How people browse for books

Once, a child here with a parent, looked at his mother’s phone and because she couldn’t do something on her phone, grew impatient. She said, ‘But where is it?’, and the child said, ‘I don’t know’, in a robot voice. She said, ‘Well bother it then’, and went back to browsing, and her child turned into a robot and moved in squares and rectangles and spoke in brackets and octagons, and she frowned deeply, but the books reabsorbed her, and she forgot about her robot, and so he happily continued being one, clattering behind her in a robot opera without an audience.

Old people lean and squint to catch titles. They are kind. They tell me long stories about books they once read. I drink it in. They do not find me boring. They struggle to get books up and onto the counter. They buy things for grandchildren, the latest in the Red Queen series, book four, War Storm. ‘She’ll love this.’ They conquer the internet to get this information.

Young people interrogate the bottom shelves because they have good knees that allow them up and down. They are soft and kind, they buy poetry. They ask me for good poets. A young mad came up from Adelaide and gave me his own copy of Ready Player One, he said, ‘You might like this.’

A grandmother, with two grandies, would not allow them to choose. She said, ‘Oh no, not that one.’ The older child, a girl of about twelve, leaned back and stared at the roof, and blew air through her lips – she made two more attempts (‘no, I don’t think we’ll get that’) and then gave up. The younger brother stayed silent. Nan continued to choose books they didn’t want. They remained polite but not enthusiastic. They left, Nan happy, the children silent.

A couple argued, ‘I need more time.’

He said, ‘Ok, doll.’ He went to the bakery.

She got more time. She wanted Angela Carter. I understood her need for more time. She got her books, her extra time, and her partner back with a coffee for her. She swooped out, her life, a flight. He flapped after her, carrying books, coffee and his own joy.

Young people always kneel to look at the titles on spines, their own spines curved and graceful and not aching.

Young mums run into the store, leaving prams at the door. They purchase fast, the next Harry Potter they need, a Hairy Maclary, a book about trains, ‘OMG, he’s going to love this!’

Loners browse so deeply that nothing (nothing) can recall them to the trivial day. They buy obscure books, tiles in their own reading maps that detail a unique reading universe curated by their own heart. I know these places. I know the power of them.

The new volunteers

New lads volunteering at The Book Keeper book shop. Although a few troubles to begin with (aggressive sales tactics, inappropriate use of ‘the force’, wearing weapons while serving customers etc), they are now getting along quite well. Obviously they are expected to read during breaks.

And they must also use their own initiative to promote the stock.

The ute is gone

Two ladies are drifting around the shop, dreamily, and apologetic as if they shouldn’t be here. They say, ‘Sorry’, and tiptoe past me. They are pineapple and blue, bright and delicious. They sway here and lean there.

 ‘I remember half of these books from me childhood.’

‘It’s a bit of a shock isn’t it!’

‘Oh I know.’

Outside the door there is a ute parked, and in the back of the ute, a sheep, quite dead, and next to it, a ladder. I know because I stood up to see. I looked at the sheep’s belly, looking for breathing. None.

A passer-by walked past the windows, absorbed and fluent. He looked into the back of the ute as he walked, his head turning as though on a stalk. He stopped abruptly and looked more closely, and then walked on.

‘Oh my lord.’ A lady stopped and gestured with her bag.

‘Oh no.’

Inside, the pineapple and blue ladies are still drifting. They have solid bags. Their hair is similar, small silver tents. They clasp their hands across their fronts.  The floor creaks under their gentle boots.  Slowly, softly, they exclaim at memories.

Outside in the quiet road, the sheep is still dead, itself now a memory. The driver plods wearily past my windows and climbs in.  He has a tray with two coffees.

I am asked for James Michener, Miss Read, The Readers Digest Motoring Guide to Australia and books that are good for reading groups.

A young woman asks her friend, ‘Would you listen to this if I read it out loud?’

Her friend, breathes out, ‘Maybe.’

The blue and pineapple ladies pass by, thank me and tenderly leave.

The young women search urgently for things to read aloud.

The ute has driven away, and the sheep is gone.

Image by Hugh Stewart

This is your world, it’s your creation

I watched an artist on Youtube say to his students, ‘This is your world, it’s your creation.’

It made me think of the shop.

He also said, ‘Remember where your light source is.’

The light source for my shop is the customers. You would think it would be the books, but it’s not.

He said, ‘The light is coming through here, so this is where we will see the growth, where the light strikes. Not over there, but here. Now we have beauty.’

Finally he said, ‘Look around and see what’s there. See what’s really there.’

This is the shop. The light comes from the readers, and the books, read, are lit.

I remember a reader cradling a stack and saying, ‘Oh God, this is killing me’, and looking with desperate blinking eyes at all the John Steinbecks.

Once a child said, ‘I know I’m going to like this book because it has the same number of pages as another book that I really like.’

Artist quotations from Bob Ross, A Walk in the Woods

Jesus, God, you’re a moron

I can sit and watch through the window the way people cross the road. The bakery and the bookshops are on this side, but the car park, the information centre, the art gallery, the grass, the trees, the seats, the toilets, and the playground are all over the other side. Sometimes the road is silent. But mostly it is busy. To cross over, one needs to be organised.

