I read all of these books. In one of them, the naughty little sister and Bad Harry go to a party. They find the birthday cake, which has been hidden from the children. Between them, they eat all the cream and the lollies (called sweets) that decorated the cake. I remember there were jelly babies treading through the cream. And silver balls. They ate until they felt ill. Then the mother found them in the pantry. The pleasure of the stolen cake and the jelly babies treading through the cream. The tiny silver lollies in the dark pantry. What was a pantry? Suddenly, when I was seven, I loved pantries.
Yesterday I put out all the Hairy Maclary books on the front windowsill. This display faces everyone who is walking fast toward the bakery. (Anyone walking away from the bakery faces the political biographies, dull by comparison).
Hairy Maclary catches people’s eyes. Hairy Maclary needs to be said out loud, or sung, or shouted.
‘Hairy Maclary….number six…see that?’
‘Hairy Maclary shoo!’
‘Hairy Maclary hat tricks!’
Some people are talking loudly about something else, and Hairy Maclary overrides their conservation.
‘She obviously had two accounts. It’s all very suspicious, and I don’t think Tic Tok can keep that. Hairy Maclary sit. Hah! Hah! See that?’
‘You’re learning about it…and we’re learning about it. We’re on the same ride together… aren’t we, buddy… Hairy Maclary’s Showbusiness…’
Inside the shop, children pull them down, read them and replace them gently. One child said ‘Scarface Door, Scarface Door’ as he walked around the shop.
A grandmother bought three of them. ‘Lovely’, she said.
A teenage boy stood outside the window wearing headphones and eating a pasty. He stared at all the Hairy Maclary books, nodding his head, eating, and nodding and nodding.
Inside, a lady asks me if I sell books for kiddies.
On the footpath a family walks past, and Hairy Maclary downloads himself right into their conversation.
‘Do you want to go to that rabbit place? Or do you want vegemite and toast? Quickly please. Hairy Maclary’s rumpus at the vet… we do need to get to the vet as well. Might go there first. Quickly now.’
Hairy Maclary books and illustrations by Lynley Dodd
Hard to choose one. Nobody home but me. Everyone usually sits amongst them. They are the walls. My dad had a study similar, and I used to play in there, building things out of books and pretending to read, which was as good as actually reading because I still made things, changed reality, added to it, made it from one colour to ninety shades of six colours, easily. Then had to go and feed the hens or something.
My children shot up, grew and left, weaving in and out of bookshelves, resisting the harping but absorbing the actual books.
Now I’m home alone and looking at the books. Hard to chose one. Thomas the Tank is on the floor again, split into a thousand small annoying paperbacks that take too long to read out loud and carry plots I can’t understand.
Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, still kind, still has a river in it. My grandsons like the bit with the fighting.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a gun on page 12.
My Terry Pratchett paperbacks are in an Ikea cabinet with a glass door, implying value, but they are pressed to the glass, squashed and irreverent, falling out, not in order, contemptuous.
Nothing is in order. It was once, but I moved the shelves and T ended up next to B, and S landed next to the Margaret Atwoods, who quelled the unease by turning sideways. I can’t find anything. Therefore, I am reduced to what wants me. Not a lot, but tonight, I notice things. Books have fallen out, or are used to ramp matchbox cars, or for a yoga head boost. There is a history of Sand: Journey through Science and the Imagination. Maybe. The Making of Australia by David Hill, but will there be any women in it, probably not, and then Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc, where the hell did you come from? But it’s red and gold, 1123 pages, the pages creamy and silky, supple, and solid with weight, so that’s the one. It starts out, ‘Visitors who want a glimpse of Viet Nam’s traditional culture will find no better opportunity than a cruise along the Red River. A few well-chosen stopovers in this river delta dotted with sleepy thousand year old villages will provide the most curious tourist with a……and on it goes taking me to yet another place, aching with travel.
Hard to choose one. Still manage it.
