This has happened to me twice

The Smile by Philippe Vlgnal

This has happened to me twice now.

Somebody has asked me for a book which I don’t have. Then somehow, somewhere, I find their book, and I ring them to let them know. They are pleased; they thank me. And then we say goodbye. But they do not hang up in time. They keep talking, not realizing that we are all still there! 

This is very funny.  I hear them exclaim, shout, roar, scream. One lady laughed, deeply, loudly, raucously. She screamed as she drove:
‘Ah. Ah. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha OH YEEEEEE HA….’
Today, a man said, ‘Oh mate, I can’t believe it, thank you.’ And he did not hang up in time. I heard:
‘BEAUTIFUL. Fuck me. She got it. She found one. Fuck me!’

Painting The Smile by Philippe Vlgnal

Constantly shocked and constantly happy

a2dc213ac8f7af288a08b39a7ff06125 (2)

Today is so cold that it seems funny. And our Flinders Rangers has had snow. Customers come in shivering and happy. There is rain.  The cold enters my shop under the door, sliding constantly and silently like a slice of cold glass as long as the day.

Marion comes in with screwed up eyes and very happy. ‘Can you feel that?’

A couple browse and leave reluctantly, holding the door open for a while before dropping off the jetty into the freezing lake, holding hands.

Robert is hilarious with anticipation. He orders more books. Someone has backed into his car recently. Actually about six people have. The size of the car parks is criminal. We criticize the council in comfortable tones. We talk about yoga. A young woman, looking through women’s classics, asks if yoga will help her with a sore neck. She and Robert exchange news in joyful symptoms.

A man passes the shop outside wearing shorts and a t shirt. He has muddy boots and is eating something hot from a paper bag. The food must be too hot because he stops suddenly with a pained expression and sucks in air to cool the system. He raises his shoulders and closes his eyes. He is wearing the most beautiful sky blue and moss green striped soft beanie that I wish were mine.

A customer adds more titles to her already impossible library, a library that is now growing according to its own laws, and within which she has become the explorer, constantly shocked and constantly happy.

A couple visit to see if I know about the snow in the Flinders.

A crowd of students pass the windows, loud, puffing white breath. One says, ‘Well, fuck him then.’ She has her arm around a friend. Is walking and leaning in kindly. The friend is snuffling, she looks cold and loved.

A lady crosses the silent frozen road wearing gold corduroy trousers, a soft jumper, a scarf, and good solid thongs. She watches her feet as they tread gently through the water. I wonder if she knows about the snow in the Flinders.

 

 

Why read?

il_570xN.313795218

I am looking at too much news. Every day there is more, and it’s loud – data and facts mostly, and many, many images.

It is like entering an art gallery and being told very quickly, loudly, and with huge authority, which pieces of art are red, which are small, which are thick, and which are useless. And then, which pieces contain wool, which ones are cold, and most importantly, which ones are bad, and may have possibly broken the law. I get 15 seconds with each piece, my face on the painting, grazed, my eyes hopeful. Then leaving with these deafening crashes of information and baffling images still sounding and still hurting. This is the news.

At the moment journalists seem to mostly locate, circle, and then humiliate. There is no context and no perspective, and therefore no understanding or compassion. I learn nothing. I remain fixed. But I have definitely honed my skills in blaming and allocating disgrace. I do this all the time. It is easy because (obviously) I am not like them.

Them:

Politicians getting it wrong, government employees doing nothing, stupid women shopping at Bunnings, idiots sneaking across borders, fools not wearing masks, not obeying, not staying home, not getting it right, not saying the right things, not avoiding the wrong things, believing silly things, buying too much, keeping too much, standing too close, driving too fast, being mean, being ugly, being critical, careless, violent, dishonest, selfish: them.

I can’t really see the problems, but I can clearly see who is to blame. I don’t understand the situations. I am distracted from solutions. I am never sure what is going on. But shaming is the most satisfying solution – because I can then forget all about. This leaves me with no clear perspective of humanity, except that it’s all someone else’s fault. Soon I will scroll my news feed for more satisfaction.

But when I read, I must return to an acute and clean discomfort – that “them” is “me”. And that there is not a single situation where I would or could be other than “them”. Literature tells me that human nature has not changed and that there is always, always more to everything. I am the same as anyone when lacerated by fear; we do what we do. What’s different is how we express it, if we get caught, and if our badness is of quick value to someone else.

But the news makers themselves – the ones who chase and choose the news, presenting these facts and those awful images, keeping us informed. What is their story? What awful deadlines and expectations do these individuals face that they must hurl so much gravel, so quickly and so powerfully.

