Being weird about having access to a university library

20160907_085418 (2).jpg

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.

20160907_085424 (2).jpg

20160907_103001 (2).jpg

20160907_103720 (3).jpg

FB_IMG_1471955196959 (2).jpg

Oh, no…

Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to Her Tale by Mary Alayne Thomas.jpg

I watched this reader come into the bookshop and sigh over the books, while at the same time maintain contact with friends outside the window.

There was something on the window table that was enthralling. She bent to read. She held her phone to her ear, whispering the plot to a friend perhaps. What was the book? I couldn’t see.

Her friends were clustered outside the window. They leaned into the window and made significant expressions. She stared into their faces and spoke into her phone. She stretched her face around the agony of the news.

The book, a paperback. She held it open with one elbow and signaled something diabolical though the window. I drifted close by. It was Dangerous Creatures.

There was a desperate exchange of information by phone and face.

The reader raised herself on her toes for emphasis. The watchers drew back in respect. Maybe someone in the book died. Should I offer support?

The reader knelt down to read further, calm and out of view. The watchers fogged the window in alarm. It seemed to me that the entire day paused.

Finally she rose. Replaced the book and fled the shop, one hand clasped over her mouth, keeping the the angst organised. She allowed me a brief glance. Outside the door she raised both arms and was received by fellow readers. I saw their young and tortured hands reach for her as she closed the door.

Readers.

Artwork, Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to her Tale, by Mary Alayne Thomas

 

 

 

It is Christmas…

Denise Johnson

There are two teenagers here, two girls and they are scared of vampires. They say that it is not a good state to be in, the fear of vampires, they talk urgently. They hold one hand  over their hearts and one hand around their bicycle helmets, holding each safely.
One has given the other a book as a gift, it is wrapped in a page torn from a magazine and they huddle over it, delighted.
They read the list of recommended fantasy series. They check the poetry shelf and wonder about the books, they say the books on the poetry shelf are really old. One girl reads something out loud and they say they don’t get it. They keep reading it.

They never stop talking:
I need to buy all the Harry Potters.
I need to buy the rest of Bitterblue
I need to buy actually all of these
I wish my room looked like this.
I might get these Minecrafts.
I have to get this Pippi Longstocking, I think I need to buy glasses.
These fairy lights are adorable.
I need to get these Inkhearts.
Oh my God I need to get these.
I need to stack mine like this.
I’m kind of like, literally, I would read all of these all the time.

They step around other customers, they can only think of the books.

People say, like, Zac Powers and I’m like: I read these all the time.
My mum would kill me if I had this many books.
I’m like, literally, why are there so many books I need to read. I’m like, waiting to get all of these. I’m going to come back and like get all of these, it’s not personal but I like these dragons.
On the back of these it’s like, listed all the other Cat Warriors and, oh my God, don’t kill me.
I saw The Hobbit and I could have died over that.
I know.
It’s going to take ages to get all of these.
I know.
I might get these. I didn’t even know about these. I hate the way that happens. It’s literally like, I don’t get it.
I know, right?
Shall I get these….this is such an achievement….I might of gotten them already though…my mum hates my room right…
Oh my God, I know, my books go literally out the door, at home, in my room.

They are discussing nightmares and drink bottles. They are checking phones. Soon they are going to the beach. They look for a book to take to the beach, swaying between choices and possibilities and it is summer and it is Christmas.

Photography by Denise Johnson

 

Rain

giant-raindrop-sculpture-rain-nazar-bilyk-20

Albert told me that he has been unwell. “I’ve been unwell, you know, confined to barracks! I catalogued all my books… well, two shelves anyway. Spanish Literature and the Mystics to the left and Latin and Early Church to the right. Travelogues on the bottom.” He bought another George Borrow; he said it already had a place on the shelf waiting. He loses his gloves in the shop and when he stacks his book to leave, he has picked up somebody else’s purchases. He says it is his own fault because all he can think about these days are the Spanish writers.

