It’s all right, Nanna

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It’s all right, Nanna, it’s all right, Nanna! A boy was consoling his Nanna in the shop one afternoon. He had a Terry Pratchett, he was grinning at the cover, he said, oh man, I hope this has Vimes in it! But he needed to soothe Nanna who had hoped for other books as well. His sister and brother had Minecraft, The Magic Thief and Inkspell. Pop had A Biography of the Thames. Nanna had the money.
But what about this? She held up a hopeful Treasure Island. But, no, nobody wanted that! The sister had a story (she said) of a purple house on a purple hill. That’s all she wanted. Just that!

Artwork by Paul Steven Bailey

The lady who read The Silver Brumby

Old Woman Reading Boris Mayorov (2)

Two ladies, friends, came in together and split immediately into classics and crime. A third lady entered, passed her friends without greeting and folded herself into young readers; horses, ponies, Australian classics, where she sat with The Silver Brumby until the others had finished. She looked up once to say that I did not have the complete series here. She said she thought that I would have that. And Tennyson.
One of the other ladies had worked hard to bring down a volume of Heinrich Boll, short stories from the top shelf – she was delighted because as a young girl she had read this book in German. She’d had to translate one of the stories from German to English at school. If only she’d had this very book she could have cheated the whole assignment through. Both ladies leaned in and laughed darkly. The Silver Brumby lady read on silently.
The friend who had read Boll in German brought the book to me and described one story, a girl who crossed a bridge halfway but would go no further; she had never forgotten this story. They prepared to leave, rustling, packing, removing reading glasses.
The third lady brought her books to the counter and reminded me that I didn’t have the complete set (or Tennyson) and that she was disappointed.
She said, you’ve probably not read Tennyson.
She said, you’re a thousand years too young. I looked at her, delighted.

Artwork: Old Woman Reading, Boris Mayorov

Rick and Lenore

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Rick and Lenore came into the shop before I had opened for the day: they came in accidently (they said) and stepped over the vacuum cleaner and said sorry, sorry, sorry mate…and kept on going around the shelves, shedding enthusiasm and criticism and telling me that it was going to be a grey old day. Every time Lenore found something of stupendous value she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick there’s more of it ‘ere.
And Rick said: Yeah, yeah, yeah, ha! Don’t rush me, mate.
And Lee stood impatiently, the air around her became impatient, the whole gray day became frustrated until Rick came to his senses, sensed the atmosphere, sensed the danger and said: …all right, all right, all right…mate! All right. Mate!
Then she looked pleased even though he had not yet looked at the pearl she had found, she moved to another shelf, she found Footrot Flats and she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, look what I got… and he kept her enthusiasm and discoveries protected in the same good way while he distributed his own fervour from shelf to shelf with narrowed eyes and a questing face. He found the Westerns, that poor, limp, worn out collection that live near the counter, and he himself became limp with delight and he whispered to himself: God, look at this lot, he brought five of them to the counter, he seemed to bow down with sheer approval.
Well, I’m goin’ in ‘ere. Lee said this loudly, winning back devotion, earning consideration and so Rick came to his senses again.
All right, all right…don’t go on…and he looked pleased.
Do you want to get this, remember we saw the movie…? Remember that movie…. I could of died.
Rick agreed with the movie. They looked at each other and drew the movie around them and they were together.
When they came to the counter to pay for the trembling westerns, Lee said to me that there is a frog shop in Goolwa and there are some real beauties in there too,
Then, like everyone else, they left, taking the Westerns, their movie, the frog shop and their rich, delicious life of they, themselves away again and they were gone.

Illustration by Korean artist, Park Dami

Fifty Shades of Grey

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Today there are three ladies here, all of them dressed to withstand the wind of early spring and all of them carrying stout bags for incidental shopping. One lady stoops over the biographies but her friends urge her into the back room. I can hear them. They have found a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and they are urging her to read it, read it, read it. But she won’t have it. She won’t read that! And she returns to biographies and she is frowning. Her friends are wheezing, hilarious, they are knocking books over and shrieking as quietly as possible about Fifty Shades of Grey. Then they come back to the counter and they all leave together, frowning and quiet,  the hilarity clamped down but still escaping and floating around all of them as they leave grimly though the door and out into the early spring afternoon.

