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

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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.

 

20% possum, 10% silk, and 70% merino

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An old lady came in from the tourist bus across the road; she was in a tremendous hurry because she said that the buses leave on the buzzer and won’t wait for an old lady. But another lady, on the same tour and going through the cook books at a great pace said that “This is nonsense, Dot, don’t tell people that.” Dot asked me for some outback books, a good read or something and she chose Douglas Lockwood and then she circled the shop looking for her walking stick which we found hanging on her arm.This pleased her very much and she cut out for the waiting bus at a great pace. The other customer said to take no notice but I privately admired her energy and enthusiasm and complete disregard of the winter.

Ryland parked his scooter at the front counter and unpacked his new football boots. He said that he just could not get his old boots to last the season and that also he was in the middle of about ten books. Then he said that his mum knew nothing about Star Wars even though she thought she did. He came back with a Jane Jolly book and said that Jane Jolly was his library teacher and that he didn’t have this book. He pointed to the name of the illustrator and asked me did I know that she had many different draw- ers for her books. He looked at the name Di Wu for a long time. He said he thought that this name came from a different language.

I was asked for The Navel Diaries of Jacob Nagel and Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Later it was Throy by Jack Vance, a triple volume (number 5) of Herge and The Green Bicycle by Al Mansour Haifaa.

David is 88 and he pulled from his bag a jumper and asked me to read the label on the back of the jumper. I read: 20% possum, 10% silk, and 70% merino and he said to me that it is an amazing garment because it looks good, feels nice and keeps him warm. He unpacks his bag and tells me the story of each item he is carrying: chocolates for his friend who has Alzheimer’s, three hats to help him through the weather, pickles from his favourite store, his remarkable jumper, a scarf, a book called Historic Homesteads of Australia and a volume of CJ Dennis which he has just bought from here.  When he left he said that there is a story about Old Father Time who walks up behind an old man in the street and taps him on the shoulder. That is the whole story; it made David laugh and said that the story would not mean anything much except to an old person.

He piled everything on his walking frame and thanked me for having such a lovely place here. He made his way, slowly, slowly across the road toward home and now wearing 20%possum, 10% silk and 70% merino.

Margaret came in as David left and told me that she is not a committee person; they make her shudder even though some people simply live for them.

Now it is quiet again, I can continue with Dorothy Parker and gaze at the descriptions of authors that I admire from the 1920s and 1930s being excessively mean to each other.

Max stopped to give me some ginger chocolate that he bought from down the road and high recommended.

A couple bought a biography of Aaron Copland for their adult son and argued over how they might present it to him. But I am still reading (without interrupting their discussion) that Dorothy Parker did not in any way like A. A. Milne and I am astounded.

Now I stand and look at the shelves and wonder about all these books and Dean comes in to pick up his Bhagavad Gita. I tell him about the astonishing quarrels of great writers and he said that nothing has changed. Then he told me about the difficulties of honey.

Playing With Fire

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A father and son stood by the door and had a lengthy argument about Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. I did not have a copy of this book and so could not assist them in clarifying their positions. But the discussion became heated enough for them to each accuse the other of not having read it.  A lady came in and thanked me for helping her buy a calendar last week from the post office. Then she passed back outside and the Stephen King dispute, which had courteously paused while she spoke, continued on.

But for most of this cold day there is nobody here except for Pepys and me

Until a couple came in from Tasmania and commented that our weather is quite fine and that the thing with reading is that you can do it whatever the weather anyway.

A lady bought a book, light romance, nothing too taxing, for her sister and presented it to her at the counter. The sister said that she was a scallywag. They admired Samuel Pepys which still sits superbly on the front counter and said that he obviously did not have enough to do with time to write a huge book like that. I said that this is only some of his diary and that actually he was always busy.

And this is true. On October 20th, 1663 having risen at noon, he found his coachmen having a fight in the street with strange fellow and he, Samuel Pepys,  had to cuff the drunk fellow several times on the chops and then left him on the street, very satisfying.