A couple were walking along the shelves, talking about the opera. She kept saying: yes, yes… but this one here…

It is very quiet. A bus load of visitors across the road are all looking at the sky, and then they one by one climb back onto the bus. Except for one lady who is arguing with the bus driver.

David told me about Clive James, Barbara Hanrahan, Alan Moorhead, Jerome K. Jerome, Jean Rhys and Patrick White and then he purchased another biography of Anais Nin that I wanted for myself. I look at him reprovingly and he says: well, it’s too late now.

And a couple buying mysteries tell me that the weather just will not brighten up.

It is raining. Still the lady across the road argues with the bus driver who is hunched against both her and the rain.

There are some young people kneeling in front of the self-help books. They have the Bhagavad Gita and Jonathon Livingston Seagull on the floor side by side and they are talking to each other about them in low voices. They have left their rucksacks by the door of the shop and another customer, a regular gentleman who only reads political biographies tells me that the bags people carry around these days are very odd. He is cheerful because he has found a copy of Alistair Cooke’s America and he thinks that now he will branch out. The young people are all standing up now and motionless, gazing into books with open mouths, the rucksacks are forgotten. I ask them later where they have travelled from and they tell me they are from Crafers.

I am asked for Catcher in the Rye, The Hobbit and anything by Garth Nix. I am told cheerfully that rainy hours are for reading.

When I go next door to the bakery it is full of ambulance officers, all in uniform and all eating furiously as they stare out at the day.

Back in the front room, visitors are all staring silently at the shelves. A boy, about 14 says YESSS and then he is holding a Patrick Rothfuss book (The Wise Man’s Fear) in front of his sister; she shrugs and refuses to look at the book.

I go back to the counter and I can continue to read a short story that I like called The Day Begins by Morris Lurie and I am reading it twice and then again because it is fabulous, although I am not sure why. I don’t read short stories but now I do.

There is a man here from Singapore. He he has found Hemmingway, Thoreau, Pearl S. Buck and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He tells me his home is in Singapore where he is a chemist and in Singapore people must really concentrate to be still and take a breath. And so he will put these books on his shelf and look at them. He has no time to read. In Singapore there is NO TIME TO READ. But this literature puts the humanity back in him. Daily life takes it out and these books can put it back in. Literature shows that we are all the same and there is no single answer. Sometimes there is not even the time to just look at things. That he is staring at things but not looking at them. He told me he is caught in work, caught in family, caught in trying to pay the bills and caught in aging parents and not quite knowing what to do.

In my car park (in the rain) when I am going home, there is a magpie on the galvanised iron fence and it sings a few small notes, it does not mind the rain.

Sculpture “Rain” by Ukrainian artist Nazar Bilyk

I’ve had lunch you dickhead!

roman-kraft

As I am unwrapping a parcel of books there are two workmen passing the window and they are hurrying and cold. One says: I will buy you lunch and the other answers him: I’ve had lunch you dickhead.

They are loud and an old lady turns to me and says “Well!”

Another older couple came in and stride grimly through each room and then tell me as they leave that the weather is ridiculous.

I am unwrapping some books and they are for me. They are my last two volumes of the Journals of Anais Nin and have arrived in the post today and I unwrap them and say to a customer that I ought to lock the door and just read now and they say it is hardly fair that I live here in paradise.

But Robert is approving. He is on the way to a funeral but stops here to complain about the bank. He does not appreciate having to wait in a queue because this robs him of reading time. I said that I understood.

A young man bought A History of Chinese Philosophy and said that it would see the cold weather out.

Vernon discussed Game of Thrones with me and said that I should not become attached to any of the characters, not even the direwolves. He said that all history is ugly and Game of Thrones at least portrays things as they really were, apart from the dragons.

Then he gave me a list of Bernard Cornwell books that he needed and went off to work. He said good luck with what happens next at Winterfell.

I look at the Anais Nin journals for a while and think about Anais Nin.

A child outside says: mum can we check in here for the ‘just shocking’ books that I still want to get. They continue slowly past in serious discussion. The child lists the titles he needs and he jumps in the air as he recites each one.

