There’s a lady here at the shop choosing books for her foster daughter. She is piling up a hopeful stack, a rainbow lot. Actually, the lady is all colours herself. Crimson, blue and garnet and lemon; this is her dress.
She describes the books she needs. Fantastic, romantic, historical, significant and beautiful. Not rubbish, please.
And her hair and her shoes, and her bag and she… swirl, keeps swirling from shelf to shelf. Everything offers something for the eyes, a dazzle of glass and hope and a foaming of light from the skin of the sea. She keeps adding to the pile, colour upon colour, her razzle raspberry hair warming the shop. I am drinking the colours, thinking of mandarins and deep richy hazelnuts and outside lavender, delicate, rough. Then she is standing there, ready at last. Choosing bookmarks to go with the books, and then, unapologetic for the richness of her presence, pays and leaves, ink, silk, burst and gone.
Artwork by Maia Ramishvilli
Last Wednesday, this family came to the shop.
Two of the sisters searched for books on their knees while the third stood balancing five paperbacks on her hip, neck on one side, reading sideways at a difficult angle, but she doesn’t know it’s difficult. Her sister says, do you have to read these in order and the older girl says: you don’t have to read anything in order, do you, but I would prefer it. The younger child now walks on tiptoe, stooping and stretching, she has one arm in plaster, she crouches and reaches, bows and bends, she is dancing and she says she is a mermaid and her sister says: get out my way, I need The Maze Runner. The younger girl, who is a mermaid says: it’s not here. The sister says: you wouldn’t know.
The smallest child has horse books which she holds on her back, walking bent over, like a horse. Their mother is sitting in front of science fiction, talking on her phone. She taps her knee with a paperback gently throughout the conversation, her daughters are all gone into the other room, the floor is creaking in there with their swimming around and the oldest girl comes gently back past me, she walks leaning backwards, examining the high shelves, looking now for Pittacus Lore, for Dragon Wings, for Storm of Truth. One sister is telling another that she can’t have those books. Mum won’t let. The oldest girl says: is this really The Hobbit? The sisters all return to the front, shuffling, trying to read the cover of the same book. The oldest girl is jumping up and down in front of her mother, holding out The Hobbit, she is mouthing OMG. Her mother nods. Then they are again gathering shoulder to shoulder, the phone call is ending, they are holding books out to their mother in silence. She nods. The mermaid is swimming upwards, her scooping arms annoying her sisters The oldest girl is showing The Hobbit, but the younger girls are neutral, unimpressed, they shrug, the smallest sister crawls under a table because she is a pony, the middle child is spinning around and round and says she wants chips for dinner and carrots plus fish and the oldest sister taps her on the head with The Hobbit, one, two, three times, and the mother is saying that Lord of the Rings is also a great book and then they are all swimming over to pack up and get their books and go home to the sea.
Artwork by Victor Nizovtsev
Well, he came into the shop and stood bowed in front of the old books, the ones with print that is too small, old novels and histories, poetry and commentary, sets dressed in red and gold and dust and that lean and sink and look out at modern paper with contempt. This man frowned into the shelves and scratched at faded titles and had he had next to his feet, a motorcycle helmet and six cans of beer. He had no hair and he simply blazed with tattoos and earrings. He was looking for Sir Walter Scott. He had completed an arts degree and his thing had been Sir Walter Scott, a great, plain, brilliant hell of a man. He had thrown all his books in the bin and was now visiting every reading joint to get copies again. He didn’t get any from me (he apologized) but the print was just too small and now that his eyes were rooted, he needed the bigger writing, but thanks anyway for having a bookshop!
…are the remarkable remarkables. They heave the door open and gust through, no time for greetings. Taylor considers all books, particularly horse books, Jake considers large books, particularly (today), books about The French Revolution or Madam Pompadour. They sail back and forth in the wind, hailing Grandma who waits on the beach and who greets all interests, all choices, as fine and wise. And so there is no place in literature where these children will not venture, and no shape, proportion, heft, vintage or bay that will stay unexplored. When they call out from another room, they call from far away, because they are. They are wise. They read what they want to read and reject what they don’t. The spread the books out and announce each title kindly for me. Their faces are lit lanterns.
A lady is offering her husband this book and that book but he doesn’t want them, he says: I’ve no use for that! That one will go nowhere! No, leave it!
Still she keeps trying. Later, she tells me that she isn’t a reader and has always felt bad about it, all she can really do is try and help others.
Soon he brings The Complete Dorothy Parker to the counter, he tells me about the Algonquin Round Table and that she, Dorothy, was the loudest voice of them all…. he said she was great! He also had Ronald Searle and he tapped the cover, kept tapping for a long time thinking about Ronald Searle. Then he told me that he doesn’t read very fast but when he’s on to a good thing he goes like a dream. Then he turned and went back to the shelves where his wife was waiting with a new pile to offer him.
