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…

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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!

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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.

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover…”

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The divine Italo Calvino identifies the real trouble with bookshops….

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you.
But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extends for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written.
And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid manoeuvre you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books Ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.
Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,

the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,

the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,

the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,

the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,

the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,

the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified,

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them….”

 

Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

I remember

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Before I had a bookshop, the idea of having one lit up the back fence like some kind of unwanted answer from the past.

I remember looking at empty shops. When I found one, I thought, well! I never expected any kind of commercial success, but I did hope to survive. What the shop was to look like was paramount. It had to look like Diagon Alley –  because this was what I liked. Thus, the shop was based on what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good. A good selfish start.

(I had a lot to learn.)

Once a child said, “This is like Diagon Alley’, and sealed the happiest day of my first year.

I was surrounded by thousands of oblongs, each one containing an unexpected rich fuse. I felt so wealthy that I had to lie down and cradle my head.

It was not possible to explain such an abandonment of logic.  I remember experiencing it early in life; after reading Tubby and the Lantern. This was because Tubby and Ah Mee had a bunk bed.

In Little House on the Prairie, there was snow.

In Sam and the Firefly, there were lights, gold gems stinging an emerald blue sky.

In Whispering in the Wind, Crooked Mick could sit on a horse and drink two cups of tea while it bucked.

Later, Helen Garner, John Steinbeck, Dal Sijie…. uncovering the diabolical ache of life without solutions. So much. So little time.

Then, repeated visits to Jeff’s Books to learn how to do it:

What happens if…..

What do I do when…

Who is…

What is…

How do I…

What should I….

How can I…

Finally, back to my shop to actually do it. I had to learn how people read, and why. This was different, and it was difficult, and it still is. So much to learn, so little time. Luckily,  I recorded it all.

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Daughter and mother

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They came in together yesterday and looked around confidently. I could tell they approved. Connoisseurs of bookshops always enter with full sails. ‘Here we are…’

Then they pause, broadsided by higher authorities. An enormous spiteful Pepys. Tintin. Dickens, Pratchett, Adams. Sendak, Steinbeck, Atwood, Dai Sijie, Garner. Proust. The Quincunx and Ibrahim Nasrallah on the front shelf. Anais Nin. All out the front to help me meet the ego. Authorities, like me, pretend to have read everything. But we bloody haven’t.

The mother and daughter approved and warmed immediately. There was a burst of a Christmas excitement.

I want this.

I heard you. I heard you.

The mother came up to the counter and leaned in comfortably to tell me softly about What She Read. Outlander. It took over her eyes. She had to look away so she could see the plot and tell some of it to me.

The daughter kept on sorting. She loved the World Classics. She loved Lewis Carroll. She’d read Treasure Island. It was violent. She loved Charles Dickens. She loved hefty classics in small dense volumes. Red covers.

I love these.

I love these. I want this.

I have that…

The mother ordered copies of the Outlander series. The daughter looked pleased.

‘Then I’ll read them. After you.’

‘We have too many books.’ (We all do).

Then they gathered themselves together, paid for their books, moved out, hanging onto each other and talking about Game of Thrones.

 

Mother and Daughter at Table by Jean Edouard Vuillard

Generous, joyous, wonderful

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Alan came into the shop today to pick up some books. He wanted to talk about The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which he saw on TV last night).

Alan has a book in which he copies down carefully all the books he wants to read. The list includes authors, publishers, dates, and significant quotations. He reads these out to me. When he has finished all these books, he will find more titles listed in the back of them. Then he will come back again with another list. He said he’s on an endless journey of thinking. These days though, he needs a sleep every now and again as well. Then he wakes up and is off again. He found four good books today. All history. He loves history – all that going back in time, looking at what happened. Twice he left and came back with something he forgot to tell me. Again to recommend a certain book to me. Again to lend me a book worth reading. He is generous, joyous, and wonderful.

Artwork by Peter de Seve