I am asked for Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving, The New Bandsaw Box Book, A Biography of Cleopatra by Margaret George, Heart of Darkness, The Brothers Karamazov, Catcher in the Rye, an autobiography of Jimmy Barnes and Vargic’s Miscellany Book of Maps.

A lady asked how much the peacock outside the window costs but I said it was mine and not for sale. She said she had one the like but her friend took it.

A customer returns to lend me her copy of The Magician of Karakosk.

I am looking through a Heath Anthology of American Literature, two volumes which also arrived for me today and they are heavy. And each of them is 3000 pages long and they are second hand, inexpensive and the contents pages list Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton and Elizabeth Bishop…and Flannery O’Connor and more and more that I have never seen.

Robert comes back and I show him the Anthologies of American Literature and he says: ‘wow’. I show him the contents and point out the African American writers, the American Indian writers and the women writers and I know that this will please him. And it does impress him because he wants to buy them both but I have to say that these are not for sale but he can borrow them when I am finished. He says how long will this be and I tell him 100 years and he is even more impressed.

Photography by Roman Kraft

 

I brought you a tomato.

20160909_115123
?

It is not hard to begin the day when you have been given a tomato.

I was presented with this tomato, a gift, because I had a lucky copy of Cranford which was urgently needed. All day I looked at the tomato because I have never been given such a grateful or unusual or heartfelt gift.

A young man who bought The Little World of Don Camillo said that the tomato was a nice one and that all Don Camillo books were iconic.

Janet bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman because it is on her reading list for next month and hopefully she will get in ahead of time. She said sadly that she cannot keep up with her group no matter how fast she reads. That Pepys got in the way of Salt Creek. And Salt Creek was just flung aside… but then Lady of Hay moved in the front of everything but now she was reading Oliver Sacks. And so on…

I showed her The Commonwealth of Thieves and said that this book came up because of Gould’s Book of Fish and had taken over Olive Kitteridge even though both books were equally good. I said sadly that now I was being devastated by Game of Thrones and that I could not cope with the death of Lady, the wolf hound. Janet was horrified and said I should have tried to hold out for longer. She herself had the whole set at home but had not read them and couldn’t tell her son as he had given them to her for her birthday. I showed her my gift, a tomato, and she said it was a fitting tribute to Cranford because that was written by Elizabeth Gaskell. As she left she told me that her reading group are doing Gone Girl which is good but the sex scenes are far too graphic for her. Also the group does a thorough physiological analysis of the text but she herself just wants to enjoy it.

I had a small amount of time to remove a spider and look through the Game of Thrones paperbacks to consider the reading commitment.

I am told that Elizabeth Jolley does not let the reader make any easy judgements.

Andrew drops in to explain the history of the Lannister family and the brilliant character of Tyrion Lannister. Andrew is sympathetic regarding the death of the wolf hound but warns me not to become emotionally involved with the characters.

A lady has a long conversation on her phone about being in a coma. Then she buys three books by Mary Gentle and tells me that they will come in useful.

I am asked for Rachael Treasure and Herman Hesse

A lady tells me how to dispose of unwanted books and cutlery.

Another customer, looking through the Boy and Beast books with her grandsons tells me that she is really into books. “But where I used to work we couldn’t even give them away, it’s good to see people still trying.”

She tells her grandsons about William Shakespeare, that he was a great literary artist. But one brother was looking through his Skulduggery book and did not attend her information and the other just wanted to go to the bakery.

Harry is looking for King Arthur books and recites several times for me his lines in the play: Young King Arthur and the story of Excalibur.

“And you sir are a rapscallious rascally hooligan and the first cousin of a degenerate scoundrel.”

I am impressed and another customer, David, tells him to keep up the good work. He said he was quite an actor himself a long time ago and once acted in King Lear.

David is here to find a gift for a true friend who lives in Tailem Bend; he is searching for not just anything and wants a book that can express a lifetime of gratitude. I said that I understood; that I too have such a friend. He tells me he might go for Herman Hesse.

