Winter and reading and a glass of wine

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Under the door of the shop there is a gap, and a thin straw of cold enters quietly, all day long. I have fingerless gloves. Excellent for typing. For looking up any possible gossip about Virginia Woolf that I may have missed. Winter is always bright with possibility because to stay in is acceptable.

One couple came in this afternoon and said, it’s warm in this little place.

He looked like Terry Pratchett, sort of intensely occupied. She looked like Vita Sackville-West, so was probably looking for Virginia Woolf.

They stayed in the room furthest from the warmth for ages, but didn’t seem to notice it. They had, each, a mighty selection when they finally came to the counter and noticed me. I said wisely, ah, the winter reading….

He straightened up in surprise, well, yes of course. He had three Terry Pratchett books.

I said, with a glass of wine….

He straightened up again, this time with joy, well yes of course. We have the place for it at our house, an old place, space for books. The shelves are all bending. Her stuff. He looked at her with an expression of acute happiness.

She presented her Margaret Atwoods and nodded, nursing that private power that comes with Margaret Atwood and husbands like him, and said, it’s winter, time to stay in.

They bobbed back out into the weather, serene, parting the winter into two fields with their own bright path right through the centre of it.

 

Old House in Stepney, Adelaide (photography by me)

 

 

The lady who read The Silver Brumby

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Two ladies, friends, came in together and split immediately into classics and crime. A third lady entered, passed her friends without greeting and folded herself into young readers; horses, ponies, Australian classics, where she sat with The Silver Brumby until the others had finished. She looked up once to say that I did not have the complete series here. She said she thought that I would have that. And Tennyson.
One of the other ladies had worked hard to bring down a volume of Heinrich Boll, short stories from the top shelf – she was delighted because as a young girl she had read this book in German. She’d had to translate one of the stories from German to English at school. If only she’d had this very book she could have cheated the whole assignment through. Both ladies leaned in and laughed darkly. The Silver Brumby lady read on silently.
The friend who had read Boll in German brought the book to me and described one story, a girl who crossed a bridge halfway but would go no further; she had never forgotten this story. They prepared to leave, rustling, packing, removing reading glasses.
The third lady brought her books to the counter and reminded me that I didn’t have the complete set (or Tennyson) and that she was disappointed.
She said, you’ve probably not read Tennyson.
She said, you’re a thousand years too young. I looked at her, delighted.

Artwork: Old Woman Reading, Boris Mayorov

The Bookshelves

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Many customers describe their bookshelves as unfinished. Everyone tells the story with pride. One lady told me that all her shelves were double stacked. She said this with glee and gluttony, looking at me carefully, looking for disapproval. I said that mine were triple stacked and she screamed with happiness. Her husband looked at her and said it was time to go.
Michael said that he had books in Spanish, the most beautiful language.
One man said all his low shelves were broken. He has just wedged them up with beer bottles and old westerns, does the job.
Everyone says they should not get any more books but they do anyway.
All children examine a book from the outside in.
Young people who are friends and who come in pairs or triples stand in tight groups and say oh my god over every book that is good. They will do this for ages.
Old people who say that young people don’t read anymore are wrong.
Louis always says to me: what’s good at the moment? This means any book about Mahatma Gandhi or 20th century art. He has been given a new bookshelf and wants to fill it even though he already has more books than he can read in his lifetime.
One lady said that her husband threw all her books out when he left so now she is out to get another library together again. She said she is pretty happy right now.
One lady bought her son a stack of books for Christmas but then she kept them all for herself.
Young men say: sweet or brilliant or that’s really keen. One young man said that Freud is a radical and a sweet gone read. One boy said that the only one is Tolkien.
One lady said that she would not read Mark Twain.
One man needed a copy of the same book for his three adult children because otherwise they would fight. He said they were all in their forties.
Peggy is really sick and is going to read all her Game of Thrones as quickly as possible and this made me feel really sad.

