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“There’s no spectacle that is as terrifying as the sight of a guest in your house whom you catch staring at your books. It is not the judgmental possibility that is frightening. The fact that one’s sense of discrimination is exposed by his books. Indeed, most people would much prefer to see the guest first scan, then peer and turn away in boredom or disapproval. Alas, too often the eyes, dark with calculation, shift from title to title as from floozie to floozie in an overheated dance hall. Nor is that the worst.

It is when those eyes stop moving that the heart, too, stops. The guest’s body twitches; his hand floats up to where his eyes have led it. There is nothing to be done. You freeze. He smiles. You hear the question even as it forms:  Would you mind if I borrowed this book?”

Roger Rosenblatt, Bibliomania

I’m going to put my school bag in the bin…do you reckon I should?


School has begun again in this small town. There are mothers gathered together at the bakery, looking thoughtful and eating risky cream cakes. I am asked for Dougie Starts School, and then Girl Stuff for the Preteens by Kaz Cooke and The Definitive Guide to Icecreams Sorbets and Gelati. …but we are unsure who wrote this one, the lady who has requested it looks annoyed with herself. Another lady tells us she is soon to move to Strathalbyn as it has a good chemist. She buys The World of the Horse while the icecream customer is looking for her Google app.

Outside there are no children clattering past on bikes or scooters. It is quiet and cloudy, not even a breeze. A young man asks me for books on cockfighting but I have never even seen one. Another customer watches him leave and looks disgusted.

Yvonne puts her head through the door and shouts: how is that grandchild of yours?

I reply that he is thriving. She says: that’s the way.

A man asks me for Douglas Adams books, especially Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I show him all the copies and he says: good upselling. I think that it is hardly necessary to upsell Douglas Adams! He chooses the leather version, it is purple and silver and I think I should have kept it for myself and I take his money feeling bitter. Later I think that I might have a problem with hoarding books.

I am reading an anthology of literature, prose, poetry and plays. It is a student’s version, heavy with onion skin pages and scribbled notes down the margins. I have discovered Katherine Porter, John Cheever, Somerset Maugham, Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston. I did not know that D H Lawrence wrote short stories. Or John Steinbeck. I have now read The Fall of the House of Usher. I have now read Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and which is set in Spain. When there is a gap in here, I can keep reading.

Robert wants a copy of The Physics of Transfigured Light. I show him my anthology and he admires the weight of it. He says: there is not enough time to read. I tell him that Ernest Hemingway shot himself and he answered that the world has always treated its artists cruelly.

A lady told me that her young daughter reads the same books that she once did and that this makes her very happy. The books they both love are the Sweet Valley High Series. After school two young girls spend a long time looking through the shelves. They are about fourteen years. One chose two penguin classics in the orange and cream covers – Isabelle Allende Eva Luna and John Updike’s Run Rabbit Run – she did not know who the authors were, she just loved the orange and cream covers.

Scott stopped to say that he is now reading all of the free throw out books from the library even though they are all crap.

Later, toward the end of the afternoon the school children come past again, in groups and heading for food. One boy drags his bag along the footpath and tells his friend he might put his bag in the bin. His friend says: you should.


I might become a pirate or a rabbit catcher.


A lady brought to the counter a set of poetry books in soft green leather. She stood for a while, holding the books, stroking the covers and running her thumb over the gold on the spines. She said: I am having these.

I looked for the last time at the green and the silver and the soft rich gold of that precise seven volume stack and I said I will miss these and she said: yes.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. It gleams and glitters all around me.

A child asked me if all the pirates in books are actually ok. Because he might become one or he might become a rabbit catcher. He stood on one foot and showed the skill of balancing silently in front of the rabbits. I said: this is excellent.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. Although my accountant said I have completed another year without making any money at all. I told Robert and he said: what do they know!

A man said to his wife: I could spend all day in here and she said: well you’re not.

John rang to thank me for looking for his train book and I reminded him that I had not found it yet. He said: that’s ok. Keep looking. He asked if I had Triple Crown by Felix Francis but I didn’t.

Sharon messaged me to read Great Expectations over Christmas. She said she backed into a car at a shopping centre and it is Christmas that caused it.

