November not quite December

Quiet as quiet. I can hear the teacups and spoons chatting next door in the bakery – I can hear that through the wall. There is nobody outside.

Wait, that’s wrong. There’s a ute pulling a Jim’s Mowing and Garden Care trailer. The driver is jogging across to the bakery. Now three women climbing from a car in front of me, looking in my window but passing on by.

I update all the displays.

A young couple with a pram passing the window. He looks at the window and says, ‘I’ve read that.’ She says, ‘Come on.’

There are now two Jim’s Mowing units parked across the road. The drivers are standing together eating lunch. A car skids around the corner opposite the carpark entrance, and both workers look up and across.

A lady phones for Juliette Marillier books. Someone phones for Alexander McCall Smith books.

I spray Riverland Orange with Lemon Rind fragrance around the shop and stand admiring the smell for a while.

I sort all the orders and look up Emily A. Duncan books for a customer. Redo the Christmas books, clean the windows, shelve the newest volumes, and put all the David Eddings back in proper order.

Someone buys a Yates Garden Guide. Someone buys 3 Australian fiction books for a Chris Kringle. I finish The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (brilliant).

A couple admire my Christmas tree through the window: he keeps tapping the glass, possibly thinking the optic lights are responding to his tapping. His wife moves on, and he continues tapping for another minute.

Outside, one car honks another car waiting to turn right. It’s a long aggressive blast. The driver, who is exactly level with my desk, glances into his side mirror and smiles. Then he gives the other driver the finger and very slowly moves around the corner.

The beeping car yells out, ‘Getting ice at Woolworths’. Then they’re all gone, and it’s quiet again.

Two ladies walk past together, and one says, ‘This shop looks very nice’, but they don’t come in.

Two men walk past, and one says, ‘Yeah, well I thought he was serious.’

A young man comes in and asks for any books by Patrick Leigh Fermor, who is a travel writer, and one of the best ever! But I don’t. Then he asks for Jack Kerouac (which I have) and Ilija Trojanow (which I don’t).

I turn on all the fairy lights, clean up the counter, and update the status of all orders.

A child passing with two adults reads my sign out loud, ‘Open. Bookshop.’ Then she says, ‘I don’t like bookshops, but I like some bookshops if they’re open.’

Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Illustration by Gina Litherland

Why read?

I’ve set this out before. Here it is again. Reading is complex. Think Warlight by Michael Ondaatje. Reading’s not watching, and it’s not travel. It’s not something to do. It’s something you become, like fatigued, alert, or in love. This is because a book, once ingested, becomes part of your soft-lining.

Read: because it’s effective. Once read, a text will continue to inform you. It will exist in the muscles around your eye sockets. You cannot remove this new insight. Think That Deadman’s Dance by Kim Scott.

Best to burn books, or ban them, or just not read them, if you want to stay vanilla.

Read: because it’s powerful. Once read, you’re changed. You may not think so. But who can hear their own voice change? You’ll be the last person aware of it.  Think The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov.

Read: because it’s enraging. Once a text enters you, you’ll be challenged on a terrible level.  This is the level of your own self-you. Think of those books that suggest it’s time to leave the awful struggle on the road. Let it flap back to it’s own necessary family.  Think What You Can See From Here by Mariana Leky.

Read: because it’s expansive. Inside, you blow larger, and you won’t be able to restore your old favourite self damning dimensions. Think I Heard The Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven.

Read: because it’s confronting. We’re all recovering from something. Reading prevents our self-denial from becoming too comfortable by allowing comfort. Think Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Read so you’ll be forced to contemplate an example of precise and dazzling beauty. Think These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy.

Read because it’s comforting. Open your courage flaps and allow in a couple of astonishingly simple but completely new and healing ideas. Think My Goblin Therapist by Morgan Taubert.

Read, because the great texts are written by good solid failing people, and not generated by AI content tools that are sleek with success and without human allergies or proper death. Think A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Read because we basically don’t know anything. Think The Ugly Tourist by Jamaica Kinkaid.

Read because we basically think we know everything. Think Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

Read: because the great texts take risks, and they insert tight unnoticed gems of permission into our poor flat salads. Think Mist by Louise M Hewett

Read: because once you’ve experienced the greatest writing, you too will quietly flake that same humility and insight onto your own breakfast table. Think The Vivisector by Patrick White.

You can’t forget. Think Ping by Marjorie Flack.

You’ll be enraged. Think Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

You’ll be desolate. Think A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Think Collete. Think Margaret Atwood. Think Brain Moore and Amitav Ghosh. Helen Garner.

Elizabeth Bishop.

What is power? Tolkien, tell me. Suffering. Baldwin. Anger: Terry Pratchett. Vision: Huxley.

The Odyssey. You think it’s not relevant? Fools. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: we are you.

James Joyce. Sigh.

Of course, a Good Bookshop will put all these books right in front of you so you too can share in the glory. But not in my bookshop because I already took all these books home, and I’m keeping them.


Two girls arguing: sisters

Strong readers: I could tell. But one of them got to the books first and selected.

Getting this.’

‘What is it?’


They looked at each other.

‘Getting this.’


‘Miss Peregrines’.

‘Fuck off Erin.’

The mother, herself bent over the Anne McCaffrey’s, straightened up and looked at them.

