The antilibrary

Francesca Buchko.jpg

I have realized I still have 3500 years of reading in my library.

The Lebanese writer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, calls this unread collection of books an antilibrary.

He writes that a library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there.

He predicts that I will accumulate more knowledge and more books. And that the number of (unread) books on my shelves will continue to grow as I realize the enormity of what I still don’t know.

“Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a sceptical empiricist.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

Brilliant. Going out to buy more books.

God you’re an upper case!

87efcde2b9795473dbc2425ea3689efb (3).jpg

Two people are here in the shop arguing over the Douglas Adams books because they disagree over his first book. They are friends but they are experts. The first man lists off everything written by Douglas Adams and then comes back to the first book.

He says; not radio work, not Dr Who stuff, not short stories, only the books – so it is The Hitchhiker’s Guide. And he was drunk when he thought of it in the first place.
His friend says: God you’re an upper case!
And the first man says: victory.

The Bookshelves


Many customers describe their bookshelves as unfinished. Everyone tells the story with pride. One lady told me that all her shelves were double stacked. She said this with glee and gluttony, looking at me carefully, looking for disapproval. I said that mine were triple stacked and she screamed with happiness. Her husband looked at her and said it was time to go.
Michael said that he had books in Spanish, the most beautiful language.
One man said all his low shelves were broken. He has just wedged them up with beer bottles and old westerns, does the job.
Everyone says they should not get any more books but they do anyway.
All children examine a book from the outside in.
Young people who are friends and who come in pairs or triples stand in tight groups and say oh my god over every book that is good. They will do this for ages.
Old people who say that young people don’t read anymore are wrong.
Louis always says to me: what’s good at the moment? This means any book about Mahatma Gandhi or 20th century art. He has been given a new bookshelf and wants to fill it even though he already has more books than he can read in his lifetime.
One lady said that her husband threw all her books out when he left so now she is out to get another library together again. She said she is pretty happy right now.
One lady bought her son a stack of books for Christmas but then she kept them all for herself.
Young men say: sweet or brilliant or that’s really keen. One young man said that Freud is a radical and a sweet gone read. One boy said that the only one is Tolkien.
One lady said that she would not read Mark Twain.
One man needed a copy of the same book for his three adult children because otherwise they would fight. He said they were all in their forties.
Peggy is really sick and is going to read all her Game of Thrones as quickly as possible and this made me feel really sad.

The Auction


There have only been four visitors today, outside is cold and windy and raining and everybody is just running past the windows looking for their car keys.

But one man stayed for ages, looking for a copy of A Room with a View which is his wife’s favourite book. He told me that when he and his wife moved to their houseboat they had to sell all their books and there were thousands of them. (But now, come summer, they were moving and were going to make a library again, a haphazard summer library of everything!)

He said he remembered the day they sold everything, a cold and grey nothing sort of day and everything went up for auction and he was happy to see it all go (thank riddance, he had thought) but when the books went under the hammer he tried to just sit there but he couldn’t and so he went and sat in his car and looked through the windscreen and made himself not think about it but it wasn’t possible.




Well, I’ll be!


A man came to the shop today for a copy of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. He said he expected there won’t be many people buying books these days with the kindle and everything. Especially with young people not being able to read or anything.

I said that young people purchase and read the most books out of any other group that visit me here.

He looked pleased and he said: well I’ll be!

Then he asked about the eBook…don’t the young people all use screens, and I said, perhaps not all of them, that many young people just read anyway they can…

He said: Well I’ll be!

He thought this was the greatest news ever. I told him that many young people were avid collectors of beautiful books and were not put off (yet) by the small print that defeats the eyesight of many older readers.

He said: Well, listen to that!

Once a young reader told me that her set of twilights with the red pages was the nicest thing she owned. She placed them on her shelf with the red pages facing outward and it was like a magic garden or something.

He leaned backwards in surprise and said: Well, I’ll be!

Honey, do you have it?



A young couple came into the shop out of the cold today, he was cradling a tiny baby. She was carrying parcels and bags and she ran into things because she was looking so hard at the spines of the books. He carried the infant on his chest in a sling and he kept one hand on the side of the sling and the baby clutched one of his fingers, holding on tightly while it buzzed in sleep.

He searched the shelves as carefully as she did and he found book after book that looked promising and he said: honey do you have it?

Sometimes she said: yes, got that one…

Sometimes she said: oh I need that one…

Then he would rise up and take the book and place it gently on the counter and cradle the baby again and look down at the tiny hand coming out of the carrier and holding onto his own hand and he looked broadsided by the joy of so many events at once.


Hand sculpture by Bruce Nauman

Rain in Strathalbyn

Yelena Sidorova

On Thursday it rained, laying the summer and the dust to rest.
Somebody passing outside said: what brought this on?
Their friend answered: I don’t what brought it on but we’re not ready for it.

The postman said: we’re in for it. The letter he gave me is wet.
A family shouldered through the door and told me it is raining. They are looking for Mr Men books for the baby.
The baby says: hello hello hello hello hello hello puppy, hello puppy, hello, hi, hi…
The baby threw all the Mr Men books on the floor. This is because he didn’t want them. His father tells him that he would like to know who ordered this rain!

