The unread story is not a story

“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places

Photography by Jonathan Wolstenholme

Art matters

“I love the way words and pictures work together on a page. I have also noticed how when wise words have visuals added to them, they seem to travel further online, like paper aeroplanes catching an updraught.”


Chris Riddell, Art Matters


Illustration by Davide Bonazzi

Amongst the books at home

Hard to choose one. Nobody home but me. Everyone usually sits amongst them. They are the walls. My dad had a study similar, and I used to play in there, building things out of books and pretending to read, which was as good as actually reading because I still made things, changed reality, added to it, made it from one colour to ninety shades of six colours, easily. Then had to go and feed the hens or something.

My children shot up, grew and left, weaving in and out of bookshelves, resisting the harping but absorbing the actual books.

Now I’m home alone and looking at the books. Hard to chose one. Thomas the Tank is on the floor again, split into a thousand small annoying paperbacks that take too long to read out loud and carry plots I can’t understand.

Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, still kind, still has a river in it. My grandsons like the bit with the fighting.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a gun on page 12.

My Terry Pratchett paperbacks are in an Ikea cabinet with a glass door, implying value, but they are pressed to the glass, squashed and irreverent, falling out, not in order, contemptuous.

Nothing is in order. It was once, but I moved the shelves and T ended up next to B, and S landed next to the Margaret Atwoods, who quelled the unease by turning sideways. I can’t find anything. Therefore, I am reduced to what wants me. Not a lot, but tonight, I notice things. Books have fallen out, or are used to ramp matchbox cars, or for a yoga head boost. There is a history of Sand: Journey through Science and the Imagination. Maybe. The Making of Australia by David Hill, but will there be any women in it, probably not, and then Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc, where the hell did you come from? But it’s red and gold, 1123 pages, the pages creamy and silky, supple, and solid with weight, so that’s the one. It starts out, ‘Visitors who want a glimpse of Viet Nam’s traditional culture will find no better opportunity than a cruise along the Red River. A few well-chosen stopovers in this river delta dotted with sleepy thousand year old villages will provide the most curious tourist with a……and on it goes taking me to yet another place, aching with travel.

Hard to choose one. Still manage it.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

I couldn’t get into it

Paola Grizi

People who love to read speak more eloquently of it than they realize.

Two ladies, friends, came into the shop, and one said she was not going to buy a book –  she didn’t need one. But her friend bought two. One was a murder mystery. She said, ‘This is something I’ll get into.’

Her friend read the back of it, and said, ‘Woo.’ Then she said she might get one. ‘I have a library book, but I can’t get into it.’

They both spoke of the act of reading as physical and immersive.

The other lady replied, ‘Why’s that? What is it?’

‘Oh, some mystery. I got lost.’

‘What happens?’

‘Don’t know, couldn’t follow it.’

‘Yeah. Hate that. This looks good, though. Once I’m in, that’s it for me.’

‘Like Sue Grafton.’

‘That the ABC lady?

‘Yeah. I’m really into those. And J.D. Robb. Takes me out of here.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

 

Sculpture by Paola Grizi

Death stands there

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“Death stands there, a bluish concoction
in a saucerless cup.
Curious place for a cup:
it stands on the back of a hand. You recognise,
only too well, the spot where the handle broke off
on its glassy curve. Dusty. And ‘Hope’
in exhausted letters on its side.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters 1910-1926


(Ceramic cup by Clare Conrad)

Please come and look at these books…

Still Life with Quinces by Van Gogh (2)

I did go and look at those books. It was a library of a woman who had died.

The lady spoke of her mother. We were standing outside the garage, shielding our eyes from the afternoon sun. There were fruit trees and two dogs, cardboard boxes, and a horse behind a railing – it was warm and quiet. I could hear the horse breathing. She was telling me about her mother; all the things she used to do, the gratitude of communities, the reading, her passion, her; the mother.

I could smell quinces.

‘The things a person loves are always, always recorded in their library.’ The daughter leaned back in amazement and pride as she said this. It was a delicate opera of grief, sung outside (to me) next to a bucket of yellow quinces. The daughter was wearing pink and white. She said, ‘Don’t lift those heavy boxes, you’ll hurt yourself.’  Her mother, Barbara, was one of my first customers. She read Don Camillo. And there they were, the books she once bought from me, right there in a box, in the sunshine, next to the quinces.

 

Still Life with Quinces by Vincent Van Gogh

“I would like to have your sureness…”

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Many people who used to visit the shop are now gone, and I know that some of them are no longer alive. I am glad that I recorded these memories.

This is from my second year in the shop.

“Margaret told yesterday me that in her reading group anyone can choose the books. And these are the books she wants: Bel Canto, Gould’s Book of Fish, Tulip Fever, Birds Without Wings, The Commandant, and Still Alice (the one about Alzheimer’s), and also Mrs Jordan’s Profession by Claire Tomelin. And that should do for now!! She said that often the members of the reading group are not even reading the same book, hahaha.