Then, later, a long intense debate between two young brothers amongst the adventure series in the front room. The trouble was that there was only one Zac Powers left and they both wanted it. The older brother presented a compelling argument to the younger brother that he might prefer Beast Quest more….the younger brother was doubtful and so was offered Star Trek, Boy and Beast and Star Wars. But he was disinterested and kept his thumb on the Zac Powers, pinning it to the table. The older brother considered the shelves a little desperately and finally, triumphantly, offered Skulduggery: Playing with Fire and then they could both come to the counter, winners. I asked chattily if they could see the fallen pepper tree across the road and they said politely ‘yes,’ but neither of them could look up from their books.

People dropped in to tell me that it was freezing and that the pepper tree over the road had fallen over. I said that I had a photo of it on my computer and they are shocked that I already have a photo of it as I wasn’t even here yesterday.

I was asked for books of elegant photography, Babar, Go Set a Watchman and if I had seen the overturned pepper tree. John read to me the first page of The Memoirs of Richard Nixon and said it was a worry. He came in while he waited for the bus and said that the buses don’t have heating on them and everything, including his troubles fell to ten below every time he had to ride in one. He held the door open while he told me this so that the temperature in the shop plummeted to match that of the bus.

Dot told me about Gorilla, Gorilla, her once favourite book that was set in the Congo and that she stole from her brothers because they would not let her read their Biggles collection. She said she just devoured books and had done all her life but that her brothers were still fools.

The rest of the day was quiet. I can tidy up the histories which fall down and the Roald Dahls which are scattered and the Robert Jordans which are out of order and the Zac Powers which are gone. I thought about the lady who used to read Gorilla Gorilla and how she had looked so sad when she talked about her brothers that were fools. She had also said that her father had though a daughter to be a waste of time.

I can read more of What Fresh Hell is This? (Dorothy Parker) which is brilliant and look out at the cold quiet people in the street and I think that the ones carrying books look the happiest.

 

“Yes, indeed!”

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A child found a library card in the back of a copy of A Wrinkle in Time and said: What’s this? His grandma looked at the card for a long time.

It is nearly noon and a man told me that his north England accent caused him a lot of problems. Then he asked me if I knew George Orwell’s real name. He asked it twice so that I would not have trouble with his accent. He did not come to buy a book, just to take the air as he was a guest at his brother’s house and needed to get out of the place. I said that I understood the situation.

Two adult brothers returned three times, troubled over a book of trains in the children’s section. Eventually they purchased a DK Atlas and left, still troubled. But I was on the phone to Robert who had rung to see if his Tantric Yoga has arrived (it hasn’t) so I ask him might he let Mick  know that his Penguin History of Greece is here. Robert says that he always battles mental health in the winter and it is only books that get him through.

I understand because I am reading more of Dorothy Parker and I am still impressed that she wrote of her own darkness with no apology. It makes me think of that my own small clear stream of sadness and how I can keep it flowing and flushing.

A lady spends a long time looking at the cat books until her husband asked her anxiously to come along now. But she said that there was a book called Cats of Cornwall there and she must look at it more.

I was advised that the weather was lovely apart from the wind and the cold. I was told that the sky could use some more light.

One man was delighted with A Home Handyman by Readers Digest but he didn’t buy it as he thought his wife would be at him even more if he did. While he was telling me this, another man looked through the window and said:  here comes the train, full of damned tourists as usual.

A lady whispered to me that Anna Funder’s All That I Am was a great book.

I was asked for Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon and this customer said that the most important part of a shop is the windows and did I know that Belloc in The Path to Rome said that he worshipped windows. I said that I actually did know that and that he wrote about tunnels too, and light.

Meanwhile the rain keeps drumming the asphalt and visitors try to force the door shut as quickly as possible. Andrew was disappointed that his Knight of the Seven Kingdoms had not arrived. A man sung a Frank Sinatra song as he browsed until his wife told him to stop it.

Some new visitors bought some old and very attractive travelogues; he was planning to actually read them and not shelve them for decorative purposes and I was impressed. He told me a long story about Sir Ernest Shackleton, starting at chapter one which was titled Into the Weddell Sea and then he asked me if I read the vintage travel volumes and I said I looked for travel books written by women. He nodded politely but Jo, his wife,  came forward and said “yes indeed.” She bought a copy of Daisy Bates in the Desert.

