I remember

shop empty (3)

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.

IMG_20160414_202309

Daughter and mother

Jean Edouard Vuillard Mother and Daughter at Table.jpg

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

Peter de Seve.jpg

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

The antilibrary

Francesca Buchko.jpg

I have realized I still have 3500 years of reading in my library.

The Lebanese writer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, calls this unread collection of books an antilibrary.

He writes that a library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there.

He predicts that I will accumulate more knowledge and more books. And that the number of (unread) books on my shelves will continue to grow as I realize the enormity of what I still don’t know.

“Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a sceptical empiricist.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

Brilliant. Going out to buy more books.

Pirates

b3d876447333dac6abf9c70d4d86493f.jpg

People came in off the train today.. Possibly all together but I wasn’t sure. There was a doorway snarl…. shut the door Ern, look at the weather…and an argument over roses…let them be, it’s too late to fiddle with them now

They came in and out, looking for the bakery, needing black coffee, strong, and The Readers Digest Book of Roses, holding the door open for other customers, looking for Bob and Ern who have gone off..

One lady talked and talked in the back room. Her husband, leaning on the counter with his eyes closed, suddenly realized he should have been in there, listening. He rose up magnificently, said, oh Jesus, and powered away from the counter, elbows out and a good balance.

There were more voices, calling, fluting, floating, as groups gathered, changed plans and agreed with each other with narrowed eyes…just do as she says…

A young family burst in, the child shouting, here we are, back for more pirates, I already read book one…so we came back, if we ate all our oranges we were allowed…

There are three couples all safely inside the shop. There is a disappointing lack of Roses, Grown the Natural Way. Ern has been found. Violet should go home. Chris has found a book of possibly good poetry.

We’ll come back when we have more time…. good place, good place. Though…

The child with the pirates is under the table, reading fiercely, unable to get up and leave, a divine three dollars spent, he is on book two, book three is breathing next to him.

His mum says to me in a tired way, not sure why he reads so much, his grandpop is the same.

The child pulls his eyes from the page, outraged.

Mum. Pop’s a pirate. He told me it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Controversy

Riccardo Biavati.jpg

Two people came into the bookshop as friends. But they did not leave as friends. This is because of Go Set a Watchman.

One friends has read The Most. The other is admiring and respectful.

They were doing well, swaying about, calling out books they had read, old friends, jovial anecdotes. Reading lists…

Do you remember….

What about that character in…

But Go Set a Watchmen lay in wait. Books can sense readers.

Think, think.

The Admirer admired Go set a Watchman. But Authority straightened up and said:

No. There is too much controversy surrounding that. It should not be here.

They both looked at me. I looked at Harper Lee, because it was her bloody fault.

The Reader repeated: it should not be here.

The doubter said: no? How can you say…?

Because I have a problem with this.

I noted the shelves, the books, become still, amused, eyes thin, listening.

She repeated, I’ve read it. I have a problem with it.

It is frosty in here. The friends look away from each other. Their shoulders make an unforgiving shape. They leave without purchasing anything.

On ya, Harper.

 

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.

Harper Lee

Sculpture by Riccardo Biavati

 

 

The man who forgot his glasses

Shishkin Andrey.jpg

How we rotate our faces! Try to add levers to the eyes to push them further out – work properly, for God’s sake. Draw the mouth backwards, teeth forwards,  screw up the eye sockets.

‘What’s that one?”

“That’s Kingsley Amis. That’s Bennett…but I don’t think you agree with him.’

“No…no, indeed.’

This couple are examining the top shelf of Classics, but he can’t see properly.

‘That’s Enid Bagnold.’

‘Who the devil?’

 ‘National Velvet.’ And that’s James Baldwin.”

‘Silly writer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

They continue on, murmuring, agreeing and arguing.

‘No. Listen, I said…Bellow. Saul Bellow.’

‘Well, I don’t like the young writers. Is that Dickens?’

‘That’s Dickens.’

‘Ah…David Copper?’

‘Oliver.’

‘AH….My God, is that Durrell? Which brother?’

‘Lawrence.’

‘God, really? What have they got?’

‘All of them.’

‘…I’ll take Justine.’

‘I bet you will.’

They moved to Art. I can’t hear what they are saying, but I can hear the click and whir of the interested eye sockets, the loaded brain, the immense experience. He turns around.

‘Damn those glasses.’

‘Well, go and get them.’ She glares him into a decision.

He made one.

When he came back to the shop, he stood outside in the cold, pinned to the window outside, looking through at a Roald Dahl biography that he could have looked at in the warmth inside.  He peered, turning his head back and forth to get the details. He finally came in, and bent a brief sideways glance on me, his eyes, now magnified, were enormous, a three dimensional glare. But he was pleased. He continued onwards.

He forgot Art. He got caught in Young Readers.

He examined Swallows and Amazons. He said, ‘Ah.’

He looked at Geoffrey Trease, No Boats on Bannermere, and said, ‘Ah’.

His wife called out, ‘Look here.’

And he said, ‘EH?’ He didn’t move. He was back with Durrell. ‘Ah, goody, good and good,’

His wife called again, ‘Look at this.’