Simon is picking up a book he had ordered and told me that it was him that ordered the rain, haha. He said that now he will go and read at the bakery, waiting for the wife, I have a lovely spot, it’s reading weather again, I hope she takes her time. He salutes the sad baby as he leaves.
Another man browses in silence, along the shelves, along the rows, along the spines, slowly, reading out loud but silently, caressing each title in his mind. He reads his way downwards, later he will tell me that books are endless.
A lady outside said: shit. Shit this bloody rain, it’s supposed to be summer. Her friend told her that summer ended ages ago. The veranda is dripping.

I am asked for Cider with Rosie,  The Land of Painted Caves and A Brief History of Time.

There is a young woman, balancing on one foot, considering Francois Sagan, she is bending her head over that beautiful little paperback, thinking what things…? Francois Sagan herself would not require an answer. An old lady was pleased with Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and The Complete Lewis Carroll. She said that she once knew Morse code and every night she reads until 10.45pm and when she left she said: thank you for all of this.

A couple languish against the shelves whispering about everything they have read so far. The looked very happy and very urgent, urgent to continue adding and adding. They take with them Hilary Mantel and Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country. Outside a man is leaning against his car and smoking and staring hard at the Lee Child books in the front window. He gestures toward one of them and says something about Tom Cruise to his friend. The other person laughs.
An old couple leave with nearly all of the Agatha Christies. They tell me it is cup of tea weather.
The young woman who had been balancing on one foot has chosen a copy of A Certain Smile by Francois Sagan and she leaves, balancing on this radiant accumulation to her life.
Then it is quiet again, and just the rain.

Artwork by Yelena Sidorova






On Building a Library

dr.pngDuring the school holidays, two sisters came into the shop with their mother and they both asked for some of the Cat Warrior books. But I didn’t have any.
They comforted me, they said that it didn’t matter as they had other books to read. The older sister was reading The Dragon World books – Icefire and Fire Ascending and the younger sister was reading Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas.
They said they have never run out of books because one sister has 43 books at home and the other has 112 and sometimes they read the same book again because if it is good enough they can read it again, maybe three times. The older sister, however, has read Inkheart no less than four times so far. They only collect books that are really good but sometimes a half good book is ok. They change the shelves around a lot and also mix the books around to change the colours. Their seriously best book, which is about dragons, goes on the best shelf.


Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket


Ricky came back to the shop today for some more Roman history, a book about the Roman orgies and a pony book for her granddaughters. She said she is also halfway through The Decline and Fall of the Roman Emp! And the reading is going well.
She is feeling athletic because her swimming class is full of old people, older than her that is, and they all of them moan that they will drown in the pool which only comes up to their middle anyway. The instructors force you to swim for 45 minutes which even Ricky thinks is pretty stern. But she pushes on regardless and then goes home for another read of the Roman Emp.
Today she is looking for a poet though…Charles Simic… the one who sewed his poems into blankets…
We looked for Charles Simic and suddenly there was a lady behind us saying urgently: I can’t go past one, I can’t go past one. She hurried back to the door and threw her handbag outside to her waiting husband and he said: well go on then, you go for it and she darted back in and quietened down amongst the historicals and Ricky said: well it takes all sorts.
Then she went off down the street to pay the electric.
I am asked for The VW Bus: A History of a Passion and a book of fairies that are not ugly.
Robert told me that he has been depressed since Christmas and unable to read with his usual knife edged precision.
I am asked if Joseph Roth is still alive.
Outside a tradesman drops his coffee from the roof of his ute and says fuuuuck. The man who is waiting for his wife and holding her handbag looks down at the coffee fanning all over the footpath.
Tyson brings Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh to the counter, pleased to have another to add to his collection of the Marshall Cavendish Great Writers collection.
And he is writing a book, a history book, Portuguese exploration, Colonial mismanagement, naval powers, surrender and defeat and sadness. He plays music, while he writes – English and American tunes, The Yellow Rose of Texas and Amazing Grace. This helps him gain all perspectives of history.
He tells me about the world, his reading and writing and about history and that the only real way to see the world is to look at it upside down. Then he went away, pleased with everything.
The lady came out of historicals and startled me with a copy of Helen of Troy and apologised for having taken so long.



Ricky keeps on reading


Ricky came to the shop today to pick up her book Farewell to Catullus. She is a reader of all things Roman and studies Latin in her spare time. She does not like her mobile phone. She loves having her adult sons come and stay with her even though they hardly ever can. When they visited the shop with her at Christmas time she was very happy and when one of them bought Narnia: The Complete Chronicles, she was happier still and could hardly speak. She laughs a lot. She has read books all her life, all books and any books and just keeps on collecting on and she is not impressed by or respectful of old age. She has 4 grandchildren. Said that her friend, an old lady recovering from having a new knee installed, started a fight at the therapy pool with another old lady and she had to intervene!
I said: oh no, that’s not good news and Ricky said: well never mind and not to worry, it cheered me up no end!!