I was advised to read Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac and to try David Malouf. I promised to see to it but am still tangled up with Dorothy Parker and Samuel Pepys and intend to be for some time yet.

 

 

 

…all things try to keep on being themselves; a stone wants to be a stone and the tiger, a tiger. Jorge Borges

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Yesterday morning a young woman put her head in the door to speak to me. It was raining hard and she said that as she was soaking wet, she couldn’t come in – and she really was soaked through. She said that she was really enjoying Angela’s Ashes. She looked at me anxiously and I wondered why this was. Then I remembered that I had said to her when she purchased the book: I hope you enjoy this book, let me know what you think.

And she did. She came back through the winter morning to tell me that she did.

Then a man came in and stood by the heater in obvious enjoyment. He said that when he dies he will have his ashes scattered in a book shop. His girlfriend looked at me and then said to him that nobody would want his ashes.

I am still reading Dorothy Parker and I carry it around. I think that if she could write how it was then I can be who I am.

A lady brought some children’s picture books to the counter and said: these are me, these are my life and they make me feel happy. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, maybe I never will but I am going to collect these books for myself anyway as they are about who I am.

A group of people all came in together and one man said to me: you have there Zen for Cats….well, I have a friend whose name is Zen!!!!!

He leaned in toward me, bright with delight: And my name is Brian, so there you go! He waved his arm at some nearby shelves and said: not too bad at all. His wife tried to edge him out but he was still too happy with his observations to leave yet.

A lady asked me what I thought of The Water Babies. She said she might go for a smoke and then come back and grab a copy. She said that this here (my shop) was a peaceful little cubby hole.

Outside, the dog lover’s club had gathered outside the bakery and laid out a carpet of rugs and blankets. The cyclist group stood nearby, famished and eating silently. Margaret came in and commented that it is hard the walk the streets these days.

Tina and her family came in for more Enid Blytons but the children picked a large craft book instead. Tina told me that they would scribble out all of the witch and magic activities and her mother said, alarmed, that scribbling in books was also bad. Tina was outraged and answered that she had always told them to block out the bad things. I watched the mother herd her family out of the shop to go home and consider this New Problem.

Three adult daughters brought their mother in to help her choose some books but when they came into the shop they realised that she was not with them. They brought her back again and she pushed magnificently past them all to introduce herself. She chose a small and superb collection of books and left again while her daughters were still muddling in amongst true crime.

A young man bought Romulus My Father. He was dressed for work, a suit and tie and briefcase and he was silent. When I considered the title he said suddenly that the film of this book had affected him profoundly. When he went out he left his wallet on the counter and I had to call out to him in the street where he was reading as he walked away.

A small boy bought Monster Blood Tattoo (volume one) because the dragon on the front looked like his dragon he had at home. I was impressed. I saw his parents look quickly at me to see if I might be impressed. The child was unconcerned with what I thought because he had his book and a dragon at home.

 

 

I pick radishes for a job now.…

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The weekend is gloomy and I ask Scott why nobody is coming to visit the shop and if the kindle really is taking all the readers away. But he says that it is just because it is raining.

And he informs me that he is not going to buy a book because he doesn’t want one. And he has to get his gopher fixed.

I have time to read more Dorothy Parker.

Sue picked up the books she ordered and she is furious because when her brother helped her tidy up her book shelves he threw out every book that did not look tidy. Then she asked him to leave and he was offended. Today she took her books next door to the bakery to read them there amongst the warmth and coffee and toasted sandwiches. When she came out she looked very happy again.

I have put strings of lights through the front window and I admire them immensely. When I was a child I would have loved my own bookshop. I would have come in hoping for Enid Blyton and Milly Molly Mandy and so I have these books on the shelves just in case I come in. I told this to Serenity who is in grade five and she thought that I should also have Harry Potter there too as it is better than the books from the old days. She is drawing the bookshop, standing at the counter while she draws and the view she draws is from the outside. She tells me she can draw just about anything from anywhere and that she has read three pony books and one book about butterflies.

