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.

LOL.

Owl

Owl

Is my favourite. Who flies
like a nothing through the night,
who-whoing. Is a feather
duster in leafy corners ring-a-rosy-ing
boles of mice. Twice

you hear him call. Who
is he looking for? You hear
him hoovering over the floor
of the wood. O would you be gold
rings in the driving skull

if you could? Hooded and
vulnerable by the winter suns
owl looks. Is the grain of bark
in the dark. Round beaks are at
work in the pellety nest,

working. Owl is an eye
in the barn. For a hole
in the trunk owl’s blood
is to blame. Black talons in the
petrified fur! Cold walnut hands

on the case of the brain! In the reign
of the chicken owl comes like
a god. Is a goad in
the rain to the pink eyes,
dripping. For a meal in the day

flew, killed, on the moor. Six
mouths are the seed of his
arc in the season. Torn meat
from the sky. Owl lives
by the claws of his brain. On the branch

in the sever of the hand’s
twigs owl is a backward look.
Flown wind in the skin. Fine
Rain in the bones. Owl breaks
Like the day. Am an owl, am an owl.

George MacBeth (1932 – 1992)
Illustration by Hua Tunan 

Clear Night

Clear Night by Charles Wright

Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.

I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.

And the wind says ‘What?’ to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say
‘What?’ to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

set fast

“Architects plant their imagination, weld their poems on rock,
Clamp them to the skidding rim of the world and anchor them down to its core;
Leave more than the painter’s or poet’s snail-bright trail on a friable leaf;
Can build their chrysalis round them; stand in their sculpture’s belly.

They see through stone, they cage and partition air, they cross-rig space
With footholds, planks for a dance; yet their maze, their flying trapeze
Is pinned to the centre. They write their euclidean music standing
With a hand on a cornice of cloud, themselves set fast, earth-square.”

A.S.J. Tessimond, Earthfast

Image by Wenjie Zhang

La Pedrera, Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi

Unsquared again! And the boy who bought his sister a bookmark

A big old straggling family come into the shop. Lots of them and stretched across a few generations. It was raining outside, the wind blowing it against the door. All of them had rain on their shoulders. One man was wiping if off his glasses. A girl texted on her phone with the rain misted all over it. They were lively and unorganized, so I gave them Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance (on my Boombox speaker hidden away behind a pile of Dickens).

‘Oh my God, remember this song? Remember this movie?’ A young man elbowed an older man, an uncle maybe, who didn’t respond; he was looking at a biography of Mao.

The young man moved into a small private dance.

The family began to disperse. Some back outside, some into Classics, some into their phones. The dancing man continued on next to me. He used just two soft square feet of carpet, eyes closed, one hand still holding a copy of Treasure Island, the volume he had picked up just as Brubeck began his idea.

The family talked in small groups. Rotated and change their gestures. Head to head; an argument about tall ships, chin and eyes showing authority. There is whispering, hissing, and then pushing. Family member are on phones, on knees. The dancing man still scratching the beat in the air. An old lady, a grandmother maybe, looked at him over the top of her glasses. She has a copy of Wolf Hall. Later she puts it back. The music ends, and the young man straightens up unconcerned and moves into the front room. My playlist moves to Pavlov Stelar’s Hit me Like a Drum. The old lady suddenly becomes mobile and warm and strong. She dances three steps, one after the other. Then she stops and looks at me sternly. She moves into another room.

I play Alexis Ffrench’s At Last, and a lady in Gardening sighs and puts her head on one side. Who is she? Is she with them?

There’s another argument. What’s the capital of Romania? ‘You wouldn’t know, Graham.’

‘Look, mum, it’s a bunch of breeds of cats. You don’t want that, mum. Look at this. Get it. Get it for your shelf.’ Mum shakes her head.

Someone reads out loud three times, ‘The Cats of Dipping Dell’.

‘Found anything of interest, Margaret?’

‘Well. No.’

A boy buys a bookmark for his sister. He says, ‘Quick, before she comes back.’

The all stream out, and on the way Papa purchases a copy of Pinocchio for Lilly, who says, ‘Yes, I’ll read it. Stop asking me that all the time.’

The boy who bought the bookmark is last. He looks back at me. His face is a lit lamp.

They’re gone.

Illustration by Sarah Jane

The reds

I put small shelf of reds in the front window. It looks good. It looks warm. It’s just a random selection of reds.