I would like to be able to step back and understand more, consider the larger, diabolically more complex stories behind what is happening. To acknowledge my own deep and fearful place in it all. How else do I gain a consoling perspective? How else to grow compassion?

Of all the inanimate objects, of all man’s creations, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning towards error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.

Joseph Conrad

Notes on life and letters 1921

 

My wife, Roz

Alexander Millar

‘My wife, Roz.’

The man speaking was visiting my shop again, and when he said ‘Roz’, he went still and looked upwards.

‘She paints.’

He had come back to give me a gift – a copy of Trollope’s The Way we Live Now from his own collection. We had talked about this book a few days ago. We had leaned toward each other, acknowledging Trollope and Barchester Towers. So funny, all about people, all about people right now. 

He asked, ‘Why is it, do you thank, that nothing changes…?’

‘It’s delightful. Delightful.’ I watched him judge humanity.

He held his cap under one arm to talk about the free bench seats at concerts in the Adelaide Town Hall when he sat when he was a boy.

‘I didn’t like Elvis, I really tried though. I really did. But I was poor. Did you know that at school, I joined the cadets to get a free uniform. Then I wore that to the concerts. The music. That music. Because…’

‘There, then, on those seats, the orchestra, something happened. To me.’

He, my customer, having given me my book, the gift, edged toward the door, but then came back. I noticed these things:

He would often look upwards, at something that would not allow itself to be shelled easily in sounds.

He would change his cap from hand to hand.

He would apologise in case he was boring me. He wasn’t.

He said: ‘Why is it that.’

‘Of course, Thackeray.’

‘And Charlie Dickens, well look at him…’

‘And of course we must consider…’

‘Books.’

‘Music.’ He continued on, sliding through one joy to the next.

‘Rudyard Kipling. Beethoven. The lights in those places at night, from outside, in winter. Oh, the concerts. But I didn’t mind. I had to sell all my things. My tools, I was a tradesman, I didn’t mind. But when it came to the books, I went and stood next to the auctioneer. It was awful. It was severe.’ To see them go like that.’

He shifted his cap and returned to me.

‘My wife, Roz. She paints’. You should see – metallic oxide on glaze – the glaze becomes mobile and the oxides sink. It’s difficult, you need to see it.’

He shifted his cap again; the cap was in the way. He gazed forward at his wife who was not there. His head bent slightly, it too, in the way. ‘My wife, she paints.’

‘I must go. Please do enjoy your book.’

 

Wrong shop mate!

067 (4)

I don’t expect the motorbike people to come into the shop. They usually park across the road and walk to the bakery and then back to the group. But today, one man came up and shouted through the door, ‘Hey mate, have you got Winter’s Tale yet?’

I didn’t.

‘It’s by Mark somebody. Mate, it’s good, it’s good. Remember we talked about it. You ort to read it.’ He came in and stood leaning back, hands on hips, boots on the earth and read all the titles in Science Fiction and Fantasy. His book was not there, yet he remained cheerful. ‘Mate, if only I had the time to read all these. Not to worry.’

His enthusiasm made an impression on me.

Then he opened the door to leave, and a friend suddenly bloomed on the footpath outside and shouted, ‘Wrong shop mate, what the hell are you doing?’

He answered, ‘No way, it’s a good little place, a good little place. Have you got my gloves?’

How to enter and exit a bookshop

Rudi Hurzlmeier (2)

Swing in. No pause. A brief greeting; eyes straight to the shelves. Eyes either light up or narrow slightly. Both are good signs. Silence, or an exclamation. Both are useful.

A lightning fast assessment, or the dithering on the mat.

Apology for having brought in a cup of coffee.

Apology for bringing in other books.

Apology for letting in the cold air.

Asking for directions.

Some visitors give surreptitious glances over both shoulders so as not to miss anything. Some boom greetings. Others whisper the whole time they are in the shop.

Some need no directions. Others want NO directions, ’It’s ok, I’ll find my way.’

Pronounce me lucky.

Some people peer in through the window for a long time. Shading their eyes, hunched and purposeful. When I look up, they are still there, staring from side to side as though watching trains come in.

People say, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, can I just get around,’ gentle voices, understanding each other’s absorption. Hands in pockets. The smile, not at me, but at the books – but including me if they can. Some people can walk and read with ease. Most can’t.

Feeling around for reading glasses that are now on a different shelf.

Gasping; young people.

Paying. ‘Awesome.’ Voices now loud and confident. ‘Thanks very much.’ Even louder, almost shouting, ‘We always come here! Bye, bye bye…great, thank you, bye….’ Growing fainter.

