I remember

shop empty (3)

Before I had a bookshop, the idea of having one lit up the back fence like some kind of unwanted answer from the past.

I remember looking at empty shops. When I found one, I thought, well! I never expected any kind of commercial success, but I did hope to survive. What the shop was to look like was paramount. It had to look like Diagon Alley –  because this was what I liked. Thus, the shop was based on what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good. A good selfish start.

(I had a lot to learn.)

Once a child said, “This is like Diagon Alley’, and sealed the happiest day of my first year.

I was surrounded by thousands of oblongs, each one containing an unexpected rich fuse. I felt so wealthy that I had to lie down and cradle my head.

It was not possible to explain such an abandonment of logic.  I remember experiencing it early in life; after reading Tubby and the Lantern. This was because Tubby and Ah Mee had a bunk bed.

In Little House on the Prairie, there was snow.

In Sam and the Firefly, there were lights, gold gems stinging an emerald blue sky.

In Whispering in the Wind, Crooked Mick could sit on a horse and drink two cups of tea while it bucked.

Later, Helen Garner, John Steinbeck, Dal Sijie…. uncovering the diabolical ache of life without solutions. So much. So little time.

Then, repeated visits to Jeff’s Books to learn how to do it:

What happens if…..

What do I do when…

Who is…

What is…

How do I…

What should I….

How can I…

Finally, back to my shop to actually do it. I had to learn how people read, and why. This was different, and it was difficult, and it still is. So much to learn, so little time. Luckily,  I recorded it all.

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Being weird about having access to a university library

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It’s excellent having access to a university library. This is because they have the most audacious range of books. The collections cater for the usual academic needs, but there’s other books there too. I’ve often found one that’s been gifted (within another collection) from somewhere, decades ago. Obscure, beloved, inscribed. Our council libraries are good; they are very considerate and always appropriate. Academic libraries are kind of abnormal. The range and diversity of books is ridiculous. Volume ones sit consistently without volume twos. Books that are unpopular, strange, obscure, unknown, loved just once, will definitely be there. Dressed in paper, boards, leather; ancient, modern, paper clipped, stapled, dropping old library tickets, and containing yellowed bookplates that say, “from the collection of Professor Frederick May”. I don’t go with a list. I want to find things that I would otherwise miss. This way, I found Shotaro Yasuoka, Blaise Cendrars and Edwidge Danticat. And once (long ago) Helen Garner. Sometimes I even look for what I’m supposed to be reading (for the study that has allowed me to use the library in the first place). But mostly not. I just prefer looking. Many of the books are unfashionable, too heavy, without dust covers, and shelved with library stickers across their eyes. Doesn’t matter. It’s weird in these places, in an untapped, endless and brilliant kind of way.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Sometimes people come into the shop and I don’t notice. They just appear, and not through any door that I have. When I look up, there they are. A knot of teenagers, seated on the ground, leaning back, solemn, as though here for a meeting. I can hear the trailing ends of one idea after another.

‘The point he’s making is that….’

‘What people don’t realise….’

‘With my play, I had to…..’

‘Yeah, but that exerts…’

Someone is reading aloud. Everybody listens. The reader stands up. Finishes. Everyone dives forward with an idea….’I’ve got that on Instagram…not the book…it’s on something…’

‘No, no no, pretty much…..not that one…’

‘In The Uncommon Reader…’  Someone narrates the plot of The Uncommon Reader.

‘Listen to this…’

‘I was like…’

‘There’s this really long word in this play…’

More reading out loud.  An argument. A selfie is taken.

‘Oh my God. I’m getting that.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘I love this.’

‘The exhibition was in 1910…’

‘This was published in 1948.’

‘I don’t reckon…’

‘So what books are you grabbing hon…?’

‘I know. I don’t know. But I’m getting this now. I just googled it, I love it.

It was Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost they were reading from, and that they are now buying.