He asks about the tomato on my table and I tell him it was a gift and he says the simplest things are the most profound and that I should hand it on, symbolic of all things true.

Serenity, who has dropped in to help me pack up, says that I should eat the tomato and that for a present she would rather have Hover Soccer.

With books, there is no end…

10291155_646118218809742_8756402480235012261_n

A young reader, Ben, thanks me for his horse book. He says: thank you for that horse book. Do you think that you could now find a book about how to look after dogs and maybe put it out the back to save it for me or something? As they left his mother said: well that was a lucky find, I reckon.

I rang a lady to tell her that her books were here but her husband said that she is in hospital now and may never come back out.

Outside is full of tradesmen, laden with food and jogging back to waiting vehicles.

Robert has had the flu. He said he caught it in the art gallery and said that he cannot even taste his cigarettes and has not been able to read properly. He is outraged about catching the flu in an art gallery and said that this is typical Adelaide.

David said today that it is very difficult to stay focussed until a whole poem drops out. He said: I just cannot do it, but my mother could.

Outside now the street is empty. There is only a police car and they are in the bakery.

I finish Gould’s Book of Fish and Anaïs Nin (A Woman Speaks).

Two sisters are circling the table of children’s books, eyeing each other and the books on  display.

Karl tells me how important it is to have a chair in a bookshop for the customers. He buys Brother Fish because he knows personally about the Korean War and advises me to keep going, do keep going. Jenny brings a biography to the counter: Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking. Karl reads aloud from the back cover and she tells him to be quiet.

A family come in, a man with a young wife that the children call by her first name. He stands back hopeful, but she sits down and is exhausted. The children are pleased with the books, finding Geronimo Stilton and Zac Powers. She offers to buy them any books they would like but they put them back on the table, even the Geronimo Stilton Red Ruby.

I am asked for Saigon by Anthony Grey and any books by Tamora Pierce

I have found another book to read for myself and it is by an Australian writer called Elizabeth Jolley. It is called An Innocent Gentlemen. I can sense another ambush and I put the book back down for now.

A small boy asks if it is ok to come in if you are wearing soccer boots.

Last night I finished Anaïs Nin and today, the whole day, is about Anaïs Nin again. Once Margaret Atwood ambushed me this way and I could not get away for a long time and it was The Blind Assassin that did it.

A man stands outside the window and stares at a biography of Germaine Greer. He has been standing there for a long time. Another man tells me a long story about a library book that he lost in New Zealand. I decide to re read The Blind Assassin.

I am asked for Memoirs of a Geisha and advised to read it. I tell the customer that the day is alive with choices.

A man kneels with his small daughters amongst the Fairy Wishes books. He says: put them back properly remember. Don’t leave your beanie. The younger sister tells him that she wants every single book. He leans into the shelves to consider a safe response.

A lady says to someone outside, out of view: Stephen, this town has book shops. Later she came back to get a book she saw in the window. She said her friends are at the bakery and she lied to them about where she was going because they said she could not buy any more books. I said that I understood her predicament. She said that not everyone is interested in books.

She is gazing along the shelves, reaching for Sir Walter Scott and she says: with books there is no end.

 

 

I have a daughter.

DSC_0832.jpg

Peggy came to visit. She came to find some rubbish to read because her daughter has recently died and she is struggling to get going again. I do not know how to offer consolation on such a profound loss. She said: give me some rubbish to read and it’ll help get me going. Then she said: I didn’t do enough and this is why I need to be distracted. Do you ever think that? I said that I think this every single day. She said she has been reading all night long and wakes up suddenly when the book hits the floor. She recently stayed in bed all day with Tolkien and Georgette Heyer. I admire her more than I can say.

Then she said: I am getting old and cannot remember things well. You should put it into words, the details about your children. Also, I am going deaf.

I  am thinking of the details.

David came in and said: what are you doing? I said that I am writing some words about each one of my grown children so that I can preserve these details. David is emotional and dramatic. He said: oh I see, I see. He told me to write in images, not in words. But I am unsure of what this means.

