The young couple with a pram

She came into the shop, but he stayed outside with the pram and the shopping and all their morning stuff. She stood in the doorway and looked out at him, and he looked in at her.

‘Are you coming in?’

‘Maybe.’

He continued looking through the door, comfortable, leaning on the pram, ‘I don’t know. I might go get a bun. A cream one. Shall I?’ He stood with one foot resting on top of the other one, cars cross stitching the air on the road behind him.

‘Maybe.’ She had begun to browse from the doorway, her eyes running up and down the shelves. Their child lay in the pram gazing outward. I could see its dark eyes moving, listening, and not blinking.

‘Ok, I’ll get a London bun.’

‘Mmmm.’ She let the door close and they parted, tranquil.

The man and his son, maybe

A man and his son, maybe. I heard them talking together in Classics.

‘You have to be careful of the translation… I’ve got a rubbish translation that I picked up somewhere…’

The man speaking leaned in, hands clasped behind his back, reading titles closely. Peruse, sigh, agree, nod, frown, turn away, turn back, ‘Well I can’t see that without my glasses…’

His phone in his breast pocket gave away a small sound.

‘Is that yours?’ He called to the younger man in the next room.

‘No, it’s you.’

‘Probably something useless then.’ He fumbled with the phone, uncomfortable with its intrusive glass mouth. He held it close and read it slowly.

‘Oh, they’re waiting for us in the bakery. They’re on a table at the back.’

He put the phone away and drifted along the shelf once more. He picked up Saul Bellow and Balzac. He balanced paperbacks under one arm. He was adroit. His eyes were narrow with pleasure. The young man, his son maybe, came out with David Foster Wallace. His eyes were narrow with pleasure.

They browsed on. They did not go to the bakery .

Illustration by Andre Martins de Barros

The summer reading list

Your summer reading list should contain a dozen of the best books about the holiday season, relaxation, the summer, warmth, sunlight, wine, evening and song.

Actually this is rubbish. Your summer reading list is whatever you want to read. However, it should not be measured in numbers (of books). This is for the amateur. Real lists are measured in years. It should never be an achievable list (also for the amateurs). It should have a life of its own, way beyond your control and way ahead of you in knowing what you need.

A reading list is a priceless document. It should remain intact, unconquered, and be passed on to your children.

The man who asked for a book I didn’t have

A man visited me on Thursday and asked for a book I didn’t have – Shark Arm by Phillip Roope, and his walking stick gave him some trouble as he balanced himself at the counter.

He said, ‘Don’t worry, that’s just my walking stick trying to kill me’, and we smiled, and a customer nearby looked across and nodded and then looked back at the shelves again.

He asked me to order the book for him, and I replied, ‘Of course’, and I looked up to take his details and there were tears in his eyes which must have come on suddenly and for no reason visible to anyone here.

He said, ‘Let me know when it arrives, I’m looking forward to this.’

His eyes were blue. His shirt and jeans and hat were all green, His eyes held the story though because everything for a second swam right in front of us, and then was gone again.  

Image by Horacio Cardoza

A History of Reading

“At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.”

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

The tall kids

…came into the shop this morning in a group, supple and swaying and swishing all about, looking everywhere before settling in front of a shelf, or being caught by something – as is wont to happen to young people; they go from shivering everywhere to absolute stillness. Then they talk in half murmurs and bits of sentences, and their friends answer back the same way, and nobody minds. They are young, and they can relax all their muscles, not needing to leave any limb still tense with yesterday’s banking. They fold their hands and their lips in the same way. When they leave, they thank me over and over and look back to make sure the door is closed properly.

Image by Pascal Campion

How people exit the shop

I think about this because it’s what the day is made up of – people coming through the door and people leaving again. Everyone has their method. This is about how people leave.

Some people leave because of a phone call. They don’t want to take a call inside a bookshop. They dive for the door, catching the phone, their response face ready. Half of a cheerful conversation is cupped in the alcove outside and shipped back inside.
‘Hellooooo mate.’
‘Hello, this is Dave.’
‘Hello Ruth, at last you got me…I knoooow….’

Customers who are pleased with their purchases, pleased with their stack, delighted with the experience, exit backwards, ‘Thank YOU, yes, thank YOU, thank you very much.’
Readers who just want to read, crash through the door to the street, reading the back of the first book, frowning. Customers who were rewarded with nothing, because there was nothing here, or because I didn’t have it, leave slowly, peeling the plastic away from their next plan.

One visitor told me that when he was young, he was not allowed to tear the Christmas wrapping paper from the presents. They had to ease it away from the gift, the tension, without a rip, so it could be used again. His face was rich with memory when he told me this, his lips curled in agony over the red paper, the sticky tape, and the forty degree day. When he left, his lips were still tense, still telling me the story. He backed into a noisy solo phone conversation that was occurring in the doorway,

‘Look if I had to pull him up for every mistake, I’d be there all day…. look we’re not paid to be there…. we’re all in the same boat…. you’ve got multiple talents there…’

and he (the Christmas paper customer) turned abruptly to find his ute, which he though was close by, but wasn’t.

Children leaving the shop turn and place their daisy faces on the door, squash their noses against the cool glass and look at me until they are yanked away by parents. Older women look grimly at their families waiting outside and stay inside. Young women with prams exit with a hundred apologies even though nothing has happened.

Teenage readers exit easily, turn phones around and press the news of books through the internet to friends. Older men stand with the door open so that nobody can come in or out and continue their story about themselves.

Many customers ask me where to go for coffee, or for the directions to Macclesfield.

My mother leaves me with a cake and two jars of jam and tells me not to leave them in the car this time.