Small things like shapes

img_20160730_130246

I wrote this in January 2017, on Australia Day. It was summer. Now it is winter, which always makes me think about summer.

“A child said to me that he likes my glass lantern because he likes small things like shapes. He said that when he looked into the glass he could see cars going past, and that the cars looked better in the lantern than they did going along the road as real cars. His mother told him there were Beast Quest books on the shelf, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

She said there were also some Star Wars, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

A lady was pleased to see a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. She said it is on her to read list which has a thousand books on it already. She said the list is wearying. She did not see the lantern.

It is Australia Day. The family with the small boy who likes shapes are across the road; they have been to the bakery. The father is trying to interest the child in some food but he is standing with his nose pressed against the fir tree, he must be looking at more shapes. The father looks weary. The child drops the paper bag on the ground and looks down at the spilt food. He makes binoculars with his fists and looks down at the broken food. His knees are bent with concentration. The parents are having an argument.

Just outside the door of my shop a man has opened his esky on the pavement, and there is no ice. His wife asks him why he can’t even pack an esky properly. He raises both hands in the air and stands there motionless, but she has gotten back into the car. Then she locks all the doors.

I wonder if anyone else will come in for a book today. Then I remembered the small boy who likes shapes; he had chosen a book called Pharaoh’s Boat which had pyramids on the front. So I did sell a book today!”

The kids and the bookmarks and the owls and the cats

Jen Betton (2)

Two young children came into the bookshop with their father. They were on their way to visit their mother. The girl, who was nine, read Harry Potter. She liked magical things.The boy, who was 11, read biographies and books by authors from other countries. He chose I am Malala. Then they chose some bookmarks. Their father said that he didn’t read, but these two, they never stopped.

The children bobbed about and spun; they liked cats, too. And owls. And reading. Plus balloons. When she had finished reading all the Harry Potters, they were going to watch the movies, but not all in one night.

They were hungry. They cradled their purchases and crowded out the door. I could hear them reminding their dad that they were all going to watch the Harry Potter movies. He was nodding, saying, yes, yes. They stood in the doorway to watch a bike go past, and the boy said, ‘I love that bike’, and the father said, ‘You love everything.’ Then the father and the son looked at each other, and the boy held his book up, and they both laughed.

Artwork by Jen Betton

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.

The structure of the day

alexandre-perotto

 

I wrote this just before Christmas in 2015. The shop had started to become something, and I was beginning to fit it. Again, I realise (now) that it was the regulars that made it happen, and that a small town is the best place to be.

“The structure of each day in the bookshop has become quite nice.

Each day forms, bulges out toward the afternoon, trims itself, and tries to return to normal by closing time.

Each day the flow of information is generous.

Each morning seems to be about Henry James.

At closing time, I am anxious to get home and keep going with Henry James. I am slow. Leon told me that I am slow with books, it is true. But I am justified – The Spoils of Poynton is a thicket. I have to go slowly.

Young families wash in on a tide of enthusiasm and spare time because the school holidays have begun, and it is summer. And there is a new Star Wars film. When they leave, the door is covered in fingerprints, and there will be an empty juice bottle amongst the Geronimo Stiltons.

‘Where’s that book The Cross Sections of the Man of War? Is it still here? Last week it was.’

‘Nanna is getting us books and we can pick our own. This one is about the war, but it’s book two, so do you have books one and three? I’m getting it anyway.’

‘Do you have William Gaddis? I’ve been looking for The Recognitions all my life. It’s up there with Gravity’s Rainbow and books like that.’

In my spare minute I have another go at Henry James. Not many people have ever asked for his books.

Karl came in with his book list and told me that his eyes gave way earlier in the year, which was disappointing as he has always been one for the written word. But now he is fine and ready to roll.

John complained that every time he went to the bakery his doctor would go pass the window and see what he was eating and then give him a rocket because of his health – his cholesterol is way too high. ‘Small town bullshit that’s what it is. You can’t even take a piss without somebody telling everyone at Woolworths about it. I’m enjoying that Dick Francis though, the only one of those crime mugs that can actually write.’

