I don’t know how these places even keep going…


Outside, some passers-by look through the window at the biographies and one man says: I don’t know how these places even stay open. Fucking hell, we can just get books on the internet, just as easy. His friend says: yeah…

It is a public holiday here in South Australia and Strathalbyn is full of people on their day off.
I am reading The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield and looking up every now and again wondering if anyone will come in to the shop and buy a book. Maybe no one will, but Dorothy Canfield makes this all ok.

The door does open though, and two old ladies come in and they are confident and bright and a propelled onwards by their solid and purposeful cardigans. They know already, what they need to say:
There’s your Ken Follett.
I’m not usually one for that kind of thing.
Oh, see the Ray Bradbury…
I wanted to get on well with it but…
There’s a relation somewhere there – some one with Dickens, a grand daughter or something.
I’ve got most of the Dickens.
I’ve got all of the Dickens. You’ve seen them.
I don’t hold with that sort of writing.
What do you mean?
Clive Cussler.
Oh, good heavens, we don’t bother with him. I told you that.
I like Bryce Courtenay.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…
But that film –
No, that’s all right, of course it is –
I’ve read some of those
I’ve read all them all.
Oh nonsense…
Isn’t Herriot still very good
Very good indeed.
Gracious and serious…
I have a problem with that.
I’m one for having books around me.
It’s the way now isn’t it, though, to have no books.
Look at this rubbish.
Well, yes but why make a whole new film about it… 
Well, that’s right.
I think we need to give all the young people one each of all these grammar books.
Well, you can try can’t you….
I shouldn’t just blanket across everything, I know I’m judgemental.
Yes you are, now look at that…I’ve got that…
Yes, I’ve got that too
Yes, I’ve got all of hers.
Gradually they pass by, they don’t see me, they don’t need to purchase a book and they pass by and out though the door, they confront the solid spread of bikies that are gathered on the footpath outside and part them like butter with a hot knitting needle and they go on home.

And then  –

The skateboard family is back! The oldest boy has a book which he carries around and carries around. His mother is within the novels, his brothers are by and by, here and there but mostly with Star Wars. One brother is eating from a paper bag –  sherbet bombs. He is looking at the roof through a haze of sherbet, he is in sherbet bomb heaven. The oldest brother is waiting outside, balancing on his skateboard and staring significantly through the window at his family that are keeping him waiting.
The boy with the book presents it to his mother, he is staring upwards into her face, in an attitude of prayer. She looks down at her son. She says: you got that book last time.
He says nothing at all.
She says: but you gave it to your friend. We should get that one for you this time. He looks at her, astounded by her memory. He hugs the book to his chest and leans backwards under its enormous valuable weight.
They all weave around and around and here and there and then eventually purchase their books and leave together, with skateboards and sherbet and the book of life and one brother saying: get out the way…and the boy outside saying: thanks for taking a thousand years.


I bet I am the first redhead in the shop this morning

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In the shop this morning there are two children with their grandparents. They came in in a hesitating sort of way and this was because I had not turned my sign: it still said closed. The boy said to me: I bet you do that every day!
Soon he brought a Zac Powers to the counter. He said: I bet this is the last one. He told me about Zac Powers. About how he had read all of them. He named every title from each series. Then he went away to read again.
His sister swung around and around the pony books and chose one that she had already read. Her grandmother asked her if she should get one that she hadn’t read and she said: no.
Her brother returned to tell me about Zac Powers again. He said: I bet I will read all of them soon. Then the grandparents came out of the back room where they had been hunting through Australiana. They gathered, the four of them, all looking at their books, unseeing of anything except their books, they bumped and knocked into each other, telling each other: look at this book
When they left, the boy looked back and lit up the interior with his next joyful thought: I bet I am the first redhead you had in the shop this morning!



On Valentine’s day…

Lee White.jpg

On Valentine’s day this year, somebody went into the bakery and bought tiny chocolate cakes and asked that they be given as gifts to people sitting outside the bakery and the bookshop and also one to me, inside the bookshop and the lady who delivered my cake said that all she knows is that this person rides a bicycle. And that is all we know!

Artwork by Lee White

Ricky keeps on reading


Ricky came to the shop today to pick up her book Farewell to Catullus. She is a reader of all things Roman and studies Latin in her spare time. She does not like her mobile phone. She loves having her adult sons come and stay with her even though they hardly ever can. When they visited the shop with her at Christmas time she was very happy and when one of them bought Narnia: The Complete Chronicles, she was happier still and could hardly speak. She laughs a lot. She has read books all her life, all books and any books and just keeps on collecting on and she is not impressed by or respectful of old age. She has 4 grandchildren. Said that her friend, an old lady recovering from having a new knee installed, started a fight at the therapy pool with another old lady and she had to intervene!
I said: oh no, that’s not good news and Ricky said: well never mind and not to worry, it cheered me up no end!!