Low laughs. Low discussions.

‘Are you actually going to read it?’ Parents.

‘I’ll get it for you.’ Lovers

‘I’m not paying for that.’ Siblings.

‘Go and wait outside.’ Retired couples.

Some people stand and read their book right in the doorway. Some move onto the footpath but cannot go any further. One family stood in a group on the footpath around The Two Towers and talked for another ten minutes. They leave things behind, drink bottles, hats, a torch.

Small children bring random books to the counter and are called from beyond to put them back. One child bought and paid for The Lord of the Rings and said, ‘This is for me.’

A lady standing behind him said, ‘Well done indeed.’

People help each other get books off the high shelves, laughing laughingly. Tell me about the weather, or the traffic, or their shopping.

Tell a long story and ask me where they were going with it. But I can’t help them. Some people lean their foreheads on one arm against a shelf and thus read alone. Some people talk loudly to strangers about what they think and the strangers edge politely away. Once there was an argument about Scott Morrison which became ugly. Once, an argument about racehorses which became boring. Children pile and count coins on the floor which go clink, clink, clink in desperate piles of hope. I liked to change the prices on their books so they get half of their coins back. But then they look at me in shock, unhappy at having counted wrong. Now I count with more respect, offer the discount at the end. But many children remain uneasy with this.

Older men have a habit of demanding a discount, looming over me, tapping the wallet, confident, assuming I will ease their $9.  I don’t.

Once a teenager brought me a box of his own books and would not take any money for them. He said it was to help me stay open because things had been hard lately these days. He told me about each book; they were not discards; they were his own library.

Children keep jacket hoods on, peek at me as they pass the counter. Parents press books toward them, the children press them away again politely and look at me again.

Women meet unexpectedly and laugh loudly, ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Oh you know, getting on with it.’

‘Yeah mate.’

A parent says, ‘I don’t want you buying books just because of the covers.’

A child stops still in the doorway, stops walking forwards and steps from side to side in an astonished rocking movement, ‘This is like the movie.’ He holds up his book, and his family stumble and fall all over him. ‘Move, Marcus, don’t stop like that.’ But he is too happy. He can’t hear them, and he stays right there staring at the dragon, rocking gently and forces the family to divide and flow around him, finally scooping him up at the rear – by his father, who says, ‘Gotta go, little man.’

They go, they’re loud; I guess they will take the little man to the bakery…..goodbye…

 

Illustration by Rudi Hurzlmeier

 

Undefeated, always

Inge Look (3)

I like the way they enter the shop, strongly, not opening the door but crashing it out of their way. They are scarves and swirls. They are orange and nutmeg. They are loud, beautiful, and their jewellery is long.

When they came in, one said, ‘My God, a BOOKstore’, and they entered magnificently.

‘What’s that?’

“It’s Dune. It’s making a comeback.’

‘Oh really.’

‘For God’s Sake.’

‘I love Dune.’

‘So did I, but isn’t it dated…’

‘No.’

‘You can’t beat Georgette Heyer, is what I always say.’

Her friends look at her kindly.

‘There’s a new book by…who was it…?’

‘Look at this.’

They argue about Family Circle. They are loud. They are not in agreement about the basics. One of them has a grown child who is causing anxiety. One grips the arm of another. They lean close to read the titles on the Young Reader table; one says, ‘Don’t they read some good things these days, look at this with the dragons on it.’

But they have to go. They move as an army, knowing precisely when and how to move, and why.  How to defeat the enemy. They are ladies of a magnificent age. I do not want them to go. I want to know things. But they have to go; there is work to do.

When they leave, one says, ‘Do you want to try for a loaf of bread next door?’

They go. They leave, taking Georgette Heyer and Family Circle Jams and Preserves. Undefeated, always.

 

Illustration by Inga Look

Children and their mums and dads

b7e28802dc1f0e0f5a5d9f9ca017b787 (2)

What do they see, these children who are brought into bookshops, who are allowed to look and choose, are encouraged to read, and whose parents drift aside into their own place; Jack Kerouac, Terry Pratchett, Dune, Sonya Hartnett, Evelyn Waugh, The Remains of the Day, Dark Emu, Toni Morrison, Colette, Lee Child, Alice Walker, Debra Adelaide, The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis. The parents try to remain present. What do their children do?

One family: the five year old telling his dad about a book, desperately. ‘It has a man on the front, with a helmet on.’

