Reading

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When things are difficult, reading is such consolation. It is thought that life is for living, not for merely reading about, and this is true.
But as with all art, what we are gazing at and the quality of our watching, makes a difference. Some books console, and other distract and others entertain. Many stories reaffirm and add to what we already like. Some writing keeps us liking what we already know.
But reading, like any set of complicated muscles, can move us further. And reading, if given permission, will transfer gently along the contours of our fearful selves, as all great art can, if allowed. This, in turn, can allow us permission to consider what we, all of us, hold in our ghostly hearts.
The greatest literature is by nature provoking rather than judgemental – to provoke without verdict is complex and risky and so the greatest artists rarely present answers.
They, all of them, seem to have halted everything in order to dive.

Fiction, if allowed, can breach defences with undimming compassion.

 

 

Artwork by Leng Jun

 

 

 

 

A Thousand Mornings

Reading

“The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth, it can lie down like silk breathing or toss havoc shoreward; it can give gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can sweet-talk entirely. As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you.”
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

Luckily, Robert came by

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Robert came by this morning to see if his book Creation Myths had arrived. It hadn’t. As usual he is not perturbed. There is a copy of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism here, he is completely pleased, it turns out to be a book that is important to him and its poor condition does not deter him. He says that everybody should read it.

Robert, at the moment, is reading heavily. He is reading Jung, Freud, Marie Louise Von Franz, Arthur Avalon and he is reading art, history, mysticism and the ancient plays. He says that his wallet is empty because Centrelink have done something with his aged pension. And he says his gaze is overcrowded at the moment but that these things are of no matter because they are conducive to good work.
I have had no other customers today and I am glum. Robert says: not to worry.
I am reading In the Company of Rilke and there is time so I use it all to tell Robert why. He is always impressed by any book that has been chosen, no matter the reason. He is in complete agreeance on its importance, we concur on conclusions: Rilke the Visionary, Rilke the Mystic, Rilke the Consolation…. we look at the book and both of us are blinded by its sun.

Artwork by Blenda Tyvoll

As I walked away from my old life.

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As I walked away from my old life, I wondered if it were true. What my uncle had said. That I was changed and could never lift my head again. So I tried. I lifted it.

Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

An older lady came in with her husband. He was quiet and he sat looking through the children’s books for a long time. He sat on the cushions for the children and stared at the pages, often he was smiling. She told me that they both loved to read and he was from Latvia. And she described the books she was wanting to read now, they were mostly about the war. She told me that her husband had once been a member of the Latvian Army and had become a displaced person because of this. And that while he was a displaced person he was ordered to go to Siberia and then he would have been shot.

She continued on looking at some books for herself. Her husband, who was much older than her, was now reading Caribbean Tales: An Anthology.

Later, she came out of the back room to continue their story: but luckily he got to come to Australia. He got to come here to live instead of a prisoner of war camp because that’s what they were. But then his wife died. He came to Australia anyway and just ten years ago he married me you see and as I learn his story all I can think is that some people are luckily and some are not.

We went to Latvia two years ago and we went to the War Museum and they asked my husband for permission to record his story, they were passionate to record all of it because they said that much of their history is lost and my husband is a living resource, you see. What happened to him was not very nice. But he has never complained and he has never stopped reading.

I looked at her husband and he is bringing me a book: Australian Working Dog Stories and he says: I really like your Australian kelpies, they are wonderful, beautiful dogs.

Artwork by Jungho Lee

 

Imitation of Christ

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A lady and her daughter came into the shop. They were looking for Dilly Court but I only had one book and they had both read that. The daughter spent some time gently handling a little red leather book called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis. The mother said nothing. The daughter lit up in defence of the book.

Some of us want to be Christians, mum.

The mother said: your dad would have a fit.

They both looked down at the little book, it was red and gold with a decorative border of the front, lines of ivy in silver and green traced through the design. It was rather beautiful.

The daughter answered: Let him then.

The Bath

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A young reader visited the shop and asked me not to remind him that school begins again soon.

January is slowing and it is quiet.

