Today

Not a lot happened. People came in and whispered and left.

Some rain came down.

There was an argument at the intersection. I watched. A young man got out of his car as he waited to turn right. The ute in front was too slow. His shoulders were upped and roundy, threatening, like cat’s fur hit by electricity. The young men in the ute watched him with narrow eyes. Just as he approached their car, they accelerated, leaving him there, middle finger raised. Alan was at my door, watching. Delighted. He laughed his laugh, no doubt wishing it hadn’t ended so easily.

Fred knocked and waved.

Sarah came in and complained. She’d been thrown out of the craft group. She showed me her botanical colouring book. I admired the hot pink petals on all the roses. She was pleased.

Alan came back, peered through the door and left again. He and Sarah don’t always get on.

Some rain came down.

A man came in looking for Dr Who. He said, ‘I daren’t get any of those, they might be wrong. I’ll wait till she’s out of school.’

Someone phoned to book into the history tour, but ‘all the tours are finished now’. They hung up abruptly.

I shelved a few books. Thought about Edith Sitwell and Vita Sackville-West. Virginia Woolf. Leonard Woolf. I have been tugged down a rabbit hole; I followed a biography of Edith Sitwell, and now it is hard to recover. Nobody has heard of Edith except Virginia Woolf.

A young woman came in, looked about and left in a rush. She said, I’m sorry.

Some children come past. A boy is pushed, and he falls into my doorway.

‘Get him up.’

The child is hauled to his feet. ‘Shit, sorry. God. Why’d you even fall? Did a trap get you or something?’

Another child screams, ‘There’s someone in there. Get the police.’ They all look at me, and then they are gone.

A truck goes past.

I sort things. A woman comes in with books to sell, but I can’t buy. I have no space. She looks around with a tense mouth. She says, ‘OK’, and leaves.

Lovely Marion comes in and checks Fantasy. She’s collecting Terry Goodkind but has just discovered he died last year. She is not impressed. We talk about Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She waves. ‘Bye, dear.’

There’s a crash of plates from inside the bakery. We hear it inside my shop. A customer says, ‘Jesus!’

I remember yesterday, during the rain, a grandson came in. He’s two. There was a crowd (unusual for May), and Finn called, ‘Nanny, Nanny, Nanny’, over the conversation, over the hustle, over the entire planet, and I heard, easily.We locked eyes. Kin.

Last night I read him ‘Hairy Maclary’, six stories, till he fell away, but I kept reading the seventh before switching to Edith Wharton because there she was in the same stack of books I made last week when I was reading to a different grandson.

A customer nearly buys a book about Yoga.

A young man buys a pile. He can’t speak. He just looks at his books. He chokes and says, ‘these’.

Yes.

Burlesque, or what really happens in my shop: part three

But the Virginia Woolfs have begun. Dancing deeply, touching hips, smoking, and laughing lightly in a deranged and fabulous way, bowing toward Cosmo Cosmolino. The Maya Angelous with joined hands: Byatts, Dillards, Padmanabhans, Miles Franklin, all the Grenvilles, the Dumonts, the Lucashenkos, a grid of lights, a festival, a refusal to wait.

The crimes and thrillers start a weird kind of line dance with revolver displays that nevertheless looks dull.

The Text Classics, in a grid of hot yellow, perform a dance with neutral expressions. Janet Frame, Arnold Zable, Boyd Oxlade, Patrick White with a slight smile, stepping and side stepping and stepping, not agreeing, but at least stepping.

Groups straggle forward, looking nonchalant, looking for a gap.

Joyce and Proust, in different groups, passing back to back, palm to palm with the next dancer.

The McCarthys moving carefully around the Hellmans.

An FBI History and Charles Bukowski eye each other. The Bukowskis move to a different bar.

 ‘Listen to this, boys.’ It was Cubanisimo!  It prepared a sentence, opened its covers to read aloud. Everyone cheered. They all liked the Cuban, who waited for quiet.

…and I went my way, which means preferring nights to evenings, choosing night instead of day, living by night and squeezing my memory, I mean my life, into a glass with ice or into a negative or into memory.

There was a pause. The dancing continued slowly, but heads and book covers were turned toward the Cuban. There was the chink of an icecube into a glass from somewhere in the shop.

‘Thanks Guillermo,’ someone said, and everyone cheered again.

Now, a set of Great Journeys coming through. Shouting, having their first drink, consulting maps, checking Trivago, a journey always on the horizon. James Cook and Mary Wortley Montagu arguing ‘There will be no hunting pigs in this dance’. Olaudah Equiano looks at them both, says nothing. The Yutangs smile as they pass, impassive.

‘Look at the Thrillers, Eastwick. Every day, a brilliant story.’ The classics were back on the counter, breathing too heavily in my ear, becoming annoying. ‘Thrillers take you West, further each time. But so what! West is a cliché.  It’s East where we want to go. Look at the Virginia Woolfs. They’re drill bits, boring East in search of the truth. Think East, it’s sunrise. God, Eastwick, have you read anything? You know what Woolfy’s doing now? She’s writing a biography of herself writing a biography of all the biographers who’ve attempted to write a biography of her so far. And what’s Tom Cruise doing?’ They all snigger, looking at the Lee Childs, who are trying on bowties.

‘It’s not Tom Cruise,’ I said patiently. ‘He doesn’t write books. Its Lee Child.’

‘Eastwick, we know you’re going East, we saw you reading Helen Garner.’

I look at them all. ‘What will you do, all of you if I have to close? There’ll be an auction.

‘Well, actually some of us are staying. We all love Thai food.’

‘You don’t need me.’

‘Never did. Sorry Easto. We’re made of writing. Indestructible. Go read like hell and write your shit.’

‘Well, I’ll see you in the morning.’

There was no answer. The books were moving around me. The shop was all horse, flanks, and hinges, spinning and reeling, smoking, coughing. They were putting out chairs, tables, moving the smoke machine, setting up a market.  

I moved slowly to the entrance, pausing at the door.

‘Why the buckets of water?’ I ask.

‘So we don’t catch on fire during the party.’

‘Who’s on duty?’

They looked toward the buckets. The Greek Myths was on duty, leaning over the pails, gazing rapt into the pools at their own reflections.

‘God, they’re useless’. The New York Reviews shot off, rising furiously in the air to dong the Greek Myths back to the present.

 I left them to it.

Burlesque.

To be continued…

Burlesque, or what really happens in my shop: part two

In the afternoon, everyone began drifting off to form a dance committee. They were determined to hold their burlesque.

An hour later I found a crowd of  books clustered around a YouTube video. They shooshed me. They were watching a demonstration on how to build a perfect guitar pedalboard.

‘What about the dance? Are you still doing it?’ I asked.

‘We’re doing it, East. We’re downloading Spotify.’

The Dickens collection had formed a considerable troupe and were ready to practice. ‘Here come the Dickies,’ everyone always said, whether it was Oliver sprinting across to the Beast Quest games, or old Pickwick waiting for the pub to open. Sometimes Charles himself came out, usually with Ackroyd, leaving together furtively, to avoid the vulgar Americans.

The Antiques and Curiosities were lining up cautiously, with bow ties, dusty coats, and mildew on the collar. Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers were setting up tables and arguing over a three sword centrepiece.

They all watched with thin faces, a Barry Oakly and a biography of Stephen Fry being sold.

The place was getting hot and busy and smoky.

The French women had set up a discussion table. Sagan, Sarraute, Beauvoir, Reza. They smiled graciously as the Canadians passed by. The smiles hardened though, when the Canadians had moved on, I saw that. 

The fantasies were stringing lights. The biographies had started drinking. The craft sat in silence because the main lights had been dimmed, and nobody could see their instructions for scrapbooking or how to make soap. A fountain had been found at the back of Art. ‘Who the cuck brought in a fountain?’ The Skulduggeries were dragging it out. ‘Cool. Get in’.

They argued over music; it was too loud, too strong, too low, too dark, not cultural. They wanted Spotify.

‘Gentlemen, we have Spotify’.

‘No we don’t, Maugham, the account’s been fucking locked.’ There was a collective and dismissive curse on technology.

‘Perhaps everyone can just dance their own dance.’ This from the Atwoods, I sat up to listen.

The political biographies moved in speechfully but were hushed by basically everyone. An Australian autobiography offered some kind of infrastructure promise and was told to fuck off out of it.

The Saddleclubs stood still with mouths open and ponies reined in, silent. They were called out of it, too.

But there was an unlikely agreement, fused out of fatigue, alcohol, and fear (of the Atwoods).

I soothed the political biography, and he said, ‘We believe in women too, of course.’

 I said, meanly, ‘Indeed. Although the menopause is a difficult time of course.’ I saw his eyes flicker upward. Hermione Lee was up talking with the Greers on the front table. They looked down. I wanted to laugh. But I didn’t.

Some books could not get a place in the dance.

No one liked the ex-library books much – this was because of the mess of stickers and tape that covered them.’ Sorry mate. Not in our group.’

The Ian Welshes laughed too loudly. They jumped too high and hard. They were embarrassing to dance with. Samuel Pepys, a massive biography, sat taking spiteful notes on everybody from the ugly angle and called for beer and oysters every ten minutes.

In the back room the Westerns had eased themselves around a small fire. They listened to music coming from the Natural Histories who were putting together The Dance of the Chiasognathus Grantii, which was some kind of weird stag beetle. The music came at them like chimes through smoke. They began to talk.

‘The thing is, I was normal. But did my father have time to look at a kid? No.’

The others looked out and away to give privacy. They stared into the firmament.

One shelf above, a lone book stirred, an Edward Abbey. Said nothing.

‘…and what have you ever done except murder all the losers?’ This was History, climbing down in an ordered line, harping at each other all the way.

‘Endocrine, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, hematologic, pulmonary, urinary, reproductive, gastrointestinal….I could keep on but I don’t want to bore anyone…’

‘Neither do we.’

‘In ancient times, reading was one of the most….’

‘The witch is here; the witch is dead…’

‘Begging pardon my lady.’

At the counter, the little science fiction paperback had returned, was talking again, ‘We won’t end. Even pulping doesn’t end us. Look at old Gilman Perkins. There’s five of her in here. Look at Mockingbird. Can’t end her.’

To the Lighthouse was on the counter with me, lying on its back and writing, writing, writing, to the beat of a migraine. It said to me, ‘Did you know that manuals on life always subside after the preface? There’s a reason for that.’ Bang, bang, bang. I could hear her migraine. Still she wrote on.

But meanwhile,  the front room was not doing well.

The Algonquin group of classics was being forced to come up with their dance plan.….and they had to do it sober. They sat, sullen, not even one useful verb to be had.

Someone was on at the piano. The books had ransacked the music shelves and dragged out anything with music in its title. They had found a pianist. The music was coming from the top of a shelf, a beautiful little piano by the sound of it, and a cello, that ran barefoot and lightly underneath and then over the notes of the piano.

There are books gathered up there. I can see them listening to the piano.  A copy of Cards of Identity, gazing away into some unknown basin of solitude.

The German classics, dancing, elegant despite their rectangular suits. They bob and dip, a court dance, touch hands, exchange longings, move out again.  The others watch.

The Saul Bellows sitting back, shading their eyes from the melody, and needing a drink.

Someone shouted, ‘Piano Man, play Piano Man, man.’ They are getting mellow. As usual they then begin to discuss things.

Jeffrey Eugenides held forth on The Pilgrim Hawk. He likes books with animals in them. He says, ‘Wescott has courage. And in the morning, I can only open one eye. Also, a dog got to me once.’ He repeated this three times.

I pictured a dog eating the book, biting into the soft ideas inside of it.

But the Murray Bails liked The Fish Can Sing. ‘Iceland is perfect, he said.

But someone answered, ‘Who wants to read about that frozen slab of geyser holes?’

The Murray Bails became bitter. ‘You are all afraid of Iceland.’

The Kenyon Review suddenly opened its covers. ‘Serendipity is no accident.’ it shouted.

‘Shut up Friedel.’

‘That wasn’t Friedel, that was Butler.’

Nobody liked being corrected. The conversation broke up.

Poetry and Plays were still arguing (because Poetry has more shelves). There is nobody else in the store even remotely interested in this conflict. Mostly because they can’t understand anything that the poets are saying, even in an argument. On the way back to the counter, I saw the Shelleys, sitting on the edge of the sea, smoking and not taking part.

The Shakespeares have joined the conflict. This always causes uneasiness because everyone claims to have read Shakespeare, and this makes any argument risky. When Robert was here once, sorting through Astrology, he overheard the Shakespeares quarrelling. Robert said, ‘Good on you all. Fuck Centrelink.’ The Bard was immediately interested, and they had a long dark discussion in the corner.

‘Look at the Lemonys. Aren’t they adorable!’

I stood up. The whole set of Lemony Snickets was moving into the middle of the room, into a square formation, Hostile Hospital at the front.

 ‘STOP!’ commanded Hostile Hospital. ‘You are all wretched. You are all woeful.’ They continued on, happily.

‘Weird!’ Said Salinger. ‘But I like them.’

‘Great dance guys!’ This from the Vladimirs, who have painted themselves black. They are pleased, and in a mood to be kind. Vampire books were selling well.  The other groups looked at them blankly. ‘Can we even see you?’

The horse books were dancing in dressage under the window. Very impressive. I went to have a closer look.

‘Watch it East, they’ll trample you.’

‘Thank you, Philip. But they won’t. I tell you that horses can dance”.

“Not these ones.”

The horse books stopped and announced that they are heading for the lodestone. There was an uneasy pause – this meant the greatest book in the shop. It was agreed that there was one, but not who it was.  

The horse books all turned in a single movement and cantered over to Pinocchio. Most of the books in the shop, I knew, had read Pinocchio, and still remembered Pleasure Island.

‘Carlo Collodi you old….’

‘What are they playing at! Bloody little Saddleclubs! They haven’t even read Pinocchio!’

And then Ibrahim Nasrallah stood up and said, ‘God made horses from wind, my friends.’

 Nasrallah’s Time of White Horses is a beautiful book, dressed in gold, cinnamon and black, a wrought iron spine, and always with a layer of fine clean sand following its leather shoes. The other books came forward, made to shake hands, backed off, move in again.’ Hello Ibrahim. Nice coat, man.’ They all nodded quietly, ‘ok, man’. Nasrallah smiled and moved gently over to examine the horse books.

We are, I thought, a perfect representation of lust, gluttony, loneliness, sand, aggression lunch and nomads. There is nothing from life that is not in here. No wonder it was so hot in here. We will be thrown out one day. There had been nine customers all day.

A few Saddleclubs, forbidden to take part in the dance, have moved sulkily back to Young Readers. I see them angle in behind the Enid Blytons to take off makeup and change clothes. Obviously, the riding teachers have forbidden certain outfits.

But the Virginia Woolfs have begun. Dancing deeply, touching hips, smoking, and laughing lightly in a deranged and fabulous way, bowing toward Cosmo Cosmolino. The Maya Angelous with joined hands: Byatts, Dillards, Padmanabhans, Miles Franklin, all the Grenvilles, the Dumonts, the Lucashenkos, a grid of lights, a festival, a refusal to wait.

To be continued…

“I ransack public libraries and find them full of sunk treasure.”

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Virginia Woolf wrote this thought about sunk treasure in one of her diaries. I still get requests for Virginia Woolf at the shop. Usually by students. Once a very young reader piled up everything in classics with To the Lighthouse on the top. She had not read Virginia Woolf (yet). She also had Dracula, Frankenstein, Ethan Frome, Sweet Thursday, Treasure Island, The Chrysalids and The Silmarillion. Then her mum came in and said it was too many to carry. She had to put at least half back, which she slowly did, but she kept the Virginia Woolf. I hope she enjoys it.

 

Virginia Woolf

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“So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

How astonishing, when the lights of health go down…

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There is rain coming in the shop door; at last, rain for our winter. It’s cold, but at least it is there.

Yvonne called out exuberantly from outside: ‘keep warm’. She indicated her little dog Marco; he had two coats on.

Robert is excited because two more of his Art and Imagination series have arrived, and these will keep his mind off Telstra. He said that Telstra do not care about him, an old man, a pensioner, and they would cut him off from the world. Then he admitted that to be cut off from the world is exactly what he wants, because then he can get on with the book he is writing. Then he said that nobody can afford electricity in this country anyway.

I told him about Virginia Woolf because I want to tell someone about her.

He agrees that she was a pioneer and a stand-alone.

Dion is here and observes that everyone is feeling the cold, which doesn’t help. He has been sick for most of his life. And he says he is going to give up smoking again. Robert said that nobody is going to take his smokes away, and then they both leave, back to their tricky lives.

A woman brings some books to the shop, but I am unable to take any more. Her parents have both died of cancer and she must clear their library. She goes back outside and sits in her car for a long time. I feel bad.

A young visitor is examining Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps, and he looks at me and asks, ‘How do they draw these maps…?’ There is a dispute on the corner outside the shop again. Motorists cannot agree on the courtesies of the intersection, and there are voices, horns. The young visitor replaces the map book and leaves to view the argument.

There is a small boy looking through the door at the rain.

There are two tradesmen out on the footpath eating from paper bags, and they are examining the sky and making predictions. They say that it won’t last.

Alex tells me that her Tupperware party was not so good because nobody came. She buys a copy of The Mandarins by Simone De Beauvoir.

A young man asked for Inside the Spaceships by George Adamski. He said it is a true account of an abduction by aliens, and that he asks in every bookshop for a copy. But I don’t have one.

Another reader asks for Patrick Suskind’s Perfume.

John brings me a copy of Inferno by Dan Brown to read. He is struggling to walk now.

 

 

 

Photography by Ray Hennessy

“Consider how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul…”

Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill

Pressed against the sky…

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I am asked for Nan Witcomb’s The Thoughts of Nanushka, Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond Feist and Pony Pals, numbers 9 and 10.

In the front of Gould’s Book of Fish there is a quotation: My mother is a fish. William Faulkner. This book, by Richard Flanagan, sits next to me. On a day where there are hardly any visitors to the shop, I read and read it and feel busy.

Outside the window, a tiny girl admired the wooden cat. She tapped on the glass, and pressed her nose on the cold glass against the nose of the cat. She said hello Mrs Cat and her mother says: come along, come along.

An old man, outside the shop, turns when his wife asks him if he would like to visit the book shop. He says: but I haven’t bought a book in 40 years.

Inside, a brother and sister are kneeling over the Goosebumps. They began to argue over which of them is taller. Their mother is in the Wordsworth Classics; she is not interested in intervening as she has Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

Everyone is coughing today.

A couple look intently through the historicals for a long time, pointing to and discussing the titles, gently tapping the spines.

A man said that he was introduced to Emile Zola during his teens and has been hooked ever since. He said the translations from the seventies are the best but it is unusual to find them anywhere. Then his wife said that they have too many books at home.

I was advised to read Clive James. I was intensely interested in a story someone tells me of  how Ezra Pound wrote a long poem and then distilled it down to just three lines.

A lady said sadly that the council have lopped her trees after the recent windstorms. They have done it so incorrectly that she fears they will die. She buys West With the Night by Beryl Markham.

I am asked how to get the census booklet in paper form and advised that the government has not thought this census thing out properly.

A man tells me that he is planning to read all of Proust, sometime in the next hundred years. He said there is something in one of those volumes about a church or an old building that is pressed against the sky. He would do anything to find those words again but cannot remember where they were.

I am back with Gould’s Book of Fish which is a novel in twelve fish, is Van Diemen’s Land, convicts,  our awful history.

Mme Sand: I’ll publish an account of your behaviour.

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Two tradesmen are discussing the political biographies outside the window as they enjoy hot pies from the bakery. (It is freezing outside but they are comfortable and enjoying their break.) They say that there is no need to read these things; you can just see it all on TV, same shit, different day. But then one of them allows that the Julia Gillard book is good as his wife has read it. His friend quickly agrees.

An older man tells me his is very interested in Pat Barker and that he would like to see book shops continue.

I watched a concerned mother follow her adult daughter around the shop murmuring that there is a better edition of that book…and that book…and that book…she comes over to tell me that her daughter and granddaughter are mad for books and that she is too. The daughter certainly looks mad.

Patrick White was furious a lot too. I know because I am reading Flaws in the Glass and I have it here next to me and The Shorter Pepys.

Patrick White’s furious face. I admire it very much as I do all of his books but I don’t think I have any useful scholarly reasons.  But this may in itself be useful as it leaves me more time to read and drink champagne.

A small girl says to her father who is reading  Asterix and the Banquet: what do you mean that this is funny. She asks him three times and he says: wait until you grow up.

An old lady tells her grandson that he does not know what it is to get old. He asks her: but what about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and she says: let’s just sit for a while. He reminds her that it is important because his teacher is reading it to the class and she is reading it too slow. He says: hey Grandma, what book will you get then? And she tells him that she likes a nice love story or Virginia Woolf. When she was young she always read Virginia Woolf……her grandson tells her that he cannot see any wolf books.

I am asked why Nineteen Eighty Four is still so significant.

A young man, who looks like a Viking, tells me that Game of Thrones was actually based on two wars: the Hundred Year’s War AND The Wars of the Roses. People tend to think that it was only the Wars of the Roses. Do you have China Miéville? Then he tells me that he’s been waiting for Tamora Pierce to put out another book and that he’s been waiting for ten years now. He looked at his watch to demonstrate himself waiting. Then he asks for The Shepherd’s Crown (Terry Pratchett) but I don’t have it. He says that I should have has many Terry Pratchetts as possible as these books are more significant than people realise.

An older man bought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and rode off on his motorbike with the book shoved down the front of his leather jacket.

I have some books to sort and shelve. I am keeping Pages from the Goncourt Journals (Edmond and Jules Goncourt) for myself. This is because I admired the cover and opened the book and read an entry, a reference to George Sand. I know nothing about her but I do know that I must read this book.

End of January 1852

Argument between Mme Sand and Clesinger:

Mme Sand: I’ll publish an account of your behaviour.

Clesinger: Then I’ll do a carving of your backside. And everybody’ll recognise it.

Robert comes by to pick up more volumes in his Myths and Legends Series and I show him the Goncourt Journals. He tells me that he loves the French. He said he has had three cups of good coffee and his brain is going mad…the best time to read. I said “Well, good luck with the Myths of the Middle Ages….” and he said that the election campaigns are  keeping us all stuck in the middle ages anyway.