I just want to go on exploring what there else is.

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I just want to go on exploring what there else is.

A child tells her father this as she is kneeling amongst spilt horse books. I might want this Arabia Nights. But he mishears her; he refers to the book as Raising’s Nights. He goes off into the other room and is shuffling around in the True Crime. She finds him there and hands him Inkheart and returns to her search. But he leaves Inkheart in Travel. He weaves back into the front room with Lee Child but she is not interested in that! She places of copy of Tales of Deltora on the counter.

He asks finally: do you want this book on Raising’s Nights? But she does not want that book, she has never heard of it.  She chooses instead My Sister Sif by Ruth Park and then, thoughtfully, The Magic Pudding. There is also the Deltora. They have forgotten Inkheart, it remains in Travel.

As they leave and continue down the street, they are each staring down at their own books.

 

 

 

Imitation of Christ

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A lady and her daughter came into the shop. They were looking for Dilly Court but I only had one book and they had both read that. The daughter spent some time gently handling a little red leather book called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis. The mother said nothing. The daughter lit up in defence of the book.

Some of us want to be Christians, mum.

The mother said: your dad would have a fit.

They both looked down at the little book, it was red and gold with a decorative border of the front, lines of ivy in silver and green traced through the design. It was rather beautiful.

The daughter answered: Let him then.

I’m going to put my school bag in the bin…do you reckon I should?

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School has begun again in this small town. There are mothers gathered together at the bakery, looking thoughtful and eating risky cream cakes. I am asked for Dougie Starts School, and then Girl Stuff for the Preteens by Kaz Cooke and The Definitive Guide to Icecreams Sorbets and Gelati. …but we are unsure who wrote this one, the lady who has requested it looks annoyed with herself. Another lady tells us she is soon to move to Strathalbyn as it has a good chemist. She buys The World of the Horse while the icecream customer is looking for her Google app.

Outside there are no children clattering past on bikes or scooters. It is quiet and cloudy, not even a breeze. A young man asks me for books on cockfighting but I have never even seen one. Another customer watches him leave and looks disgusted.

Yvonne puts her head through the door and shouts: how is that grandchild of yours?

I reply that he is thriving. She says: that’s the way.

A man asks me for Douglas Adams books, especially Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I show him all the copies and he says: good upselling. I think that it is hardly necessary to upsell Douglas Adams! He chooses the leather version, it is purple and silver and I think I should have kept it for myself and I take his money feeling bitter. Later I think that I might have a problem with hoarding books.

I am reading an anthology of literature, prose, poetry and plays. It is a student’s version, heavy with onion skin pages and scribbled notes down the margins. I have discovered Katherine Porter, John Cheever, Somerset Maugham, Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston. I did not know that D H Lawrence wrote short stories. Or John Steinbeck. I have now read The Fall of the House of Usher. I have now read Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and which is set in Spain. When there is a gap in here, I can keep reading.

Robert wants a copy of The Physics of Transfigured Light. I show him my anthology and he admires the weight of it. He says: there is not enough time to read. I tell him that Ernest Hemingway shot himself and he answered that the world has always treated its artists cruelly.

A lady told me that her young daughter reads the same books that she once did and that this makes her very happy. The books they both love are the Sweet Valley High Series. After school two young girls spend a long time looking through the shelves. They are about fourteen years. One chose two penguin classics in the orange and cream covers – Isabelle Allende Eva Luna and John Updike’s Run Rabbit Run – she did not know who the authors were, she just loved the orange and cream covers.

Scott stopped to say that he is now reading all of the free throw out books from the library even though they are all crap.

Later, toward the end of the afternoon the school children come past again, in groups and heading for food. One boy drags his bag along the footpath and tells his friend he might put his bag in the bin. His friend says: you should.

 

Small Things Like Shapes

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A child said to me that he likes my lantern because he likes small things like shapes. He said that when he looked into the glass he could see cars going past and that the cars looked better in the lantern than they did going along the road as real cars. His mother said to him that there were some Beast Quest books on the shelf and he said: maybe.

She said there are also some Star Wars and he said: maybe.

A lady was pleased to see a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. She said it is on her to read list which has a thousand books on it already. She said it is quite wearying. She did not see the lantern.

It is Australia Day. The family with the small boy who likes shapes are across the road, they have been to the bakery. The father is trying to interest the child in some food but he is standing with his nose pressed against the fir tree, he must be looking at more shapes. The father looks weary. The child drops the paper bag on the ground and looks down at the spilt food. He makes binoculars with his fists and looks down at the broken food. His knees are bent with concentration. The parents are having an argument.