Reading is a sport that can be pursued anywhere. Questing eyes need very little equipment to locate and roll out the print, the mind will hang on behind, and help itself over the top of sentences, words and things not understood. When we read, we are gone. But then we are here because that is where reading deposits us: here.
Noah reads and breathes in a single motion, staring at possibilities and unconcerned with how he views the page. His baby eyes can round up Hairy Maclary at full gallop, he can sample letters and phrases, kick at the dotty full stops, allow the hairy hair of Hairy Maclary to graze his eyes, so deep is the staring. At his back is his dad, sleeping off the night shift and providing solid backup for when an idea is too astounding to continue.
And Hairy Maclary is a banquet of consequence containing, as it does, danger and friendship; the big ships. Noah’s mind and feet continue to map outward and inward, enlarging and layering: he can never return to a time when he did not know about Hairy Maclary, Bottomley Potts and the knotty full stops.
A lady has chosen a stack of children’s books; she can hardly carry them all. She is walking around looking jubilant and this turns out to be because she has found a copy of The Cricket in Times Square which she had though lost to her forever. She puts the books on the counter and they fall in all directions. Outside the shop her adult son is waiting, and smoking. He has to carry all these books and he turns around, startled, and says: oh God, mum! And he is trying to wave smoke away from all the books.
She has bought them all for her grandchildren.
A man came into the shop and told me that he is reading Henry Miller as an experiment. That he was documenting his own reading as a history of his own reading and so far it was amazingly erratic.
His little girl said: ohhhhh is Henry here?
A young man said: I am going to read the Harvard Classics. The whole lot, all 51 books, I saw them in a list and they are all very important: He was pushing a pram with an infant daughter beaming from inside, watching as he found a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.
He was hoping to get His Autobiography by Abraham Lincoln as this is the first one in the list but was content with the others instead. He angled the pram out expertly, his books stacked on the top along with a copy of Possum Magic, the first volume of Baby’s Harvard Classics.
An old lady came in with her friend and saw me drinking from a water bottle. One of them asked me if it was a gin and tonic.
But I had to tell her that it was just water.
She said that the river in The Wind and the Willows was just water too…
It is September but visitors are already thinking about Christmas, they argue over books, intending to gift them to that family member or this family member. One boy said: dad, don’t get it, that book is shit. He won’t want it.
A lady bought two Asterix books, one for each grandchild. She was laughing and laughing, she said that Asterix is just so funny.
Another old lady tells me that motorcycles should not be allowed in Strathalbyn anymore.
The steam train comes in, the bakery is busy, the street is warm, three young boys pass the window with skate boards on their heads. There is an altercation between small dogs tied up outside and the owner comes in and tells me that he wished he had not brought the bloody dogs down the street, but his wife makes him. And have I got a copy of Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler?
A man bought Julia Gillard’s My Story because he had just met her the other day walking her dog at the Seacliff Caravan Park. He said: I just looked up and there she was. And so now, I am going to read her book…I bet it’ll be good.
He left here, with his book, tremendously pleased with his good fortune.
Peter told me that the difference between Kingston and Robe is that Kingston is sincere. I waited for a little more of the story but there wasn’t any. Then he told me that the Kingston Council didn’t even deserve a jetty.
Many details are shared with me in the shop, all of these things have a careful place in the lives of their owners.
I was told that reading Dickens is like pulling teeth, bloody hell. This man said that in one book, Dickens takes three pages just to describe a grey coat and that this is unnecessary. He spent a long time in the Science Fiction, only coming out to tell me that Isaac Asimov is not a good as people say.
One man browsed quietly for a long time and then came over to say that he once read only Famous Five and Biggles. He said that I would have read Pollyanna and What Katy Did. I said that I didn’t. He said ha ha ha ha.
A lady told me how The Other Grandma gave her a voucher at Christmas time for a clothes shop and it was a plus size clothes shop and she was hurt.
My friend has a friend who told me her grandchild is growing existentially.
