A group of tourists passed the door this morning

There were about six of them, they’d all been to the bakery, they all had hot food and coffee, and they’d parked outside my shop.

One man read aloud the sign on my door: “Second hand books. Something for everyone. Please Come In.” He read it in a sing song voice. Then he said, ‘Awwww. No way. Do you think anyone ever goes in?’

They all clattered past to their car, parked just past the verandah. Someone had on bright yellow, and one of them was trailing a bag with a long handle on the ground. One of them, an older man, had a newspaper.

There were two patient dogs on leads tied up under my verandah. They belong to a frequent bakery customer. They are very good dogs. One of the group, a lady, stopped to pat them.

She said, ‘Must belong to the bookshop. Not very nice having them tied up here all day.’

Then she looked through my window and saw Callie, who was working away at Young Readers, tidying up, and putting everything back into alphabetical order. The lady said, loudly, ‘Well there’s someone in here, the owner, I’d say.’

The don’t know we can hear them. We hear everything in here. The alcove doorway scoops up the sounds and delivers them to us in a teacup.

Callie keeps on shelving.

I smile and keep on reading.

The difference between working in a book shop last year and every other year I’ve been here

There is no difference between last year and every other year I’ve been here. There were small things, like mask wearing and checking in, but people, and my shop, basically remained the same:

  • The quality of customer-peering (through the door) remained the same
  • The record number of books held under one arm while browsing stayed the same (9)
  • The same books fell off shelves and tables in the night and dented their own covers
  • The streams of conversation passing the door were as intense, rich, and deeply textured as in 2014
  • Dogs still urinated just outside my door
  • Children still read on their knees and replaced the books backwards
  • Window books continued to draw clear, crisp and authoritative comments from passers-by.
  • Young people gazed through the front window at a single book on the table with the same unreadable facial expression.
  • Readers still bought bookmarks
  • Everyone still turned to open the door the wrong way
  • Readers still went silent when they find a book they really want and then breath slowly outwards
  • People still come in thinking I’m the bakery

What didn’t stay the same:

  • My landlord died

This was sad because Malcolm liked my shop and used to leave books for me in the storage room. It’s only because of Malcolm and Ann that I’m still here.

I’ve been really lucky for a long time.

Sculpture by Eudald De Juana

On the way to work in a bookshop

Two minutes away from the driveway, and I need to think about what I’ve left behind. I can hear books sliding across the back seat and thumping against the boot, but the one I need won’t be there.

And it’s not. I left it on the edge of the kitchen table next to a small container of peanuts, a fowlers jar preserving ring and a set of keys not mine.

So, Anne won’t get Hubert Wilkins today.

I stop at our general store and complain to Jake about Australia Post and he agrees.

I drive to Callington trying to avoid the galahs that scribble all over the roads in small groups of about 8 million.

Through Callington hoping no train comes through and holds me up for a year so that one carriage can come through at a perfect walking pace.

Through the farms, which are all perfect slabs of golden toast at this time of year.

Woodchester, stone walls and quietness and the row boat on the corner made up into a Christmas display.

Weave around the farm machinery going from paddock to paddock, one with silver tinsel tied to each door handle.

While driving, go through orders in my head not completed yet, orders not yet picked up, and wonder how to keep going with James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Into Strathalbyn and more galahs, white ones in clumps of one hundred, I can see them standing on the road and screaming in each other’s faces.

Then the ducks, quiet and always together and never knowing quite when to get out of the way of the traffic.

I watch huge trucks swerve at the last minute and somehow miss them all, and motorists swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid making ducky pancakes, and oncoming motorists nodding, fair enough, but I can see them all saying fukn ducks because I can read lips when driving this slowly.

Kids on skateboards fast and a lady with a walker slow.

The wooden Christmas trees on the corner. Ruby baubles tied to fences, a lady walking her dog with tinsel twisted through his collar.