After finishing The Historian I have chosen to read Daisy Head Mayzie by Dr Seuss and also Green Eggs and Ham. I read The Big Cheese and Bartholomew Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. David asked me: But what happened to Edith Wharton and I said: bother Edith Wharton, who cares about her!

Some grandparents brought in their granddaughters to use gift vouchers and one of them, aged about nine years, chose the entire Narnia series. I told them about Max and they said I should give him a voucher, a voucher to my own shop and I was speechless to not have thought of it first! I rushed to write one out and the grandmother said she thought The Gingerbread Man was an ideal first choice. The young reader who was not looking forward to school beginning said his first book was The Secret Seven and is friend said: no way man!

I tell my mother that when I read to my grandson, he follows every word even though he is only four weeks old; he is advanced.

She said: well, maybe he is the same as most babies!

But I am doubtful.

I read I Went Walking three times. Then it was into the bath with Max where he floats motionless, heavy lidded with only his extended big toes showing the ecstasy.

I cannot get anything done. A small baby in a bath is just too absorbing and there is no retreat.

I showed Margaret a picture and she said: What a dear little man. She had come in for a book but forgot what it was, we were too busy looking at the picture of the bath. I said: I can hardly run my bookshop anymore and she said: yes, that’s right, it is impossible.

The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….

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Outside the shop a child hurls her ice block at her father’s feet and he says: well that’s the end of that then!

I see James through the window, he is 14 and cycling slowly through the heat and up the road towing a cart behind his bike, I know he built and attached this cart himself. In the cart today there is an old leather bag and a glass lantern.

It is very hot and customers come through the door and tell me about the heat. Mavis brought me a bag of plums and told me she is unhappy with her hairdresser (no plums for her).

A lady piled books on the counter and whispered to me: oh this is such fun. She had an A. S. Byatt: The Virgin in the Garden and I stared at the cover; I have not yet read this. I felt envious of her pile of books. I told her irrelevantly that now I have my first grandson and she was enormously impressed. She said: Oh well done, well, well done. I felt better; I felt generous and showed her The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, the last copy and the one I was going to keep. When she bought it I did not mind because now I have a grandson.

I have just finished Wide Sargasso Sea and searched my own shelves frantically for more books by Jean Rhys and I did not have anything at all. I am disappointed with my own bookshop.

Jim tells me that wherever he goes, the internet is always slow. But he thinks it is because maybe he is slow. He buys Heart of Darkness because he saw something about it on TV. Angela wants Surrender: A Journal for My Daughter which she also saw on TV.

It continues to be hot but it is not quiet. The motorbikes are seldom quiet. When they leave in droves from the art gallery car park on Sunday mornings, the cars obediently stop to allow them to stream out in a group. The drivers are obedient but not happy.

I have not found anything more by Jean Rhys so I am reading The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith which is horrifying so far. It is also horrifying that have not read it yet. When I saw David he said: why haven’t you read that yet?

Some British tourists buy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson and they are anxious that now they will go over their flight luggage restrictions. But they take it regardless because it is worth the risk.

Peggy rang to tell me that she had bought a new car, a Mazda with Bluetooth, satellite navigation, reversing mirror, live streaming, anything you want to listen to but none of that stupidly new music. She also broke her foot, went down over the fireplace like an old fool. So she also went online to the Book Depository and ordered tons of books, none of which will fit onto her bookshelves.

A man told me that Nelson Demille only writes one book per year which is disappointing. His wife showed me how she carries her handbag so that thieves cannot snatch it. Paul, who is a regular, told them that his wife carried her handbag the same way. Then he told them how much he liked reading about gypsies and they were approving. The husband said: there’s nothing like a good book and everyone nodded.

A brother and sister told me a long story about reading the Narnia series by C S Lewis, they argued over many of the details and the brother accused his sister of not having read them properly. Their father, who had brought them in said: keep it down, you two.

At the end of the week, a Saturday for me, a visitor, a man said:

My wife has had a stroke but still she can read and I always buy her a Colin Thiele. I have got her Sun on the Stubble this time, glad you had it there. I read to her every night. I think that life does go on but I don’t understand how.

I feel that I must read the tough stories too, so that you know life goes on. The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….that’s the sort of books I read to my wife, every night…

 

 

 

Why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer?