I do not often see anyone as happy as Margaret is when she lists off the books she needs. Her husband looks on with approval; he carries all the books out for her, beaming over the top of the stack. Sometimes he finds one for himself, usually about the Second World War.

Margaret sends books to her children who live overseas and observes that they never seem to get the point of the stories she sends them, but she sends them anyway. Like I said, I do not often meet people as happy as Margaret. I would like to have her sureness.

“I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life….”

June came over the road to lend to me her copy of A Parrot in a Pepper Tree, the funniest thing she has read in ages. She said that Writers’ Week was divine, and she bought ‘that thing on Keating, the one by Kerry O’Brien, and I’m telling you it is an absolute tome! It’s a winter read, can’t wait till the winter, it’s just the thing, and I’ll lend you when I’m done! But before that I’m doing the Gillard.’

Robert told me that he is wanting to collect volumes of myths and legends, tales of all countries because he cannot complete his work without them. He said he knows what he must read, his work tells him, his heart tells him, it is his passion.

He asked for a copy of Marion Woodman’s The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter. This is a Jungian study of the repressed feminine and also vital for his studies. He said that his own feminine light was put out when he was young.

“I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life.” Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world.”

A new customer told me that the books that had the biggest impact on his life were Jean Auel’s The Earth’s Children series. He felt that the author had devoted her entire life to the research and writing: an incredible achievement.  He said that he had a friend in France that once held up some road works there because he thought he recognised some ancient symbols etched into a cliff face they were excavating. This friend became hysterical and demanded that all work immediately stop and it did! He insisted that these might be runes of some kind, but, well, anyway they weren’t runes, they were marks made by the bucket on the road excavator. Everyone was mad with him.

 “I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life.” Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world. Alone. Stand alone.”

To find some fragment of something that makes you so happy that you cannot stop talking about it, is a great thing. Any small fragment of something that is dear to you (for whatever reason) gives buoyancy. But the visitors here at my book shop, who tell me their stories of what they love, do not seem to realise how their happiness quietly radiates. How they make their own world, on their own terms.”

“I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life. Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world. Alone. Stand alone. And then love will come to you, then it comes to you.” Anais Nin

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Yeah!

023 (2)

Another day of being here, but not open. I am working away. Listening to magnificent life working away outside in the sunlight

‘Do you want me to get your fukn smoko or something?’

This is a green ute and two men, one seated in the car and one standing by, wanting to get at the food but having to wait for the fool in the front seat to finish scrolling.

‘Yeah.’

‘Ok, whada you want?’

‘Oh yeah, you know, whadever. Get me a savoury.’

‘Jesus. All right then.’ He walks off, heavy with duty. The man in the front seat goes back to his phone. Things to look at.

I go back to sorting. Wiping covers, chasing dust, changing the displays. I am heavy with duty.

‘That’s expensive, two dollars…’ Two ladies pass quickly, a flash of gold, a shopping bag swung lightly, containing small contents of great value. Must contain a book.

The back room is arranged. Ready. History is organised for once. Fiction translated from other languages is full for once. They sit lightly, containing no small contents of great value.

A group of three pass the windows.

‘Yeah. I thought, what’s he going to try next?’

‘Ha ha he he he. The laugher laughs in careful laughs. Emphasizing how funny the joke is, and also how funny it probably isn’t.

‘Leeches?’

“Yes, the bloody idiot.’ The voices fade. Another group take over.

Yeah, I’ll have a potato pie, and a hotdog and something with cream.’

‘You allowed all that, Alan?’

‘Oh, it’ll be all right, here’s me money.’

I stop to go to the bakery. I want a potato pie, a hotdog and anything with cream. I am careful to stand on the crossed crosses. The bakery staff look sad. I go back and eat in the back room by myself underneath mystery and crime.

‘Come on.’ A clear call. I am cleaning the windows.

There was a chirping, a tiny voice I could not hear. They are just out of sight.

‘Come on.’

Chirping. It goes on and on. The listener, a young mother listens to all of it. Patient and kind and exhausted.

‘You are not listening.’

Chirping.

‘Come here and take my hand.’

‘There are no mushrooms growing on the road.’ The voices fade.

I am finishing. Everything sparkles again.

Two ladies pass and look at my door, and one asks the other if she has ever been in there. The other lady answers, no, but it’s too late now, it’s gone.

I laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Only this morning, a teenager asked to be allowed in. In she came, pacing back and forth for an hour, obedient with hand sanitizer, piling books, pleased and wanting, as young people always do, the classics; have you got To Kill a Mockingbird, have you got this, have you got that, have you got basically everything that is really good. Frowning and wanting and needing to read stuff, so no, I’m not gone.

 

With thanks to Holly.