One man looked at my Christmas tree and looked shocked. I said cheerily: only a few weeks to go and he said: oh shit. He bought an Encyclopaedia of Horses.

I was asked for Cranford, The Good Earth, Soul Mountain and The Secret Garden. Kody’s younger brother picked up Kody’s Boy Versus Beast Books and said: These are for Kody, but he probably won’t let me read them.

I am surrounded by glittering wealth in here.

A tiny girl, about three years old was wearing one pink shoe and one black shoe and she dropped her handful of coins on the floor. After half an hour her parents left the shelves to come to the counter and their child was still collecting her coins, slowly, painstaking, one by one. She had one shoe on and the other one was full of the coins. Her mother offered her Possum Magic but she was uninterested. She just wanted to continue her work.

I was urged to read Poor Fellow, My country by Xavier Herbert. A young reader that I have never met asked me to show her a really good book that she would like.

Robert dropped in again to recite for me a poem about the Garden of Eden. I said to him that I am surrounded with glittering wealth in here and he said that I should get rid of the westerns then.

A customer has lent me The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova because it is phenomenal. I begin to read it. I am interrupted with another recommendation: The Yandilli Trilogy by Rodney Hall. Peter asked me to find him two copies of The Existential Jesus by John Carroll. He said it is the most important book ever written and that I should read it.







Goodbye, Merry Christmas…


The school term is not finished and Christmas has not yet quite begun. There is a small dip in between and we are all in it. Except for Robert who is busy quarrelling with the bank because they are trying to make him extinct. There are no lulls or lows in Robert’s life, just a fervent onwards. He came in to say that he does not enjoy Christmas and that he is going to begin reading Chinese History.

An old lady told me a joke she heard in the 1960s. She said it was from The Goon Show. She said this series made her husband very happy indeed. I know her husband, he is the one who bought a series of Spike Milligan biographies because his friend stole his originals and never returned even one of them. He said that friend was an arsehole. But here now, is his wife asking me to find and set aside a book on the Goon Show as a Christmas present for him

Many readers speak with authority: C. J. Box has a flowing style. Henry Lawson is so colonial. Simone De Beauvoir is essential. Tirra Lirra By the River is heavily symbolic. Richard Flanagan is masterful. Di Morrissey is non-gender specific.

Sometimes their faces have a desperate expression in case they cannot argue effectively on behalf of their book. But they always can. I always wonder: what is it you found in The Good Earth, Pinocchio, The Maltese Falcon, All Quiet on the Western Front? Or in Helen Garner, Will Self, Nino Culotta or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I always wonder what they found and why they did.

When I read Heidi, very young, I corrected my impression of bread and cheese eaten together and eaten outside. I do not know why or how this happened but I have always craved bread and cheese together and outside ever since.

When I read The Hobbit, I adjusted my idea of bravery and size. And when I read The Stone Book by Alan Garner and the child climbed to the roof of the church with her father, I could smell the hot stones and this made me very happy. But I don’t know why.

I was asked for the Implantable Defibrillator Therapy: A Clinical Guide and also for The Count of Monte Cristo.

A man advised me to read John Grisham.

Visitors are anxious to begin their Christmas Shopping but end up purchasing books for themselves.

Sharon is buying gifts for her children’s school teachers and she sits on the floor and reads out loud. She reads lines from the books and sometimes her voice drops into a new lilt. Then it changes and she sounds familiar to me again. Then again into a curious downward slide, with sounds and drops in sound exotic to me; it is Chinese. She brings some poetry books (Ted Hughes, Robert Burns, John Keats) to the counter and begins to talks to me of the cultural revolution in China in the 1970s. She said it was terrible.

She said; this is China, this is my country… literature was banned during this time, as was music… and children were encouraged to report their own parents and one boy, he did this and never saw his mother again. She said: can you imagine that? We stood silently looking out of the window together at the sunny road and tried to imagine it. I said no, I couldn’t imagine it. She says she must get going, there is so much to do, but she sits back down on the floor and begins reading out loud from her book again.