The dad says, ‘Show me, take me to the book. You look after me.’ They bustle toward the book – there is a long conversation. Then they drift for a while. Dad has three books. The child has one and has finished.

‘Do you feel like you want to go? To the car?’ The child does.

‘Well, I think mum needs more time.’ We all look at mum. She is leaning, ankles crossed, against poetry, plays and Virago Classics. Child and man gaze at her. She wears olive green, mustard, deep wine, navy blue, chocolate brown, and she is motionless. Three paperbacks at her feet, ready.

Another child spins on an axis.

‘Dad dad dad come back.’

‘Come back dad dad dad dad dad dad dad. This is my book.’

‘It’s yours?’

‘Yeeeers.’

Some children find books for their parents.

‘Dad, look at this, you should get this.’

‘I like it. I the way you think.’ The child, about eight, expands. ‘This is fantastic, too.’

One father tells his partner, ‘I can tell you how that ends.’

‘Don’t.’

Their daughter, about ten, looks on, impassive. She says to me on the way out, ‘I’m reading Lord of the Rings.

A child, maybe six, listens to his parents argue about Henry James. ‘Portrait of a Lady…we have it.’

The child says, ‘I just found a portrait of a lady.’ They swoop. Oh my God, did you hear that?’ The child shows them a book with a lady on the front.

Some parents say, ‘Hands behind your back, remember,’ while they handle all the books.

Outside, when I am hanging my balloons: ‘Why do you always do that, can’t you do anything right?’ Parents talking in car parked right next to me. They are talking to a child in the back seat, but I assume they are talking to me.

Some children take a seat and just read. Some make a stack, and their parents look on admiringly. One daughter told me about history joyfully, and her father stood back, looking at her with utter respect.

 

All those kids

107046284_801947117004216_5968749010273159284_n (2)

Three families came up from Adelaide and visited a book shop! There were so many kids staring at the shelves that had my shop been a boat, it would have tipped up and sunk at the Enid Blyton end. The mothers, commandos, moved supremely, directing, agreeing (about Roald Dahl), settling issues (pocket money), herding, narrowing eyes when necessary, agreeing to purchases, handing on a legacy.

The smallest child carried around a bear. She gazed at Dr Who, unhappily I thought.

A boy bought an Atlas of the World, and said, ‘Thanks, it’s really pretty here in a good way.’ I gave him a discount because he was a gem.

A man, unrelated, bought one book, sulkily I thought, and asked if I thought that these kids would actually read any of the books they had. I gave him no discount because he was a dickhead.

The children hummed and bobbed and jogged and said, ‘I’ve already read that, it’s about a cave.’

Their mothers looked at titles, heads to the side, lips pursed. They snapped books shut, and said, ‘Ok’. They were efficient. They didn’t need a bag. They commanded for someone to hold the door. They glided out into the cold, all the bobbins following, saying, ‘But you know how in Percy Jackson, his mum is called Sally…’

 

Going to fly with these

822830f48fe69f96e61bf743286dc03f

This morning, two young girls with beautiful shoulder bags visited the shop. I don’t remember them here before. They settled in. I sat back with respect. True readers.

Lord of the Rings…. look at these…do you have The Sils?’

‘Yeah, ages ago…’

‘Every book that he’s written…’

‘I know, right!’

‘Do you think I should get something about…’

‘I shouldn’t be looking at this, but I love roses…’

They are young and can kneel easily. They can include the bottom shelves. They are not fatigued by high shelves. Reach and lift. Scan books on their knees and get up rapidly again. Their shoulders are not rounded. Once a lady told me she cannot read the titles on any books above her head or below her knees, and I needed to get rid of everything on the highest and lowest shelves. She was really angry. She had shoulders that were argumentative.

One girl cradles, then hugs the book about roses.

They can both walk and read at the same time. I used to be able to do this. The angry woman had said that my shop would cause injuries.

‘Look at this.’ The girls whisper darkly and laugh and laugh and laugh.

They sit on their heels, easily.

Once a man said I needed to do something about my doorway.

‘You need to do something about this doorway. Bloody ridiculous.’

The girls are are counting coins on the floor.

They stand up and look at each other’s armloads, then look down to examine their own cuddled stack. Then they move to another shelf. They have not yet got enough.

The angry lady had said that she would not return.

One girl said, ‘I’m going to fly with these. Just got The Last Unicorn.’

‘Did you get that?’

‘Mmm.’

‘Omg.’

‘Cmon.’

‘Ok’.

They pay and leave, hugging their books. Hugging their books. When they floated past my window, they were hugging their books.

Wild Swans by Arnaldo Mirasol