Do you have any books on sharks?

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Three children and their parents. They carry the books around, reading as they walk, reading out loud, spotting something else, kneeling down to see. Wondering and thinking, do we need it, have we got it? We do. We don’t.

Look at this.

Seen it.

Look at this.

I want it.

Three Harry Potters make it to the front. And then a book on sharks that they asked for and stood over, pointing and discussing, and which can’t be left behind. Very good.

Dad comes back, he just ducked out to the 12 Volt Shop (he said), and now has a good look at the selections. Very good.

Then they all muddle out, bumping and swaying, which is how you walk when you read at the same time. (Very good).

The little boy who looked through the window

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They were running past the window, a group, against the wind and streaming. The little boy, about six, darted at the door, bent low to look through, his face for a second right against the glass, fogging up, owl’s eyes, not blinking. He disappeared behind his own breath and then tapped the glass and flew away.

But he came back. His face, pressed to the door again, was all eyes and ideas. His family must have stopped and come back because somebody, suddenly, opened the door and in he fell.  There was a little sister with rainbow gumboots just behind. She put one finger in the air and said, Harry Potter. Her brother, breathing hard, said, book two or one. I gave them the books and they took them under a table to have a look. The parents drifted.

It was getting darker, quieter , and it began to rain.

There was a young woman here that afternoon, too, who sang while she searched for books. I remember the children gazing at her shoes, and then looking at each other. She didn’t know they were there. She sang on, they drew up their knees and hugged their hiding place, the parents drifted and outside, it rained on and on.

Artwork by Rebecca Dautremer

Reading in Winter

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Louis came back.

He wanted Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton, Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong and Saul Bellow.

Louis walks slowly but reads fast. He has parked some way down the street and later, I help him with the books, pack the shining bundles into the back seat with the old suitcase and the eggs. He says, thanks very much, indeed, yes, for the winter reading. I love winter, it’s for reading. I’ll get that Shakespeare out you know, it’s been put to the back again.

As though his library was alive and doing things behind his back. Which they do.

When he arrived, he had stopped at the counter and breathed deeply a few times. He always does this, he says it’s to get in the stride of things. Of reading, which is active, chaotic and shattering, especially if you read like Louis.

He says I talk too fast. When I said, here are the Primo Levis you wanted, he says, wait, which ones are they? I’ll tell you why I wanted these. He tells me a story of reading and love.

When I say, here is the Botton book you wanted (about Proust), he says, oh yes, now I need Proust of course. Wait, tell me more about Botton, is he Swiss or French? He sounds French. But I heard he is British. I heard he is amazing. Remind me.

He also reminds me not to talk too fast.

He wants to read about Gandhi. He wants the best biography there is. He says that biographers are artists, artists of the world, artist of us, we MUST consider them. He lists  all the biographies of Mahatma Gandhi he has already read. It sounds like all of them to me. But it isn’t. It isn’t enough: there is another. He holds out his hands, making a cradle that rocks gently, perfection.

I agree, I will find it. He says, there is always time.

Then, finally, he turns to go, but only after an interview that detailed Karen Armstrong, Elaine Pagels, (The Gnostic Gospels), A History of Water, who wrote that? Who wrote The History of Insanity? I saw it somewhere. Tell me about Barchester Towers, I saw it as a series, had the guy from Harry Potter in it, brilliant. Is it a series? I tell him it is, thousands of pages, a commitment, and Louis straightens up, tall with joy.

He will go home, lit with passion, for reading, for history, the earth, mistakes, insanity, water, salt and sand, Gandhi, why and when, how.

 

 

Twirling

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There is a little girl here and she is 8 years old. She has placed a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the counter and is twirling slowly around and around, waiting for her sister, waiting for her father, waiting for her grandma. She tells me that she can fly.

But her younger sister, who is 4, is causing a consternation. She has rejected every book her father holds out. Though he is hopeful, she still discards every one. It is easy to think that a small child will read any book. This is wrong.

