Notes on the year right now right here

The year went fast. It hopped about with anxiety many times. People came to the shop even when I was closed. People rang me and emailed me and texted me. People kept reading, increased their reading, and many people began reading.

Classic literature and poetry were purchased the most followed by history. Self-help sold the least. Fiction outsold nonfiction.

Locals and regulars became more and more important whether they purchased a book or not.

My landlord made it possible for me to stay even when I had to close.

Young readers bought the most books. Children still knelt on the floor and shouted to me that they had already read Peppa Pig, the same way they did last year.

Some customers purchased enormous stacks of reading to help me out, and thought that I did not notice this, but I did, and it did help me out.

Many of the visitors who came in angry in April were not angry in November.

It took three times longer to order in books for customers, but not a single person complained about it except me.

My fantasy and science fiction shelves need restocking. Everything by Anh Do sold out. I sold more Charles Dickens than ever before. I hardly sold any biographies except ones about dogs. I couldn’t get in any Asterix books.

I listened to a podcast about ancient Rome and took all the Roman history books home for myself. I discovered Iris Murdoch (and took all those books home too).

I was asked for Moby Dick about ten times.

A mother who loves reading came in with her son and said that mothers who read always have sons that read. Not so with daughters. Until much later.

Two customers died this year and left two holes there.

I never saw young people work so hard as the young people did this year in Woolworths across the road. This is not a reflection on Woolworths. It’s a reflection on those young people themselves.  

I cleaned about 3000 little handprints off the front door, same as any year.

Trucks still park across the driveway, same as any year.

People still come in thinking I’m the bakery, same as any year.

None of these things annoy me anymore.

Amongst the books at home

Hard to choose one. Nobody home but me. Everyone usually sits amongst them. They are the walls. My dad had a study similar, and I used to play in there, building things out of books and pretending to read, which was as good as actually reading because I still made things, changed reality, added to it, made it from one colour to ninety shades of six colours, easily. Then had to go and feed the hens or something.

My children shot up, grew and left, weaving in and out of bookshelves, resisting the harping but absorbing the actual books.

Now I’m home alone and looking at the books. Hard to chose one. Thomas the Tank is on the floor again, split into a thousand small annoying paperbacks that take too long to read out loud and carry plots I can’t understand.

Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, still kind, still has a river in it. My grandsons like the bit with the fighting.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a gun on page 12.

My Terry Pratchett paperbacks are in an Ikea cabinet with a glass door, implying value, but they are pressed to the glass, squashed and irreverent, falling out, not in order, contemptuous.

Nothing is in order. It was once, but I moved the shelves and T ended up next to B, and S landed next to the Margaret Atwoods, who quelled the unease by turning sideways. I can’t find anything. Therefore, I am reduced to what wants me. Not a lot, but tonight, I notice things. Books have fallen out, or are used to ramp matchbox cars, or for a yoga head boost. There is a history of Sand: Journey through Science and the Imagination. Maybe. The Making of Australia by David Hill, but will there be any women in it, probably not, and then Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc, where the hell did you come from? But it’s red and gold, 1123 pages, the pages creamy and silky, supple, and solid with weight, so that’s the one. It starts out, ‘Visitors who want a glimpse of Viet Nam’s traditional culture will find no better opportunity than a cruise along the Red River. A few well-chosen stopovers in this river delta dotted with sleepy thousand year old villages will provide the most curious tourist with a……and on it goes taking me to yet another place, aching with travel.

Hard to choose one. Still manage it.

That place we went to on the weekend

It was hot and busy and crowded and flushed. We were outside. It was a distillery, warm with weekend, choked with visitors, and looked like this:

Waiting staff were running, running, running. Weaving and carrying triple trays, balancing, enquiring, eyes flicking from table to table reading the needs.

Families. Trooping to their tables in lines. Senior members at the front, the young people trailing, checking the exits and their phones. The correct smiles. Parents, early meetings with a son’s new partner, tense. The young woman wanting to please but already brittle.

Us. Old friends, easy.

Next to us, one long long table of a thousand women, a hundred different ages swaying toward each other.

You can tell the family groups. They all use the hand sanitizer and order drinks early. So nice to be together.

A child bounces on a chair and drops a crayon. Everyone at that table looks fondly at the child. He turns his head from side to side to side, unaware, involved with crayons, rich colours, apple green and plum purple split.

The Covid Marshal swirls in the centre of the arena and checks and counts and rotates again. He is frowning. He frowns all afternoon. His shoes are worn out.

You can tell the friends groups. They enter in hilarious clots, it’s a great day. They have many jokes. They joke about the hand sanitizer.

The family groups, the young people, have silly faces. The cousins look at each other.  Their parents are a little wooden, especially if their parents are there.   The olds have faces of resignation…what the fuck does it all matter now. The young men wear pink shirts and socks and look desperately over their shoulders and then back at their phones. The girlfriends look at each other’s dresses. Then look away again.