 

 

The Grandaughter

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Yvonne has a granddaughter who reads and reads like nothing you can believe. She is 11 years old and especially loves books about dragons and monsters of the deep. Yvonne came to to the shop and asked me: what books have I got then, about these things…

Well, it is hard to present books for a child who is not present. Possibly I don’t have anything that she would like. Yvonne said that she reads Pippi Longstocking, Roald Dahl, Harry Potter, Enid Blyton and the Septimus Heaps and the Skulduggery books. Also she liked 101 Dalmatians of course. And Heidi. And Charlotte Sometimes.

She has read all of the Series of Unfortunate Events and the Dragon Moon books and the Dragon Fire series by Chris D’Lacey. Yvonne thought her granddaughter had read Across The Nightingale Floor and all of the Narnias and the Diaries of the Wimpy Kid and the Treehouses and The Secret Garden. She has also read all of the Inkhearts. And she loved Garland from Maddigan’s Fantasia. And she loved September from The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making.

I said: but what is there left…

…and Yvonne said that her granddaughter, whose name is Erica would like to read Treasure Island and also was wondering what is Fifty Shades of Grey….

 

Rain in Strathalbyn

Yelena Sidorova

On Thursday it rained, laying the summer and the dust to rest.
Somebody passing outside said: what brought this on?
Their friend answered: I don’t what brought it on but we’re not ready for it.

The postman said: we’re in for it. The letter he gave me is wet.
A family shouldered through the door and told me it is raining. They are looking for Mr Men books for the baby.
The baby says: hello hello hello hello hello hello puppy, hello puppy, hello, hi, hi…
The baby threw all the Mr Men books on the floor. This is because he didn’t want them. His father tells him that he would like to know who ordered this rain!

Simon is picking up a book he had ordered and told me that it was him that ordered the rain, haha. He said that now he will go and read at the bakery, waiting for the wife, I have a lovely spot, it’s reading weather again, I hope she takes her time. He salutes the sad baby as he leaves.
Another man browses in silence, along the shelves, along the rows, along the spines, slowly, reading out loud but silently, caressing each title in his mind. He reads his way downwards, later he will tell me that books are endless.
A lady outside said: shit. Shit this bloody rain, it’s supposed to be summer. Her friend told her that summer ended ages ago. The veranda is dripping.

I am asked for Cider with Rosie,  The Land of Painted Caves and A Brief History of Time.

There is a young woman, balancing on one foot, considering Francois Sagan, she is bending her head over that beautiful little paperback, thinking what things…? Francois Sagan herself would not require an answer. An old lady was pleased with Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and The Complete Lewis Carroll. She said that she once knew Morse code and every night she reads until 10.45pm and when she left she said: thank you for all of this.

A couple languish against the shelves whispering about everything they have read so far. The looked very happy and very urgent, urgent to continue adding and adding. They take with them Hilary Mantel and Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country. Outside a man is leaning against his car and smoking and staring hard at the Lee Child books in the front window. He gestures toward one of them and says something about Tom Cruise to his friend. The other person laughs.
An old couple leave with nearly all of the Agatha Christies. They tell me it is cup of tea weather.
The young woman who had been balancing on one foot has chosen a copy of A Certain Smile by Francois Sagan and she leaves, balancing on this radiant accumulation to her life.
Then it is quiet again, and just the rain.

Artwork by Yelena Sidorova

 

 

 

 

 

I wish you would use your windscreen

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This is what Annette said to Bruce when he could not find her anywhere and finally came into the shop today to see if I may know anything.

Then she was in the door and behind us and furious because if Bruce had bothered to look through his windscreen he would have seen her waving. She said maybe he should clean the windscreen. Then they ordered a copy of Hawaii by James Michener and went to have a cup of tea next door.
It is quiet and warm, there is nobody around, there is nobody that wants a book this week! Outside a very old man is smoking and leaning into the sunshine with his eyes closed. There is a bag at his feet holding loaf of bread, a bag of onions and a hammer.

A man came in to ask me directions to Noarlunga, he had to get to his daughter’s dinner party soon or she would kill him. He paced around in circles while I wrote some directions down. He didn’t have her a gift either, he said it was going to be a grim evening.
A family come in for a while and the smallest boy tells me that his mother can not be trusted in a place like this and made his family all laugh kindly at him.
Two men come past and glance through the window and one says to the other: I can’t see anything through this window and the other man replied: this place is closed now mate!

