Children and their mums and dads

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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.

 

The structure of the day

alexandre-perotto

 

I wrote this just before Christmas in 2015. The shop had started to become something, and I was beginning to fit it. Again, I realise (now) that it was the regulars that made it happen, and that a small town is the best place to be.

“The structure of each day in the bookshop has become quite nice.

Each day forms, bulges out toward the afternoon, trims itself, and tries to return to normal by closing time.

Each day the flow of information is generous.

Each morning seems to be about Henry James.

At closing time, I am anxious to get home and keep going with Henry James. I am slow. Leon told me that I am slow with books, it is true. But I am justified – The Spoils of Poynton is a thicket. I have to go slowly.

Young families wash in on a tide of enthusiasm and spare time because the school holidays have begun, and it is summer. And there is a new Star Wars film. When they leave, the door is covered in fingerprints, and there will be an empty juice bottle amongst the Geronimo Stiltons.

‘Where’s that book The Cross Sections of the Man of War? Is it still here? Last week it was.’

‘Nanna is getting us books and we can pick our own. This one is about the war, but it’s book two, so do you have books one and three? I’m getting it anyway.’

‘Do you have William Gaddis? I’ve been looking for The Recognitions all my life. It’s up there with Gravity’s Rainbow and books like that.’

In my spare minute I have another go at Henry James. Not many people have ever asked for his books.

Karl came in with his book list and told me that his eyes gave way earlier in the year, which was disappointing as he has always been one for the written word. But now he is fine and ready to roll.

John complained that every time he went to the bakery his doctor would go pass the window and see what he was eating and then give him a rocket because of his health – his cholesterol is way too high. ‘Small town bullshit that’s what it is. You can’t even take a piss without somebody telling everyone at Woolworths about it. I’m enjoying that Dick Francis though, the only one of those crime mugs that can actually write.’

I am lucky to receive a consistent commentary on the weather. This is a topic with a satisfying variety of expressions available to share it.

‘How’s this heat? Keeping you busy?’

‘Cool in here.’

‘This heat is ridiculous!’

‘Good weather for reading, that’s what I say.’

‘Foul weather. And here I am out in it.’

‘Damn strange weather!’

‘Damn fine weather!’

‘This weather takes the cake.’

‘Don’t know how Christmas will go with weather like this.’

‘Heat’s bad but nothing like in the sixties.’

A lady told me that Gould’s Book of Fish has her flabbergasted.

All day I am offered suggestions for the best things to read. I free fall amongst the suggestions.”

 

Photography by Alexandre Petrotto

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

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It is hot today. Customers are exhilarated and expansive because Christmas is over, and the Hard Work is done.

A lady who suffers terribly from insomnia tells me that insomnia is lucky as it gives her  time to read. Her husband said that he has no time to read, never has had. He looked at the volumes of Ngaio Marsh she had set aside to buy. He said he doesn’t know where his time goes these days. She told him that it has probably gone to the pub.

A little girl asked for Harry Potter but her mother reminded her that there would be no time to read it. So best leave it.

Kerry said he can get through one thriller a night. I asked Robert how long it might take him to get through The Gnostic Mysteries and he said he will never be done with that book, even after he dies he will still be reading it. And when the government discovers his body still reading it, they had better be worried.

A little boy said he could read a Geronimo Stilton in five minutes, but his sister said that this was a lie.

I have time to think about Henry James.

Fiona picked up her order and said that there is no technology yet that can track what happens to the human mind when we are reading. It can track the activity of the brain but not of the mind.

I tried to imagine what my mind was doing when I read Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees.

Robert, who is still here, said that if the government knew what his mind was thinking when he was reading they would put the watch dogs onto him. We asked him what he is reading (besides The Gnostic Mysteries) and he said The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. This is so he can find out what’s going on in the world. Better to read The Greek Myths or Homer to keep up with things because everything in the newspapers is an insult, including the weather.

There were some new visitors from interstate. He was feeling hilarious because he’d found a copy of The Unseen Academicals which is the Exact Book he is up to.

‘I’ve got so many books to read, so many, just so many, we are always just buying other ones. I sit there in the caravan park,and I’m just laughing out loud, it’s so funny. I will have to read for ever. I think it’s possible, that’s why we get so many. I am collecting every book by Terry Pratchett, I read them more than once and they actually GET FUNNIER.

Then at the end of the day, a small boy asked me for a Christmas book that had been in the window last week. He saw it and wanted it, and when I brought out the stories that were left he pointed to a heavy green Faber anthology of Christmas stories. His mother told him that it was a book for adults. His father told him to leave it until he was older. But he gave me all his money and whispered that it was the one he wanted. He defended his choice patiently to his parents, told them that this book would NOT run out of pages. The other books there would run out of pages. He was six years old, and he convinced them.