That’d be a good read

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People are looking in my windows again, reading the titles of the books aloud, passing  divine judgements.

‘Churchill: The End of Glory. God, look at him.’

‘Gandhi Before India. That’d be a good read.’

It’s cold outside. The leaves continue to slide in under the door. People walk to the bakery and take food back to their cars, lean against the doors, blinking at the warmth. Gaze at my displays.

‘I think they’re all new age books.’

‘Want to go in?’

‘Nope.’

Small groups cross the road cautiously, lighting up when they see the bakery open and only a small queue. They tap my window kindly on the way past.

‘It’s open again.’

Another pair talked loudly as they sped past.

‘And we went around and around all over the place, and then we said…. stuff it. Nothing’s open anyway…’

‘Fair enough.’

A couple come in and ask me for permission to browse. They showed me their hands as though for inspection. I said, ‘Yes, please do. Take your time (take a year).

Andrew, who is 92, picked up his copy of Exactly, and said that it’s a strange time right now, but he’s known worse.

A lady came in and went out again. She said to her husband, who was still browsing, that she was going for a large bun so they didn’t turn up empty handed. He didn’t answer.

Each time a car passes, sunlight strikes its windscreen and sends a brief oblong of light against my door. This heartbeat is interrupted only when someone walks past. Footsteps, a cluster of shoulders across the window, a cooling of the light, someone saying, ‘Come on, you don’t need any more books.’

But they do, and they come in and ask for Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve or anything on mushrooms.

Reading in Winter

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Louis came back.

He wanted Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton, Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong and Saul Bellow.

Louis walks slowly but reads fast. He has parked some way down the street and later, I help him with the books, pack the shining bundles into the back seat with the old suitcase and the eggs. He says, thanks very much, indeed, yes, for the winter reading. I love winter, it’s for reading. I’ll get that Shakespeare out you know, it’s been put to the back again.

As though his library was alive and doing things behind his back. Which they do.

When he arrived, he had stopped at the counter and breathed deeply a few times. He always does this, he says it’s to get in the stride of things. Of reading, which is active, chaotic and shattering, especially if you read like Louis.

He says I talk too fast. When I said, here are the Primo Levis you wanted, he says, wait, which ones are they? I’ll tell you why I wanted these. He tells me a story of reading and love.

When I say, here is the Botton book you wanted (about Proust), he says, oh yes, now I need Proust of course. Wait, tell me more about Botton, is he Swiss or French? He sounds French. But I heard he is British. I heard he is amazing. Remind me.

He also reminds me not to talk too fast.

He wants to read about Gandhi. He wants the best biography there is. He says that biographers are artists, artists of the world, artist of us, we MUST consider them. He lists  all the biographies of Mahatma Gandhi he has already read. It sounds like all of them to me. But it isn’t. It isn’t enough: there is another. He holds out his hands, making a cradle that rocks gently, perfection.

I agree, I will find it. He says, there is always time.

Then, finally, he turns to go, but only after an interview that detailed Karen Armstrong, Elaine Pagels, (The Gnostic Gospels), A History of Water, who wrote that? Who wrote The History of Insanity? I saw it somewhere. Tell me about Barchester Towers, I saw it as a series, had the guy from Harry Potter in it, brilliant. Is it a series? I tell him it is, thousands of pages, a commitment, and Louis straightens up, tall with joy.

He will go home, lit with passion, for reading, for history, the earth, mistakes, insanity, water, salt and sand, Gandhi, why and when, how.