“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
Dark outside, not cold. We’ve had rain and all night the garden was drinking. This morning, it just lay there.
Robert came into the shop this morning, furious because his friend had a joint when he was 16 years old, and now at 60, can’t get a job. He said the government has ruined this country. I am glad he came in. I always feel better, adjusted and balanced, whenever Robert visits. It is a calibration of sorts. I forget what is valuable. Now I remember again.
A lady bought The Blind Assassin, Caleb’s Crossing, The Awakening, and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
A man told be about Charlie Chaplin. His wife said, ‘Come along, that’s enough of Charlie Chaplin.’
I was advised to read History of the Rain. I ordered a 1902, first edition copy of Ethel Turner’s Little Mother Meg. This is for Lily, an eleven year old collector with a discerning eye for vintage. Scott raced past but didn’t come in, although he grinned evilly through the door. Someone hit their head on one of my hanging balloons and said, ‘Damn these decorations. Where’s the bakery?’
The sun’s out. The next person will tell me about it.
The next person is Robert, back again and who never notices the weather anyway, so I get to tell him about it. He says he’s waiting for the government to start taxing us for it!
“Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.”
Artwork by Gerhard Gluck
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Photography by Sebastiano Bongi Toma
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more….”
From The Rave, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845
This man often comes to the shop. He always pauses, notices whatever music is playing. This afternoon he came in out of the rain quietly and noticed the music as usual. He raised one hand, reached towards it, nodded, didn’t say anything.
Then he went to look at books. I don’t remember what he chose, only that he liked the music. He lined his books up, stacked them without looking, said, yes, this is good. I don’t know if he meant his reading or the music or the rain; many people were delighted with the rain. He left, vaguely conducting something, not fast, just in agreement.
Artwork: All That Jazz by M. Sani
“So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Two ladies, friends, came in together and split immediately into classics and crime. A third lady entered, passed her friends without greeting and folded herself into young readers; horses, ponies, Australian classics, where she sat with The Silver Brumby until the others had finished. She looked up once to say that I did not have the complete series here. She said she thought that I would have that. And Tennyson.
One of the other ladies had worked hard to bring down a volume of Heinrich Boll, short stories from the top shelf – she was delighted because as a young girl she had read this book in German. She’d had to translate one of the stories from German to English at school. If only she’d had this very book she could have cheated the whole assignment through. Both ladies leaned in and laughed darkly. The Silver Brumby lady read on silently.
The friend who had read Boll in German brought the book to me and described one story, a girl who crossed a bridge halfway but would go no further; she had never forgotten this story. They prepared to leave, rustling, packing, removing reading glasses.
The third lady brought her books to the counter and reminded me that I didn’t have the complete set (or Tennyson) and that she was disappointed.
She said, you’ve probably not read Tennyson.
She said, you’re a thousand years too young. I looked at her, delighted.
Artwork: Old Woman Reading, Boris Mayorov
One man has chosen Journal to the Hebrides by James Boswell, a Folio edition, slipcased and it is very nice. He is pleased with it and pulls out the book to show me that it is still unread. He says that he always liked Boswell. He has a book on Chinese art and one of the journals of Anais Nin. He stacks them up and says; I always find something. When he talks he is always looking at other books, just in case there is one that needs him. Then he laughs out loud and says, I should bloody just go but you know…. then he said: nothing belongs to us, does it, nothing really does. We just interact with it and then we move on and all this just stays here. We don’t even own anything. Then he went out into the outside bright and he was reading the Anais Nin paperback as he walked up the road.
Image from the Marlborough Gallery, New York
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!