The Boy who Chanted a Horse Race


Kleine Ballerina

There is a trio of distinct people that has come up the street (quite suddenly) and burst into a family right outside the doorway of my shop. The father thought he would hide from his two children and they, who are still small and full of air and joy,  fly after him and into him, ecstatic with the game, outraged with his hiding place which is far too easy.

They exclaim on the poverty of his choice.

You never find a good place!

And their father, who is also young, raises both hands in the air, cannot defend himself does not even try because he is weighed down and drooping with adoration for the pair of them, brother and sister, one with undone clicking shoelaces and the other with one tooth missing and all three of them lean over caught in  mirth and liking each other quite immensely, I thought.

Briefly they glance in the window and they see Hairy Maclary, the book itself leaning into the joy and the girl shouts it’s Hairy Maclary and their father shouts, not to be outdone: you’re Hairy Maclary, and then they all of them, breathe at the cleverness and move on, father and son running, but the little girl, well, she dances.

The boy, as they leave, is chanting a horse race at great speed and with peppered clarity and his sister obeys into a whooping gallop of her choice and the father shouts as they move away and down the footpath: who is winning, who is winning… and then they are faint in the distance and the cold, and it seems to me that the day itself pauses thoughtfully and must record this brief, outrageous triumph.

Sculpture by Malgorzata Chodakowska
The Kleine Ballerina 

The Lamps of Joy


Miguel arrived this afternoon tangled in the weather and a certain amount of anxiety which was extinguished when he learned that his book, The Pea Pickers had arrived. He showed me where, in his library copy of the same book, the bookmark was seated.

Outside, the weather would not be extinguished, Miguel looked through it and said: it’s coming in.

Then he told me about his grandson. He leaned forwards and backwards to tell me about this grandson. He could not stop telling me about his grandson, a curious and fabulous young man who read books and listened to music and lived interstate and was hilarious and divine. And when Miguel visited Sydney they will all eat Korean food and then Italian and then Lebanese and then Indian and then Greek and then Spanish and then African, such is the richness of the hours with the grandson.

When Miguel swung round to tell me of his grandson, his glasses were lamps of joy. When he leaned back to make room in front of the counter for the words that described only his grandson, his glasses were lamps of hilarity. And when he left, out into the rain and the rest of the day, he swung round to say goodbye and his glasses were lamps of everything.


Stop Looking


On Thursday, a family visited the shop on their way home to Sydney. They said they had no room in their car for more books. They look very happy. They are mum, dad – they had difficulty walking and their daughter, one of their daughters, that is, and she has difficulties with having too many books. They are so happy together. The mother and daughter clutched each other every time they discovered another book. The mother is reading China Mieville. I said: here, I’ll show you a picture of China Mieville. The mother look hard at this science fiction writer and said – well I definitely want to read him then, don’t I, I do like all things difficult. Her daughter colluded: that’s true, she does.

Then they had to search through bags and pockets for the money.
They joined hands briefly, anxiously searching.
They were all so bright. Their glasses were imperial purple and emerald green. They had everything bright. The man joined them from another room and they said ecstatically: look father’s joining in. Good on you Leon. They commanded him to find his wallet. He looked at me and his face was alive with happiness. He said: look at me saddled with this for a family.

He was carrying Arthur Upfield and Peter O’Donnell and walking carefully, being saddled with such a family and everything.
I could buy more
Couldn’t we all.
I’m having a last go.
Did you find the money?
And they all continued round again, glowing, satisfied, filling their car that was already too full. Leon wore a cherry red jumper and I wondered who made it for him, probably knitting and reading a book at the same time.
I have made a library. The daughter told me about a library she has made at home now that her adult children are moving out. She said it is glorious.
They pay for their books: China Mieville, Robert Jordan, Lewis Carroll, J. M. Barrie, Arthur Upfield, Peter O’Donnell, Jean Auel and finally a copy of Pinocchio. They pack them in a large bag covered in black and gold and orange triangles and with orange and green handles.
Come on then. They need to urge each other out of the door.
Stop looking
You stop looking.
They held on to each other to get out of the door, Leon carried all the books and off they went, all saddled together.


china_mieville.jpg  China Mieville

I don’t know how these places even keep going…


Outside, some passers-by look through the window at the biographies and one man says: I don’t know how these places even stay open. Fucking hell, we can just get books on the internet, just as easy. His friend says: yeah…

It is a public holiday here in South Australia and Strathalbyn is full of people on their day off.
I am reading The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield and looking up every now and again wondering if anyone will come in to the shop and buy a book. Maybe no one will, but Dorothy Canfield makes this all ok.