The boys who piled their skateboards next to the bookshelf so they could go and look through the shop


This young family came in carefully and steadily, out of the summer and containing neatly four young boys, brothers, and a young mother who warned everyone to take care. The boys then stacked their skateboards next to a bookcase. They stacked them precisely and gently, taking care.
They moved amongst the books, scanning, pointing, experienced. Soon one boy came to the counter and told me how his friend was reading all of the Cat Warrior books and that it was funny that I had those exact books in the window. Then he moved away again. Their mother was reading in the chair. Two of the boys were under the table reading The Eleventh Hour, which they had at their school. Another boy was high stepping neatly and soundlessly around everyone else, he was saying:
Strike one, strike two, pinto on the road…
The first boy returned to the counter to tell me about Inkheart. He said: Inkheart is really good.
His smaller brother is now over in Poetry and Plays, he holds the shelf and stands on one leg, he is still chanting: strike one, strike two, pinto on the road…he holds a copy of One Dragon’s Dream on his head.
The first boy tells me that Skulduggery is really good, and The Hunger Games might be good and Dragon Eternal is really good. A Wrinkle in Time is mental, it is so good.
Their mother reminds them to take care. More visitors came in, they tell me about the heat as they enter, they take off sunglasses and look down at the skateboards…
Strike one strike two, pinto on the road…
South of Darkness isn’t that good, His Dark Materials, ok maybe, Elidor is fantastic…
The boys under the table are making a stack of books to read, they haul them across the carpet, they glance at their mother and take care.
Beast Quest was good but not anymore…
…strike…strike….one for luck…
The boy at the counter is resting his head on his arms, drowsing as he thinks of all the books that must be listed, the shop is going to sleep, the hot day is going to sleep and the kindly chime in the front room ticks slowly onwards (strike seven, strike eight… no pinto on the gate…) he is taking care with it and he is taking us with it…

I would rather go to Venice than to the chemist


There is a little girl here in the shop whose friend has gone to Venice for a holiday over the summer and she is going to bring her friend back a present. From Venice!
This child, who is looking forward to her present, said that Venice is magic. And this is because there are so many cats there. She has not been there though, but she has been to Victor Harbour. But last year at school she and her friend looked at pictures of Venice and that’s how she knows about it. It has magic colours, magic cats and magic water. Their teacher said she wasn’t sure about the cats.
She and her mum bought three books and then they went to the chemist. As they left the little girl said that she would rather go to Venice than to the chemist.

Artwork by Pascal



Claudia is interested in A Series of Unfortunate Events, although disappointed that volume two is missing. She has a feeling about these books that is different from how she feels about other books. These books give her an entirely different feeling. She has read a lot of books in her eight years.

Today she knows that something will be different about these books. She is drawing from the vast and complex knowledge of her own reading, and she is confident. And although there is not sufficient vocabulary available for her to clarify her predictions, she remains at the counter, attempting several times to gently illuminate, for me, the singular knowing that happens when you look at the cover of a book.

As she leaves, she is pointing, pointing through the door, up at the warm day, indicating life itself; she says: I have been looking for these books for all of my life.


Book rehab…


There is a man outside the shop securing a load of permapine poles onto his trailer, it is hot and he is hot, everyone outside is walking around leaning against the heat and with their eyes half shut. Inside the shop, a man is standing against the counter and complaining that when his wife is finished he will need a trailer for all the books she buys. He calls out the door to the man with the trailer: tie them on tighter than that, mate!
But nobody hears him.
His wife is looking for some really good reading. He tells her to try Clive Cussler but she is not listening to him.
He tells me that there should be a place called book rehab for all the people that cannot stop reading books. He is pleased with this idea and repeats it again. His wife comes back to the counter with only four books and he is disappointed. He had thought she might get more than that! He tells her, anyway, that she might consider book rehab and she looks at him fondly and says: that’s a good one.
Then he is as pleased as anything. He admires her books, he carries them for her, he opens the door for her and attends her through it and into the next hours of their life and as they leave the shop, he is saying to her: do you think that book rehab is a real thing?
And she is looking at him as though he were the king of the world, which he is.


Hal Porter


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

Captain Cock


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


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

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