Hey, the bookstore’s open

It’s the long weekend, and I’m open! There are passers-by; the windows are dark with them, all full and knobbly with long weekend plans.

‘Hey the bookstore’s open. Not going in there.’ They don’t even look in. But I see them.

Some old ladies come in and look around, pleased. One says to me, ‘We have to dress up, and I’m going as a sorcerer.’ They don’t tell me what they have to dress up for. The other says to me, ‘I’ve got so many thousands of books at home.’

I say, ‘So do I’, but they don’t hear me. They move away chatting to each other.

‘I read Harry Potter. And I read Terry Pratchett. I wasn’t sure about them.’


‘What on earth are these?’

‘Oh, Enid Blyton. Yes.’

‘I think I’ll have to get this, The School Bus, it’s a bit tattered, but I guess it’ll do.’

She brings The School Bus back to me, and together we look at its tatteredness. Her friend emerges.

‘Shall we walk back to the museum in the hopes that it’ll be open, or shall we not bother?’

‘These small towns.’


They move slowly out of the door. ‘Will you carry my books?’

‘Guess I’ll have to’.

They drift up the road toward the hopeful museum, and two men take their place, looming up and leaning against the glass, peering in.

‘It says come in. but it’s pretty dark. Says open.’

‘Dunno. Rekn it’s closed.’

They turn away from the OPEN sign and slowly walk away, still talking. ‘And then I said to him, just get it done, mate.’

A family take their place at the door. They have climbed out of a parked car.

‘Get off the road,’

‘Get in here,’

‘Mal, I’m going in.’

In comes Mal, his old mother and the grandchild who had previously been on the road.

They buy three Penguins and Tough Boris by Mem Fox.

Someone buys Jules Verne.

Someone buys Anthony Trollope.

Someone buys Agatha Christie.

Someone asks for Kate Grenville.

A lady asks for books about fish. She said she loves fish.

I read Elizabeth Jolley.

The Rudyard Kiplings fall to the floor. All 16 of them.

I sell Horton Hatches the Egg.

Someone offers to buy the wooden cat.

There is some shouting outside over a car park, and then motorbike zooms away outraged.

A family buy Ballet Shoes and Pinocchio.

(Illustration Finding Your Fish by James C. Christensen)

My books at home

Many people ask me about these. So here they are.

I have books in every room. I started collecting books at age seven, but I don’t know why. I now have about twelve thousand books. I am going to read them all. They are shelved by colour.

They were once shelved beautifully in alphabetical order, but when I moved the shelves each country lost most of its citizens. Now Terry Pratchett sits next to Margaret Atwood and does not mind. The histories and books of immediate interest are shelved bum down and pages up so I cannot see who they are. I don’t mind. The children’s flats are out on the floor, hundreds of them, where the grandsons squat and lean over them, point, and shout, and drop bits of ginger biscuits over the pages. The books lay there flattened, creased, and joyful. Every single room has shelves of books. Once, a friend’s family gave me their library, and it lives here, has braided itself amongst those already here, Russian history and Judy Blume, Greek Myths and Harry Potter companionable every night.

One room has a shelf with books that earned a place there because of their colour. One must be bright and weighty. Thus the Cairo trilogy is there. Also Carpentaria, and a set of Trollopes in peacock blue, a fat boxy collection of striped world classics and Geronimo Stilton, that wondrous mouse and his sister, Thea, even more astonishing. Another shelf is of books I’m going to read. This is a good category. It has 954 books.

One shelf is all red. One is books from when I was young. That I’m still going to read. I have a guest room for guests. It has literature and guests are expected to read it if they are still sober when they go to bed. Books dressed in leather have a shelf. Old stuff has a shelf. Books too big to shelve have a table. Books I am going to part with have a wall. These have been there for twenty years.

Books I just got have a chair. This has become two chairs, and here is where I carry books home from the shop in case customers get them before me. I look at these to remind myself that I have a problem.


I bought Anthony Trollope’s Castle Richmond on Ebay for no reason. It’s for myself, a Folio edition, slip cased. I need it. He wrote a lot of books – Barchester Towers the most famous, and the funniest. Apparently the stories he set in Ireland, like this one, were not so popular. I must find out.

But when it arrived, I couldn’t get it unwrapped. It was covered, smothered, tied up in brown paper, string, bubble wrap sticky tape, more paper, more tape. Took me twenty minutes to strip it. But then, there it was, the captain, in black and gold, coffee and cream, the pages smooth. The words, mine. The slip case has strong shoulders, the book came out grinning.


My wife, Roz

Alexander Millar

‘My wife, Roz.’

The man speaking was visiting my shop again, and when he said ‘Roz’, he went still and looked upwards.

‘She paints.’

He had come back to give me a gift – a copy of Trollope’s The Way we Live Now from his own collection. We had talked about this book a few days ago. We had leaned toward each other, acknowledging Trollope and Barchester Towers. So funny, all about people, all about people right now. 

He asked, ‘Why is it, do you thank, that nothing changes…?’

‘It’s delightful. Delightful.’ I watched him judge humanity.

He held his cap under one arm to talk about the free bench seats at concerts in the Adelaide Town Hall when he sat when he was a boy.

‘I didn’t like Elvis, I really tried though. I really did. But I was poor. Did you know that at school, I joined the cadets to get a free uniform. Then I wore that to the concerts. The music. That music. Because…’

‘There, then, on those seats, the orchestra, something happened. To me.’

He, my customer, having given me my book, the gift, edged toward the door, but then came back. I noticed these things:

He would often look upwards, at something that would not allow itself to be shelled easily in sounds.

He would change his cap from hand to hand.

He would apologise in case he was boring me. He wasn’t.

He said: ‘Why is it that.’

‘Of course, Thackeray.’

‘And Charlie Dickens, well look at him…’

‘And of course we must consider…’


‘Music.’ He continued on, sliding through one joy to the next.

‘Rudyard Kipling. Beethoven. The lights in those places at night, from outside, in winter. Oh, the concerts. But I didn’t mind. I had to sell all my things. My tools, I was a tradesman, I didn’t mind. But when it came to the books, I went and stood next to the auctioneer. It was awful. It was severe.’ To see them go like that.’

He shifted his cap and returned to me.

‘My wife, Roz. She paints’. You should see – metallic oxide on glaze – the glaze becomes mobile and the oxides sink. It’s difficult, you need to see it.’

He shifted his cap again; the cap was in the way. He gazed forward at his wife who was not there. His head bent slightly, it too, in the way. ‘My wife, she paints.’

‘I must go. Please do enjoy your book.’