People go past and it catches their eyes. Their heads swivel so they can look at the shelf as they walk past. Finally they are looking at it over their shoulders.

Somebody said, ‘That’s nice. Did you see that?’

The books are random, chosen because they are stout. The one on the end is Les Misérables, and people know this one. They read the title out loud. They are walking past, and they stop and lean in and read it out loud, ‘Ley Miserabels’, wasn’t that a film? Pretty sure it’s a film.’

‘My brother’s read that.’

‘Ley Miz.’

‘ God. Imagine reading that.’

‘Want to go in?’

‘Na. Already got too many books.’

‘You do.’

‘Get fucked Ryan.’

‘My God, babe. Love you.’

I image Fyodor listening in from Russia and enjoying it.

Some people stand and stare at the books, silent. Then they walk on.

Some people come in and pick up the books and examine them closely. Then they say, ‘Thanks’, and leave again.

Once a child ate a bag of chips outside, staring at the shelf through the window and nodding and nodding at the books as he ate his chips – as though listening to music that nobody else could hear.

I imagine the books lit up at night when I’m not there. Catching the midnight pedestrian and shocking them into walking properly. Forcing motorists to slow down as they drive past and stare into the window at Fyodor Dostoyevsky who sits burning on the end of the shelf, still troubled by his death sentence and six years in a Siberian prison camp. Maybe it shows.

In autumn, colours change

There’s a couple outside my book shop. They are standing at the kerb looking into the boot of their car. She has lost her bag.

 ‘I’m looking. I’m looking.’

She has striped hair; pink, purple, white and silver and it is beautiful. Her shoes look like running shoes, and they are striped with pink, purple, white and silver.’

She says, ‘Give me the keys.’ He does. She disappears along the street. He comes into the shop. He says, ‘I’m retired now, and I have a shed full of engineering books where I spend all my time. There’s not enough time.’

He muzzles along the shelves for a while. ‘Very nice here. What made you do this then?’

‘Don’t know really.’ I have to put down Elizabeth Jolly to answer. Elizabeth Jolley has just said that old age is like flipping  over pages in a book at a deafening rate and not reading any of them. I am shocked because this is true.

‘Don’t really know.’

‘Well. It’s nice here.’

Suddenly his wife blooms against the door with a sacred pink purple white and silver presence.

He shouts, ‘Are you lost, lady?’

‘I’ve just been over the lady’s toilets over there. I have to tell you what I saw.’

It’s cold. Her breath frosts on the door. They leave.

Yesterday at home I noticed that the windows have changed colour. I mean, the glass in the door holds different colours because it’s autumn. Maybe the light has a different angle. Maybe the temperature of the light is different. It was morning when I looked at the glass. Hot grape becomes cool rose. Thick sage thins. Hot lemon chills to its rind. Pink fades and becomes tough. I look at these pieces of glass all the time. With Elizabeth Jolley.

I went walking. It rained a bit. There is only six minutes to the edge of town. Then it’s paddocks.

On the way back through the short streets I saw the empty wheelie bins wearing their lids like yellow capes down their backs, and they sit there, mouths open drinking in rain that lands in their bin throats with tiny fast liquidy thumps.

A  man is standing at the counter in the shop in front of me with Gail Godwin. I say, ‘Oh, she’s GREAT’. He asks me for Haruki Murakami because ‘He’s GREAT. Look what HE does with reality.’ I say, ‘Oh yes’. And decide to start reading Haruki Murakami. The man stands there beaming. There are no words to explain Haruki Murakami. This man has grey hair, worn long, and he wears a sapphire blue sweater and good boots.

In autumn where I live, the evenings are grey like steel and beautiful.

In autumn, unnecessary belongings start bothering decent spaces. We sort and prune like mad. I fill the green wheelie bin’s mouth with green stemmy food.

The grape vine is as yellow as a pair of bananas. Soft, and with conversations going on in black ink.

It’s not possible to keep up with autumn. The windows are an authority on what’s out there. Each colour has an opinion.

There are delicacies

There Are Delicacies

there are delicacies in you
like the hearts of watches
there are wheels that turn
on the tips of rubies
& tiny intricate locks

i need your help
to contrive keys
there is so little time
even for the finest
of watches

Earle Birney (1904 – 1995)


The Mind’s Eye by Chen Chi-kwan (1921 – 2007)