Pa and the Babies


Noah and Max keep getting bigger. But Pa is still bigger.
When they stand at his feet, they must lean backwards to find him.
He is steadier than a mountain and as safe as a house.
They might fall down, break a cup, run away, cry hard: Pa has already done all of that.
Pa might build a shed, fix a fence, mend a fight, pick the fruit: they are ready to watch all of it, breathing hard and absorbing the information.
Two small boys can cause a great deal of chaos and a great deal of noise. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Noah and Max might throw things, smash things, strike out, bite down and refuse to sleep. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Pa might take apart the mower, make a cake, drain a tank, wrap a birthday gift or clean the carpet and they always watch with their mouths open and their little hands holding on, receiving the information.
They will never be too heavy to hold on Pa’s knee and he will always be covered in sand, dust and grease from the engine of the day.
Max and Noah might refuse to eat, refuse to dress, refuse to look. They might choose to dance. They might prefer to build a house or push one down.
Pa understands all of it.

There is nothing stronger in this world than gentleness.




I’m going to read while I drive!

Lorenzo Mattotti 2

There is a couple here in the shop and they are very quiet and they are very hesitant and finally they ask me for mystery and crime and other things like that, like Peter Temple or Ngaio Marsh?
They pick two books each and they become hilarious. They tell me they are on holidays and they are going back to Victoria right now. He says he is going to read as he drives, all the way home. She gives a small scream and says there’s no way you are going to read as you drive, you old fool.
He says that he will do that if he wants to. She tells me that he always thinks he can do whatever he wants. When they leave there is a struggle with the door as another couple try to enter at the same time. Everybody exchanges one short, witty comment and the couple leaving step out into the wind and their drive home and the couple entering separate into science fiction and poetry.
He says: there will be nothing new here as usual and she says: maybe about time you tried something new?
He lifts a shoulder to block her out but she is kneeling in poetry and has found Keats and says: well I have already found this…
But he has found nothing and goes back outside to wait.
She stays in poetry. She stays for ages…

Artwork by Lorenzo Mattotti




Sarah has seen the Jura Mountains. She said they are north of the Alps and very beautiful. I have never seen them and she said that I ought to. She herself plans to travel again, this time by ship because this will give her time to read on the way. I approved of this – I always plan the slowest way possible to anywhere so as to bank up some reading hours for withdrawal later.
Sarah has not had an easy life. But having had no other, she carries it around tenderly for what it’s worth – which is a great deal.
She was raised amongst books, many, many of them, mostly the English classics because England is where her mother was born. She will recite them off: Wind in the Willows, Milly Molly Mandy, Winnie the Pooh, Louis Untermeyer, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Moomins, The Jungle Book, The Secret Garden, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, Peter Pan, Little Women, The Borrowers, The Water Babies, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens….
Sarah is an only child.
When she was 15, her mother took her to France and they stayed at Saint -Claude. They saw a film there – Casablanca – in subtitles. She loved it. Her father didn’t come, he was an accountant in Adelaide at John Martins and he stayed home to look after Sarah’s dog Bruno. Also, he didn’t like travelling.
Now she is reading Miss Muriel Matters by Robert Wainwright – the one about the suffragettes which she told me is an important part of our history. Sarah is always reading. She told me that it has helped her through the more difficult times of her life. Which has been most of it.
Reading was one of the last things her mother gave up before she died.
When Sarah was 15, and her mother took her to France and they saw the Jura Mountains, they stayed with cousins at a vineyard. And her cousin gave her two beautiful French dolls for her birthday and she tasted French wine and it was summer and it was really very, very beautiful.

sonder – n. the realization that each random passer by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig


The Reader’s Bill of Rights


A customer said to me that Wilbur Smith has gone off the boil.
As a teenager, I read every single one of his books that I could get. I told the customer this and he said that that was because back then, he was on the boil. He didn’t buy any books because there was no point.
I like the way that young readers, equally as discerning and profound about their own reading, can reject with impressive confidence and precision book after book. But then, finding nothing that day, can still leave as serene as when they arrived. Or they will freefall with something new. Regardless of purchase they will always leave with exuberant and generous footsteps.
Young readers can recall every important detail of a book, no matter if there are a thousand details or only two.
This afternoon there are two friends next to Biography and one is urging the other to read and read:
I think you could read a six hundred page book about Hilary Clinton.
The friend said: I don’t think I could read a six hundred page book about anything at all. He looked at a book about Paul Keating that was hopefully offered, and he said that that would all be bullshit.
Joseph said that he only liked Dean Koontz and that is because Dean Koontz is a good writer.
One man says – this is a Jim Butcher, I can’t believe it. His friend said: Life is good today isn’t it, Craig.
One young girl said that there are a lot of owls in my shop and at her house they only have monkeys.
One couple said they can’t get any books because they are too heavy for their caravan and they only came into the shop to pass the time. One young man asked if he could just charge his iPhone and then he would leave again.
Steve said that when he has read all his Cornwell books he starts again.
Peggy, who is 84, said that some of the people in her walking group say that she reads too much. She went up the Centre on the train hoping that she could just read the whole way but she drank too much red wine and ending up sleeping the whole way. She said that people should just mind their own business.