Robert picks up some more volumes in his Myths and Legends series and he admires Serenity’s drawing while he waits for me. He shows me one of his books from home that has had the pictures of the Indians cut out and he wonders who would target this book in such a sinister way. Serenity tells him that probably a little kid cut them out with their crayola scissors because her cousin did that to her books about 50 times.

Robert considers this solution but I know he would like something with a little more conspiracy to it.

Taylor is a student and has been admiring the leather bound Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz collections for a few weeks. She wants to purchase them for herself but will announce to her family that they are for her children. This means that she can justify the expense.  She lingers to admire Serenity’s drawing of the shop and told us that she used to be a nurse but now she picks radishes and has never felt so good. Picking radishes was the very thing she needed to do, good clean labour and then come home to read, these gave her a window back out and she is now restored and is now also a paramedic student. She also bought a copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen because the cover was silver and blue. Serenity told Taylor that she is reading a book about magic animals and is up to chapter 7.Taylor told her to keep at it and also the drawing as anyone could see she had quite a future ahead of her.

It is getting cold and dark. I am back with Dorothy Parker who seemed to have lived in the cold and dark but dispelled it by writing exactly about it. Picking radishes and reading Dorothy Parker! Two good ways to dispel the gloom.

At the end of the day, a young man let me know that reading those nonfiction books that predict the future is a waste of time. That we must read the science fiction writers like Aldous Huxley and Armin Maalouf and Margaret Atwood if we really want to know where we are heading. He said that most nonfiction books in the nineties missed the Smartphone, the invasion of online privacy and the presence of ISIS.

He bought three John Grisham books because he said it is hard for him to concentrate on much else these days.

I was asked for Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, The Kite Runner, The Ranger’s Apprentice (complete series), Three Men in a Boat and The Penguin History of Greece. I was asked for directions to the town hall and to Meadows.

I asked Serenity if I could have a copy of her drawing of the shop to display.

Dieter came in at the end of the day to rest amongst the gardening books.

I read Dorothy Parker.

How valuable…

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With lightning

One is not enlightened

How valuable.

 Basho, The Complete Haiku

I am reminded each morning that now it is cold. I have lit up a string of red lights around A. S. Byatt and Virginia Woolf to remind me of warmth and brave living. People look at the lights across these books and say: this looks so warm with the red lights there. I have added Kate Grenville and also John Kennedy Toole, who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces and then died before it was published and before he knew how important he was.

My fist visitor today, after commenting on the beginning of winter asked for Of Mice and Men. She had always wanted to read John Steinbeck and also thought that my coloured lights were nice, just the thing for a dark day.

A young browser looked at The Imitation of Christ and murmured:”…well, maybe not today…”

Robert is going to challenge an unfair Centrelink request and he does not care if it takes the rest of his life, so long as he still has time to read.

One customer told his friend that it was a bloody good day and his friend answered that this was true and that she was full of water. He said that slowly the ground will become good with it.

A lady told me that she wanted to read The Diary of Samuel Pepys, some kind of reader’s version. I said that even that is just over a thousand pages. She decided she was up for it. Then she told me that when she was a librarian, the woman at the next desk did absolutely nothing and yet still managed to look busy. She said that this woman kept it up for about 10 years – and this is only a little longer than Pepys kept up his diaries!

In The Collected Dorothy Parker I read this: “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.”  Dorothy Parker was an American author, poet and critic who wrote across the early 1900s. She was a brilliant writer and she was very funny and very sad. This made it agonising for her to sit still – but clearly she knew this because she said it: “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.” And she wrote with unfailing honesty her stories and poetry and thoughts. This means that we can read them and then honestly claim our own stories and pain, too.

Although we are encouraged not to, I think that it can be very useful to sit still and risk a seeming achievement of nothing. This could make the activity of reading a challenging one. Perhaps this is why many people bring in printed reading lists…so show some progress.

A grandparent expressed her concern for her grandsons that could not sit still. She asked for some picture books about farm animals: she was going to begin reading to them and introduce a new kind of activity.

Reading is slow and accumulative.

I listened to a reader tell me many details about Tom Keneally’s Commonwealth of Thieves and I was convinced to try Mary called Magdalene by Margaret George.

“So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'”

 Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ in his 1948 book, “The Naked and the Dead.”

Photography by Martin Dorsch