On the pavement, outside my shop, a man has opened his esky on the pavement and there is no ice. His wife asks him why he can’t even pack an esky properly. He raises both hands in the air and stands there motionless but she has got back into the car. Then she locks all the doors.

I wonder if anyone will come in for a book today. But then I remember that the small boy who likes shapes had chosen a book called Pharaoh’s Boat which had pyramids on the front.

The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….

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Outside the shop a child hurls her ice block at her father’s feet and he says: well that’s the end of that then!

I see James through the window, he is 14 and cycling slowly through the heat and up the road towing a cart behind his bike, I know he built and attached this cart himself. In the cart today there is an old leather bag and a glass lantern.

It is very hot and customers come through the door and tell me about the heat. Mavis brought me a bag of plums and told me she is unhappy with her hairdresser (no plums for her).

A lady piled books on the counter and whispered to me: oh this is such fun. She had an A. S. Byatt: The Virgin in the Garden and I stared at the cover; I have not yet read this. I felt envious of her pile of books. I told her irrelevantly that now I have my first grandson and she was enormously impressed. She said: Oh well done, well, well done. I felt better; I felt generous and showed her The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, the last copy and the one I was going to keep. When she bought it I did not mind because now I have a grandson.

I have just finished Wide Sargasso Sea and searched my own shelves frantically for more books by Jean Rhys and I did not have anything at all. I am disappointed with my own bookshop.

Jim tells me that wherever he goes, the internet is always slow. But he thinks it is because maybe he is slow. He buys Heart of Darkness because he saw something about it on TV. Angela wants Surrender: A Journal for My Daughter which she also saw on TV.

It continues to be hot but it is not quiet. The motorbikes are seldom quiet. When they leave in droves from the art gallery car park on Sunday mornings, the cars obediently stop to allow them to stream out in a group. The drivers are obedient but not happy.

I have not found anything more by Jean Rhys so I am reading The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith which is horrifying so far. It is also horrifying that have not read it yet. When I saw David he said: why haven’t you read that yet?

Some British tourists buy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson and they are anxious that now they will go over their flight luggage restrictions. But they take it regardless because it is worth the risk.

Peggy rang to tell me that she had bought a new car, a Mazda with Bluetooth, satellite navigation, reversing mirror, live streaming, anything you want to listen to but none of that stupidly new music. She also broke her foot, went down over the fireplace like an old fool. So she also went online to the Book Depository and ordered tons of books, none of which will fit onto her bookshelves.

A man told me that Nelson Demille only writes one book per year which is disappointing. His wife showed me how she carries her handbag so that thieves cannot snatch it. Paul, who is a regular, told them that his wife carried her handbag the same way. Then he told them how much he liked reading about gypsies and they were approving. The husband said: there’s nothing like a good book and everyone nodded.

A brother and sister told me a long story about reading the Narnia series by C S Lewis, they argued over many of the details and the brother accused his sister of not having read them properly. Their father, who had brought them in said: keep it down, you two.

At the end of the week, a Saturday for me, a visitor, a man said:

My wife has had a stroke but still she can read and I always buy her a Colin Thiele. I have got her Sun on the Stubble this time, glad you had it there. I read to her every night. I think that life does go on but I don’t understand how.

I feel that I must read the tough stories too, so that you know life goes on. The tough stories, the myths and legends, of any country, the basics, the absolutes….that’s the sort of books I read to my wife, every night…

 

 

 

I might become a pirate or a rabbit catcher.

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A lady brought to the counter a set of poetry books in soft green leather. She stood for a while, holding the books, stroking the covers and running her thumb over the gold on the spines. She said: I am having these.

I looked for the last time at the green and the silver and the soft rich gold of that precise seven volume stack and I said I will miss these and she said: yes.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. It gleams and glitters all around me.

A child asked me if all the pirates in books are actually ok. Because he might become one or he might become a rabbit catcher. He stood on one foot and showed the skill of balancing silently in front of the rabbits. I said: this is excellent.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. Although my accountant said I have completed another year without making any money at all. I told Robert and he said: what do they know!

A man said to his wife: I could spend all day in here and she said: well you’re not.

John rang to thank me for looking for his train book and I reminded him that I had not found it yet. He said: that’s ok. Keep looking. He asked if I had Triple Crown by Felix Francis but I didn’t.

Sharon messaged me to read Great Expectations over Christmas. She said she backed into a car at a shopping centre and it is Christmas that caused it.

One man looked at my Christmas tree and looked shocked. I said cheerily: only a few weeks to go and he said: oh shit. He bought an Encyclopaedia of Horses.

I was asked for Cranford, The Good Earth, Soul Mountain and The Secret Garden. Kody’s younger brother picked up Kody’s Boy Versus Beast Books and said: These are for Kody, but he probably won’t let me read them.

