Hal Porter

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The thing about Hal Porter is that I do not know why I am reading him. I found him by accident and the volume was dull, without a dust cover, neither new nor old. The title, The Tilted Cross was quiet. It did not look at me.
This book came to me within a library that was gifted to me, an enormous and unexpected gift that will take me the rest of my years to discover. The reasons that libraries are put together and the decades it takes to put them together makes each one its own province with an understood currency and an exceptional climate. This library is a monarchy and this book, by Hal Porter, is now my favourite so far. The library is now blended with mine, and after the usual difficulties of integration and acceptance of minorities, is now settled mostly comfortably. It sheds more light, merged light, so different light and it is very beautiful inside it.
Now I am reading this book, The Tilted Cross, which is bizarre and difficult to read and difficult to understand and set in Hobart Town, Tasmania, convict history and ugly.
But what it is about is just the skin. The characters and the places are all just skin. What happens is just skin. What it holds is really it. It is not entertaining and not reassuring, and it is not clear. What it is, I am not clear on either, but it is important to me. I am unable to analyse the book, I am only able to read it.
It is something like a glass jug, held and turned and regarded in every light, upside down and inside out, bottom and handle, lip, glass, base and translucence. Regarded empty and fallen or full and erect. What is it and why.

Photography by Andrey Grinkevich

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Captain Cock

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Outside my shop window, passers-by linger, waiting for friends, for carparks and for arguments. My bookshop is on a busy corner, opposite a carpark and a train station and next to a bakery. Most people don’t come into my shop.
But I can hear everything:
Are you buying a book, Raymond? There are two men outside, one is looking through the glass, they have parked a caravan at the kerb, it shadows the window, everything is in reflection, they can’t see me.
God no, can’t read a book when I’m driving… you dumb idiot, but I’m just looking at this thing about Captain Cook, I always wondered about –
His friend, who is trying to read the titles, says: Who’s Captain Cock?
The man who wondered something about Captain Cook, said: Jesus, you’re a dumb prick, you need to read some stuff.
They moved away from the window and into the afternoon, still arguing, looking for lunch, placid with holiday.

It is Christmas…

Denise Johnson

There are two teenagers here, two girls and they are scared of vampires. They say that it is not a good state to be in, the fear of vampires, they talk urgently. They hold one hand  over their hearts and one hand around their bicycle helmets, holding each safely.
One has given the other a book as a gift, it is wrapped in a page torn from a magazine and they huddle over it, delighted.
They read the list of recommended fantasy series. They check the poetry shelf and wonder about the books, they say the books on the poetry shelf are really old. One girl reads something out loud and they say they don’t get it. They keep reading it.

They never stop talking:
I need to buy all the Harry Potters.
I need to buy the rest of Bitterblue
I need to buy actually all of these
I wish my room looked like this.
I might get these Minecrafts.
I have to get this Pippi Longstocking, I think I need to buy glasses.
These fairy lights are adorable.
I need to get these Inkhearts.
Oh my God I need to get these.
I need to stack mine like this.
I’m kind of like, literally, I would read all of these all the time.

They step around other customers, they can only think of the books.

People say, like, Zac Powers and I’m like: I read these all the time.
My mum would kill me if I had this many books.
I’m like, literally, why are there so many books I need to read. I’m like, waiting to get all of these. I’m going to come back and like get all of these, it’s not personal but I like these dragons.
On the back of these it’s like, listed all the other Cat Warriors and, oh my God, don’t kill me.
I saw The Hobbit and I could have died over that.
I know.
It’s going to take ages to get all of these.
I know.
I might get these. I didn’t even know about these. I hate the way that happens. It’s literally like, I don’t get it.
I know, right?
Shall I get these….this is such an achievement….I might of gotten them already though…my mum hates my room right…
Oh my God, I know, my books go literally out the door, at home, in my room.

They are discussing nightmares and drink bottles. They are checking phones. Soon they are going to the beach. They look for a book to take to the beach, swaying between choices and possibilities and it is summer and it is Christmas.

Photography by Denise Johnson

 

A Royal One

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Thelma said she can’t take to Charles Dickens.

David said he can’t find anything in Wilbur Smith.

Ursula said there’s no point in reading Somerset Maugham.

I read a comment describing the pointlessness of reading Great Expectations, as there was no plot.

Tyson said that he lost a few months trying to read Atlas Shrugged, time that he never got back again.

I was told that Middlemarch was not worth finishing and that Dante, even Jesus Christ himself would not read that Inferno shit.

I like to give everything a go. And I like to be free to put anything aside if necessary. I am reading Great Expectations, an unexpected choice and a royal one. It has taken me a long time to get to Charles Dickens and this book, Great Expectations, which I am reading slowly, is proving to be the most engaging appeal to the senses and the most tantalizing description of everybody I don’t like. And the most accurately hammered out observations of what we do and why! I am anxious not to reach the end too quickly; it is an experience that is causing me great joy and consternation….Miss Havisham, the awful and chosen decay…the astounding way the story has been all put together.