(But I did not know what she meant). She came looking for some books to read on life in Ireland. She wanted to be a grandmother that did lots of things. Lots and lots of things. She seemed very anxious and determined to make sure she did enough things. I thought why is it that all women think they have never done enough things.
A small girl brought volumes two, three and four of The Series of Unfortunate Events to the counter. She spread them out so that I could see that there was no volume one. She and I both looked at the gap left by the missing volume.
In the letters of Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert urges Elizabeth to consider the slow and careful regard of her health and life….”For what cannot be achieved this way?”
Photography by Rubee Hood
An old lady came in from the tourist bus across the road; she was in a tremendous hurry because she said that the buses leave on the buzzer and won’t wait for an old lady. But another lady, on the same tour and going through the cook books at a great pace said that “This is nonsense, Dot, don’t tell people that.” Dot asked me for some outback books, a good read or something and she chose Douglas Lockwood and then she circled the shop looking for her walking stick which we found hanging on her arm.This pleased her very much and she cut out for the waiting bus at a great pace. The other customer said to take no notice but I privately admired her energy and enthusiasm and complete disregard of the winter.
Ryland parked his scooter at the front counter and unpacked his new football boots. He said that he just could not get his old boots to last the season and that also he was in the middle of about ten books. Then he said that his mum knew nothing about Star Wars even though she thought she did. He came back with a Jane Jolly book and said that Jane Jolly was his library teacher and that he didn’t have this book. He pointed to the name of the illustrator and asked me did I know that she had many different draw- ers for her books. He looked at the name Di Wu for a long time. He said he thought that this name came from a different language.
I was asked for The Navel Diaries of Jacob Nagel and Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Later it was Throy by Jack Vance, a triple volume (number 5) of Herge and The Green Bicycle by Al Mansour Haifaa.
David is 88 and he pulled from his bag a jumper and asked me to read the label on the back of the jumper. I read: 20% possum, 10% silk, and 70% merino and he said to me that it is an amazing garment because it looks good, feels nice and keeps him warm. He unpacks his bag and tells me the story of each item he is carrying: chocolates for his friend who has Alzheimer’s, three hats to help him through the weather, pickles from his favourite store, his remarkable jumper, a scarf, a book called Historic Homesteads of Australia and a volume of CJ Dennis which he has just bought from here. When he left he said that there is a story about Old Father Time who walks up behind an old man in the street and taps him on the shoulder. That is the whole story; it made David laugh and said that the story would not mean anything much except to an old person.
He piled everything on his walking frame and thanked me for having such a lovely place here. He made his way, slowly, slowly across the road toward home and now wearing 20%possum, 10% silk and 70% merino.
Margaret came in as David left and told me that she is not a committee person; they make her shudder even though some people simply live for them.
Now it is quiet again, I can continue with Dorothy Parker and gaze at the descriptions of authors that I admire from the 1920s and 1930s being excessively mean to each other.
Max stopped to give me some ginger chocolate that he bought from down the road and high recommended.
A couple bought a biography of Aaron Copland for their adult son and argued over how they might present it to him. But I am still reading (without interrupting their discussion) that Dorothy Parker did not in any way like A. A. Milne and I am astounded.
Now I stand and look at the shelves and wonder about all these books and Dean comes in to pick up his Bhagavad Gita. I tell him about the astonishing quarrels of great writers and he said that nothing has changed. Then he told me about the difficulties of honey.
A couple leaned into the counter and said ‘good on you mate.’ They admired my PayPal device and said it is good to see me bypassing those bastard banks. They like my displays, pronouncing them as creative.
I creatively display Proust next to Patrick White, chronic asthma sufferers together.
A young woman said that George R R Martin ought to look after himself better so he can keep writing more books. She said he looks as though he is on the brink of a heart attack.
John asked me why I don’t take a crack at Proust.
Two friends stood outside the door and said: don’t you just love kid’s books! Her friend said: don’t you just love little old bookshops! They were smoking and did not come in, but they continued to express admiration for the books, the shop and the windows. One of them says that the weather is Christ awful.
