Notes on the year right now right here

The year went fast. It hopped about with anxiety many times. People came to the shop even when I was closed. People rang me and emailed me and texted me. People kept reading, increased their reading, and many people began reading.

Classic literature and poetry were purchased the most followed by history. Self-help sold the least. Fiction outsold nonfiction.

Locals and regulars became more and more important whether they purchased a book or not.

My landlord made it possible for me to stay even when I had to close.

Young readers bought the most books. Children still knelt on the floor and shouted to me that they had already read Peppa Pig, the same way they did last year.

Some customers purchased enormous stacks of reading to help me out, and thought that I did not notice this, but I did, and it did help me out.

Many of the visitors who came in angry in April were not angry in November.

It took three times longer to order in books for customers, but not a single person complained about it except me.

My fantasy and science fiction shelves need restocking. Everything by Anh Do sold out. I sold more Charles Dickens than ever before. I hardly sold any biographies except ones about dogs. I couldn’t get in any Asterix books.

I listened to a podcast about ancient Rome and took all the Roman history books home for myself. I discovered Iris Murdoch (and took all those books home too).

I was asked for Moby Dick about ten times.

A mother who loves reading came in with her son and said that mothers who read always have sons that read. Not so with daughters. Until much later.

Two customers died this year and left two holes there.

I never saw young people work so hard as the young people did this year in Woolworths across the road. This is not a reflection on Woolworths. It’s a reflection on those young people themselves.  

I cleaned about 3000 little handprints off the front door, same as any year.

Trucks still park across the driveway, same as any year.

People still come in thinking I’m the bakery, same as any year.

None of these things annoy me anymore.

Child reading

It’s a summer day, but cool outside and blowing rain. She’s in here. She’s silent. Such silence: her hair a polished curtain which swings once. I can’t see her book. She leans over the page. She leans back and gazes up at the page. She sits. Swings her feet. Stands thinking. Replaces the book and selects another one. Stands thinking. Her mother returns to tell her there is a magnificent dog outside, a wolfhound, a real one, a beautiful one, and the child shakes her head, the curtain of hair sways, the mother withdraws.

Stands thinking, sits, reads.

That child

This child came in just on closing. Entered by herself. She was carrying an enormous chocolate muffin, holding onto it’s rear end with a paper bag, and she walked at me, like herself, her own walk, with an orange drink, and another paper bag full of clinking coins. She stared at me over the jumble, holding the end of my afternoon gaze with bright direct and unalloyed eyes. I had to sit back and reassess. I looked for a parent. She didn’t.

Her hair had escaped the morning’s organisation, framed her head in soft snakes, as alive as she was, ready to strike at my disinterest. She said,

‘Hello.’

I answered, ‘Hello.’

She hesitated, and helped me out, me, the one needing assistance.

‘How’s the bookshop going?’

I said, very well, thank you’, a limping answer like the ones from my childhood when I used to be questioned about school.

The child was kind. ‘That’s good. Is cash ok here?’

She stood there looking directly at me, not breaking the stare, the chocolate framing an active oval around her mouth, her hair poised in spikes and loops, her eyes dark and joyful, hopeful that I would allow her something.

She indicated her paper bag of money with gratitude. That’s good, I was worried, I want a bookmark, that one, that sorting hat one. Today at school there wasn’t much to do, so I sorted the whole school into all the sorting hats, and I knew who to put into Gryffindor. It’s easy. Do you know how to?

I said I did, hoping she wouldn’t know that I didn’t.

She was delighted and rattled the paper bag of money. The chocolate on her face gleamed. Her hair relaxed but still watched me. She said, thank you for the shop, have a good day and afternoon. She struggled with the door, keeping the half-eaten cake upright, the orange drink calm, and her overwhelming face fixed straight onto mine, slid out, was gone, a spark of something, gone now.

What do readers do with their books?

I always wonder this. Where do the books go? What sort of libraries does everyone else have? There must be some enormous collections out there. I know that, if allowed to, libraries take on a life of their own that is way beyond anything we can direct. People mention this.

Some visitors carry out armfuls. Some just one. But it’s the same thing; the intensity of the capture is identical whether one or some. It’s impossible to tell another person why or even exactly what one has found. Last Tuesday, John carried seven large volumes of history, in two Woolworths shopping bags. He was bent over with the weight when he went out the door.

I said, ‘But where’s your car?’ And he said, ‘No, no, I’m all right,’ while looking down at the bags he was carrying with eyes like jewels.  

Do children make libraries? They are particular about their books, staring at covers for a long time. Once a child stood over a table, examining an illustration, tapping it as he stared, not hearing me, or the traffic, not even the thunder storm outside that pushed all of Strathalbyn under cover. When he bought it, he walked outside into the rain without noticing that either.

Some young readers have by memory every title on their shelves. They describe the size of their collection by how good the books are that are in it. Thus a collection of six books can challenge a national state library in terms of significance.