The waiters are puffing. The sun shines down. A long plank of icy glasses passes us at head level, the beers glowing honey, oak, ruby, wheat, sand, cream, chilled…

The recipients (on a nearby table) for the plank of beers look up, their eyes softening, their voices lifting, friendly now and liking everyone on the table.

The child bounces on his chair, colouring in. The crayon on the ground is softening.

At the table of a thousand women is a thousand colours. There are impossible heels striking the beautiful ground, jewellery swinging, hair soft, fragrant and metres long. One young woman is late and she must walk in while everyone watches, their eyes flick up and down her form as she walks in on powerful hips and meaningful heels. She is greeted by an older woman with a light frown. All the younger women pause and watch the older woman’s face, they read that face, the old face, and take in the information. The old woman and the young woman hug, they exchange cheeked kisses, five times, six times, seven times. Then everyone relaxes. They sway in and out of magnificent colours, peacock blue, gold and ruby, emerald, blood, earth, invisible shocking pink, punched silver. The long, long fragrant hair, the hot sun, the cold cups, and the phones that need to be checked. Pictures are taken. The old woman is seated. She is still, glancing here, there, slowly, not needing to know anything. She already knows. The girls totter behind her, glancing carefully.

It is hot. Hotter. We eat fabulous things. We must move our table into the shade. The waitress is anxious, she glances across the day at the Covid Marshall and he bends over his list, frowning in his worn out shoes.  

Everywhere, people in groups take photos, leaning in, drawing back, adjusting things, assessing things, frowning, showing rows of too enthusiastic teeth. Chilled white wine smiling and looking at red wine that swirls sulky and resentful in roundy glass chambers, amber ciders, gold bubbles, shouting at a table in the distance, cold water in forest brown glass jugs, a falling out on the next table, ‘Well go home then…’, and the staff sweeping bravely through the rows, the Covid Marshall frowning, and the child drawing and the blue crayon on the ground melting, a delicious soft and urgent message.

Painting by Milt Kobayashi

Menopause; a pause

The four of us all met somehow at the counter in my bookshop. Me seated, my friend standing, her friend leaning, another lady, here. That word comes up: menopause

and we all make “the face”, and our shoulders move slightly in outrage. The temperature of our bones glides (again) upward, silent and inappropriate, as confused as ever, keeping pace with life and not sympathetic. But we laugh and shout and laugh. We agree triumphantly that bras never fit. We have many ideas. Nothing can defeat many ideas.

Eventually one lady leaves, trundling her groceries and things out of the door in a little trolley. Her shoes are excellent; soft, and stitched and kind, looking after her, the person that wears them.

Two conversations, one inside and one outside, both at once

1) A group of six passed the windows of the shop. They were jumbled and jostling and loud. It seemed as though they have all climbed off the same bus. The tone of their conversation is concern. Their speech is stretched and knocked about. This is because it was windy. So, they repeated themselves and called and argued, trying to knead logic back into the excursion.

‘If you turn right you’ll get to Adelaide.’

‘Right?’

‘No, left. If you go right you’ll get to Harry’s.’

‘That’s where I want to go.’

‘Jesus, make up your mind, mate.’

‘What’s that? What are you saying?’

I watch them blow past, silently thanking them for life. For, of course, this is where life is.

2) There are two ladies. They are great readers, and they are friends. Or maybe they are great friends, and they are readers. They talk in doorways. I only have two doorways, so there they are, digging into the afternoon; quite close to the counter, and therefore close to me.

‘I can cope with the dead bodies, but those little Scandinavian noir things, well…yeah those.’

‘Find a dead body, you know, all that sort of stuff?’

‘That’s it!’

‘I get sick of it. I quite like McCall Smith though. When I read, everything folds around me. Don’t know where I am.’

‘Have you read The Narrow Road to the Deep North, it’s a war story?’

‘What are we talking about? Which one?’

‘Wait, do you think Google are listening to us?’

‘No doubt.’

They buy a modest stack of outstanding reads. They look at me kindly, ‘we’ll be back, don’t you worry.’

I watch them go, silently thanking them for life, for this of course, is where life is.  

You’re not going in there

A young man says this (loudly) to his friend outside my shop. He is out of the car first. She is out of the driver’s seat second. He is joyful. ‘You’re not going in there!’

She stands in front of him, hands raised, palms outward, uncaring, ‘Get out of my way.’ She, languidly and easily, gazes right into him.

‘All right, you can go in there.’ He spins, grinning, round and round as though on roller skates. She remains motionless, content. I looked at her looking at him doing his thing.

‘Well, go on. In you go.’ He clattered past my door, tapped the glass and disappeared toward the bakery.

She came in, still unhurried and still content.

Young Woman Reading by Samuel Melton Fisher

Nathan, I’m going back to the car

A man put his head in the door of the shop and called, ‘Nathan, I’m going back to the car.’