One little girl, still holding the book she just purchased, steps from side to side, lifting one foot then the other as they wait on the kerb.  ‘This is gunna be a good one.’ She held the book up to her dad, and he looked down briefly, kindly, agreeing, but keeping an eye on the road, the kerb, the cars, his child, his life. ‘Looks good. You reckon you’ll read it?’

‘Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.’ She is confident. She is about eight. I could see her still piping up at him as they crossed over, and him nodding, still watching, watching, swinging his head from side to side and checking everything.

One lady has wild pink hair. Her partner raised his arm to indicate an opportunity to cross the road. She continued past my windows and crossed at a different place. She had purple jeans and orange shoes. She did not look back. She crossed alone, carrying a bag of apples.

One lady stayed on the kerb. She did not cross. She turned and stayed on my side, watching the ground as she walked. Every now and then she turned and checked the road, stopping and turning her whole body to see.

One young man strode out and across, checking his phone. A ute, travelling slowly sounded a horn. The young man gave the thumbs up, without looking away from his phone. He wore heavy work boots and a beanie. He had keys hanging from his belt. He laughed out loud and shook his head, not because of the ute but because of something on his phone; negotiating his way between virtual and real with ease and humour. At the kerb, he picked up something from the ground and handed it to a motorcyclist parked there and who was removing his helmet. The motorcyclist leaned back in surprise, and there was a conversation I could not hear. They shook hands.

A couple argued on the kerb right against my window. He said, ‘I’m not walking fast, I’m walking exactly the same as you. At a normal pace.’ She launched herself across the road, alone. He stayed outside my window and watched.

Children, not realizing the danger zone, hop. Their parents hang on, alert and scanning for wolves. ‘Come on. Walk properly.’

A motorbike sits alive outside my door waiting for a park, it’s throat rich and irritated. But the idling car stays. The motorbike lurches away, spitting angry stones.

It’s now quiet and rather beautiful outside. Across the road, the pine trees rise against the blue. Two young men on my side try to cross and are driven back by a cattle truck. One man thumps the other on the back.

‘Jesus, God you’re a moron.’

Have a go under the waterfall

This is The Dipper, a poem by by Scottish poet, Kathleen Jamie. It’s impossible to write about a bird and make it breathtaking, but here it is, completed and placed by an expert for us to consider. Honoured.

 I saw that she wrote issue instead of flew. As soon as I saw issue, I saw the water give birth to the bird. The poem itself (in my head) flooded and fell, green with experience and cold and difficulties. When I saw solitary, the poem itself soared away and lit (her word) on a rock, alone, and looked at me with sunlight behind it and mockery between its claws. When a poem contains this much information and experience, I have to keep reading and re reading, clenching my small claws and hoping.

When she wrote lit instead of perched, that’s when the sunlight entered the cold, and the poem, and me. When she wrote swept stupidly, I stood still and admitted old age, a huge hot relief. This because it may be possible that I no longer have to stop the flow. When she wrote wrung, I saw the bird turn and turn again to give that ripple of solid sound. When she wrote supple, undammable, I saw bird muscle, throat muscle and opera and anger. Value and beauty are not ownable. They are beyond our hands. The last two lines won’t finish. They keep playing, calling on courage.  

This poem, if you allow it, is a massive experience.

Is this right? I don’t know. Kathleen Jamie is a master. She extracts and then sculpts what she wants to say. I am an amateur reader and can’t do that. But she makes me try hard and dig for it. Or the bird does. Something does.

Photography by Michael Woodruff

On this day

A day when ordinary things happen. The ordinary lives come past my windows and in and out of the door and show some of their scratches and gardens. A lady came in with her husband and bought a book for her adult son – it is for his research. She is going to photograph the pages and email them to him. On the way out she said, ‘There. That’s my good deed. I can help him. He was really please about this book. I could tell.’

Her husband, the father, nodded. They turned toward the bakery, both of them looking pleased and happy. I could see them still talking and nodding down at the book in her hand.

An older lady lifted her shopping high on either side of her to jog across the road in the rain. Her shopping bag, her handbag, her hat, her shoulders, all jogged up and down, the mother ship making for the coast, not fast but accurate.  The cars slowed down. There, on the kerb, was her group, all cheering.

Someone shouted, ‘You’re game Eddie!’ And they gathered around her, took her bags, brushed off the dust of the journey, admiring, adoring.

A young man strode past, banging the windows of the bakery, banging on my windows, shouting and furious, ‘Fucking fuck. Ten o’clock and no food.’ He was leaning forward, walking fast, and betrayed already at only 10am.

A grandfather bought his granddaughter three books. She said, ‘I love this series.’ She looked at her grandfather. He said to me, ‘She’s a reader. She’s a real reader. Better than me.’ He presented the money, still looking at me, and swayed slightly, unable to balance the pride.

When they left she linked her arm tightly through his.

Painting by Marcel Rieder (1862-1942)