I think that with reading, with stories, in libraries, in book collections, wherever the books are, there is always someone searching, someone concluding, someone triumphant, someone refusing and someone twirling, who can also fly.

Artwork by Duy Huynh

See you later some other time probably…

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A boy, aged about 11 came into the shop and greeted me by name although I did not know who he was.

He said: well I’m just a book reader, I just like all books. So, I’m just a book fan and I love Doctor Who. My mum says I can get any book I will read over and over again, I always read my books again until I get sick of them. Then I don’t anymore.

He went away and crouched down to examine science fiction on the bottom shelves and then came back to the counter.

I just read them over, you know, over and over like that. Like Dr who and other stuff, like about stallions and also Harry Potter. I have read them all seven times. I get into bed and then make a place and just read for ages, I like Skulduggery, I would read those again. I like old books.

He hopped from foot to foot as he spoke and then went away into the back room for a while. When he came back he said: I like this old stuff, you would have to look after these, they have like different materials in them. They aren’t decorated like our books, back in the old day they couldn’t decorate. I really want this. I’m going to save for this, like anything. My mum will let me. Anyway I have to go now so see you later some other time probably.

 

Photography by Andrew Branch

The Ideal Reader

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A fisherman from Kingston came in looking for Terry Pratchett and told me that once he bought a Terry Pratchett in Mt Gambier. He said the beach along the Kingston coast is a mess but that is the fault of developers and the council. He said that Terry Pratchett would have said a thing or two about that! Hahaha! I agreed with this and he went out very pleased.

I remember one morning this week, a man was waiting for his small daughter. But she had found The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth and this book is book five of The Chain of Charms series. She was about seven years old, kneeling on the floor to read the book and her father was moving impatiently. His work boot nudged and toppled Animalia and she rebuked him silently with a lifted finger. He stared through the window, rattling keys, obedient. Suddenly she stood and showed him the cover; she was radiant and suddenly, so was he.

A man said that his hallway was lined with bookshelves and it was the length of a cricket pitch. His wife said she did not think it was this long.

I have finished with the Edith Wharton and I read the best stories in this book twice over so as not to miss anything. I am not reading anything else, not yet, because the story Mrs Manstey’s View will not let anything else in.

I was asked for Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons and Secret Servant: The Life of Sir Stewart Menzies by Anthony Cave Brown. This reader told me that Nagal’s Journal, which he found here last time, is the best thing he has ever read. He said that the diaries on the ships, as kept by the captains are the best reading there is. He squared his shoulders and stood back to see if I might disagree.

Three teenage girls were talking and talking. One asked for Sherlock Holmes. She hopped up and down when she told me how much she loved Sherlock Holmes. But sadly, I had none. She said: imagine this, imagine Sherlock Holmes in hardback. I really want to find this…Oh my God.

Her friend said: look at this, I am so into this. Oh my gosh guys. What will I do? Oh my God, I am going to have this.

What is it?

It’s Harry Potter. They all bent over the volume, close together and suddenly speechless. They whisper: it’s a hardback, it’s in another language. Oh my God. They place the volume on the counter and look at me dazed. She says: I collect them. Then they left, leaning on each other, hilarious, rapt.

A tall man in front of me examines the Wordsworth classics and is intense and frowning. His wife is amongst the Art. He leans back; as usual there is nothing for him! He returns to Art but his wife is not finished. She says: I’m not nearly done. She is frowning now too; he moves away and she stops frowning.

One man was intent upon the histories. Then he came away abruptly from the shelf and regarded his son who was texting angrily outside the front door. He said he might come back another time. He closed the door politely but also angrily.

I was told that Dick Francis wrote better books than his son. A lady told me that her fifteen year old grandson loved to read fantasy series but she was going to buy him a biography of a yachtsman instead.

A very tall and smiling man bought Martin Chuzzlewit and said that Charles Dickens had the most extraordinary way with words. He said he was reading them all, he did not like Bleak House but the rest, just marvellous indeed.