I hid my approval.

Illustration by Dan-ah Kim

The man who lent out his ratchet set and didn’t get it back for three years

Outside, the darkness is illuminating all of us. Everyone comments:

‘Look how dark it is’

‘Night out there.’

‘Rain’s coming.’

Alan stuck his head in, dripping onto the mat. ‘See that sky. I can tell you about that.’ Then he left again, whistling.

And it’s silent. Many times I couldn’t hear anything except rain. My shop lights are sharp against the rain; people look at these lights as they splash past. Once, a family stood around the bin, getting wet but not minding.

‘Nice lights in there.’

‘Put your peel in the bin. But don’t touch the lid.’

‘Did you put it in?’

‘Don’t touch the lid.’

Another absolute slab of silence. The rain stops. The darkness deepens. There’s a truck parked across the road with a mower strapped in the back. A man in the cab is eating from a paper bag.  There’s an old lady crossing the road wearing a peacock blue dress, shrugging to keep the rain away.

Then I went outside to sweep the pavement. An old couple stopped and turned slowly to watch me. She said to me, ‘It never ends’.

Silence again. I go back inside and sit and look outside.

A Ute pulls up and two men climb out. They’re not in a hurry. The driver walks around to the kerb, rocking from side to side. He’s wearing a checked shirt and good stout sandals. He said, ‘Where’s your coat?’

But the other man doesn’t know. ‘It’s gone.’

‘Ok, mate. Where’d we go. You have to think backwards.’

‘Dunno. Let’s get to the bakery first.’

‘You said it.’  And they rock from side to side toward the bakery.

Behind them, two young men are waiting to cross the road. It’s raining again. They jog up and down on the spot, deep in conversation. All I can see is rain, lights, darkness. There is so much happening.

The young men jog up and down. There’s a break in the traffic; a long break, but they don’t move. The stand still talking and talking.

Window, lights, rain. A couple come in shaking rain generously about and give me 3 sunflower seedlings in small pots.

‘Plant these. You’ll like ‘em.’ I put them damply on the carpet, ready for the garden later.

Traffic sweeshing wetly past. There’s no other word for it. A young man stands in front of me with a stack on the counter and tells me over and over,

‘Milkwood. Milkwood – yeah give it a read.’ I tell him I will.

And I will.

Two men cross the road not dressed for the rain and not bothered either. Then they stand in my doorway, waiting for the storm to pass.

‘I think I told you how somebody took my ratchet set. They had it for 3 years.’

‘Yeah, I remember. Good set.’

‘Well, I got it back the other day.’

They both laughed, pleased.

Tonight of Yesterday

Tonight of Yesterday by Vona Groarke

The evening slips you into it, has kept a place for you
and those wildwood limbs that have already settled on
the morning.

The words you have for it are flyblown now
as the dandelion you’ll whistle tomorrow into a lighter air.

But tonight, your sleep will be as round as your mouth,
berried with the story of sunlight finally run to ground.

You are all about tomorrow. The moon has your name
memorised: the curl of your back, your face, an open book.

Painting by Elizabeth Lennie

What’s outside now as I sit in here and read Frankenstein?

People say the world is going faster, which it is (in our heads). But here it’s not. It’s good to look around and take stock of current value. Anyone can do this from right where they are: on the kerb feeling angry, online staring at MyGov-failed-login, lying down eating toast crookedly and not enough deodorant on.

Here at the shop, with rain, there’s a brother and sister arguing at the door, and behind them, a ruby red car covered in rain drops and also parked in startled sudden sunshine. Then rain again.

The children are arguing and swinging umbrellas, and one of them rings mum. I watch them listen to the voice in the phone. The children are galvanised and still, intent on the voice. Listening but pretending not to. Flicking looks at each other. Then they are away and gone.  

Across the road, there’s someone trying to pack a surfboard onto a luggage rack and with a phone clutched between ear and shoulder. She is covered in rain.

A couple wearing masks looking through the window. I continue reading Frankenstein.

School children eating enormous muffins from the bakery blow past leaving clouds of crumbs and one high sentence:

‘Yeah, but they were going out back then.’

A man stands at the counter in front of me writing in the front of a book he just bought. He shows me what he wrote: ‘To my least favourite cousin this book might help you understand who I am because I don’t know’.

We look at the inscription and then at each other.

‘Pretty good, eh?’

I agree fervently. I say, ‘Can I write it down?’

He says, ‘Yeah mate, and can you get me any of the Clochmerles? You know those books – by some chap, Gabriel Chevallier.

I promise to try. As he leaves in the colding light, a couple pass in front of him on the footpath. One is rebuking a lovely and timeless rebuke:

‘I can’t believe you got a pie and a pastie and we’re having dinner in an hour.’

Then, later, when I am bringing in my signs: two men at one of the outside bakery tables. One is sitting, one is leaning against the wall, a motorcycle helmet at his feet. He is looking down at the man who is seated, and they both look fierce.

‘So, how do you feel about it mate?’


‘Yeah mate.’

The seated man nods over and over, chewing and chewing, taking sustenance against awfulness.

‘Mum was always like that.’

‘I know. I know I know.’

The standing man crosses his arms over his chest and stares the opposite way, giving them both privacy, and I put my signs away and prepare to go home.