A couple, looking through the Hesperus Press editions straightened up and said: our grown children…there are few words to describe it, the grown part. That’s hard.

David said to us all: I do not have any children.

This couple, who had come in for The Canterbury Tales and bought instead The Mill on the Floss said that sometimes they did not always want their grown children to visit.

I am writing just a few words for each one, so that, as Peggy reminded me I will not forget:

I have a daughter and we can argue on anything. We did not start like that but we became like that. We argued on the small things, the big things and then needed to argue on all things; the loss of the toaster, the temperature of cheese, the origin of grain. And then the position of pain, the right to comfort, the clarity of lies, the theft of the past. She is a quarter boy who struck the bell for every quarter hour that I was not honest. This is how I learned to be honest and it is how I learned that honesty is important. I am speechless with criticism and respect.

I have another daughter who can realign the hours and take care of the days. I look to her confounded and follow her example of gentle lists and goals. Together we have enormous quantities of fun and then suddenly she is a stranger to me; brave and fearless. She is completely apart and I am envious of her being completely on her own road. She can sound and show all weathers and allow crying.

I have another daughter who can lie in her own shape and regard unconcerned the future. I look to her with awe and relief that such an attitude is possible and with such bravery and distain. Because I am unable to disregard the hours and days and imagined chores that I need to earn my train pass.

I have a son and I admire him intensely from close and afar. He is rare. He does the things of men. But he can work within all the things of women. Despite my pacing and motherhood fury during his infant days, he achieved all this. There is no more to be said.

I have a new daughter who has joined up with enthusiasm, blended everybody and excludes nobody. She is focussed, generous and excellent. She has the future sketched and is delighted with it and is a gate keeper, making sure that everybody gets though. And we can no longer do without her.

I look at these words and wonder about them. I would show them to David but he has taken his biography of Anaïs Nin and gone home.

A lady bought three books by Ngaio Marsh. She told me that at home she has books open on every surface, everywhere, all the print lying there face up and ready.

A young man said that he does not like the whole world building premise, the land spreading structure etc and this is why he did not read The Wizard of Earthsea even though his dad did.

I am asked for The Nigella Express and for The Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones.

Elaine would like a copy of The Shepherd’s Life. When she drops in she tells me that she is distressed because her daughter, who is 55, will still not answer her mobile phone.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin

owl-photography-25__880

Dean picked up his Ghandi and talked about the Bhagavad Gita. He said that apparently it very much inspired Aldous Huxley who wrote among other things, Brave New World. Then he said cryptically that this is only the beginning. He also said he is worried about his electricity supply.

I said conversationally to a young council worker that it was hailing here not half an hour ago and the sky was black. He said: there’s no way!!!!! Then he said cheerfully that he doesn’t read much, he just wanted to get into the warm.

Anaïs Nin…..

Red Rackham’s Treasure (Tintin) has fallen on top of American Sniper so nobody can see the sniper anymore. I decide to leave it this way.

Jeanne picks up Sisters of Sinai and asks for me to look out for Pomegranate Soup for her and that reading gets her through the winter.

I am asked for Reading the Oxford English Dictionary: One Man, One Year, 21730 Pages by Amon Shea. The customer says: imagine doing that! Writing Home by Alan Bennett, a huge and heavy volume sits on the counter and looks impassively on, dubious of  anyone reading the entire dictionary.

A customer I have never met suddenly buys Writing Home by Alan Bennett and there is a gap.

Anaïs Nin, A Woman Speaks

 

Outside a lady tells indicates the General Cosgrove book in the window and tells her husband that she has already read that but…..he tries to edge her toward their car.

Amelia messages me that soon she is going to spend an obscene amount of money on Zola. Especially on Nana, the only book she had no copy of at all.

Margaret brings me tangerine cake that she made herself. Soon the entire shop smells of tangerine.

David bought Byzantine Art – he said that he coveted this book. And that life is difficult.

A visitor says that he lives in Yorkshire, England but now he wants to live in Echunga.

