs, the mermaids move their muscular cold tails, the gecko shivers, the snake’s tail draws up in anger.
This lady bent low over the mermaid, she held up the tiny lamp to the sunlight, the swung the silver owl, and stroked the sailing ship and put aside a bronze dragon and a gold owl, they clicked one by one as she laid them down. One for herself and one for her reading daughter. She hung the clock, trembling in emerald green back on its cage. She said: I really shouldn’t.



Is this a bookstore?


Two people went by the windows of the shop this morning, laden down with bakery and one said as he went past: is this a bookstore?
His companion answered without looking: yeah, just kiddies’ books by the looks.
He was also carrying a can of paint and he stopped to change the paint bucket to his other hand and to transfer his lunch to the opposite side. And he dropped the meat pie. Then he juggled the pie, his keys, the paint, his phone and he called out: just fucking wait a minute, and his companion is not waiting, just keeping on going and eating his food as he walks.
My window is a field of activity. It is a viewing glass.
One man said, looking through: it’s amazing how many books have been written about London. His wife did not answer, she kept walking.

Once, outside, a man was shouting into his phone: some of them just attack you.
A man tapped on the glass and said to his son that Jeffrey Archer is the best writer in the world today and this is because there are no swear words in his books. His teenage son did not look up from his phone.
An old couple parked just outside the door and through their car window I could see an enormous zucchini. When they opened the back door of the car, the zucchini fell out onto the road. She said: well, why didn’t you pack it in properly? It took him some time to pick the zucchini up because he couldn’t bend down that low.
Today Yvonne opened the door to show me Marco’s new collar and to ask after my grandsons. She has a new hat with a long feather poked through the brim.

There are motorcyclists seated around a small table outside the bakery. One is angry: he says: I told him not go that way. One of his companions says: take it easy.

Some people walk by and come back. They stare at the wooden cat in the first window and then keep going again. They don’t look at any books. Children will tap the glass; the cat might be alive. One lady bent, peering through window for a long time. Then she said to her friend; come along, there’s nothing useful in there.

One man read my opening times on the door and said: what a cracker!

On a certain excellent afternoon, two people with a pair of huge dogs thundered past my door and on past the bakery tables and the large dogs waded into a group of diners and started a fight with two small dogs that were sitting correctly next to their owners. The small dogs screamed a single continuous high note of excitement and the large dogs danced backwards in shock and the walkers shouted whoa and back here and the diners repeated and repeated that it didn’t matter and then sat angrily back down again and looked at their cakes and coffee that were all over the ground.





Robert came to the shop today to pick up his book The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga. He is still having trouble focussing on his work but believes that everything is significant, including his not being able to concentrate. He is always cheerful, except when he has to go to Centrelink and argue about his age pension.
He said that the gift vouchers look good and he might get one for his friend in Clayton.
He said he is getting old now and is only just realizing what friends really are in your life.
I said that I understood what he meant.


Small fellowship of daily commonplace
We hold together, dear, constrained to go
Diverging ways. Yet day by day I know
My life is sweeter for thy life’s sweet grace;
And if we meet but for a moment’s space,
Thy touch, thy word, sets all the world aglow.
Faith soars serener, haunting doubts shrink low,
Abashed before the sunshine of thy face.
Nor press of crowd, nor waste of distance serves
To part us. Every hush of evening brings
Some hint of thee, true-hearted friend of mine;
And as the farther planet thrills and swerves
When towards it through the darkness Saturn swings,
Even so my spirit feels the spell of thine.

Sophie Jewett



Pa and the Babies


Noah and Max keep getting bigger. But Pa is still bigger.
When they stand at his feet, they must lean backwards to find him.
He is steadier than a mountain and as safe as a house.
They might fall down, break a cup, run away, cry hard: Pa has already done all of that.
Pa might build a shed, fix a fence, mend a fight, pick the fruit: they are ready to watch all of it, breathing hard and absorbing the information.
Two small boys can cause a great deal of chaos and a great deal of noise. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Noah and Max might throw things, smash things, strike out, bite down and refuse to sleep. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Pa might take apart the mower, make a cake, drain a tank, wrap a birthday gift or clean the carpet and they always watch with their mouths open and their little hands holding on, receiving the information.
They will never be too heavy to hold on Pa’s knee and he will always be covered in sand, dust and grease from the engine of the day.
Max and Noah might refuse to eat, refuse to dress, refuse to look. They might choose to dance. They might prefer to build a house or push one down.
Pa understands all of it.