But there was nobody in here. I didn’t get time to tell him though. He backed out and got into his car and waited in the driver’s seat. Soon he got out and rang someone on his phone. He moved against my window to talk, ‘Well, where are you then? And where’s the ladder?’

Outside, the air is gold, with splits of light and leaves moving all through it. It’s warm. Visitors say, ‘It’s glorious outside.’ I sit and look out at it.

There’s a baby in a pram in here, singing, and the mother is looking at the books, tapping a water bottle. She has brown hair and so does the baby. Can she hear her baby singing? It lays there, making soft noises all on different notes, looking at the mother, one foot hooked over the edge of the pram.

Over the road a bus driver is helping a lady in a wheelchair onto the bus, and someone has reversed has into a rubbish bin in the car park behind the bus stop. Doesn’t matter; it’s glorious out there. A young woman is crossing the road slowly, despite the traffic, and the light is all over her clothes.

Painting by Diane Leonard

Constantly shocked and constantly happy

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Today is so cold that it seems funny. And our Flinders Rangers has had snow. Customers come in shivering and happy. There is rain.  The cold enters my shop under the door, sliding constantly and silently like a slice of cold glass as long as the day.

Marion comes in with screwed up eyes and very happy. ‘Can you feel that?’

A couple browse and leave reluctantly, holding the door open for a while before dropping off the jetty into the freezing lake, holding hands.

Robert is hilarious with anticipation. He orders more books. Someone has backed into his car recently. Actually about six people have. The size of the car parks is criminal. We criticize the council in comfortable tones. We talk about yoga. A young woman, looking through women’s classics, asks if yoga will help her with a sore neck. She and Robert exchange news in joyful symptoms.

A man passes the shop outside wearing shorts and a t shirt. He has muddy boots and is eating something hot from a paper bag. The food must be too hot because he stops suddenly with a pained expression and sucks in air to cool the system. He raises his shoulders and closes his eyes. He is wearing the most beautiful sky blue and moss green striped soft beanie that I wish were mine.

A customer adds more titles to her already impossible library, a library that is now growing according to its own laws, and within which she has become the explorer, constantly shocked and constantly happy.

A couple visit to see if I know about the snow in the Flinders.

A crowd of students pass the windows, loud, puffing white breath. One says, ‘Well, fuck him then.’ She has her arm around a friend. Is walking and leaning in kindly. The friend is snuffling, she looks cold and loved.

A lady crosses the silent frozen road wearing gold corduroy trousers, a soft jumper, a scarf, and good solid thongs. She watches her feet as they tread gently through the water. I wonder if she knows about the snow in the Flinders.

 

 

Why read?

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I am looking at too much news. Every day there is more, and it’s loud – data and facts mostly, and many, many images.

It is like entering an art gallery and being told very quickly, loudly, and with huge authority, which pieces of art are red, which are small, which are thick, and which are useless. And then, which pieces contain wool, which ones are cold, and most importantly, which ones are bad, and may have possibly broken the law. I get 15 seconds with each piece, my face on the painting, grazed, my eyes hopeful. Then leaving with these deafening crashes of information and baffling images still sounding and still hurting. This is the news.

At the moment journalists seem to mostly locate, circle, and then humiliate. There is no context and no perspective, and therefore no understanding or compassion. I learn nothing. I remain fixed. But I have definitely honed my skills in blaming and allocating disgrace. I do this all the time. It is easy because (obviously) I am not like them.

Them:

Politicians getting it wrong, government employees doing nothing, stupid women shopping at Bunnings, idiots sneaking across borders, fools not wearing masks, not obeying, not staying home, not getting it right, not saying the right things, not avoiding the wrong things, believing silly things, buying too much, keeping too much, standing too close, driving too fast, being mean, being ugly, being critical, careless, violent, dishonest, selfish: them.

I can’t really see the problems, but I can clearly see who is to blame. I don’t understand the situations. I am distracted from solutions. I am never sure what is going on. But shaming is the most satisfying solution – because I can then forget all about. This leaves me with no clear perspective of humanity, except that it’s all someone else’s fault. Soon I will scroll my news feed for more satisfaction.

But when I read, I must return to an acute and clean discomfort – that “them” is “me”. And that there is not a single situation where I would or could be other than “them”. Literature tells me that human nature has not changed and that there is always, always more to everything. I am the same as anyone when lacerated by fear; we do what we do. What’s different is how we express it, if we get caught, and if our badness is of quick value to someone else.

But the news makers themselves – the ones who chase and choose the news, presenting these facts and those awful images, keeping us informed. What is their story? What awful deadlines and expectations do these individuals face that they must hurl so much gravel, so quickly and so powerfully.

I would like to be able to step back and understand more, consider the larger, diabolically more complex stories behind what is happening. To acknowledge my own deep and fearful place in it all. How else do I gain a consoling perspective? How else to grow compassion?

Of all the inanimate objects, of all man’s creations, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning towards error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.

Joseph Conrad

Notes on life and letters 1921