Thelma, at the shop today, said that she can’t take to Charles Dickens, never has been able to. She had in her hand Graham Green and Hans Christian Anderson and Hilary Mantel and she was also looking for Colin Thiele. And she also had for me a Christmas gift, she had bought brown paper and painted it herself, in bright purple to match me, she said. She has also painted some string bright gold and made a card with a silver and gold angel on a deep purple background of night sky and stars. She has written on the card in gold. It is an unexpected gift and a royal one.

I am instructed not to open it until Christmas.

Artwork by Pawel Kuczynski

We’re going off the jetty..

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There is a family here and they are on their way to the beach. To Second Valley because their Grandpa and Nan live there. The boy has a yellow bucket, a bright pineapple yellow bucket with a crack in the side. He brings me the bucket so we can both examine the crack.

His parents are looking through the cooking books. His younger brother is swinging on a table leg and slowly eating a stick of pink liquorice. Outside the shop there is a service van with a phone ringing loudly into the warm air. The smaller boy nods his head twice to each ring.

The older child is asked if he has found a book. He answers that he doesn’t want one, he wants a starfish. For his bucket.

His mother asks him if perhaps he isn’t being sensible.

He tells me that at Second Valley there is a jetty and they will go under it and find stuff. And then they will go up on it. And then bomb off of it.

His mother asks him if he would like Magpie Island by Colin Thiele.

He tells me that he doesn’t need to even bring a towel because his Nan said not to. Because she already has one there for him that’s orange.

His Nan makes tomato sauce.

When is he on the beach he is going to get a starfish.

An the best thing about this beach is the jetty, underneath is cold, on the top is hot.

His parents call him to come and find a book, but he still doesn’t want one.

They are apologetic; they tell me that all he wants to do is go to the beach. But I remember living by the sea and near a jetty. When I lived across the road from the sea that jetty was miles away. I was five. It took ages to walk there. But last year when I went back the jetty was actually very close to where I lived. It had moved.

I remember the jetty, underneath it was cold, on the top it was hot. The hot planks smelled like fish all the time. There were always sand dunes smoking in the distance. Underneath the jetty, the hot sun came through in gold bars that broke everywhere, the water was deep, it was green glass and all the sounds were deep sounds; even the wood had a deep sound. When it got too cold you could climb up on the steps and sit on the wood that was now too hot. You could shut your eyes and see the heat in gold flecks on your eyelids. And hear the water and the salt and other kids and seagulls, and very faintly you could just hear Christmas. Then we would get up and walk back to the sand and go to the deli on the foreshore for mixed lollies.

The child is still telling me that he will get a starfish off of the jetty. His dad says maybe not and they needed to go now. And then they all left, with some books, the pineapple bucket and an anxious plan for a starfish.

Artwork by Debbie Mackinnon

What do you do….

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There have been very few customers this week.

But this morning there are two husbands here, moving slowly, slowly, around the shop together,  one of them knows every book there is. He tells me about every book there is.

Oh,  and Edgar Allan Poe I know about him, and look at this, Alice in Wonderland, I know about that. I see you have Shakespeare and Monash. Do you have any books by Pauline Hanson…then he laughs, I’m just pulling your leg. His friend laughs and laughs, too,  and he says there are no books by Pauline Hanson, I’m telling you.

Then the first man asks me: do you find that you can’t make a living out of selling books anymore? I mean we can just go to the op shop and get some books for 50c, what do you do about that? And all this computer rubbish, that’s ruined it as well hasn’t it really…what do you do about all of that? I said that I can’t do anything about those things and that my business is not successful.

He lists off every Wilbur Smith book he has ever read. He repeats his joke about Pauline Hanson again. He suggests that the days of reading books are over. He tells me kindly that I have a nice little hobby going here anyway.

Then suddenly their wives are at the door, looking through the glass, looking over their sunglasses, they are not smiling. One of them comes through the door; she picks up and purchases a copy of My dog Tulip by J R Ackerley and tells me that what I am doing is not little, not small, not finished.

Then she sweeps out, leaving the lights all on, and scattering husbands everywhere.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

That’s not Obi Wan..

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A father is shopping here with his son and tells him that the picture on this book is actually Obi Wan Kenobi. The book is up high, balanced on the edge of the shelf. The child leans back, arching his back. He lengthens his face, expresses acute and outraged disbelief.

He says: there is no way that that is Obi Wan Kenobi because it’s not even him. His dad tells him that it actually really is. The boy laughs.

It isn’t. I can tell.

His dad looked down at him and said: may the force be with you.