I have only read two books by Charles Dickens and they are not easily forgotten. I told him that when Daniel Quilp drowns in The Old Curiosity Shop I was glad! He said: yes indeed!

Two men together were talking about their teenage sons. One man said that his son would not show him how to use the remote for the television because he learns too slowly. His friend said: hahaha.

They asked me for a copy of Watership Down.

I was asked for books on card tricks and a young girl showed me a plaster dragon she had just bought from the goodwill shop. I was asked for the Wind in the Willows.

A man said he had a lot of time for Willa Cather. He asked me had I read her. I said that I planned to but right now I am with Edith Wharton and he said …AHHH…and he looked very happy. He told me that when I get to Willa Cather to read Death Comes for the Archbishop first.

I am floundering and falling amongst all of the titles, all of the must reads and the best reads and the don’t miss reads. It is a good way to be.

 

“The ideal reader is the translator, able to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down to the marrow, follow each artery and each vein, and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.”

Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader by Alberto Manguel

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go’ (e.e.cummings)

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Steve is my first customer today and has come by for more westerns again. He is furious that someone has tried to shoot his cat. He said that if his gopher was any faster he would shoot back and kill them. He apologised for the other books he had with him from the local library but felt that he should be supporting libraries too, seeing as the government didn’t. I thanked him for supporting me and asked if he remembered the first time he had stopped here. He said that he didn’t. I commented that reading is a good way to get through the day but he replied that his days were quite good anyway but would be even better if he could get the bastard who was trying to knock off his cat.

Reading is not escape for all readers. Only for some.

Everybody has a different angle on this idea, whether their reading translated into an escape from or as an enhancement of where they already are. But some readers referred to it as a portal to elsewhere, like another world. Maybe as close as next door?

Mary picked up her copy of The Tulip by Anna Pavord and told me that she is volunteering to sit at the gallery on Saturday afternoons and that it was going to be hell.  But that a good book would get her through.

Marty told me that Beau, his brother who is 5, only looks at the words but does not read them but he, Marty, actually reads them and this is how he knows so much about Star Wars and the Skulduggery books. I asked if he read books in his spare time and he said that he played sport in his spare time. He read books in all the other times.

There are no answers, only more perceptions.

Leon asked me for the Harry Potter books, wondering how many there were in the series. He has finished with the vampires for the moment. He looked at the stack of Harry Potter books and said that he was done with seasons one and two. That he needed the third one. He said that he has injured his back and his dad told him that the best thing to do for this was to hang yourself. From your arms so that everything straightened out again.

Dylan has been wanting a copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making for a long time because with a title like that, it had to be good. Later he told me that it is a brilliant book. He said that it is a toothsome romp of a fairy tale and I said ‘good description’ and he showed me that it is only what is written on the back of the book. But now I am going to read it, starting tonight.

Because it is about a child called September, exeunt on a leopard, blown by the Green Wind who lives above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Harsh Airs live…

Garth said that the best writing came about because the universe that contained those writers was in no way good and so they were compelled to write in order sometimes to be able to survive. But then, when we encountered those books for ourselves, our universe became a little better. I asked how this works. And he said that all great art does this.

Photography by Eric Johansson

 

The Opera of Water

Tim Mossholder

A young customer told me this today:

When I read I can’t hear that well, it makes mum mad. But I always read at least 20 pages. I just love to read and when I get home from school I first organise all my books again because I like to move them around. And display them differently all the time. I like to have the ones that are all the same size next to each other. It’s annoying when I get a series and they are not the same size. But the colours look good in my room, all the books and that. It’s like a waterfall or something, the way they go so high in stacks and up and down the shelves. I’m getting a new shelf soon. That’s for all the ones under my bed. The reason I can’t hear mum is because the books, no the story, makes a noise in my head and it’s loud. You know when you are near the beach, near the rocks and the water is loud. But you still can hear stuff. It’s like that. But when I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I could not hear anything…..