One man told me about The Green Mountain, the best book written in the English language so far. He did not know the name of the author.


I don’t know how these places even keep going…


Outside, some passers-by look through the window at the biographies and one man says: I don’t know how these places even stay open. Fucking hell, we can just get books on the internet, just as easy. His friend says: yeah…

It is a public holiday here in South Australia and Strathalbyn is full of people on their day off.
I am reading The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield and looking up every now and again wondering if anyone will come in to the shop and buy a book. Maybe no one will, but Dorothy Canfield makes this all ok.

The door does open though, and two old ladies come in and they are confident and bright and a propelled onwards by their solid and purposeful cardigans. They know already, what they need to say:
There’s your Ken Follett.
I’m not usually one for that kind of thing.
Oh, see the Ray Bradbury…
I wanted to get on well with it but…
There’s a relation somewhere there – some one with Dickens, a grand daughter or something.
I’ve got most of the Dickens.
I’ve got all of the Dickens. You’ve seen them.
I don’t hold with that sort of writing.
What do you mean?
Clive Cussler.
Oh, good heavens, we don’t bother with him. I told you that.
I like Bryce Courtenay.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…
But that film –
No, that’s all right, of course it is –
I’ve read some of those
I’ve read all them all.
Oh nonsense…
Isn’t Herriot still very good
Very good indeed.
Gracious and serious…
I have a problem with that.
I’m one for having books around me.
It’s the way now isn’t it, though, to have no books.
Look at this rubbish.
Well, yes but why make a whole new film about it… 
Well, that’s right.
I think we need to give all the young people one each of all these grammar books.
Well, you can try can’t you….
I shouldn’t just blanket across everything, I know I’m judgemental.
Yes you are, now look at that…I’ve got that…
Yes, I’ve got that too
Yes, I’ve got all of hers.
Gradually they pass by, they don’t see me, they don’t need to purchase a book and they pass by and out though the door, they confront the solid spread of bikies that are gathered on the footpath outside and part them like butter with a hot knitting needle and they go on home.

And then  –

The skateboard family is back! The oldest boy has a book which he carries around and carries around. His mother is within the novels, his brothers are by and by, here and there but mostly with Star Wars. One brother is eating from a paper bag –  sherbet bombs. He is looking at the roof through a haze of sherbet, he is in sherbet bomb heaven. The oldest brother is waiting outside, balancing on his skateboard and staring significantly through the window at his family that are keeping him waiting.
The boy with the book presents it to his mother, he is staring upwards into her face, in an attitude of prayer. She looks down at her son. She says: you got that book last time.
He says nothing at all.
She says: but you gave it to your friend. We should get that one for you this time. He looks at her, astounded by her memory. He hugs the book to his chest and leans backwards under its enormous valuable weight.
They all weave around and around and here and there and then eventually purchase their books and leave together, with skateboards and sherbet and the book of life and one brother saying: get out the way…and the boy outside saying: thanks for taking a thousand years.


I bet I am the first redhead in the shop this morning

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In the shop this morning there are two children with their grandparents. They came in in a hesitating sort of way and this was because I had not turned my sign: it still said closed. The boy said to me: I bet you do that every day!
Soon he brought a Zac Powers to the counter. He said: I bet this is the last one. He told me about Zac Powers. About how he had read all of them. He named every title from each series. Then he went away to read again.
His sister swung around and around the pony books and chose one that she had already read. Her grandmother asked her if she should get one that she hadn’t read and she said: no.
Her brother returned to tell me about Zac Powers again. He said: I bet I will read all of them soon. Then the grandparents came out of the back room where they had been hunting through Australiana. They gathered, the four of them, all looking at their books, unseeing of anything except their books, they bumped and knocked into each other, telling each other: look at this book
When they left, the boy looked back and lit up the interior with his next joyful thought: I bet I am the first redhead you had in the shop this morning!



Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket


Ricky came back to the shop today for some more Roman history, a book about the Roman orgies and a pony book for her granddaughters. She said she is also halfway through The Decline and Fall of the Roman Emp! And the reading is going well.
She is feeling athletic because her swimming class is full of old people, older than her that is, and they all of them moan that they will drown in the pool which only comes up to their middle anyway. The instructors force you to swim for 45 minutes which even Ricky thinks is pretty stern. But she pushes on regardless and then goes home for another read of the Roman Emp.
Today she is looking for a poet though…Charles Simic… the one who sewed his poems into blankets…
We looked for Charles Simic and suddenly there was a lady behind us saying urgently: I can’t go past one, I can’t go past one. She hurried back to the door and threw her handbag outside to her waiting husband and he said: well go on then, you go for it and she darted back in and quietened down amongst the historicals and Ricky said: well it takes all sorts.
Then she went off down the street to pay the electric.
I am asked for The VW Bus: A History of a Passion and a book of fairies that are not ugly.
Robert told me that he has been depressed since Christmas and unable to read with his usual knife edged precision.
I am asked if Joseph Roth is still alive.
Outside a tradesman drops his coffee from the roof of his ute and says fuuuuck. The man who is waiting for his wife and holding her handbag looks down at the coffee fanning all over the footpath.
Tyson brings Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh to the counter, pleased to have another to add to his collection of the Marshall Cavendish Great Writers collection.
And he is writing a book, a history book, Portuguese exploration, Colonial mismanagement, naval powers, surrender and defeat and sadness. He plays music, while he writes – English and American tunes, The Yellow Rose of Texas and Amazing Grace. This helps him gain all perspectives of history.
He tells me about the world, his reading and writing and about history and that the only real way to see the world is to look at it upside down. Then he went away, pleased with everything.
The lady came out of historicals and startled me with a copy of Helen of Troy and apologised for having taken so long.



Max in the library


Max was born into too many books. For all his small life there have been a thousand of them on every side, front, and back; each wall is made of a thousand oblongs.
He climbs over, clambers over, steps over, sits on a thousand seats, he regards dust covers through his knees, he is not impressed by author except the highest one on a stack that can be toppled. A book is valuable if he can reach it and he will examine one cover after another and then, finished, will cast each volume decisively aside. Sometimes he will examine pages, turning neatly a hundred at a time, before hurling that book aside too. Then he will climb another pile, perhaps aiming for The Lord of the Rings balanced on the highest heap but actually making for a fly, caught on the windowsill and drowning loudly in the summer sunlight.
But the piles are precarious, not stacked skilfully and there is a slithering of books, limbs and fury. There is Robert Louis Stevenson now under his knees and Memoirs of Hadrian annoying his elbow and Lonesome Doves will no longer hold his toes from slipping. And down he goes, his own private landslide, brief and astonishing, that deposits him neatly on his back and next to him, scattered, a toy motorbike and the urgent need to climb again.


On Valentine’s day…

Lee White.jpg

On Valentine’s day this year, somebody went into the bakery and bought tiny chocolate cakes and asked that they be given as gifts to people sitting outside the bakery and the bookshop and also one to me, inside the bookshop and the lady who delivered my cake said that all she knows is that this person rides a bicycle. And that is all we know!

Artwork by Lee White

Ricky keeps on reading


Ricky came to the shop today to pick up her book Farewell to Catullus. She is a reader of all things Roman and studies Latin in her spare time. She does not like her mobile phone. She loves having her adult sons come and stay with her even though they hardly ever can. When they visited the shop with her at Christmas time she was very happy and when one of them bought Narnia: The Complete Chronicles, she was happier still and could hardly speak. She laughs a lot. She has read books all her life, all books and any books and just keeps on collecting on and she is not impressed by or respectful of old age. She has 4 grandchildren. Said that her friend, an old lady recovering from having a new knee installed, started a fight at the therapy pool with another old lady and she had to intervene!
I said: oh no, that’s not good news and Ricky said: well never mind and not to worry, it cheered me up no end!!


W. B. Yeats

Eliza Wheeler

That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea’.

W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
Artwork by Eliza Wheeler

Max eats grapes


All along the side trellis, along the bricks, under the Chinese elm, toward the orchard there are grapes, dark, hot and suspended in a purple and silly way right in front of Max as he forages through the garden most days.

Now he returns to that exact place, balances in the soft dirt and picks and eats purple until he is found and removed.
He uses a superior grip, thumb and forefinger, not the whole bunch at once but one small grape a time, leaving the rest intact. He is witness to the tough and springy operation of the grape vine, the peeling barks, the spoky birds, the grapy colours that deepen every day under summer’s gentle simmer; now they are ruby red and falling into purple, the bricks underneath are inked with the overburden.

He balances on knees, well back, and leans in and in, mouth open, the other hand spread out, holding the air, resolving the balance, delicate as a watchmaker, suspended in time, missing nothing. Sometimes he examines the purple bead first, breathes at it noisily before consuming, sitting back on heels, the other hand still stroking the air, no part of him absent from the feast.
The garden sighs, exhales, unknowing of its cargo, the hot and furious cat, the drooping orchard, a dripping hose, somewhere a hammer, somewhere a family and everywhere the summer.

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