A man rushed in and asked me what an Encyclopaedia of South Australia was worth. I said that I did not know. He said he did not want me to give him $5 for it when it was worth, say $20. I thanked him for his concern.

A lady suddenly said as she stood there with a copy of Heidi: I do enjoy reading your blog. I am shocked and do not know what to say.

A man wandered around and told me that he had Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now on tape. He said: I can relax and listen to things. I can come out once a week and this is my day out. I am also learning to use a dictionary. I have never read a book right though. What are these, this old Pauper’s library here? Who is this Midsummer Night Dream? Who is this Thomas Moore? Who are the Irish Melodies? I told him about some of the books and he said: sweet!

A young woman said she just had the best half hour of her day. She displayed her choices in front of me, all paperback penguins, Hesse, Sagan, Gunter Grass, Bellow, Marquez, all old and worn with delivery.

The market across the road is busy, the street is busy. Someone has put a flower on my windowsill. People outside read aloud the titles in the window as they pass by. A young woman holds up books to her infant daughter through the glass. But the child, outside with her father, is distracted by the balloons above her. Her mother taps crossly on the glass so that the young man quickly turns the child to look at Angelina Ballerina. But the child is disinterested. The father looks through the glass, worried.

The day is Anaïs Nin; inside everything is Anaïs Nin because she said: create your own creation and be stubborn with it.

A lady said to her friend: we are inside a gem.

sunsets-through-shattered-mirrors-bing-wright-71__880

 

Henry buys books on bread making or books by Liane Moriarty. He stopped by today to tell me about Big Little Lies:  there are these families and their lives and everything and even at the end you still don’t know what is going to happen and Liane Moriarty just weaves it all in and out and in and out and it is amazing, it’s storytelling, proper storytelling and then she won the New York prize. I’ve heard it’s so hard to do this!

As I had no books by Moriarty or anything about bread making, Henry chose Helen Garner. He said that Helen Garner is a brave writer. He told me about his friend, an old lady in a nursing home who reads outside walking amongst trees in the garden. He said she must do this to get that home out of her system, especially the smell. And she reads Helen Garner.

A lady said to her friend: look at all these books…we are inside a gem.

Marnie said that she felt that she needed to read The Hate Race. She just felt it. She looked at me but was unable to explain further. I said that I understood.

A young man passing the window says: Please don’t tell me that Julie Gillard has written a book! His friend hustles him on and tells him not to worry about it.

A lady bought The Magic Faraway Tree because of the way it looked.

Then she bought Twelfth Night because of the way that looked too. When she picked it up she said: Oh no….

Two ladies argue next to the food and cook books. They become cross with each other over Margaret Fulton.

A copy of The Living and the Dead by Patrick White has appeared from somewhere and I keeping looking at it. But I already have enough to read. Patrick White’s biography (David Marr) is shelved opposite me and Patrick White is pictured on the front. He looks angry. The picture is so refreshing. I receive another email from Glenda urging me to read the new biography of Oscar Wilde. She said it is so disturbing.

A girl of about 14 years has been looking at a slip cased volume of Johnson and Boswell ( Journals of the Western Isles). It is dark green and gold and heavy.

A young boy asks for Poe’s Pit and The Pendulum and his father says: I don’t know what he wants that for!

My friend sends me a photo of a set of Penguin 60s she has just received for her birthday. The titles are luxurious, chantable and I want them. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Krishna’s Dialogue on the Soul, Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps, Castiglione, Cervantes, Dante and De Quincey, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Aristophanes and Anonymous.

The books I am reading and that I have read are colliding.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Arabian Nights

Stravinsky’s Lunch, a return.

Gould’s Book of Fish is still gruesome.

The Shorter Pepys

The Stone Diaries

Joyce Carol Oates…

I run up to the post office to post a book interstate. I wonder if people say: there goes the book keeper. But it is likely they say nothing. When I get back, Joan is there to tell me about her nephew and Harry Potter.

I am asked for  Wintersmith,  A Hat Full of Sky and Cloudstreet.

I think about Zola.

 

Photography and artwork by Bing Wright