What readers do with books in a bookshop

It’s a good sign when people come into the shop with eyes that zing straight to the shelves. Cannot focus on much else, and they scan the Covid app backwards, without looking at it. Kneel down immediately, in everyone’s way, to look at a  small dark red volume of Cranford. Holding it gently as if it were alive, which it is.

Children stand and look down, one finger resting on the book they look at. They read the title out loud, many times as though testing it. Which they are. They stand on one leg and wrap the other leg around the standing leg as though this gives extra information somehow. Which it does.

Young men in backpacks kneel and bend easily, squat and yoga their way around the shelves, tapping paperbacks on their chins while thinking. Young women tip their heads to the side and ponder, tap the paperback on one wrist as though assessing its reliability. They say to each other, ‘Look at THIS.’

Old ladies frown and bang books on the table, expecting the same sort of strength that they are now made of. Old men shuffle and jingle coins in pockets and hesitate to ask me about Clive Cussler in case they are a nuisance. They aren’t. Young people sit cross legged and gaze at rows of books in awe, in love, in a mood to plan a library, in a passion to read the great people. They pull out volumes of poetry and plays and hold them open on laps, frowning, wondering, but who is T.S Eliot…they read lines out loud in whispers, pegging themselves to greatness without realizing it.

Some readers fan through a book with their thumbs, looking for…what…? Other readers turn a book over and over, test its weight, gaze into its face, rub its spine, read the back, the front, a page about halfway through, add it to their pile where it lays flat, smiling.

Others cradle books in their arms, stack them down by ankles, hold them in armpits, balance them, wipe them for dust, turn them around and around, squint at the contents, sprint to the counter to pay. They photograph the books, argue about them, check them against lists, smile delighted, look disgusted, bring them to the counter and argue about their merit. Tell me to find them, buy them, post them, get them, for God’s sake read them, read them, read them!

So I do. I try.

Photography by Rubee Hood

The Ravens

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In Strathalbyn, a little of the outside always comes in through the door. Today, there are leaves there; these are Chinese elm leaves and seemingly the first to fall.

A lady came in to talk about The Forsyte Saga. She was showing me her mother’s copies of the series, small books in dark green with gold lettering. Then a couple burst through the door and fresh from Cox Scrub! They were looking for Sun on the Stubble but wanted to tell us about their hours in the scrub because autumn is the best time to be there.

She said they had seen a New Holland honey eater and the European bullfinch but her husband said they had not seen the bullfinch. She said they had seen a red wattlebird and her husband said that they had indeed and also a brown tree creeper but his wife said they had not seen the tree creeper.

We admired the massive camera she carried and I thought I do not often seen people so excited by these little birds they film.

She said she had a thing for owls and her husband agreed that this was true. Then he told us about the time he stood on a common death adder when they were on the Yorke Peninsula. He showed us how he stood and how the snake was hidden under the leaf litter. And his wife said that this was all true. But she thought that there was not that much leaf litter. He said they are the fastest striking snake in Australia and she said that this is true.

He thought they might go to the bakery now but she was remembering something else. That at home, she had seen a white bellied sea eagle and it was just incredible and there it was eating something in the paddock as calm as you please. Her husband said that this was true. They gazed at each other, so happy that this had happened – but that wasn’t all. That while she was filming this white bellied sea eagle as it sat there eating –  there were three ravens attacking it.

And she had taken photographs of the ravens up close as they attacked precisely and furiously,  showing their small mad eyes and the eagle just sitting there as calm as you please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What will we be like when we claim all our own resources….

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Perhaps he could no longer walk calmly and safely on a level floor because he mistook it for a rope. Hermann Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Rowena told me that I should keep doing this. Keep working in a bookshop. That we should do what makes us happy when we can. And that some people will do what makes them unhappy because that actually keeps them happy. She bought a copy of The Hunger Games.

John stopped me at the bakery to show me his mountain bike, all packed and prepared for his trip to Tasmania where he is hoping for mild weather. Since he retired he rides everywhere and he can’t wait for August when he will leave and tour alone around the cold Tasmanian roads with his History of Abraham Lincoln for company.

I have not seen Leon for ages,  not since he told me that his migraines were getting worse and worse but to have the second volume of Twilight ready for him anyway.

Robert said that nobody (certainly not the government) will thank him for all the research and writing that he is doing until long after he is dead. But he does not care because there is power in death.

Monique told me that she will be looking for a new series to read very soon and hopefully as good as Cat Warriors.

A lady told her husband to shut the door and not let in the cold but he couldn’t close it because she was in the way. She asked him if he couldn’t just be careful for once in his life. But he is looking at the Ian Flemings and does not answer. She tells him to go in the other room. But he is laughing out loud at the Ian Flemings because “these books were a lot of fun!”

I had said to Robert, imagine if we all thought that we were actually ok, and didn’t need to keep tiredly striving for whatever it was. He said nobody will ever claim all of their own resources as being enough because our culture tells us to do otherwise. Like Apple and Ikea. Then he said he needed a coffee.

But I think it’s true that reading allows us to relent and relax on our careful hold on our lives. When people tell me about something they have read, they let go of everything and concentrate only on that one thing they are remembering: The Tower or the Smoke Catcher or the Chinese Riots of Lambing Flat.

And then our cramped clockwork can stretch and release and light out for a solo run without us.

I felt inspired and told a lady who was looking through the Colin Thieles that it is nice to see children reading the South Australian writers. But she put the books down and said that she might get her grandson some lollies instead and did I know if that old lolly shop was still in High Street.

I am asked for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Bully for Brontosaurus, for the location of the art gallery and advised to read The Fall of the House of Wilde. I was reminded that tomorrow would be 22 degrees, (practically summer) and that there was a horse float parked in the bus zone. I showed my Herman Hesse, some new reading for me, to a customer but he said he does not read the Germans.

My friend, who is 84, sent me a bag of books and the news that her daughter had died on Sunday. My friend is a braveheart. She has always followed her own self to her own self and not bothered to strive after anything that outshines her own remarkable life, because so far nothing has. She has read everything, favouring bloodthirsty thrillers above all else. Along with her devastating news, she sent me a stack of bloodthirsty thrillers.

You carried everything that mattered inside yourself….to live with yourself in affection and trust. Then you could do anything. Then you could not only walk a tightrope but fly. Herman Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Photography by Rubee Hood