At my shop, a caravan parked but has left just enough room for me to get to my tiny park next to the shed. A stack of bakery trays piled against the shed for some reason.

A black face mask on the ground and a small purple drink bottle.

Struggle around to the door and enter within with a good plan for the day. Decide against most of it.

Have another brief go at Ulysses.

Shelving, dusting, clean windows. Someone says, “she’s closed”, and I quickly snap the sign to open, but they are gone. More shelving, orders, book searches, message people for pickups, tidy displays, turn on the Christmas lights.

Have another go at Ulysses. Serve customers. More shelving, more orders.

A man tells me about World War 2.

I find a copy of The Incredible Journey for someone.

A young man wants a classic to read and I show him 20 possibilities, but he leaves without getting any of them. I take Grapes of Wrath, which I’d showed him, and begin reading it myself.

Someone asks me how to get to Woodchester.

Not a very lucrative day, but each day a gem.

No day is ever the same.

British Tits

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This is an old blog from January 2019 that I’m reposting because it was funny and it reminds me of summer:

I made a window display after Christmas and lined up the books in an amusing way by accident. Many people stopped to comment. Some leaned back and then leaned in and read the titles out loud. Some people took photos. One boy said to his friends: ‘Omg, look at this: British Tits or something. Is that what it says?’ But his friends have walked by.
One lady said: ‘Oh well, that’s a funny old set of books.’
One man stopped and pointed, he tapped the glass over and over with his laugh spilling slowly. But his friends, too  had moved on.
One lady rode her bike across the road and stopped at the window to take a photo of the display.
Some teenagers stopped and stared at the books. One boy said that his tits had thrush, and his friends looked at him politely.
One man parked his motorbike and took ages to stow his helmet, fold his jacket, haul out his bag, find his wallet. He stood packing things in and out and regarded the display impassively. Then he went to the bakery.
A child said: ‘Look at the cat.’
On man said: ‘British Tits to his wife, twice, and she looked at him and didn’t smile.’
Two old ladies together read out the titles and looked at each other and laughed like anything. One of them said: ‘What’s wrong with Australian tits.’ Her friend leaned back and laughed about sixty years of life easily up into the sky. They walked away arm in.
Some high school students, two boys and a girl walked past and one boy read out the titles. He read them again, but the other boy didn’t hear and the girl raised her shoulder against his joke.
One man roared out: ‘British Tits’ to nobody and nobody responded, and he continued on to the bakery.
Sometimes I feel as though I’m on a houseboat. And life gently gulps past the window, removing and returning, on and on, and never really stopping, not even for British tits.

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Unsquared again

There is a piece of music called Unsquare Dance, by David Brubeck (1920-20120). According to Wikipedia, ‘his music is known for employing unusual time signatures as well as superimposing contrasting rhythms’.

Anyway, when I play Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance in the shop, the shoppers stop and shift their eyes slightly. It’s very subtle. As though trying to find something. Irritated? Needing to separate the music from the air. I know what it is. Absorbing though the shelves of books in the shop are, Unsquare Dance breaks though everything. Superimposes itself? I don’t know. Bu unless you allow some part of yourself to travel with the Unsquare, the rest of you can no longer find anything else you want.

This is true. One morning I let the song out and watched its deep rubber bands step hopping all over the shop. One old guy, leaning in to read the titles on the books and fogging up the spines, got snagged on David Brubeck’s contrasting rhythms and began a slow smooth dance of his own right in front of New York Review Classics. He didn’t have a chance. When the piano part started, he started too, beating the shelf with two fingers, both ears caught between the drumbeats and his shoulders no longer his.

Is this because of the pace or the rhythm?

He left eventually, with two books, and all the air around him unsquared and bits of jazz bass still in his ears.