The New Shelf

shelfI have a new shelf. It is new and handmade and for my birthday. It sits upright and tense, new, in the bedroom, rubee red, beautiful, anxious and ready to house the treasure for which it was made. I am lucky to have a husband who can make magic and that properly, so it lasts forever.
So, who was chosen? Books, this time, were selected and taken to their seats based on how they were dressed at the time of their publication. So, if lined up at the back door of paperback hell, well, no. If they still wear the soft leather of yesterday, then, yes.
If modern with a movie cover, then no fucking way,
If Easton Press, that superior leather bitch club then yes.
If with broken spines, dented knees, lost dentures, dandruff or a history of drunkenness, then no. (But they ( Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker) certainly wouldn’t want to be there.)
If beautiful in all weathers, then yes.
If a gift from afar, from friendship, from love, then yes. ( Letters of Henry Handel Richardson, complete).
Self-help books, those pretentious sons of. No.
From gifted, lifted libraries not my own but given to me, then the yes, voted immediately. The gold text classics, Australian literature, sit up the top tier and give sun. Yes.
A mighty thousand-page volume of literature by women. Obviously.
If clothed in the colours of the Arabian Nights, sapphire, emerald, gold, the dazzle razzle music of insanity and violet, and the sky between twilight and forbidden. Yes.
Dante. Ok.
Things I have not read, have read, might read, plan to read.
Night reads, mostly.

The Man Who Reads Sir Walter Scott

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Well, he came into the shop and stood bowed in front of the old books, the ones with print that is too small, old novels and histories, poetry and commentary, sets dressed in red and gold and dust and that lean and sink and look out at modern paper with contempt. This man frowned into the shelves and scratched at faded titles and had he had next to his feet, a motorcycle helmet and six cans of beer. He had no hair and he simply blazed with tattoos and earrings. He was looking for Sir Walter Scott. He had completed an arts degree and his thing had been Sir Walter Scott, a great, plain, brilliant hell of a man. He had thrown all his books in the bin and was now visiting every reading joint to get copies again. He didn’t get any from me (he apologized) but the print was just too small and now that his eyes were rooted, he needed the bigger writing, but thanks anyway for having a bookshop!

Max Stacks

 

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There is always work to do in the realms of gold.

And Max is always in arrears with the work; the number of shelves that need to be unshelved is relentless and the books clamouring to be loaded cause him untold frustration and joy.
Each day, many times a day, Max works patiently, carrying paperbacks, one at a time across acres of living room to another place, clearly a better place. He surveys each fresh cargo seriously, standing in silence, giving a benediction. Then he returns, the toddler ship, to the shelf, which will soon be another empty harbor.

Sometimes, from somewhere, he will receive new orders and be forced to stop at sea. It is time to stack.
This is an apprenticeship that he has embraced and practiced since he could crawl and when his infant services of carry, balance and freight were precarious at best. Now he is master tradesman, stern with assistance, moving the wrong book aside without courtesy or comment, uninterested in advice.
His baby brain is noticing that dimensions make a difference. He can pack paperbacks with precision. It is appropriate to sandwich classics between Hairy Maclary and Schiller’s Poems and Plays. Once I saw him stack The Father Brown Stories beneath Simone de Beauvoir and on top of her, a small plastic truck.

The prevailing stack is lively. Colin Thiele is a mere slice underneath Cooking with Copha, Manning Clark’s History of Australia has been re dealt, only three of the volumes are necessary and these are decked on top of Hilary Clinton, A History of Persian Architecture and three Viragos. Max stares at Footrot Flats and allows himself to dribble on the cover. He recognises the kitty. He presses the souls of his feet into Asterix. The Britannica Greats are too heavy, Freud, also too heavy, ponderous and creaking along with Dickens, Butler, Proust, Trollope, all the males in heavy sensible shoes that cannot be lifted with one hand. The Russians are no better, the whole set is the same, they talk too much and do not cooperate. Twilight, Breaking Dawn are light and pleasing but they are not placed well, they cannot hold their own weight, they are limp in the sun, they allow Greek Mythology and the Bullfinch to lean and fall. The north corner of the wall is weak, Wolf Hall, although working brilliantly is flung calmly aside as if it was the one that caused the limp.
A History of the World in 100 Objects and Blinky Bill are auditioned.
The Lord of the Rings leans against the window, smoking a pipe, calm, watching.
There is a copy of The Stories of Edith Wharton, once again poked into an odd place between armchairs, its dust cover gently removed, (once I found next to it, a disrespectful and small piece of toast). The dust cover is always found, unharmed, slid between 500 Cabinets and Rocks and Minerals for Young Readers. This book does not get a go at the wall.
Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat has taken the top of the stack.
On the Banks of Plum Creek is sliced on top of Gobbo.
Teddy Goes on a Picnic is the flag, placed carefully on top of a Somerset Maugham.
But then it is lunchtime and there is a calling and a cajoling from the kitchen and the stack is abruptly forgotten and abandoned, its inhabitants left rocking in the warmth of the choosing and the building and the heights and the taking part of library life, in life.