I am surrounded by glittering wealth in here.

A tiny girl, about three years old was wearing one pink shoe and one black shoe and she dropped her handful of coins on the floor. After half an hour her parents left the shelves to come to the counter and their child was still collecting her coins, slowly, painstaking, one by one. She had one shoe on and the other one was full of the coins. Her mother offered her Possum Magic but she was uninterested. She just wanted to continue her work.

I was urged to read Poor Fellow, My country by Xavier Herbert. A young reader that I have never met asked me to show her a really good book that she would like.

Robert dropped in again to recite for me a poem about the Garden of Eden. I said to him that I am surrounded with glittering wealth in here and he said that I should get rid of the westerns then.

A customer has lent me The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova because it is phenomenal. I begin to read it. I am interrupted with another recommendation: The Yandilli Trilogy by Rodney Hall. Peter asked me to find him two copies of The Existential Jesus by John Carroll. He said it is the most important book ever written and that I should read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ideal Reader

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A fisherman from Kingston came in looking for Terry Pratchett and told me that once he bought a Terry Pratchett in Mt Gambier. He said the beach along the Kingston coast is a mess but that is the fault of developers and the council. He said that Terry Pratchett would have said a thing or two about that! Hahaha! I agreed with this and he went out very pleased.

I remember one morning this week, a man was waiting for his small daughter. But she had found The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth and this book is book five of The Chain of Charms series. She was about seven years old, kneeling on the floor to read the book and her father was moving impatiently. His work boot nudged and toppled Animalia and she rebuked him silently with a lifted finger. He stared through the window, rattling keys, obedient. Suddenly she stood and showed him the cover; she was radiant and suddenly, so was he.

A man said that his hallway was lined with bookshelves and it was the length of a cricket pitch. His wife said she did not think it was this long.

I have finished with the Edith Wharton and I read the best stories in this book twice over so as not to miss anything. I am not reading anything else, not yet, because the story Mrs Manstey’s View will not let anything else in.

I was asked for Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons and Secret Servant: The Life of Sir Stewart Menzies by Anthony Cave Brown. This reader told me that Nagal’s Journal, which he found here last time, is the best thing he has ever read. He said that the diaries on the ships, as kept by the captains are the best reading there is. He squared his shoulders and stood back to see if I might disagree.

Three teenage girls were talking and talking. One asked for Sherlock Holmes. She hopped up and down when she told me how much she loved Sherlock Holmes. But sadly, I had none. She said: imagine this, imagine Sherlock Holmes in hardback. I really want to find this…Oh my God.

Her friend said: look at this, I am so into this. Oh my gosh guys. What will I do? Oh my God, I am going to have this.

What is it?

It’s Harry Potter. They all bent over the volume, close together and suddenly speechless. They whisper: it’s a hardback, it’s in another language. Oh my God. They place the volume on the counter and look at me dazed. She says: I collect them. Then they left, leaning on each other, hilarious, rapt.

A tall man in front of me examines the Wordsworth classics and is intense and frowning. His wife is amongst the Art. He leans back; as usual there is nothing for him! He returns to Art but his wife is not finished. She says: I’m not nearly done. She is frowning now too; he moves away and she stops frowning.

One man was intent upon the histories. Then he came away abruptly from the shelf and regarded his son who was texting angrily outside the front door. He said he might come back another time. He closed the door politely but also angrily.

I was told that Dick Francis wrote better books than his son. A lady told me that her fifteen year old grandson loved to read fantasy series but she was going to buy him a biography of a yachtsman instead.

A very tall and smiling man bought Martin Chuzzlewit and said that Charles Dickens had the most extraordinary way with words. He said he was reading them all, he did not like Bleak House but the rest, just marvellous indeed.

I have only read two books by Charles Dickens and they are not easily forgotten. I told him that when Daniel Quilp drowns in The Old Curiosity Shop I was glad! He said: yes indeed!

Two men together were talking about their teenage sons. One man said that his son would not show him how to use the remote for the television because he learns too slowly. His friend said: hahaha.

They asked me for a copy of Watership Down.

I was asked for books on card tricks and a young girl showed me a plaster dragon she had just bought from the goodwill shop. I was asked for the Wind in the Willows.

A man said he had a lot of time for Willa Cather. He asked me had I read her. I said that I planned to but right now I am with Edith Wharton and he said …AHHH…and he looked very happy. He told me that when I get to Willa Cather to read Death Comes for the Archbishop first.

I am floundering and falling amongst all of the titles, all of the must reads and the best reads and the don’t miss reads. It is a good way to be.

