Reading a children’s book slowly and reluctantly

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A lady had bought three children’s books (for grandchildren) and tried to leave. Christmas things to do etc. But she was sabotaged on the way out. The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star on the window shelf stopped her exit. She came back and picked it up. Looked at the cover. Brought it to the counter. Outside, people rushed past. She read it though slowly, thoughtfully. Then she said, ‘Damn.’

We looked at each other understandingly. The book had won. She carried it out, I watched it go.

 

Being weird about having access to a university library

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It’s excellent having access to a university library. This is because they have the most audacious range of books. The collections cater for the usual academic needs, but there’s other books there too. I’ve often found one that’s been gifted (within another collection) from somewhere, decades ago. Obscure, beloved, inscribed. Our council libraries are good; they are very considerate and always appropriate. Academic libraries are kind of abnormal. The range and diversity of books is ridiculous. Volume ones sit consistently without volume twos. Books that are unpopular, strange, obscure, unknown, loved just once, will definitely be there. Dressed in paper, boards, leather; ancient, modern, paper clipped, stapled, dropping old library tickets, and containing yellowed bookplates that say, “from the collection of Professor Frederick May”. I don’t go with a list. I want to find things that I would otherwise miss. This way, I found Shotaro Yasuoka, Blaise Cendrars and Edwidge Danticat. And once (long ago) Helen Garner. Sometimes I even look for what I’m supposed to be reading (for the study that has allowed me to use the library in the first place). But mostly not. I just prefer looking. Many of the books are unfashionable, too heavy, without dust covers, and shelved with library stickers across their eyes. Doesn’t matter. It’s weird in these places, in an untapped, endless and brilliant kind of way.

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Lemonade, dancing, a hot day

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Outside, on the footpath, (a hot day), is a child with a can of lemonade and a family. He is spinning around the post just outside my door, slender and agile, spilling none.

He turns and dips around his mother. She’s standing in the shade, using her phone. She says: Please concentrate on what you are meant to be doing. And he, in acknowledgment, turns faster, round and round, spilling none.

There’s a sibling sitting in the front seat of the car, door open, hot seats, sticky with his own drink and watching on. The dancer dips and hoots, making outrageous angles with his head and elbows.

Spins…

…around the post, around his mother, dances madly for his brother. The brother nods.

Back to the post, a cool metallic partner that supports his smooth zigzag to the ground and back up into the heat. Spills nothing. It’s time to go.

Mum says, ‘Use the bin,’ and he does, smoothly.

They leave.

 

Artwork by Denis Gonchar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three ladies look through the window at the political biographies

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The political biographies occupy the window in an arrogant and useless kind of way.

Three ladies are out there, together, come off a bus across the road. I can see the driver sprinting for the bakery.

I can hear the ladies. They are bent over, peering in.

‘Sue was reading one of his books…’

They laugh wildly. (I wonder, who is Sue…?)

‘Caroline read it, too. When she…you know…’

I knew she wouldn’t lend me, so I asked for it at the library.’

‘They take an age though.’

They all agreed that libraries take too long. I still don’t know what they are referring to. I remain still. Eavesdropping is rude. It would not do for people to know. Is it Paul Keating? Surely not.

‘I wouldn’t mind it. She said it makes you feel good.’

(Paul Keating?)

‘You know you can read it and…’

‘Enjoy it.’

Whee yes! That’s what she said.’

‘I’m going in.’

‘Anne’s going in, bless her’.

“Anne” poked about amongst the political and knocked Keating to the floor. She picked up The Happiest Refugee and brought it to me. She said, ‘A hardback, no less. That makes me happy. It’s Anh Do!’

She opened her kind handbag and found the money. She looked at me and said richly, deeply, ‘Read it read it read it! You must read it. It’ll make you feel good.’

Then she left, thrusting the book at her friends, who bobbed up and down and exclaimed, ‘Anne, you’re a one!’

And they walked on, Anne with the book, and the others talking about having a colonoscopy.

Artwork by Pat Brennan

The kids in the car

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Outside, in a car. There they are! Two children having to wait in the car for a parent who has rushed to the bakery.

I watch the car windows go up and down. Up and down. Spindly arms flicker. They are calling to each other, their little voices like recorders, fluting.

I watch an old lady pause and look in the window. The front passenger offers a small hopeful wave. The way children do. Unsure if it’s ok, but offering anyway.

Then he leans back, stretches forward, leans back again, with those little stalky arms up and touching the roof.  He checks that a smaller sibling in the back is attentive to his rather magnificent stretching. That child is nodding, nodding, nodding, but is looking out of another window.

The sudden grill of motorbikes makes them pause and stare at each other. The younger’s face is stretched downwards in that way children do, to fit itself around approval and joy.

The front one goes swish swish with his hair. He reaches out and flickers both hands right to left in an abrupt and convincing parody of a pianist thinking before descending.

He is singing.

Suddenly he reaches across to the back and offers a packet of something. He puts the packet gently into the sibling’s face to properly display the feast. They eat in these positions, together.

There are two small bikes strapped to the roof. I see now that there is also a dog in the back. I stand in the doorway of my shop, enjoying the sun and everything.