The King of Reading is back. He swung into the shop, out of the cold, a beacon of warm concentration, and reminded me that he already has The Lord of the Rings. He asked today for Lemony Snicket. He tracked past every shelf and every display, every room, every table, checking for treasure, scanning for stars. His dad followed behind, interested, supportive, pioneering the joy. The King came out of the back room with a heavy book of European history and asked me for the price. He carried it back to dad, and there was a discussion. He returned and told me it was 167 pages shorter than Lord of the Rings and so it would be ok to read. He said as they left, There’s no way I’m taking that to school, there’s no chance.” And then he leapt out the door, bouncing next to dad, tapping the book with his knuckles and talking, talking, talking…
Yesterday, nobody but rain. But then, toward the end of the afternoon, a few visitors came in gently, closed the door grimly, looking at me and thinking about winter.
There is a young man here, humming and singing to himself, he has a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, he weighs the book over and over in his hand. His friends urges him to be done, but he stays on, looking down at the cover, thinking about something.
I ask a small girl if she has seen the film of Peter Pan and she says no, but she has seen the movie. She says it must be hard to know all the books when you have such a big bookshop. If it were her in here, she would write everything down, including all the books and all the names in a big book with a set of gel pens in magical type writing.
Another little girl gasps at a cover of The Dork Diaries and jumps in the air and says: oh no…
A man stacked and restacked a pile of biographies over and over. Then he looked carefully at each one and stacked them again, in a different order. Then he read the back cover of each one and stacked them again. Then he chose one to purchase and carefully re shelved the others.
It is dark outside.
An old lady has parked outside the shop, taken ages to park and the man in the passenger side climbs out and stands there to deliver a critique of her docking. She comes around to the pavement, edges him aside, leans in to pull out some magazines and all the while he continues to rebuke her.
He thinks she does not need the magazines. She straightens up and uses the magazines to suddenly strike his gesturing hands aside with startling agility and then walks on past, on to the bakery and her cup of tea and her magazines!
They were waiting at the door of the shop for me when I came back from the bakery.
The son, a child of about 12, came inside and began counting the Eragons, counting to make sure they were all there, which they were not. His mother wondered if it mattered. He said that it did, and he did not choose the Eragons.
They swung around, moved around, browsed gently and talked to themselves. He examined Flyte, book two of the Septimus Heap series. He said: this one. His mother asked him why he wanted that one and the boy put his hands into his pockets and leaned back and looked up through the depths of his reading and closed his eyes.
He said: it’s really good, mum.
She looked at the book kindly and nodded, ok then.
Although it is cold outside there are people everywhere, spending a hopeful Sunday not at home. And there are two children here, brother and sister, who came into the shop earlier and who have refused to sit with their father in the car parked outside. They have been here for nearly an hour and have not spoken once.
They have circled and surveyed the displays and the shelves, balanced on one leg, sat under the tables, leaned on shelves and examined book after book in an intense, rich and enchanted silence. Once they met up too closely at the science fiction and they glanced up briefly, and then silently the older brother moved aside.
Once they reached for the same book. Their father came back to see how things were and neither of them looked up at all. Once, she toppled some Ranger’s Apprentices to the floor and they both stared down at them. Once he laughed out loud at Gorilla World and she looked at him, not seeing him, only seeing Con because she is reading The Magic Thief: Home
Once she says: this book is really good, you should see how they make the bridge. But he didn’t answer. Later he says: are you getting anything? But she doesn’t answer.
When they leave, they have not chosen any books, but they have replaced carefully the ones they examined and when they pass me they smile and say: thanks, thanks for the bookshop.
On one of the days of last week, the beginning of winter when everyone is saying: oh, winter is beginning, isn’t it…. a lady came into the shop and…
she stood for a while looking around in an exhausted and worried kind of way and then drooped across the counter and sighed and sadly she said she needed a gift for a lady, a friend, who does not read books. She asked me would I sell perhaps the wooden cat in the window and I said: no.
She said she thought that I might sell it and I said: no.
She said she needed a gift for her friend because her friend is at this moment looking after her cats. She has 19 cats. I wondered out loud by accident if this was just too many cats and she looked at me in complete rebuke and she said there is no number of cats that is too many.
I thought that it is the same with books and at last we were in agreeance. But I will not sell my cat in the window because it is mine.
I suggested she purchase The Kama Sutra for Cats because it is very funny and is only $4 and she looked at it for a long time. I was impressed at how long she looked at the book and then I realized that she was not that impressed with it at all. She thought that her friend would not appreciate it. She sadly left without a gift or anything for her friend who was at home looking after all those bloody cats.
Artwork by Sylvain Sarrailh