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Today is grey, warm and quiet. The cars driving past are all headed for Christmas. A few visitors come in, looking idly for books; one man was looking for Milang. Albert dropped in to say Merry Christmas and that once, when he drove trucks, he took a load of books to Melbourne, thousands of them, all packed into crates. He said: I had a look in the back when they were unloading because they said it was an urgent load and I had to drive all night, books by some bird called Joan Collins. She was in Melbourne signing them or something. Do you think I should have read one of em? Who is she anyway?

I was asked for The Silver Brumby.

An older man spent a long time looking at a Geronimo Stilton. He looked puzzled.

A lady bought a complete Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. She said I love these, so much more than the Grimm Brothers. They were just so….grim! I just want to read them, I don’t need to study or know everything about them. I have a husband who thinks he knows everything. She looked grim.

There are two ladies in the front room and one tells her friend that her grandson said last Christmas: why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer? And so now she is getting him another book. They both laugh toward each other and laugh until one begins to wheeze and wheeze. She gasps out: if he doesn’t like it he gets nothing. But my daughter told me I should get him what he wants.

Her friend says OH FOR GOD’S SAKE!

And they both laugh and laugh again. They are silver and elegant and one has a small tattoo. Then they discussed their adult daughters for a long time, they did not look at any books.

Then it is quiet for a long time. I read The Historian… and it is very good. In this book it is mid-winter in England. And everything is freezing, including Dracula. Here it is hot, but the snow and dust mingle nicely and logically.

I am asked for The History of Tom Jones and then Rumpole of the Bailey.

Outside passers-by comment: this is a nice shop! But they do not come in.

An old man buys some books for his granddaughter in England. He is worried that the family won’t approve. He said: this might put me in the bad books again.

Some children paused outside to eat an enormous bag of chips. There is an argument. One child says they must eat them all NOW because he is not allowed to buy this many chips at once or he will be killed by his mum.

I see Robert hurrying past but he does not come in.

I wonder what else should be happening because it is Christmas…

Then a man came in and asked for a map book but I didn’t have one. He said he’s at the caravan park here, and leaving soon. He and his wife had travelled to South Australia, their last trip, she died of cancer soon after they arrived here which was four days ago. And he just wanted a map book; he thought he might drive a little further; he did not want to go home right now.

But I didn’t have one. He said not to worry, and he went to the bakery. I saw him there through the window, eating at a table all by himself. He had said they had 18 years on the road traveling together before she got cancer.

 

Photography by Markus Spiske

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I might become a pirate or a rabbit catcher.

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A lady brought to the counter a set of poetry books in soft green leather. She stood for a while, holding the books, stroking the covers and running her thumb over the gold on the spines. She said: I am having these.

I looked for the last time at the green and the silver and the soft rich gold of that precise seven volume stack and I said I will miss these and she said: yes.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. It gleams and glitters all around me.

A child asked me if all the pirates in books are actually ok. Because he might become one or he might become a rabbit catcher. He stood on one foot and showed the skill of balancing silently in front of the rabbits. I said: this is excellent.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. Although my accountant said I have completed another year without making any money at all. I told Robert and he said: what do they know!

A man said to his wife: I could spend all day in here and she said: well you’re not.

John rang to thank me for looking for his train book and I reminded him that I had not found it yet. He said: that’s ok. Keep looking. He asked if I had Triple Crown by Felix Francis but I didn’t.

Sharon messaged me to read Great Expectations over Christmas. She said she backed into a car at a shopping centre and it is Christmas that caused it.

One man looked at my Christmas tree and looked shocked. I said cheerily: only a few weeks to go and he said: oh shit. He bought an Encyclopaedia of Horses.

I was asked for Cranford, The Good Earth, Soul Mountain and The Secret Garden. Kody’s younger brother picked up Kody’s Boy Versus Beast Books and said: These are for Kody, but he probably won’t let me read them.

I am surrounded by glittering wealth in here.

A tiny girl, about three years old was wearing one pink shoe and one black shoe and she dropped her handful of coins on the floor. After half an hour her parents left the shelves to come to the counter and their child was still collecting her coins, slowly, painstaking, one by one. She had one shoe on and the other one was full of the coins. Her mother offered her Possum Magic but she was uninterested. She just wanted to continue her work.