Then they leave, one girl hugging the ‘beautiful book’ and telling the others she can’t go out tonight because she has rehearsal.

 

 

A Tale from The Decameron, 1916, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Daughter and mother

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They came in together yesterday and looked around confidently. I could tell they approved. Connoisseurs of bookshops always enter with full sails. ‘Here we are…’

Then they pause, broadsided by higher authorities. An enormous spiteful Pepys. Tintin. Dickens, Pratchett, Adams. Sendak, Steinbeck, Atwood, Dai Sijie, Garner. Proust. The Quincunx and Ibrahim Nasrallah on the front shelf. Anais Nin. All out the front to help me meet the ego. Authorities, like me, pretend to have read everything. But we bloody haven’t.

The mother and daughter approved and warmed immediately. There was a burst of a Christmas excitement.

I want this.

I heard you. I heard you.

The mother came up to the counter and leaned in comfortably to tell me softly about What She Read. Outlander. It took over her eyes. She had to look away so she could see the plot and tell some of it to me.

The daughter kept on sorting. She loved the World Classics. She loved Lewis Carroll. She’d read Treasure Island. It was violent. She loved Charles Dickens. She loved hefty classics in small dense volumes. Red covers.

I love these.

I love these. I want this.

I have that…

The mother ordered copies of the Outlander series. The daughter looked pleased.

‘Then I’ll read them. After you.’

‘We have too many books.’ (We all do).

Then they gathered themselves together, paid for their books, moved out, hanging onto each other and talking about Game of Thrones.

 

Mother and Daughter at Table by Jean Edouard Vuillard

This Weirdy Weather

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Yesterday was hot, and the ducks on the road into Strathalbyn sat too close to the road and refused to move. People came into the shop and said, ‘God, it’s hot!’

Today is cold, rain in the morning and people coming in and saying, ‘My God, this is strange.’

One man said that a second ago, it was summer.

His girlfriend said that she doubted it, and would he pay for her books.

He said, ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ But he paid for the books and looked pleased.

She said, ‘I love this weirdy weather, you can read in it.’

He said, ‘I know.’

She pointed out that he didn’t like reading.

He said, ‘I know, but I might be going to start,’ and he looked around for a book to start with.

She said, ‘I don’t believe you’, and looked pleased with him.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

Dark outside, not cold

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Dark outside, not cold. We’ve had rain and all night the garden was drinking. This morning, it just lay there.

Robert came into the shop this morning, furious because his friend had a joint when he was 16 years old,  and now at 60, can’t get a job. He said the government has ruined this country. I am glad he came in. I always feel better, adjusted and balanced, whenever Robert visits. It is a calibration of sorts. I forget what is valuable. Now I remember again.

A lady bought The Blind Assassin, Caleb’s Crossing, The Awakening, and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

A man told be about Charlie Chaplin. His wife said, ‘Come along, that’s enough of Charlie Chaplin.’

I was advised to read History of the Rain. I ordered a 1902, first edition copy of Ethel Turner’s Little Mother Meg. This is for Lily, an eleven year old collector with a discerning eye for vintage. Scott raced past but didn’t come in, although he grinned evilly through the door. Someone hit their head on one of my hanging balloons and said, ‘Damn these decorations. Where’s the bakery?’

The sun’s out. The next person will tell me about it.

The next person is Robert, back again and who never notices the weather anyway, so I get to tell him about it. He says he’s waiting for the government to start taxing us for it!

 

 

Rendez-vous With a Beetle

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Rendez-vous With a Beetle:

Meet me in Usk

And drone to me

Of what a beetle’s

Eye can see

When lamps are lit

And the bats flit

In Usk

At dusk.

And tell me if

A beetle’s nose

Detects the perfume

Of the rose

As gardens fade

And stars invade

The dusk

In Usk.

Emile Victor Rieu (1887-1972)

Edgar Allan Poe

 

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“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more….”

From The Rave, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845