The world is fucking flat…

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A young man came into the shop, fervent, purposeful. He stood at the front, agitated, and looking at me. Then he asked me for a book by its title: did I have it; did I know it, had I read it??

But I hadn’t.

He said in a low and significant voice: this book proves that the world is flat.

I said: oh wow.

He said: it’s an important book.

I said: oh wow.

He asked me if I might find a copy. I looked on the internet while he paced and sighed and wondered and I did find one. I said: it looks like an interesting book.

He corrected me: it’s a true book.

I offered to get it in for him and he flung the required money onto the counter, ecstatic.

He said: the world is flat. The world is fucking flat.

He went off to roam the rest of the shelves, not a single book of which contained the correct information regarding the shape of the planet. But he was respectful; he handled the books with reverence. He was particularly gentle with a copy of The Wind in the Willows.

He said: my sister had this book.

Then he added sadly: but people get annoyed with me, for things, you know…

 

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I’m going to read every book that has been written …

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Robert is anxious that he will die before he finishes all the books he has at home. He said this morning: oh my, oh my, there is not enough time. I agree. I am reading Olga Masters and Hal Porter and there is The Count of Monte Cristo still waiting.

Robert left, carrying his book in a bag, high above his head, a trophy.

There is a man outside the window talking on his phone. He doesn’t know how loud he is. He says: I have a caravan and I’ll be staying in that. Don’t worry about it, I told you I have the van. It’ll do.

Then he closes his phone and goes into the bakery.

I am asked for To Kill a Mockingbird, Smoky Joe’s Café and Photoshop Elements 15.

Then: Charlotte’s Web, The Wounded Woman  and The Big Sleep. A man is collecting the complete set of The Great Writers library, he tells me there are 52 books in the set and he once had them all but a careless friend stored them for him and got them wet. He looks at me bitterly.

He found four of them and placed them on the counter. He said he was still not going to read them; he just wanted them all back.

Two girls asked for the Divergent series.

A small boy asked for the Bear Grylls Mission Adventure series.

I am told that at least the weather is improving.

A vey young reader demonstrated for me how she can speed read and I am very impressed. At home she has her own reading chair and it’s really good. She tells me she is going to read every book that is written, except for the ones that are not very good.

Sharon and Lauren

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Sharon and Lauren came to the shop to pick up two books that Sharon had ordered in.

But Sharon has not a single defence against the yelling of the other books that crowd the shelves and lean impudently outwards. She moves from shelf to shelf in an agony of indecision. Lauren, however, is younger and wiser; she has birthday money but is not going to spend it here. She knows where she can get a new copy of The Treehouse books for a really good price. I admire her self-control and ability to plan because I have neither of these things when it comes to books or liquorice. Lauren, who is nine years old, moves serenely around the shelves, considering and thinking and planning her day.

Sharon has found a copy of The Last Days of Pompeii, a singular beauty, but I don’t mind as I already have a copy. She is anxious not to miss out on The Art of War. She finds volume one of an Aristotle but not volume two. She finds Ben Hur. She finds The Arabian Nights, a weighty volume with beautiful illustrations that I coveted for myself even though I already have a copy. But I allow it to go to Sharon; it will have a fine home. She puts aside Anne Frank and Confucius and Ruth Maier’s Diary. She spends some time in Art and becomes upset. She recognises The Silver Brumby. She is limp with love for the silver and blue Snow Queen and other Fairy Tales but I do not encourage it because I also want this one for myself. If it does not sell, if nobody wants it…..obviously it may have to come to me. I will have to advise Sharon that she does not want it. But she has found George Orwell, the complete novels of Jane Austen and then she returns to Art.

Lauren stands serene. Her pocket money is intact. She moves near to the door, a signal for her mother to stop looking now. But Sharon has found an autobiography of Ernest Shepard, she cannot leave just yet.

But Lauren stands firm, she opens the door and they are out, down the street and Sharon calling back thank you, thank you…

 

…all that light…

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I visited the Flinders University Library last Wednesday instead of opening the shop. I went there not as a student but as a visitor but I can borrow the books through my daughter who is a student there. So I do not have to borrow as a student, but as a borrower and reading where I please.

And so I am not really there at all, although I am somewhere. The agony of choice available to me in a university library when I am not a student is so indulgent that it became impossible to remember the day or the place.

It is being away in some place that contains immense possibility and invitation which it does because it is a library and a really good one. And there is also endless provocation and endless comfort, like friendship, no matter where or how the friends are placed.

I can choose as I wish and never come to the end of it. It is a pity that I am not earning a qualification or gathering a thesis with my reading but I am not. This seems gloriously wrong and terribly wasteful.

It is a diabolical experience to meet a thousand books at once and only be able to choose a few.

I chose fourteen senseless volumes for absurd and important reasons and these are those:

Chapters From Some Memoirs by Anne Thackeray Ritchie: she is the daughter of the Thackeray who wrote Vanity Fair. It contains a memory of the day she met Chopin as a child, she writes absurd lovely romances. This book is small, bound with red tape, the boards and pages cut precisely, it had no barcode; had not been borrowed since the application of any barcode,  it had to be carried gently out the back to receive a fresh tattoo.

A Lame Dog’s Diary by S. Macnaughtan, another palm sized very old volume, bright red and no barcode. Why is it there? Who has read it?

From the Porch by Lady Ritchie – this is Lady Thackeray again; in green and gold, rough cut pages, dusty, humble.

The Honey Flow by Kylie Tennant because the first line is this: Chapter one: Every time my memory opens its mouth it dribbles roads.

Dawn Powell Novels 1930 – 1942, dressed in green and black, The Library of America, heavy, fine paper like white silk, dense and divine, a thousand pages sumptuous. And the first novel (Dance Night) begins like this:

What Morrie heard above the Lamptown night noises was a woman’s high voice rocking on mandolin notes far, far away. This was like no other music Morry had ever known, it was a song someone else remembered, perhaps his mother, when he was only a sensation in her blood….

A Long Time Dying by Olga Masters – because of the way she describes Australia outside of the front door.

My Butterfly and Other Tales of New Japan by Hal Porter – I have been advised not to miss out on Hal Porter.

The Stolen Soprano by Compton Mackenzie- this is because in The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett,  the Queen was reading Compton Mackenzie and I always wanted to, too.

The Story of a Non- Marrying Man and Other Stories by Doris Lessing – this book is brown and gold and it was on the wrong shelf, it did not care if it was chosen or not. So I chose it.

Southerly – Volume 68, Number 2, 2008 Little Disturbances, because it has short fiction and poetry by Australian writers unknown to me, and it has Indigo in Absentia by Kirstyn McDermott which I  do know and need to read again and again etc.

Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon – because it is blue and silver and massive and is the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

The Power of Delight: a Lifetime in Literature by John Bayley, which may be dull but maybe not. Dark blue, and huge, it looked so new and wistful, anxious to be read.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller because I have never heard of it or her.

The Journal to Stella by Jonathon Swift although I am not so fond of him. But I want to know what he wrote in his letters to Stella.

And then I went home to read.

 

Photography by Joshua Hibbert

 

 

 

 

 

The Cat

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A young mum and her two children came into the shop one afternoon.  She  asked for The Magic Rocking Chair but her son wanted Lord of the Rings. She gave a small scream because she found instead The Magic Faraway Tree and then gave another scream as she remembered that the other book was actually The Magic Wishing Chair and that both of these books were by Enid Blyton. Her two small children gazed upon her, he with Lord of the Rings in his small hands and his smaller sister with a Thea Stilton. The children then went whispering under the table to begin their reading. Other customers stepped around their protruding feet.

The mother called down to her son that maybe Lord of the Rings might be too big for now. He said patiently that he was just pretending. Then he came out and over to the window, he wrestled a volume of Hans Christian Anderson from the sill, and as he did, he toppled the wooden cat that sits there. He was appalled. His sister came up behind his devastated back and said: oh a cat!

They looked backwards toward their mother but she was unavailable, she was kneeling down and gently turning the pages of a volume of Pippi Longstocking…she was reading out loud to herself.

Suddenly the boy reached out with both arms and pushed the cat back upright, where it sat perfectly again. Brother and sister looked at each other, smiling, relieved, delighted.

 

Reading at night…

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Once a young person came to the shop and bought a copy of The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and also Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson, even though she had already read both of them before.  And she said that she does all her reading in bed at night and then comes home in the morning.

Such was the intensity of her reading.

The Little Girl Who Chose Babar

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I like listening to young people talk about what they read. I like the way they stand and gesture and run out of words. This is soooo good. Oh my God, this is so good. This is soooo good.

They rarely analyse, criticise or predict. The book is relevant or not, there is not much in between. The book becomes a fragment of them or it doesn’t.

One girl said that when she reads, everything becomes real. She looked at me intensely, anxiously, daring me to disagree. I did not disagree. She said: Oh my God, I loved Twilight. Her fried who is tall and gracious and grave, said: I have read Twilight, too, and I think that – but her  friend interrupted, I believe that when I read it, it is all true. She described her two shelves at home, packed with books, spines, titles, only the best ones. She has read them all.

Younger readers have to describe even more intense and glittering experiences with even less words. Geronimo Stilton is soooo crazy, Across the Nightingale Floor is like… mad. The Eregons are – but this boy had no words.  He then offered, politely, a suitable description for me: it was quite good, very good.

But his own words of his own experience, he did not share with me.

One girl, nine years old, described a book, a reader in her classroom that she wanted so much she might die. It was a mystery that you solve as you read it, it is soooo good.  it is soooo fun,  it is even on the internet!

A small child, about four years old chose Babar. Her father thought it not the right one. She turned away, clutching the book, frowning, furious, she wore pink gumboots and a red dress, she had scarf that trailed on the floor, she was organised for the cold.  And she would not let her father take the book, though he worked hard to retrieve it, to choose a better one. But there was no better one; there was only Babar and there were no words to explain.