But he didn’t move.

She said, ‘Are you coming?’

He lifted his shoulders and shuffled past me; he said, ‘There’s no peace.’

 

Artwork by Shishkin Andrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter and reading and a glass of wine

2019-06-24 12.58.52.jpg

Under the door of the shop there is a gap, and a thin straw of cold enters quietly, all day long. I have fingerless gloves. Excellent for typing. For looking up any possible gossip about Virginia Woolf that I may have missed. Winter is always bright with possibility because to stay in is acceptable.

One couple came in this afternoon and said, it’s warm in this little place.

He looked like Terry Pratchett, sort of intensely occupied. She looked like Vita Sackville-West, so was probably looking for Virginia Woolf.

They stayed in the room furthest from the warmth for ages, but didn’t seem to notice it. They had, each, a mighty selection when they finally came to the counter and noticed me. I said wisely, ah, the winter reading….

He straightened up in surprise, well, yes of course. He had three Terry Pratchett books.

I said, with a glass of wine….

He straightened up again, this time with joy, well yes of course. We have the place for it at our house, an old place, space for books. The shelves are all bending. Her stuff. He looked at her with an expression of acute happiness.

She presented her Margaret Atwoods and nodded, nursing that private power that comes with Margaret Atwood and husbands like him, and said, it’s winter, time to stay in.

They bobbed back out into the weather, serene, parting the winter into two fields with their own bright path right through the centre of it.

 

Old House in Stepney, Adelaide (photography by me)

 

 

You’re a liability.

Masahiro Sawada (3).jpg

My husband and I had to make a will.

This is something we had intended to do for years. I gave the details of my shop (proudly). I thought the lawyer would list it as an obvious asset. But he didn’t. He described it as a liability and I had to correct him, the idiot.

But he said (kindly) that my shop is not an asset, that as it made no profit and the outstanding lease was probably worth more than the stock and plant, it was a liability. He said it was worthless (kindly).

This means to gift or will my shop to anybody else places that person at a disadvantage. This means best not include it in a will.

I thought, well, my shop is definitely an asset for my landlord. The asset just landed in the wrong place. And, when I was teaching and wanted to do a bookshop, and kept putting it off, it became a liability NOT to do it. And a town without a bookshop has a liability.

One definition of liability is: a thing whose presence or behaviour is likely to put one at a disadvantage. But Strathalbyn has two bookshops, me and Jeff’s Books, both of which give the town an advantage (I read this on Facebook so it must be true).

This makes both of us ASSETS. This means I am an asset in the wrong place (ie behind the counter), no salary, no superannuation, no holidays, no sick pay, work for nothing and there’s never been a day in 8 years when I can’t wait to get there and be a liability.

I win.

Artwork by Masahiro Sawada

 

 

 

Thank you Pablo Neruda

cat (3).png

Ode to The Cat

The animals were imperfect,
long-tailed,
unfortunate in their heads.
Little by little they
put themselves together,
making themselves a landscape,
acquiring spots, grace, flight.
The cat,
only the cat
appeared complete and proud:
he was born completely finished,
walking alone and knowing what he wanted.

Man wants to be fish or fowl,
the snake would like to have wings
the dog is a disoriented lion,
the engineer would like to be a poet,
the fly studies to be a swift,
the poet tries to imitate the fly,
but the cat
only wants to be a cat
and any cat is a cat
from his whiskers to his tail,
from his hopeful vision of a rat
to the real thing,
from the night to his golden eyes.

There is no unity
like him,
the moon and the flower
do not have such context:
he is just one thing
like the sun or the topaz,
and the elastic line of his contours
is firm and subtle like
the line of a ship’s prow.
His yellow eyes
have just one
groove
to coin the gold of night time.

Oh little
emperor without a sphere of influence
conqueror without a country,
smallest living-room tiger, nuptial
sultan of the sky,
of the erotic roof-tiles,
the wind of love
in the storm
you claim
when you pass
and place
four delicate feet
on the ground,
smelling,
distrusting
all that is terrestrial,
because everything
is too unclean
for the immaculate foot of the cat.

Oh independent wild beast
of the house
arrogant
vestige of the night,
lazy, gymnastic
and alien,
very deep cat,
secret policeman
of bedrooms,
insignia
of a
disappeared velvet,
surely there is no
enigma
in your manner,
perhaps you are not a mystery,
everyone knows of you
and you belong
to the least mysterious inhabitant,
perhaps everyone believes it,
everyone believes himself the owner,
proprietor,
uncle
of a cat,
companion,
colleague,
disciple
or friend
of his cat.

Not me.
I do not subscribe.
I do not know the cat.
I know it all, life and its archipelago,
the sea and the incalculable city,
botany,
the gyneceum and its frenzies,
the plus and the minus of mathematics,
the volcanic frauds of the world,
the unreal shell of the crocodile,
the unknown kindness of the fireman,
the blue atavism of the priest,
but I cannot decipher a cat.
My reason slips on his indifference,
his eyes have golden numbers.

Pablo Neruda, 1959