I was asked for Dr Who, the Mr Men books, Alice in wonderland and The Selected Essays of George Orwell. I was asked if there was a book containing all of the stories from our local newspaper.
A mother said to her children that fussing would not make her pick her books any faster. The oldest boy said that he wanted a finger bun from the bakery.
Birgett speaks rapidly to her children in English and then in Dutch, they answer in both languages without looking up from their books. She is always reading something, and so are her children.
A lady tells her husband to tie his reading glasses to his head.
A small boy who visits regularly told me that he had found a Tashi: ‘I’ve got a Tashi. You don’t need a creepy story do you? I’ve read the dragon Tashi. We’ve picked a few books here and, well, I found a treasure chest inside this book but tonight I am having a sleepover.’ Then he tells me that there are eight books that he loves and that he is five years old.
His mother tells me about his bookcase at home, he now has more books than lego…she doesn’t really know why he wants all these books. As she tells me this her own arms are stacked with books she has just chosen. The child says again that he is having a sleepover later on and that he has a double bunk. He turns in a circle and jumps as high as possible. His mother says: ‘steady there.’
Jo suggested that the Australiana table was too crowded.
Robert told me that he had held himself together at Centrelink.
A family bought 18 Agatha Christie books for an adult daughter who only reads Agatha Christie and who does not watch TV, not even Goggle Box.
Jenny asks me if I think that computer books are taking over. I tell her that there is no evidence of that here.
Young readers are not troubled by where a book is placed on a shelf, nor by the section of the shop where they might find it. But if they find a book I say I haven’t got they think this is hilarious.
Many adult readers are very agitated if they find a title in the Wrong Section. Many will move them for me. One lady advised me strongly to move the Rolf Harris books right out.
I am asked how I choose the books. This is easy: they must be good books.
Or Christian books? I was asked.
I say again: good books.
Some books such as Peter Ackroyd’s massive biography of Charles Dickens must be a 1200 page satisfier because people lug it out beaming with happiness, impressed with its weight and fortified against the winter. But Schapelle Corby’s book is handled with doubt…They say knowingly…I don’t really know about this… and then they buy it anyway.
I have shelved Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro and Mazo De La Roche in the front room; the Canadians enjoying the sun together. I have put Judi Dench nearby, these four would get on.
Miley Cyrus (her autobiography), I am dubious. The other books all lean away from it, amused.
The Count of Monte Cristo stands aloft in blue and gold. Robert always admires it. He says it is the triumph of art over imprisonment.
The history shelves are always in shambles. The sports shelf remains untouched. The fantasy novels shimmer impressively under a string of lights. The classics are old and worn and in constant demand. The biographies are quarrelsome and constantly changing positions. Lance Armstrong has been jostled to the back. Oprah by Kitty Kelly always seems to have a whole shelf.
The children’s books are pulled out and sampled and moved and reshelved and retrieved and relocated in a triumphant cycle of search and selection.
The Dr Zeus books are never there.
Stravinsky’s Lunch sits on the counter so I can look at it.
The art books are forlorn, still unchosen, wishing that the erotic art books didn’t always go first.
Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is an odd shape and always falls from the shelf and once was trodden on. I thought: serve you right! And no matter where I hide To Kill a Mocking Bird it is always found and rushed to the counter.
Gary says my science fiction is quite good and is glad I stock the old stuff. He instructed me to separate the fantasy from the science fiction because to shelve them together is Wrong.
I was asked if I realised that Donald Trump had written books. I said that if they are good books they could be here. Therefore none of his would be here.
I was told that Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines should NOT be in the Australian section.
Shelbe wrote me a list of all the books her dad has brought from my shop. I asked her if he has enjoying them and she said he has not read any of them and that at night time he just watches TV and drinks beer.
I display Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and it sells within one minute.
I display Wind in the Willows in many confusing places so it does not sell and I can keep it.
Max says his collection of Australian memoirs and histories is now equal to mine.
The shop won’t stay tidy.
“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby