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.
One lady came into the shop but not to look for books. She leaned in and told me a long story about genealogy and gardening and this story went for a long time. I wondered if it would end. The trouble is that she is angry with a neighbour over a broken piece of fence and I am pinned to the counter with the golden spikes of someone else’s enthusiasm.
She kept drumming her nails on the counter to remind her of the next part of the quarrel. Sometimes the finger nails drummed a path directly toward me and then pointed at me as though warning me not to think of doing the same thing as the neighbour.
After a while the scraping fingernails started reminding me of some kind of scratchy beetle and I was aware of wanting to smash the hand flat with a massive Oxford dictionary that is next to me. A lightning (painless) but powerful strike that would flatten the beetles to a paper-thin preserved indifference. So flat that she wouldn’t be sure of the difference between her hand and the Jehovah’s Witnesses flyer next to it.
Imagine if she walked out with the Jehovah’s picnic invite instead of her own hand. Imagine the new outrage.
On Valentine’s day this year, somebody went into the bakery and bought tiny chocolate cakes and asked that they be given as gifts to people sitting outside the bakery and the bookshop and also one to me, inside the bookshop and the lady who delivered my cake said that all she knows is that this person rides a bicycle. And that is all we know!
Artwork by Lee White