I am asked for a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
There are a group of children discussing books loudly and fiercely here for a while. They are fervent and confident and happy. None of them answer anyone else’s questions…

The thing that annoyed me the most about this one is all the workers, they were paid in vouchers. Did you even see that? I’ve just finished the series, just finished this series too.
Look at this….
Divergent, naa
Every season is different in this
What’s this one? It looks ok, no it isn’t.
No, I don’t want that.
I like all these colours in the shelf, all together.
I don’t think they will ever change the words, will they? Do you think they will ever change the words in this? Are they even allowed to do that?
Then the parents are back. The mother reassures one of the readers that they will never change the words in Little Women, that no, they can’t do that.
Two couples outside the shop are arguing about coming in.
One of the children is whispering to me about The Ranger’s Apprentice books.
The old man who was smoking has gone away.
The couple outside are rift, two coming in and two going to the bakery. One of the husbands is witty, he calls back: see you two blokes tomorrow then. The wives look at each other and neither answer him.
The young family are leaving, they call back thank you very much.
I am asked for Alice in Wonderland.
It is nice to be here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re not getting any more fuckin’ books!

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This morning, outside the shop, a young man stopped to look through the long window, he is about 16, maybe. He is dressed all in black, including a black beanie even though it is a warm day. He has a backpack made of canvas and leather and a pierced eyebrow. But his mother, who is just behind him and carrying three heavy bags, tells him he is not getting any more fuckin’ books. She walks on tiredly, carrying all the shopping, all their problems, their whole life there in amongst the bread and the shampoo.

The boy is shading his eyes, perhaps to see better, he examines the shelves for a long time.
People on the footpath outside the store often do this, but not for this long.

He stares at the books on the table in front of the window, turns his head to read titles, he shades his eyes to see better, staring into something for minute after minute, and longer. He turns his head abruptly toward the end of the street, his mother is coming back. He moves toward her, puts earplugs in, he takes the smallest bag, carrying for her a small part of their life. They move away again, and he is singing along to his music that only he can hear.

 

 

Sarah

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Sarah has seen the Jura Mountains. She said they are north of the Alps and very beautiful. I have never seen them and she said that I ought to. She herself plans to travel again, this time by ship because this will give her time to read on the way. I approved of this – I always plan the slowest way possible to anywhere so as to bank up some reading hours for withdrawal later.
Sarah has not had an easy life. But having had no other, she carries it around tenderly for what it’s worth – which is a great deal.
She was raised amongst books, many, many of them, mostly the English classics because England is where her mother was born. She will recite them off: Wind in the Willows, Milly Molly Mandy, Winnie the Pooh, Louis Untermeyer, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Moomins, The Jungle Book, The Secret Garden, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, Peter Pan, Little Women, The Borrowers, The Water Babies, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens….
Sarah is an only child.
When she was 15, her mother took her to France and they stayed at Saint -Claude. They saw a film there – Casablanca – in subtitles. She loved it. Her father didn’t come, he was an accountant in Adelaide at John Martins and he stayed home to look after Sarah’s dog Bruno. Also, he didn’t like travelling.
Now she is reading Miss Muriel Matters by Robert Wainwright – the one about the suffragettes which she told me is an important part of our history. Sarah is always reading. She told me that it has helped her through the more difficult times of her life. Which has been most of it.
Reading was one of the last things her mother gave up before she died.
When Sarah was 15, and her mother took her to France and they saw the Jura Mountains, they stayed with cousins at a vineyard. And her cousin gave her two beautiful French dolls for her birthday and she tasted French wine and it was summer and it was really very, very beautiful.

sonder – n. the realization that each random passer by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

 

Ricky keeps on reading

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Ricky came to the shop today to pick up her book Farewell to Catullus. She is a reader of all things Roman and studies Latin in her spare time. She does not like her mobile phone. She loves having her adult sons come and stay with her even though they hardly ever can. When they visited the shop with her at Christmas time she was very happy and when one of them bought Narnia: The Complete Chronicles, she was happier still and could hardly speak. She laughs a lot. She has read books all her life, all books and any books and just keeps on collecting on and she is not impressed by or respectful of old age. She has 4 grandchildren. Said that her friend, an old lady recovering from having a new knee installed, started a fight at the therapy pool with another old lady and she had to intervene!
I said: oh no, that’s not good news and Ricky said: well never mind and not to worry, it cheered me up no end!!