There is nothing stronger in this world than gentleness.




I’m going to read while I drive!

Lorenzo Mattotti 2

There is a couple here in the shop and they are very quiet and they are very hesitant and finally they ask me for mystery and crime and other things like that, like Peter Temple or Ngaio Marsh?
They pick two books each and they become hilarious. They tell me they are on holidays and they are going back to Victoria right now. He says he is going to read as he drives, all the way home. She gives a small scream and says there’s no way you are going to read as you drive, you old fool.
He says that he will do that if he wants to. She tells me that he always thinks he can do whatever he wants. When they leave there is a struggle with the door as another couple try to enter at the same time. Everybody exchanges one short, witty comment and the couple leaving step out into the wind and their drive home and the couple entering separate into science fiction and poetry.
He says: there will be nothing new here as usual and she says: maybe about time you tried something new?
He lifts a shoulder to block her out but she is kneeling in poetry and has found Keats and says: well I have already found this…
But he has found nothing and goes back outside to wait.
She stays in poetry. She stays for ages…

Artwork by Lorenzo Mattotti




Sarah has seen the Jura Mountains. She said they are north of the Alps and very beautiful. I have never seen them and she said that I ought to. She herself plans to travel again, this time by ship because this will give her time to read on the way. I approved of this – I always plan the slowest way possible to anywhere so as to bank up some reading hours for withdrawal later.
Sarah has not had an easy life. But having had no other, she carries it around tenderly for what it’s worth – which is a great deal.
She was raised amongst books, many, many of them, mostly the English classics because England is where her mother was born. She will recite them off: Wind in the Willows, Milly Molly Mandy, Winnie the Pooh, Louis Untermeyer, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Moomins, The Jungle Book, The Secret Garden, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, Peter Pan, Little Women, The Borrowers, The Water Babies, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens….
Sarah is an only child.
When she was 15, her mother took her to France and they stayed at Saint -Claude. They saw a film there – Casablanca – in subtitles. She loved it. Her father didn’t come, he was an accountant in Adelaide at John Martins and he stayed home to look after Sarah’s dog Bruno. Also, he didn’t like travelling.
Now she is reading Miss Muriel Matters by Robert Wainwright – the one about the suffragettes which she told me is an important part of our history. Sarah is always reading. She told me that it has helped her through the more difficult times of her life. Which has been most of it.
Reading was one of the last things her mother gave up before she died.
When Sarah was 15, and her mother took her to France and they saw the Jura Mountains, they stayed with cousins at a vineyard. And her cousin gave her two beautiful French dolls for her birthday and she tasted French wine and it was summer and it was really very, very beautiful.

sonder – n. the realization that each random passer by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig


The Reader’s Bill of Rights


A customer said to me that Wilbur Smith has gone off the boil.
As a teenager, I read every single one of his books that I could get. I told the customer this and he said that that was because back then, he was on the boil. He didn’t buy any books because there was no point.
I like the way that young readers, equally as discerning and profound about their own reading, can reject with impressive confidence and precision book after book. But then, finding nothing that day, can still leave as serene as when they arrived. Or they will freefall with something new. Regardless of purchase they will always leave with exuberant and generous footsteps.
Young readers can recall every important detail of a book, no matter if there are a thousand details or only two.
This afternoon there are two friends next to Biography and one is urging the other to read and read:
I think you could read a six hundred page book about Hilary Clinton.
The friend said: I don’t think I could read a six hundred page book about anything at all. He looked at a book about Paul Keating that was hopefully offered, and he said that that would all be bullshit.
Joseph said that he only liked Dean Koontz and that is because Dean Koontz is a good writer.
One man says – this is a Jim Butcher, I can’t believe it. His friend said: Life is good today isn’t it, Craig.
One young girl said that there are a lot of owls in my shop and at her house they only have monkeys.
One couple said they can’t get any books because they are too heavy for their caravan and they only came into the shop to pass the time. One young man asked if he could just charge his iPhone and then he would leave again.
Steve said that when he has read all his Cornwell books he starts again.
Peggy, who is 84, said that some of the people in her walking group say that she reads too much. She went up the Centre on the train hoping that she could just read the whole way but she drank too much red wine and ending up sleeping the whole way. She said that people should just mind their own business.

