No, I won’t read all of that, I only read bits…


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.


A History of Europe

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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…

B For Bakery


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!


Mother and Son


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.

The Young Readers


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.





The Kama Sutra for Cats

Sylvain Sarrailh

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



I’m just looking…


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A little girl wandered into the shop here one morning with a bucket of chalk and she was all by herself. She said: I’m just looking at the books.
Then she looked at me and said: sometimes I see words that are really small and I’m like…
There was a long silence while she waited politely for me to understand what it was like to see words that are really small.
Then she said: yeah.

She continued walking gently around, noting out loud what she liked.
I like Olivia.
I like this. I like this, maybe.

The door swung open suddenly and her father was there, looking at me in amazement. He looked at his daughter and said: God, what are you doing, we couldn’t find you.
He checked his phone. She said: just looking.
He checked his phone.
She kept on looking and he checked his phone.
He said: ok, come on. The weather’s coming in.
She walked past and bid me goodbye, serene and glowing. She said: I like mice.
And her father ushered her out, hurrying onwards and outwards into the weather and into the future.

Photography  by John Wilhelm



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!



I think you are getting bored with your books…


“I have my softcovers and my hardcovers and half of them are in Dutch…I like to read a book in Dutch and then in English, possibly at the same time.”

This customer, yesterday morning, lined up two books side by side and showed me how she reads them. She said that her children thought she was magic.

Today there is an older couple, he is on the phone. He is asking somebody,  perhaps a grandchild, if she would like to read Treasure Island but the child is perhaps saying that she would prefer Harry Potter. She is asked if he might be getting bored with Harry Potter and the child insists she is not bored with Harry Potter. But the man insists that she is. He suggests that she is getting bored with all the books she chooses.

So he chooses Treasure Island. He tells me that she is 11 and that is the right age to read Treasure Island. Indeed, he himself read that book when he was 11. He tells me that their granddaughter is getting bored with Harry Potter.

A young woman is looking through the window from outside and she tells her mother that Titanic Lives looks interesting. Her mother asks her why, they continue down the street with their shopping and their talk of Titanic Lives.

I am asked for anything by Jodi Piccoult, Stephen King, Kate Forsyth and also The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

The grandparents of the child who does not really want to read Treasure Island are arguing in the front room.

Robert is here, he is reading Goethe, from the Britannica Great Books Series.

Sarah is reading The Complete Narnia.

Andrew is reading The Silmarillion.

I am reading The Journal to Stella.

Dale is reading The Spiderwick Field Guide.

I am asked if I might have a Christmas tree and when I will put it up in the shop.

Kay orders The Silver Brumby.

A young reader tells me the complete plot of Dune by Frank Herbert. This takes more than an hour.

A lady looks at a biography of Vincent van Gough and says he looks like an old fury.

The couple with the copy of Treasure Island they bought for their granddaughter who does not really want to read it are leaving. They are arguing about a copy of The Battle For Rondo – he says it does not look very good so they are not going to buy it. They move out and across the road and he is still explaining why The Battle For Rondo is not very good.

The lady who bought books for her grandchildren.


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.