The front child returns and begins playing jazz piano on the back of his seat. The audience (of one) gazes forwards, rapt. The thin arms bounce and run, hover and dive, his fingers stripping the upholstery as he releases some ribbon of sound he has heard on YouTube or somewhere, somehow. His thin frame quivers across his own deadly reach. He must stop now, panting.

Another child goes past, staring in. Mr Front Seat disappears from view. Then his eyes appear. He points over the sill with his finer. Is he a sniper? Nearly as deadly to humankind as a jazz pianist. The passing child continues past. Walking and looking backwards at the car, eating biscuits.

Mum returns.

They talk, nod, seat belts, more nodding, a long conversation, she is holds the packets of food in mid-air. There is a long story from Mr front seat. Mum is interested, listens right to the end, then she leans back and kisses Mr Backseat. He leans back, replete. She deals out food, fastens her own seat belt, pull gently away from the kerb, eating from a paper bag bag, the children likewise, like little horses, noses out of sight and eyes closed.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Sometimes people come into the shop and I don’t notice. They just appear, and not through any door that I have. When I look up, there they are. A knot of teenagers, seated on the ground, leaning back, solemn, as though here for a meeting. I can hear the trailing ends of one idea after another.

‘The point he’s making is that….’

‘What people don’t realise….’

‘With my play, I had to…..’

‘Yeah, but that exerts…’

Someone is reading aloud. Everybody listens. The reader stands up. Finishes. Everyone dives forward with an idea….’I’ve got that on Instagram…not the book…it’s on something…’

‘No, no no, pretty much…..not that one…’

‘In The Uncommon Reader…’  Someone narrates the plot of The Uncommon Reader.

‘Listen to this…’

‘I was like…’

‘There’s this really long word in this play…’

More reading out loud.  An argument. A selfie is taken.

‘Oh my God. I’m getting that.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘I love this.’

‘The exhibition was in 1910…’

‘This was published in 1948.’

‘I don’t reckon…’

‘So what books are you grabbing hon…?’

‘I know. I don’t know. But I’m getting this now. I just googled it, I love it.

It was Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost they were reading from, and that they are now buying.

Then they leave, one girl hugging the ‘beautiful book’ and telling the others she can’t go out tonight because she has rehearsal.

 

 

A Tale from The Decameron, 1916, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Daughter and mother

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They came in together yesterday and looked around confidently. I could tell they approved. Connoisseurs of bookshops always enter with full sails. ‘Here we are…’

Then they pause, broadsided by higher authorities. An enormous spiteful Pepys. Tintin. Dickens, Pratchett, Adams. Sendak, Steinbeck, Atwood, Dai Sijie, Garner. Proust. The Quincunx and Ibrahim Nasrallah on the front shelf. Anais Nin. All out the front to help me meet the ego. Authorities, like me, pretend to have read everything. But we bloody haven’t.

The mother and daughter approved and warmed immediately. There was a burst of a Christmas excitement.

I want this.

I heard you. I heard you.

The mother came up to the counter and leaned in comfortably to tell me softly about What She Read. Outlander. It took over her eyes. She had to look away so she could see the plot and tell some of it to me.

The daughter kept on sorting. She loved the World Classics. She loved Lewis Carroll. She’d read Treasure Island. It was violent. She loved Charles Dickens. She loved hefty classics in small dense volumes. Red covers.

I love these.

I love these. I want this.

I have that…

The mother ordered copies of the Outlander series. The daughter looked pleased.

‘Then I’ll read them. After you.’

‘We have too many books.’ (We all do).

Then they gathered themselves together, paid for their books, moved out, hanging onto each other and talking about Game of Thrones.

 

Mother and Daughter at Table by Jean Edouard Vuillard

Quietly, quietly

Reading a book by Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres

There are two people here and they don’t know each other. They both greeted me when they came in. He said, ‘Nice in here.’ She said, ‘Cold outside’. Every time they passed each other, they nodded. He had three enormous history books. She had Hans Christian Anderson, one volume: the complete collection.

In the back room there is an argument. It is three old ladies. They won’t agree on Patricia Wentworth. They each bought one small paperback and wouldn’t look at each other. One said, ‘Hold the door, Dilly.’

Dilly said, ‘I like these strong doors, they get the muscles going.’ And she stood strongly against the door, letting her friends out, and the last lady said, ‘Well, let it go now, you’re letting the weather in.’

And the quiet lady, who’d been waiting, said, Isn’t it wonderful!’

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I agreed that it was, and the quiet man, who had lost his phone somewhere, called out that he’d found it, on top of Louis Fischer. And he said, ‘Thank God there are still bookshops.’ And then the door opened and someone came in, and backed out, calling, ‘Sorry, don’t want books, isn’t this meant to be the bakery?’ And he nearly fell over a child who had pressed in behind him, and who now said, ‘Watch out for me though’ and held up her arm to show a green watch, and he said, ‘Just let me shut the door first, it’s a good watch, a very good watch.’

And the quiet lady said again, ‘Isn’t it wonderful…’

 

Painting: Reading A Book By Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès