Western Star, isn’t it?

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Looky at this door, look at the sign… the two old men stopped together to look at my shop door this morning and examine the sign hanging on the glass. They read it out loud: please come in, second hand books, har, har, har, who’d go inta here do y reckon? Then they turned abruptly, and I saw them looking, frowning up the road: crikey the trucks are noisy, but I don’t mind the Western Star outfits…that’s one thing I do not mind.

Now they are both looking up and down the road and up and down their memories and they review their knowledge of the superior value of American trucks. And then they remember their original point which was that nobody reads anymore. No that’s right. My grandkids only have phones and things. Not one of em can even fix a flat. Don’t tell me about them! They both lean back, contemptuous. They are looking through the second window now, then they move to the third. And then it is time to go and the first man grips the second man’s shoulder and the second man, his friend, turns steadily and considerately and safely and everybody stays upright and then I can’t see or hear them anymore, two old friends, their stories written long ago in many, many books, many countries, safely preserved and still important.

No, I won’t read all of that, I only read bits…

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A lady is offering her husband this book and that book but he doesn’t want them, he says: I’ve no use for that! That one will go nowhere! No, leave it!

Still she keeps trying. Later, she tells me that she isn’t a reader and has always felt bad about it, all she can really do is try and help others.

Soon he brings The Complete Dorothy Parker to the counter, he tells me about the Algonquin Round Table and that she, Dorothy, was the loudest voice of them all…. he said she was great! He also had Ronald Searle and he tapped the cover, kept tapping for a long time thinking about Ronald Searle. Then he told me that he doesn’t read very fast but when he’s on to a good thing he goes like a dream. Then he turned and went back to the shelves where his wife was waiting with a new pile to offer him.

 

The Frog

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When the door opened this quickly I thought the man was falling through the door. But he didn’t. He had an armful of paper bags from the bakery and a vigorous attitude and he said how great it is to see bookshops still here, so good, so good.

After a while he came back to the counter and asked me if I knew about the frog…but I didn’t. He said that he knew of a little girl who sat on her grandfather’s knee and asked him to croak and he asked her why. And she said that grandma had told her that when grandad croaks they were all going to Disneyland! Then he said: here’s another if you can be bothered and he told me three more jokes and then said not to worry as most people don’t like curly hair when they have it!

Then he said he was just passing through this country but would be back, he would be back for sure, please stay here!

 

Glass sculpture by Glass Baron

This Lady

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This lady visited the shop and told me about how, long ago she was a librarian, then later in her life she was a volunteer librarian, then later she became the best reader she had ever known and then she nodded and said that getting a book to its reader was…. just the thing…..the absolute thing. When she left she leaned backwards as she was going through the door and said that she just really liked people and that was the thing and she looked pretty happy. When she leaned back I knew she was saying something important, this news that must have governed her life, whether her life had been diabolical, peaceful or useful or a combination of all three. She just really liked people.

 

The Cousins Wreck Aunty Elsa’s Stuff

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Aunty Elsa’s room is a haven of possibilities, treasure and unexpected items that the babies are not allowed to have. The door will not shut because there are three thousand pairs of shoes stored behind it and so the boys always have a guaranteed entry to the forbidden. In this room there are many things but best of all are the snow globes, heavy and cold and breakable. Even a gentle movement will dislodge the magic winter inside each one. They must be magic, and the glass is always worth tasting to find out if such divinity is also edible. But there is more. There are cards and pencils and books and phone chargers, sometimes even a phone itself and that cool slab of glass against an infant ear means important involvement in family concerns. Once there was a bag of lollies, a bag of bliss, and Aunty Elsa did not get there in time to rescue those. Aunty Elsa is 18, she is a Bohemian Rhapsody, kind and colourful, unconventional and unafraid. The cousins drink in the rich world of their Aunt, the books and the ideas and the argument and chaos and year 12 and they eat pita bread with hummus and hear about the importance of regarding the planet and each other with care and they too become richer and enriched and richer…

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Fifty Shades of Grey

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Today there are three ladies here, all of them dressed to withstand the wind of early spring and all of them carrying stout bags for incidental shopping. One lady stoops over the biographies but her friends urge her into the back room. I can hear them. They have found a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and they are urging her to read it, read it, read it. But she won’t have it. She won’t read that! And she returns to biographies and she is frowning. Her friends are wheezing, hilarious, they are knocking books over and shrieking as quietly as possible about Fifty Shades of Grey. Then they come back to the counter and they all leave together, frowning and quiet,  the hilarity clamped down but still escaping and floating around all of them as they leave grimly though the door and out into the early spring afternoon.

 

 

Ethel, not John

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Ethel and John came into the bookshop about a month ago, tangled together and finding it difficult to manage the door. John wanted some Spike Milligan to read, he told me a long story about Spike Milligan and Ethel helped. She was short and square, John was bigger.

She had a British accent and she said you know at the end of every sentence. They had been married 45 years.

Ethel came in by herself two weeks ago to order a book for John, a gift, a biography of Spike Milligan. She was limp with relief or joy that I could find the book and order it.

Last week though, I found that book on the counter, returned.

Ethel came in again, this week, and found it difficult to manage the door. She had a slow, strong face. There was a small amount of sunlight caught in its contours, apologetic light and her features were gathered safely in the centre of it. While we searched for another book she told me a little about her life and she said that John called her the old dinosaur. The book she had bought for him, well, he didn’t want it.

The other day they came back together. He said: look at what I’ve got to work with and I thought he was referring to the book she had bought him,  but he was actually talking about Ethel. He told me another long story about Spike Milligan and he had spit caught in chains at the corners of his mouth. He told me he had worked hard he had, all his life, he had. He told me a long story about it.

They had trouble with the door that day too,  which was Ethel’s fault, and they stood in front of the thousands of oblongs that lined the walls and rooms and John told the long story about his life and the bookshelves leaned over him, the books that already safely contained their story and his story and her story.

He said: sorry about that book but he didn’t want it… his useless dinosaur just wasn’t up to much, all her fault.

Ethel stood still on her piece of earth. And then they left.

 

Sculpture by David Leffel

 

 

 

 

A History of Europe

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The King of Reading is back. He swung into the shop, out of the cold, a beacon of warm concentration, and reminded me that he already has The Lord of the Rings. He asked today for Lemony Snicket. He tracked past every shelf and every display, every room, every table, checking for treasure, scanning for stars. His dad followed behind, interested, supportive, pioneering the joy. The King came out of the back room with a heavy book of European history and asked me for the price. He carried it back to dad, and there was a discussion. He returned and told me it was 167 pages shorter than Lord of the Rings and so it would be ok to read. He said as they left, There’s no way I’m taking that to school, there’s no chance.” And then he leapt out the door, bouncing next to dad, tapping the book with his knuckles and talking, talking, talking…