I am barely surviving my reading group!


David came into the shop this morning and confessed that he is barely surviving his reading group:

“I have to tell you that I barely surviving it. I like if of course but I am really not even sure about that. There is such a frantic race to share our information, but….I am not sure if….we are allowing the books to do their job when we are forever….pecking out themes and plots and opinions…how can a book do its job if we are firing such a barrage of ammunition at it, we don’t let it anywhere near us really…”

“Oh God, what am I saying? Do you have any Herman Hesse? Or Lilly Brett? God, I need Lilly Brett to get me through the reading group.”

Later, after David had gone, a lady said this: “Frank McCourt is my favourite book, Angela’s Ashes, oh my darling, oh my heart, I can’t tell you, it made me so happy, I just love him.”

This lady leaned back and closed her eyes and said again: “I can’t tell you, it just makes me smile it was such a splendid book but I cannot tell you why. Every night we are in bed early you know, both of us dying to get at the books. Isn’t that a disaster! I had a list but I’ve lost it, I’ll just ask my husband, he’s outside minding the dog.”

And he was outside, looking through the window at his wife and tapping the glass toward the biographies. He was also minding the dog, which was called Butter. They all three of them seemed incredibly happy. Later, they went back across the road hand in hand carrying The Uncommon Reader and The Life of Pi and she was reading from the back covers out loud to her husband.

All reading, when we allow it, adds to our survival value. All readers are gradually accumulating imperishable resources with which to transcend our wear and tear. This wear and tear unites us all.

Geoffrey was reading aloud to himself from his volume of Catalina by Somerset Maugham which he had just purchased. This caused him to run into the door and he said: “bother YOU Somerset Maugham, your last book has just caused me a head injury.”

Late in the day, Mr Reedy sat reading Hiawatha near the heater and then he came to show me a book he carried around and was very much enjoying: Positive Education: A Victorian Context .He showed me many of the photographs and read pieces of the text to me.

He said that when he attended to Geelong Grammar School he had the most miserable time. And he, a mere clergyman’s son, was no match for the elite hoards of THAT day and he suffered for it. And so he discovered reading. And when he became a master at one of the Melbourne Grammar schools, he had another miserable time. Well, thank God for reading.

“And that music master back then was a tyrant, a rogue and rotten to the socks. But now…look at it now, look at way education has changed, it’s marvellous. Look at this book, I’ve never read the like. Things have changed and it is for the better! The only thing they had right back then was giving us Rudyard Kipling.”

Ashley, who is 12, said that she can pick which book she wants to read next just by looking through the window each day. Then she goes to the library and gets that book. She said that I could change the books in the window more often.

Leah asked me how I was going with The Stone Diaries.

It is a quiet day so I shall begin The Stone Diaries  and then change the books in the front window.



…all things try to keep on being themselves; a stone wants to be a stone and the tiger, a tiger. Jorge Borges


Yesterday morning a young woman put her head in the door to speak to me. It was raining hard and she said that as she was soaking wet, she couldn’t come in – and she really was soaked through. She said that she was really enjoying Angela’s Ashes. She looked at me anxiously and I wondered why this was. Then I remembered that I had said to her when she purchased the book: I hope you enjoy this book, let me know what you think.

And she did. She came back through the winter morning to tell me that she did.

Then a man came in and stood by the heater in obvious enjoyment. He said that when he dies he will have his ashes scattered in a book shop. His girlfriend looked at me and then said to him that nobody would want his ashes.

I am still reading Dorothy Parker and I carry it around. I think that if she could write how it was then I can be who I am.

A lady brought some children’s picture books to the counter and said: these are me, these are my life and they make me feel happy. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, maybe I never will but I am going to collect these books for myself anyway as they are about who I am.

A group of people all came in together and one man said to me: you have there Zen for Cats….well, I have a friend whose name is Zen!!!!!

He leaned in toward me, bright with delight: And my name is Brian, so there you go! He waved his arm at some nearby shelves and said: not too bad at all. His wife tried to edge him out but he was still too happy with his observations to leave yet.

A lady asked me what I thought of The Water Babies. She said she might go for a smoke and then come back and grab a copy. She said that this here (my shop) was a peaceful little cubby hole.

Outside, the dog lover’s club had gathered outside the bakery and laid out a carpet of rugs and blankets. The cyclist group stood nearby, famished and eating silently. Margaret came in and commented that it is hard the walk the streets these days.

Tina and her family came in for more Enid Blytons but the children picked a large craft book instead. Tina told me that they would scribble out all of the witch and magic activities and her mother said, alarmed, that scribbling in books was also bad. Tina was outraged and answered that she had always told them to block out the bad things. I watched the mother herd her family out of the shop to go home and consider this New Problem.

Three adult daughters brought their mother in to help her choose some books but when they came into the shop they realised that she was not with them. They brought her back again and she pushed magnificently past them all to introduce herself. She chose a small and superb collection of books and left again while her daughters were still muddling in amongst true crime.

A young man bought Romulus My Father. He was dressed for work, a suit and tie and briefcase and he was silent. When I considered the title he said suddenly that the film of this book had affected him profoundly. When he went out he left his wallet on the counter and I had to call out to him in the street where he was reading as he walked away.

A small boy bought Monster Blood Tattoo (volume one) because the dragon on the front looked like his dragon he had at home. I was impressed. I saw his parents look quickly at me to see if I might be impressed. The child was unconcerned with what I thought because he had his book and a dragon at home.