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The Shelf of Blue Books

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There is a car stopped and parked directly outside the front window of the shop and it is another quiet day but those people getting out of that car are not quiet. They are a group of five retired people and the first lady out of the car swings her door vigorously into the veranda post.
She says: Oh, shit John.
He comes around to her side, kindly. Did you dent my door… you bloody did too.
They examine the dent, leaning close, she has her glasses on the absolute end of her nose. She says: oh, don’t worry about that, that’s nothing… but he bends closer, looking doubtful. There are two more ladies, crowding in and looking solitious.
She says: I’m going over to the tootie, come on girls. And they shuffle off together, carrying bags, cardigans, hats and irreverence.
Another man emerges from the car and comes around to stand on the footpath. He calls out: you girls watch what you’re doing.
He says to the luckless John: If she gets run over, she’ll blame me. Then they examined the post that injured his car.
When’s your insurance due, mate? They move to the edge of the road and talk in low voices.
Then they turn and look through the shop window, They say nothing. They bend to look through the window. Still they say nothing. Conversation has come to a halt, they are looking at books and there is nothing to say.

Then the second man says: pointless sort of places there, aren’t they? Pointless having these anymore.

He looks back across the road, back to something that is not pointless: gawd, here they come, look at ’em coming across that road like that.
But the first man, John, stood for longer looking through at the books.

He says: well, my grandmother had a shelf, full of book and all of em blue, actually it was nice, we kiddies used to stand in front of it, not allowed to touch them, wouldn’t have dared, my grandfather was a bastard, a cruel old fool. But those books, they were important. Because they were nice, added colour to her life that was really shitty. I only just remembered it.

The others crowded close, breathing on my window, looking polite, waiting for the story to end.
One lady said: very nice.
Then John took his hat off and nodded at the window. The he put his hat back on. He said: well, let’s get a cup of coffee then.

 

 

 

 

Thea Stilton, I just love you so much…

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It is the school holidays again and outside the shop this morning there is a car laden with camping gear and with two small bikes attached to the back. There are children waiting there, one is lying across the back seat with his feet out of the car door, the parents are at the bakery.

They have been instructed to stay put. But the smaller sibling, a little girl, has her face pressed to the window of the shop and is saying Thea Stilton, Thea Stilton, Thea, Thea Thea, I just love you so much… in a sing song voice…until her brother tells her to leave it and get back into the car.

So she does, and she gently closes the door on his foot as she passes to the other side. He  twists around and looks at her in amazement, he might yell out but then suddenly the parents are back and there are sausage rolls and juice and buns and the father going back because he forgot the tomato sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Max reads

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Max has found the shelves of limitless possibilities. Available blocks for pulling and pushing and stacking and holding and tasting, there is no end to the heavy and papery movement of sliding books. Max’s baby hands flicker and clutch, trying to open the books, trying to close the books, breathing, forgetting to breathe. His big toes are pointed in concentration. And the books, the pages, the authors look on unafraid, such passionate exploration is what they were made for.

 

The Young Lovers

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They came into the shop yesterday morning.

They looked through the classics, the science fiction and the reference books together, laughing, tender. She carried a copy of Pinocchio around, she kept tapping him on the shoulder with it. He was looking through the art books and every time she tapped him with the copy of Pinocchio, he laughed. They bought the Pinocchio and also a copy of Wind in the Willows  and then The Kite Runner.  They were best friends. He struggled to stand upright Little Dorrit and Great Expectations which had toppled from their places, he could not stand them upright at all and she bent forward, hilarious with the fallen paperbacks and his kind hands.

He said: excuse me, I think it was you that knocked them forward anyway… they are both glowing, pushing the wayward Wordsworth classics back into rank, staring at Hans Christian Anderson, examining bookmarks, waving Pinocchio, floating in the blue.

Photography by Zeny Rosalina