I was urged to read Poor Fellow, My country by Xavier Herbert. A young reader that I have never met asked me to show her a really good book that she would like.

Robert dropped in again to recite for me a poem about the Garden of Eden. I said to him that I am surrounded with glittering wealth in here and he said that I should get rid of the westerns then.

A customer has lent me The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova because it is phenomenal. I begin to read it. I am interrupted with another recommendation: The Yandilli Trilogy by Rodney Hall. Peter asked me to find him two copies of The Existential Jesus by John Carroll. He said it is the most important book ever written and that I should read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Merry Christmas…

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The school term is not finished and Christmas has not yet quite begun. There is a small dip in between and we are all in it. Except for Robert who is busy quarrelling with the bank because they are trying to make him extinct. There are no lulls or lows in Robert’s life, just a fervent onwards. He came in to say that he does not enjoy Christmas and that he is going to begin reading Chinese History.

An old lady told me a joke she heard in the 1960s. She said it was from The Goon Show. She said this series made her husband very happy indeed. I know her husband, he is the one who bought a series of Spike Milligan biographies because his friend stole his originals and never returned even one of them. He said that friend was an arsehole. But here now, is his wife asking me to find and set aside a book on the Goon Show as a Christmas present for him

Many readers speak with authority: C. J. Box has a flowing style. Henry Lawson is so colonial. Simone De Beauvoir is essential. Tirra Lirra By the River is heavily symbolic. Richard Flanagan is masterful. Di Morrissey is non-gender specific.

Sometimes their faces have a desperate expression in case they cannot argue effectively on behalf of their book. But they always can. I always wonder: what is it you found in The Good Earth, Pinocchio, The Maltese Falcon, All Quiet on the Western Front? Or in Helen Garner, Will Self, Nino Culotta or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I always wonder what they found and why they did.

When I read Heidi, very young, I corrected my impression of bread and cheese eaten together and eaten outside. I do not know why or how this happened but I have always craved bread and cheese together and outside ever since.

When I read The Hobbit, I adjusted my idea of bravery and size. And when I read The Stone Book by Alan Garner and the child climbed to the roof of the church with her father, I could smell the hot stones and this made me very happy. But I don’t know why.

I was asked for the Implantable Defibrillator Therapy: A Clinical Guide and also for The Count of Monte Cristo.

A man advised me to read John Grisham.

Visitors are anxious to begin their Christmas Shopping but end up purchasing books for themselves.

Sharon is buying gifts for her children’s school teachers and she sits on the floor and reads out loud. She reads lines from the books and sometimes her voice drops into a new lilt. Then it changes and she sounds familiar to me again. Then again into a curious downward slide, with sounds and drops in sound exotic to me; it is Chinese. She brings some poetry books (Ted Hughes, Robert Burns, John Keats) to the counter and begins to talks to me of the cultural revolution in China in the 1970s. She said it was terrible.

She said; this is China, this is my country… literature was banned during this time, as was music… and children were encouraged to report their own parents and one boy, he did this and never saw his mother again. She said: can you imagine that? We stood silently looking out of the window together at the sunny road and tried to imagine it. I said no, I couldn’t imagine it. She says she must get going, there is so much to do, but she sits back down on the floor and begins reading out loud from her book again.

I listen to the words dip and wilt  and then then suddenly break from sound to sense for me and she is in English again and I am wishing that I could do this. She said to me: We must all read, must know things and we must just read…..then she said: goodbye, merry Christmas.

I am asked for The Good Earth (two copies) and Possum Magic and for details of the Christmas Pageant. A lady phones me for The Chronicles of Mavin Manyshaped.

An old man came into the shop and said: I’m back. But I could not remember him. He said: but I love to read Colleen McCullough.

He also said sadly that he has just been to Mannum to visit his friend. His friend is knocking on eighty years (and he himself has already kicked eighty in the backside) but he could not remember where his friend lived and so he came home again.

I found The Thorn Birds and hopefully presented it and he looked at it carefully. He said: but this is the one I have been wanting, how did you do that?

I said that it is just luck.

He said well, well, well!