One man told me about The Green Mountain, the best book written in the English language so far. He did not know the name of the author.


I don’t know how these places even keep going…


Outside, some passers-by look through my shop window at the biographies and one man says: I don’t know how these places even stay open. Fucking hell, we can just get books on the internet, just as easy. His friend says: yeah…

It is a public holiday here in South Australia and Strathalbyn is full of people on their day off.
I am reading The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield and looking up every now and again wondering if anyone will come in to the shop and buy a book. Maybe no one will, but Dorothy Canfield makes this all ok.

The door does open though, and two old ladies come in and they are confident and bright and a propelled onwards by their solid and purposeful cardigans. They know already what they need to say:
There’s your Ken Follett.
I’m not usually one for that kind of thing.
Oh, see the Ray Bradbury…
I wanted to get on well with it but…
There’s a relation somewhere there – some one with Dickens, a grand daughter or something.
I’ve got most of the Dickens.
I’ve got all of the Dickens. You’ve seen them.
I don’t hold with that sort of writing.
What do you mean?
Clive Cussler.
Oh, good heavens, we don’t bother with him. I told you that.
I like Bryce Courtenay.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…
But that film –
No, that’s all right, of course it is –
I’ve read some of those
I’ve read all them all.
Oh nonsense…
Isn’t Herriot still very good
Very good indeed.
Gracious and serious…
I have a problem with that.
I’m one for having books around me.
It’s the way now isn’t it, though, to have no books.
Look at this rubbish.
Well, yes but why make a whole new film about it… 
Well, that’s right.
I think we need to give all the young people one each of all these grammar books.
Well, you can try can’t you….
I shouldn’t just blanket across everything, I know I’m judgemental.
Yes you are, now look at that…I’ve got that…
Yes, I’ve got that too
Yes, I’ve got all of hers.
Gradually they pass by, they don’t see me, they don’t need to purchase a book and they pass by and out though the door, they confront the solid spread of bikies that are gathered on the footpath outside and part them like butter with a hot knitting needle and they go on home.

And then  –

The skateboard family is back! The oldest boy has a book which he carries around and carries around. His mother is within the novels, his brothers are by and by, here and there but mostly with Star Wars. One brother is eating from a paper bag –  sherbet bombs. He is looking at the roof through a haze of sherbet, he is in sherbet bomb heaven. The oldest brother is waiting outside, balancing on his skateboard and staring significantly through the window at his family that are keeping him waiting.
The boy with the book presents it to his mother, he is staring upwards into her face, in an attitude of prayer. She looks down at her son. She says: you got that book last time.
He says nothing at all.
She says: but you gave it to your friend. We should get that one for you this time. He looks at her, astounded by her memory. He hugs the book to his chest and leans backwards under its enormous valuable weight.
They all weave around and around and here and there and then eventually purchase their books and leave together, with skateboards and sherbet and the book of life and one brother saying: get out the way…and the boy outside saying: thanks for taking a thousand years.

I bet I am the first redhead in the shop this morning

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In the shop this morning there are two children with their grandparents. They came in in a hesitating sort of way and this was because I had not turned my sign: it still said closed. The boy said to me: I bet you do that every day!
Soon he brought a Zac Powers to the counter. He said: I bet this is the last one. He told me about Zac Powers. About how he had read all of them. He named every title from each series. Then he went away to read again.
His sister swung around and around the pony books and chose one that she had already read. Her grandmother asked her if she should get one that she hadn’t read and she said: no.
Her brother returned to tell me about Zac Powers again. He said: I bet I will read all of them soon. Then the grandparents came out of the back room where they had been hunting through Australiana. They gathered, the four of them, all looking at their books, unseeing of anything except their books, they bumped and knocked into each other, telling each other: look at this book
When they left, the boy looked back and lit up the interior with his next joyful thought: I bet I am the first redhead you had in the shop this morning!