 

“The ideal reader is the translator, able to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down to the marrow, follow each artery and each vein, and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.”

Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader by Alberto Manguel

 

 

 

 

 

 

You mean all the different lands and that? That’s easy!

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A young girl, about twelve, galloped past the door when I was opening up one morning and her father said: there’s your book lady, say hello, and the child trumpeted a huge hello through her custard tart and filled the air with coconut. She said: do you remember when I came in? I agreed to the memory and then she told me that The Diary of Anne Frank was really good. More of her tart dropped to the ground and her father said: careful with the cake.

I am still setting up for the day. I am preoccupied and slow and there is a wasp on top of the biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. There are two people waiting patiently and soon the husband begins to explain to me that he is a prolific reader. Then he said: look out there’s a moth in here and his wife said to him: you must have opened your wallet!

Maree talked about reading Huckleberry Finn and about the difficulties of being a grandparent. She said she felt unappreciated and that the other grandparents had an unfair advantage. She held onto the door so that other people could not get through and when she felt the door move she gave a small scream.

After she left I thought that life is not easy for anyone.

David is here and he watches her leave too and he said: goodness… and then he talked about Peter Porter and Clive James. He said that he engages emotionally, deeply, with these poets. He said that soon he is going to explore the Indian Mystics.

On Wednesday Robert told me that once he ate a roast chicken at a pub and it was a poor meal indeed. He told the publican: this is a poor meal and the publican sacked the cook. Then he said cryptically that this is just like that damn fool in America. He said it’s time someone did something about that too, and that he is about to add his voice to the battle soon as he has paid all his bills.

I am sorting and shelving books and considering my own tangled reading. It won’t stay still or become coherent. I am reading Olive Kitteridge because someone lent it to me and it is tough and fabulous. And I have finished the Edith Wharton, the stories of New York and sometimes in my head I am hearing Olive Kitteridge and sometimes I am hearing Edith Wharton. Sometimes they may be the same person. But they are not. And my daughter brought home from the university library another volume of the Westerly, Australian poems and short stories and I plough though the glossy thick pages with joy because for some reason I have missed out on the Australian things. These heavy journals are full of words and sand and heat and the back streets of Sydney and our own awful history.

I asked Kody: how do you keep all the books and things organised and not mixed up in your head. He said: that’s easy.

That was all he said, as if there was no more needed. That it is not a problem anyway so why was I asking it. I am always impressed with Kody who has read all of the Deltora Quest books three times. I said to him: but what about all the different countries? And he said: you mean the different lands? Like Araluen and that? That’s easy.

One morning the shop was full of grandmothers. This had never happened before.

One grandma told me about her tiny brilliant granddaughter; that she was so very brilliant and could read anything. The child sat still, magnificent in her stroller and then suddenly flung all of the chosen picture books to the floor. The other grandmothers looked away politely.

 

Map of Literature by Martin Vargic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He said: thank you for thanking us.

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And his wife said: we lie in bed from six am to eight am every morning and read with cups of tea and we’ve been doing that for forty years.

I gazed at this old couple who are so happy with the volumes they have just chosen and I thanked them for coming into my shop.

And later, a whole week later, I rang them to talk about a book they wanted and when I rang, Thelma was reading Manx Mouse in the garden and she said: oh, my dear, my dear, my dear I am reading Manx Mouse out in the garden and there are no words for it. And then she said:  we should also talk about Oscar Wilde next time we come in. John is making a nuisance of himself in the shed; let me call out to him that you are here on the phone. I ought to also turn off the hose. Just wait a minute my dear…

I am thinking of Oscar Wilde all day.

I am reading The New York Stories of Edith Wharton and I am absorbed too completely in Mrs Manstey’s View.  When Mrs Manstey lingers at her window to watch a windy sunset die in bat coloured dusk I remembered that I had once seen that sunset through a glass window and I had licked the glass and it was hot.

A customer looks at my book and says she could never get on with Edith Wharton.

I feel that I cannot get by without Edith Wharton. The cover is beautiful; it is iced green with pink and presents itself as to be eaten.

I am asked for Catcher in the Rye and I feel like furiously saying bother The Catcher! What now about Edith Wharton…

A young woman asks for Thus Spake  Zarathustra and I am wondering why such a young person has chosen this.

Peggy sends me a message with her new address and that the James Patterson she bought from me was rubbish. I suggested Edith Wharton and I am limp with love for Edith Wharton but Peggy says: God, no.

Rita came in for an Australian Stamp Catalogue and she describes for me the difficulties of her experiences with greyhound racing.