The door does open though, and two old ladies come in and they are confident and bright and a propelled onwards by their solid and purposeful cardigans. They know already, what they need to say:
There’s your Ken Follett.
I’m not usually one for that kind of thing.
Oh, see the Ray Bradbury…
I wanted to get on well with it but…
There’s a relation somewhere there – some one with Dickens, a grand daughter or something.
I’ve got most of the Dickens.
I’ve got all of the Dickens. You’ve seen them.
I don’t hold with that sort of writing.
What do you mean?
Clive Cussler.
Oh, good heavens, we don’t bother with him. I told you that.
I like Bryce Courtenay.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…
But that film –
No, that’s all right, of course it is –
I’ve read some of those
I’ve read all them all.
Oh nonsense…
Isn’t Herriot still very good
Very good indeed.
Gracious and serious…
I have a problem with that.
I’m one for having books around me.
It’s the way now isn’t it, though, to have no books.
Look at this rubbish.
Well, yes but why make a whole new film about it… 
Well, that’s right.
I think we need to give all the young people one each of all these grammar books.
Well, you can try can’t you….
I shouldn’t just blanket across everything, I know I’m judgemental.
Yes you are, now look at that…I’ve got that…
Yes, I’ve got that too
Yes, I’ve got all of hers.
Gradually they pass by, they don’t see me, they don’t need to purchase a book and they pass by and out though the door, they confront the solid spread of bikies that are gathered on the footpath outside and part them like butter with a hot knitting needle and they go on home.

And then  –

The skateboard family is back! The oldest boy has a book which he carries around and carries around. His mother is within the novels, his brothers are by and by, here and there but mostly with Star Wars. One brother is eating from a paper bag –  sherbet bombs. He is looking at the roof through a haze of sherbet, he is in sherbet bomb heaven. The oldest brother is waiting outside, balancing on his skateboard and staring significantly through the window at his family that are keeping him waiting.
The boy with the book presents it to his mother, he is staring upwards into her face, in an attitude of prayer. She looks down at her son. She says: you got that book last time.
He says nothing at all.
She says: but you gave it to your friend. We should get that one for you this time. He looks at her, astounded by her memory. He hugs the book to his chest and leans backwards under its enormous valuable weight.
They all weave around and around and here and there and then eventually purchase their books and leave together, with skateboards and sherbet and the book of life and one brother saying: get out the way…and the boy outside saying: thanks for taking a thousand years.


Book rehab…


There is a man outside the shop securing a load of permapine poles onto his trailer, it is hot and he is hot, everyone outside is walking around leaning against the heat and with their eyes half shut. Inside the shop, a man is standing against the counter and complaining that when his wife is finished he will need a trailer for all the books she buys. He calls out the door to the man with the trailer: tie them on tighter than that, mate!
But nobody hears him.
His wife is looking for some really good reading. He tells her to try Clive Cussler but she is not listening to him.
He tells me that there should be a place called book rehab for all the people that cannot stop reading books. He is pleased with this idea and repeats it again. His wife comes back to the counter with only four books and he is disappointed. He had thought she might get more than that! He tells her, anyway, that she might consider book rehab and she looks at him fondly and says: that’s a good one.
Then he is as pleased as anything. He admires her books, he carries them for her, he opens the door for her and attends her through it and into the next hours of their life and as they leave the shop, he is saying to her: do you think that book rehab is a real thing?
And she is looking at him as though he were the king of the world, which he is.