Illustration by Erin McGuire

Amongst the books at home

Hard to choose one. Nobody home but me. Everyone usually sits amongst them. They are the walls. My dad had a study similar, and I used to play in there, building things out of books and pretending to read, which was as good as actually reading because I still made things, changed reality, added to it, made it from one colour to ninety shades of six colours, easily. Then had to go and feed the hens or something.

My children shot up, grew and left, weaving in and out of bookshelves, resisting the harping but absorbing the actual books.

Now I’m home alone and looking at the books. Hard to chose one. Thomas the Tank is on the floor again, split into a thousand small annoying paperbacks that take too long to read out loud and carry plots I can’t understand.

Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, still kind, still has a river in it. My grandsons like the bit with the fighting.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a gun on page 12.

My Terry Pratchett paperbacks are in an Ikea cabinet with a glass door, implying value, but they are pressed to the glass, squashed and irreverent, falling out, not in order, contemptuous.

Nothing is in order. It was once, but I moved the shelves and T ended up next to B, and S landed next to the Margaret Atwoods, who quelled the unease by turning sideways. I can’t find anything. Therefore, I am reduced to what wants me. Not a lot, but tonight, I notice things. Books have fallen out, or are used to ramp matchbox cars, or for a yoga head boost. There is a history of Sand: Journey through Science and the Imagination. Maybe. The Making of Australia by David Hill, but will there be any women in it, probably not, and then Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc, where the hell did you come from? But it’s red and gold, 1123 pages, the pages creamy and silky, supple, and solid with weight, so that’s the one. It starts out, ‘Visitors who want a glimpse of Viet Nam’s traditional culture will find no better opportunity than a cruise along the Red River. A few well-chosen stopovers in this river delta dotted with sleepy thousand year old villages will provide the most curious tourist with a……and on it goes taking me to yet another place, aching with travel.

Hard to choose one. Still manage it.

The man and his son, maybe

A man and his son, maybe. I heard them talking together in Classics.

‘You have to be careful of the translation… I’ve got a rubbish translation that I picked up somewhere…’

The man speaking leaned in, hands clasped behind his back, reading titles closely. Peruse, sigh, agree, nod, frown, turn away, turn back, ‘Well I can’t see that without my glasses…’

His phone in his breast pocket gave away a small sound.

‘Is that yours?’ He called to the younger man in the next room.

‘No, it’s you.’

‘Probably something useless then.’ He fumbled with the phone, uncomfortable with its intrusive glass mouth. He held it close and read it slowly.

‘Oh, they’re waiting for us in the bakery. They’re on a table at the back.’

He put the phone away and drifted along the shelf once more. He picked up Saul Bellow and Balzac. He balanced paperbacks under one arm. He was adroit. His eyes were narrow with pleasure. The young man, his son maybe, came out with David Foster Wallace. His eyes were narrow with pleasure.

They browsed on. They did not go to the bakery .

Illustration by Andre Martins de Barros

The tall kids

…came into the shop this morning in a group, supple and swaying and swishing all about, looking everywhere before settling in front of a shelf, or being caught by something – as is wont to happen to young people; they go from shivering everywhere to absolute stillness. Then they talk in half murmurs and bits of sentences, and their friends answer back the same way, and nobody minds. They are young, and they can relax all their muscles, not needing to leave any limb still tense with yesterday’s banking. They fold their hands and their lips in the same way. When they leave, they thank me over and over and look back to make sure the door is closed properly.

Image by Pascal Campion

The two ladies who screamed but were actually laughing

They are here in the shop. They are blue, cream, and white, and happy with the weather. Their heads go from side to side, looking at everything fast. They talk at the same time and stack books back on the shelves, placing them exactly as they were before. One lady taps the spines back into soft lines with her fingertip. Lovingly. They call to each other, and their heads go from side to side again as they look at each other’s books, and then back to their own books.

One says, ‘Quick, the lads are here.’ They shuffle and stack harder. One shows the other a picture in a book and they both give quick screams of laughter. Two men come in. The four of them gather tightly. One lady is balancing some books on one hip, ‘I’m getting these, and she thrusts them at one of the men, and he looks down admiringly. He says, ‘Did you leave any for anyone else?’ and the ladies give small screams again, and the man looks happy.

Illustration by Inge Look

The Father and Daughter

He sat and waited patiently for her, who, like all reading children, took the necessary time. He sat in the only chair here, patient and alert. She chose and chose. He leaned back and yawned. He flexed his hands and looked at them.

He stood up and browsed for a bit. She read on the floor with her nose resting on her knee. He flexed his patient knees and turned to look at her. She was reading. He yawned and waited and looked at her again. She was reading.

Then she stood up, he swung round, and they came to the counter with her two books.

Suddenly he asked me about a book – but he couldn’t remember the author. He hesitated and thought. Then he said, ‘I’ll just look it up.’ The child, hugging her books close, leaned backwards. Her back is a slender wand. She is looking at the roof, but her eyes swivel and regard the father. She has a small smile.

We can’t find his book. We search the internet but cannot find it.

Then they leave, pass through the door and go back out to continue their life.

Painting by Darren Thompson