Joe comes back with his copy of The Nullarbor Kid and tells me that his life of trucking the outback is entirely within this book.  He said: my lady used to come with me in the truck sometimes, so on the CB radio –  when the truckers knew she was with me, they cleaned up their language you see… for ten years she travelled with me… it was the best ten years of my life.  She said that the men of the outback treated her much better than men in suits back in that wretched bank.  But it’s different now I guess…I should like to read any more books this guy has written. Please look some more of them out for me.

I am asked for the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft.

There is an argument in the front room over Game of Thrones.

A small child hits her brother over the head with his Horton Hatches the Egg and he is devastated. The mother tells me that she is exhausted. She has purchased Cleopatra and Helen of Troy by Margaret George, each of these is a weighty 900 pages and she leaves the shop hugging her two weeping children and she tells me about her reading afternoon and she is ecstatic. I understand her ecstasy and that sometimes there are not words for it. I remember when I was looking at Wide Sargasso Sea, looking at the pages and the cover and David came in and said: Oh My God is that Wide Sargasso Sea and I said yes and he said: Oh My God! And there were no more words for it.

I understood.

There are all the details there, in these books, the greatest books, whichever they are. Details of the smallest things, the everyday things, so many and so profound and complicated that there is no dealing with them, not even with regular, careful breathing.

Paper sculpture by  Malena Valcarcel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vampire Books

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John is back from Tasmania, and he came to tell me about his bike trip of 1400km, taken through rain, sun and good cheer. He told me about the best thing of all.

“ …this is the best thing of all: I rode up to the Mt Wellington car park – right up the top of that place, it was like heaven to ride around the top of that car park, it was flat and it was heaven. I am an old man you know! And a lady and her husband were up there and they clapped me when I got there…because I am old I suppose. But then she said, do you know what she said? She said: Someone ought to write a story about you in the Southern Argus…”

John paused and looked at me. I said: Our Southern Argus? He said: YES!! And then he leaned back with both arms up in the air. YES!! He laughed and laughed. “Somebody knows me! SHE knows me but who was she? I’ve never seen her before and she lives here in Strathalbyn. Up the top of that mountain we were. I tell you that life is an incredible thing!”

“Then I rode out of Devonport and 3/4 of an hour up I went, up another hill and at the top there is a sign: road closed due to landslides. Why the dickens couldn’t they have put that sign at the bottom. The air was like cold crystals up there…. “

“I said hello to my horses as soon as I got back. And THEN I had squatters!!!! Bees, thousands of them, in my own house, moved there when I was away. I tell you that you can never know what will happen next! I moved those bees back out and myself right back in! Now I need something to read until the sunshine comes back.”

Finally, John wishes me a good day and advises me that good weather is coming. A little boy, patiently waiting asks John: but where is your bike? And John tells him that the bees took it.

The little boy returns to his mother in the front room to tell her this worrying piece of news but she is exclaiming over a Hunger Games trilogy, bound in pink, orange and lime green and she tells him that the books are just so cool and funky. Aren’t they just totally rhythmic! He says: don’t worry mum, we’ll figure it out.

A young person asks me why Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was not written properly.

I read some more of Djuna Barnes and I am aware that these smoky stories are symbolic and too difficult for me but I am bravely reading on. I am thinking that she is funky and cool and rhythmic! I hope I can figure her out but it is doubtful. Luckily, this does not matter.

Dion returned to say hello and make sure that the shop is still ok. I said that all is going well and he said: except the weather.

Alex told me about the Persian Army and also about his Toyota Corolla. Then he recommended that I pursue a fabulous historian called E. J. Hobsbawm who wrote The Age of Revolution: Europe from 1789 to 1848. He said that this was riveting history.

I am asked for Positive Imaging: The Powerful Way to change Your Life, Wolf Hall and Lark Rise to Candleford and any books on ants.

Matt told me that it is getting harder and harder for him to find the books he wants to read. He said that he only likes books about paddocks.

I commented on the new five dollar note and the customer said: yes but it’s still only worth $5.

In the other room there are three older ladies, they have come in from a bus tour and are busy amongst the detectives and crime and I can hear them. There is a raised voice: “…it’s just a suggestion…it’s JUST a suggestion…for God’s sake…”

At the end of the day there is a woman here. She stood for a long while. She stood twisting and twisting her hands. Then she turned to me and said she didn’t have time to read but she read a vampire book the other day. She even turned the telly off and read the vampire book and it was so good. It was such a relief to read about vampires and be on another planet where her parents did not have cancer. Then she thanked me and left even though I did not do anything for her.

A customer tells me that his is moving from history books to gardening books. He is doing this because it is time for a change.

I think about the vampire books.

Photography by Joshua Hibbert