There is a child here in the shop, unhappy because there are no Star Wars books left for him. But his sister has found The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the orange one, and he is also uncomfortable with her success. He says that he has read all of those books anyway.

She says: Booooom!

She has found The Search for Wondla. He says: oh that!  He needs to be dismissive. She answers: Oh Booooom!

Now she has two books and he has none. He asks me for I Am Number Four, I understand the urgency, but I don’t have it. He looks quickly at his sister but she is absorbed, kneeling on the floor with A Day in The Life of a Roman Child…he walks over and says: I know that book.

She doesn’t answer.

He is scanning the shelves and table, quickly, needing a discovery.

On the windowsill, he finds The Hobbit, facing outward, easily missed.

He lifts it off the windowsill and onto himself, against his chest, not breathing, holding it as children will when they find something of diabolical value. It is a paperback edition, a large one in poor condition, illustrated, the dragon on the front stirring in a nest of boiling jewels.

His sister has noted his silence and gazes over at him suddenly. He says: I’m getting this. He has one shoulder raised against her, protecting the dragon.

Their mother returns, she hurries them along, pleased that they have chosen, pleased with her own books, not seeing theirs, missing the acute joy, encouraging their libraries as she also builds her own.


My friend wrote me a note


My friend, who is too full of joy, wrote me a note:

Hi Kerry again. When you choose the glass beads for the bookmark with the bronze clock please make it rich, with a Gothic and Medieval feel to it like when you enter the Medieval Churches in Europe and are confronted by the wonderful stain glass windows that glitter and shimmer as the windows catches the light. May you please revise now already and make 2 bookmarks now and not one, thanks, love Sharon.

Sharon is from Singapore and everything she reads and writes and talks about is full of joy. She comes and goes, spilling books and happiness carelessly and everywhere.


The Small Pottery Bird


An old lady came in and showed me a little pottery bird she had just bought in a second hand shop. It was not a beautiful bird. She handled the small pottery bird like this; she tipped it forward and stroked the beak. Then she tipped it over and examined the flat plate of the underneath. Then she outlined the dents of the wings with her thumbs and looked at it with such delight I thought it might come alive. I could now see that it was a beautiful bird. She fitted the bird into one hand and looked at its eyes. She told me it was the nicest thing she had ever seen. Then she bought a copy of Ring of Bright Water and said goodbye.

The topsoil of our personalities is nothing….. Anais Nin


When visitors come through my door I like to see their faces. This is because their faces reflect instantly that like it here and will default to expressions of such delighted confusion that they often cannot answer my greeting ( unless I comment on the weather; this always provokes a mixed response of approval and outrage ).

Then they will begin hunting or browsing and they never complain about the books that are too low to see or too high to reach. I can recognise the start of recognition when they see something beloved. Also the astonishment when a title, long searched for actually turns up.

Children are captured by the moment, and can seize something new and risky, can make fast choices or fast rejections. Adult readers can be more suspicious, not wanting to be ambushed into a dull choice, worrying about books at home still not read and stung uneasily by the words must read on the jackets…

Some are enticed by colours and covers, size or weight. Others go strictly by lists. Some buy piles, some purchase nothing. Some confess to owning a kindle.

Some apologise that the book trade is not what it used to be.

Many read titles aloud, some laugh out loud and some are just silent the whole time. Many tell me who the book is for and why. Many ask me to replace their books because the dog got their only copy, the red wine got their only copy, some prick borrowed and never returned their only copy. Some are retrieving books and stories from their past and making them part of their future. It is fabulous.

Visitors who are clearly fatigued or unwell cannot help it that some of their real self will leak out, shine out, fall out when they speak of the books they are reading or have read and have loved very much. I don’t think they mean for this to happen.

But books read and loved keep themselves anchored to small pools of joy that stay intact, seemingly for ever.

And if layers of time continue to congeal over them, as they will (sediment over sediment), the instant a book is sighted and recognised, the memory is relit, refitted and emerges again, shouldering through the clinging and wearying topsoil that we so unwittingly collect…