One of my grandsons dances to “Unsquare” frantically because his legs can’t keep up with the beat that his blood and bones can realize. Can he see the squares refusing to square in the music?  He is only two years old and so can unhook his knees and allow his lower legs to extend at fast true right angles as he dances. The rest of his self becomes rubber. Whatever he can see, it’s clear to him what he has to do to get from the beginning to the end and remain in one piece. He works fast. He claps until he no longer can, and then gives the rhythm to his head. When the head has done a share, his hips move in to help – until, overloaded with data, he unhooks his knees and downloads everything he has. This is when he turns to rubber and twists himself amongst bass, piano and snare drum without touching any of them. Arrives intact and asks for it again. It’ll be a long time before he finishes playing with this.

The kids

Came in to the bookshop all at once. Twenty five of them, or maybe six. I couldn’t count them. They talked so hard. They were never still, roaming and picking books up, tapping and turning, and squatting down, three of them, over one book as though it were a map of the evening’s plan. Were they one family or a group of friends?

They turned out to be both. Two families, all friends. Because later, the mothers came in and did the same thing. Than a husband – who could not enter the conversation of the mothers, and so returned to the bakery.

But the children. They had read everything. I caught the tail ends.

‘I might get that.’

‘That’s the second book.’

‘I know.’

‘Where’s the other book?’

‘There’s no what?’

‘I’m not gunna read it.’

‘Oh my god.’

‘Trilogy…The Hunger Games’

‘Oh my god.’

‘Ok. First book good, second book ok, third book I actually liked it.’

‘But it wasn’t a satisfying ending.’

‘I know.’

‘I got halfway.’

‘Yeah. Same. I’ve read that though. And that. But not that.’

‘It’s good.’

‘They should do another one.’

‘I know, right.’

‘He should write the next one.’

‘I wish there was more of them.

‘Have you ever read all night?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Same.’

‘Look what I’ve got. I’m getting it.’

‘Look at this.’

On and on they went. There were sudden silences when everybody was caught in something at the same time. Then on they surged.

‘Hey.’

‘Woah.’

‘Look.’

‘Wait.’

‘Hey crazy guys. Let’s just read everything here.’

‘Except the gardening books.’

‘Oh my god, yeah. Not them.’

Suddenly they began to leave. There was someone outside tapping on the window. He called though the door, ‘Where’s the rest of you?’

They answered, ‘The bakery’.

Image by Hajin Bae

Life is so urgent

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Outside the shop, this morning, there was a clang. Five ladies all bumped into each other, unexpectedly.

‘Well, ha ha ha, how are we all?’ Somebody took charge.

There was also a little dog, Marco. Yvonne and Marco pass every morning. Yvonne once gave me a picture (on a glazed tile) of a bookshop she thought looked like mine. This was when I first opened, and it made me very happy. Yvonne grew up in England and said she was quite a dish when she was young.

Everyone laughed and leaned in. There was discussion about an email.

‘It took me 20 minutes to open it.’

‘Ridiculous!’

‘Ahhhhh. Well. Technology!’ They all agreed on technology.

Through the window I could see bright jumpers, shopping bags, a rose coloured beanie, and Marco, the patient gentleman.

‘The sun, isn’t it good.’

There was more discussion, low voices and leaning in. Laughter.

‘Yes.’

‘Catch you next time.’ Laughter. ‘Isn’t this funny.’ Laughter.

‘Bye.’

‘See you, girls.’ Laughter.

‘Yes, see you next time.’

‘Yes, and I’ll get that email.’ Laughter. They part. They move, and they let each other go.

‘What’d she say? I missed that bit.’ This is Yvonne to her friend, moving slowly on. ‘Didn’t she say something about dogs?’

‘I don’t know, I missed that bit.’

‘Yes.’

And on they go, past my door, past my window. Nobody looks in. I imagine the outside of my shop as if in a dream. I imagine it as beautiful. But nobody looks in. Life is so urgent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover…”

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The divine Italo Calvino identifies the real trouble with bookshops….

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you.
But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extends for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written.
And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid manoeuvre you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books Ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.
Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,

the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,

the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,

the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,

the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,

the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,

the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified,

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them….”

 

Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler