We were talking of dragons

Michael Komarck

“We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All the evening, from his empty mug
with gleaming eye glanced towards us:
‘I seen ’em myself!’ he said fiercely.”

C.S. Lewis, The Book of Dragons

Illustration by Michael Komarck

The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….


Outside the shop a child hurls her ice block at her father’s feet and he says: well that’s the end of that then!

I see James through the window, he is 14 and cycling slowly through the heat and up the road towing a cart behind his bike, I know he built and attached this cart himself. In the cart today there is an old leather bag and a glass lantern.

It is very hot and customers come through the door and tell me about the heat. Mavis brought me a bag of plums and told me she is unhappy with her hairdresser (no plums for her).

A lady piled books on the counter and whispered to me: oh this is such fun. She had an A. S. Byatt: The Virgin in the Garden and I stared at the cover; I have not yet read this. I felt envious of her pile of books. I told her irrelevantly that now I have my first grandson and she was enormously impressed. She said: Oh well done, well, well done. I felt better; I felt generous and showed her The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, the last copy and the one I was going to keep. When she bought it I did not mind because now I have a grandson.

I have just finished Wide Sargasso Sea and searched my own shelves frantically for more books by Jean Rhys and I did not have anything at all. I am disappointed with my own bookshop.

Jim tells me that wherever he goes, the internet is always slow. But he thinks it is because maybe he is slow. He buys Heart of Darkness because he saw something about it on TV. Angela wants Surrender: A Journal for My Daughter which she also saw on TV.

It continues to be hot but it is not quiet. The motorbikes are seldom quiet. When they leave in droves from the art gallery car park on Sunday mornings, the cars obediently stop to allow them to stream out in a group. The drivers are obedient but not happy.

I have not found anything more by Jean Rhys so I am reading The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith which is horrifying so far. It is also horrifying that have not read it yet. When I saw David he said: why haven’t you read that yet?

Some British tourists buy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson and they are anxious that now they will go over their flight luggage restrictions. But they take it regardless because it is worth the risk.

Peggy rang to tell me that she had bought a new car, a Mazda with Bluetooth, satellite navigation, reversing mirror, live streaming, anything you want to listen to but none of that stupidly new music. She also broke her foot, went down over the fireplace like an old fool. So she also went online to the Book Depository and ordered tons of books, none of which will fit onto her bookshelves.

A man told me that Nelson Demille only writes one book per year which is disappointing. His wife showed me how she carries her handbag so that thieves cannot snatch it. Paul, who is a regular, told them that his wife carried her handbag the same way. Then he told them how much he liked reading about gypsies and they were approving. The husband said: there’s nothing like a good book and everyone nodded.

A brother and sister told me a long story about reading the Narnia series by C S Lewis, they argued over many of the details and the brother accused his sister of not having read them properly. Their father, who had brought them in said: keep it down, you two.

At the end of the week, a Saturday for me, a visitor, a man said:

My wife has had a stroke but still she can read and I always buy her a Colin Thiele. I have got her Sun on the Stubble this time, glad you had it there. I read to her every night. I think that life does go on but I don’t understand how.

I feel that I must read the tough stories too, so that you know life goes on. The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….that’s the sort of books I read to my wife, every night…




‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…’


‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value…’

People come in and out of the shop. But sometimes I am preoccupied and do not fully notice them, at least only as shadows…of specific height and hardly any sound. I am happy for them to drift and wander for as long as they need.

But one young woman, barefoot and strong and purposeful, brought her stack of books immediately to the counter with her packet of cigarettes balanced on the top.

This young woman had Dante, Graham Greene, Andre Gide, Hemmingway and Huxley, Orwell and Zola. She said she was glad I had Zola and that once she had an argument with somebody about Gide. She didn’t say any more than that about it. I tell her it is good to see people reading the classics.

She called back loudly as she left that the books were beautifully displayed here and I wondered what she meant, if they were neat and tidy or in categories that are easy to follow or if she liked the front display where all the books this week are green. I wondered why she was reading those books that she chose and how she came to choose them anyway. I wondered what was going on in her life, especially when she had told me that she was waiting for her belongings to arrive from Darwin and she didn’t want to be alone until then.

Leon dropped in; it has been ages since I have seen him. He came in and said: it is ages since I have seen you. I know that he has not been well. He asked me if I have been well, and when I told him that I am fine he says: ‘Honestly, Kerry?’ and made himself laugh.

He looks at a selection of books on the counter, penguin classics, and asks me who would read those…with the print so small. I ask him if he likes the displays of books in the shop and he answers that he doesn’t care about them because the shunt in his head is giving him chronic headaches. He can’t even read his vampire books. And it is hard to walk. But he can still make good jokes as I should know. I told him it is good to see him again.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.  C. S. Lewis