I listen to the words dip and wilt  and then then suddenly break from sound to sense for me and she is in English again and I am wishing that I could do this. She said to me: We must all read, must know things and we must just read…..then she said: goodbye, merry Christmas.

I am asked for The Good Earth (two copies) and Possum Magic and for details of the Christmas Pageant. A lady phones me for The Chronicles of Mavin Manyshaped.

An old man came into the shop and said: I’m back. But I could not remember him. He said: but I love to read Colleen McCullough.

He also said sadly that he has just been to Mannum to visit his friend. His friend is knocking on eighty years (and he himself has already kicked eighty in the backside) but he could not remember where his friend lived and so he came home again.

I found The Thorn Birds and hopefully presented it and he looked at it carefully. He said: but this is the one I have been wanting, how did you do that?

I said that it is just luck.

He said well, well, well!













She said to me that heaven better be a library or something or when she gets there she will say: What the hell?


Peggy has a new t shirt: it is milkshake pink and says: Dance with the Fairies, Ride with the Unicorns, Swim with the Mermaids and Fly to the Moon. She said to me: Here I am, 84 and shifting house again!

I said: well at least you aren’t moving interstate anymore. And why don’t you move up here to Strathalbyn anyway? She said: God!! Imagine it! It’s too quiet here. I need action in my life. I said well, when you get old you will feel differently. She said: I’m twice your age and she shrieked laughing and made her little dog jump in alarm. She always brings him into the shop even though she isn’t allowed to.

Joe was waiting patiently to talk more about the Nullarbor. He said the best way to see it is in a truck. He reminded me that he needed some more books about seeing the Nullarbor from a truck.

Peggy listening in said: Strewth! That would be pretty boring reading wouldn’t it?! She told me how when she lived at Woomera, her wretched first husband burnt all her books in the back yard to get his own back.

A small girl in the front room told her dad that if he didn’t make thirty runs at cricket today he would be dropped back to the B grade. He looked glum. He had a small selection of science fiction which he put back on the shelf. Best spend his time at the stumps…

Yvonne was in a mess with her chocolate rum balls – she rang to say she would come on the weekend to pick up the Uncle Remus.

I was asked for anything by Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. And then for Pride and Prejudice.

Dick, who is 94, came by to pick up a tennis biography and would not use his gift voucher. He said he would use proper money thank you very much…

One morning a young reader told me that it upsets her that people do not know about Swallows and Amazons.

On another morning a very young couple bought some art history books and Robert peered over at their selection and later said that he had wanted some of those books. I told him that he had to look around more carefully and he was aghast. Then I triumphantly produced his volumes two and three of The Journey to the West (translated by Professor Anthony Wu) from under the counter and he was ecstatic. He added that he can now play most of Fur Elise on the piano and it is good enough to make a recording.

I am asked for The Mayan Trilogy. A young father told me that his son, who is twelve, is devouring the Ancient Greeks.

When I went to the bakery, three old ladies were scolding their friend for reading the road signs wrongly and getting them to the wrong town. They told her: if you won’t wear your glasses you’ll have us on the moon next. But she was eating an enormous iced bun and did not look sorry. I wondered if they would visit me next door but they didn’t.

Instead there was Sharon waiting at the door and looking stricken because there was a volume with an olive green and silver cover she could see through the glass but could not get at it. She said to me that heaven better be a library or something or when she gets there she will say: What the hell?

She always talks and talks, taking flight into a new idea with each volume she handles. She examines every book with reverence. She wants to own every book there is. I understand her completely. She tells me that she gave her Moby Dick away and then suddenly wanted it back. But she had to buy it back because they would not give it to her. She says: oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh….

She murmurs half stories and quarter lines but no complete stories. She says: I read Bonjour Tristesse in college and it was so sexual….

…my sister has all of the Wizards of Oz but she’s not going to read them, she’s such a bitch like that…oh my gosh this is The Pepys….do you remember….Alison Uttley…I will get this Blake…I will get this Dante….I might get…this…do you have The Good Earth….I want to read Hemingway….do you have Virginia Woolf still….do you like my shoes? I just got them for an interview this morning…..maybe I will get this Poe…do you have Han Suyin……