I am lucky to receive a consistent commentary on the weather. This is a topic with a satisfying variety of expressions available to share it.

‘How’s this heat? Keeping you busy?’

‘Cool in here.’

‘This heat is ridiculous!’

‘Good weather for reading, that’s what I say.’

‘Foul weather. And here I am out in it.’

‘Damn strange weather!’

‘Damn fine weather!’

‘This weather takes the cake.’

‘Don’t know how Christmas will go with weather like this.’

‘Heat’s bad but nothing like in the sixties.’

A lady told me that Gould’s Book of Fish has her flabbergasted.

All day I am offered suggestions for the best things to read. I free fall amongst the suggestions.”

 

Photography by Alexandre Petrotto

There is a body language for books

36177207_1787197548038462_6906266979145875456_n

You would think that people who come to bookshops just look at books.

No.

People become what they are looking for, and they cease to exist (here).

It isn’t about hunting for a bargain.

People stare. Young people inhale a sharp breath. Some readers rove silently and notice things like the noise next door, colours, shelving, fonts. Their backs go tense whenever they recognise something.

Some only look for one thing, and then usually leave without it, still cheerful.

‘Oh well, worth a try. I’ve been on the prowl for it for about, I don’t know, probably a hundred years or more.’ They rise up on their toes to show endurance.

On old lady, when I found her a copy of Lost Adelaide, said, ‘I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!’

She banged her purse on the counter and leaned back to laugh at the roof. She had lived in a cottage on West Terrace in the city centre as a kiddie. That old house is in this book. She comes to Strathalbyn every six months to have her car serviced and walks slowly up to my shop wearing shoes made of determination.

Many people whisper. Some say that certain books are shit. Conversations flicker; people talk to themselves, unaware.

There is a body language for books.

Linger, fingertip the books, stand on one hip, nod to nobody, hunch shoulders, shiver. Sing a few notes. Sigh. Die. Take the argumentative stance. Gaze in a daze. Drop down to the floor, read on knees in absolute silence.

Children bring their bikes and scooters in for safe keeping.

One small girl danced with a book balanced on her elbow. She swayed slowly, and the book rocked willingly with her. She said, ‘Look at this’, to her brother, who frowned and did not look up.

He kept reading, and she danced magnificently on.

 

 

Once there was……

001 (2)

I can’t forget Claudia because of her expertise. She has been visiting my shop for a few years now. She is a confident reader; confident in what she doesn’t want to read. This is a valuable skill because it means you spend all your time looking for what you do want to read – and reading it.

Claudia is posting instalments of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Hermitage on the front fence of her home in Strathalbyn. Passers by can read each instalment, and then consult the accompanying drawing on the footpath.

91324705_651913708893103_7876563639648387072_n

This means that we can exercise and keep up with literature at the same time. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this. Once we are all back to normal, these priceless opportunities may fade away.

Claudia once wrote me a list of items that are necessary for all good bookshops to have. Luckily, I have followed these rules ever since, and it has paid off because I am still here.

 

The young girl who wanted a book for her friend

90040717_214054449674220_2726099026482036736_n

This young girl wanted a book for her friend. The friend is an exchange student and unable to go home right now. So a group of students are buying her books, for consolation. The exchange student, who can’t go home, reads and reads.

The young girl had a list of books, written in pencil and folded neatly. She showed me the list. It is mostly the classics.  I read, “William Wordsworth”.

I said, ‘William Wordsworth!’

And she said, ‘Oh yes!’

Love’s Labour’s Lost

A Tale from The Decameron (1916)  John William Waterhouse.jpg

Sometimes people come into the shop and I don’t notice. They just appear, and not through any door that I have. When I look up, there they are. A knot of teenagers, seated on the ground, leaning back, solemn, as though here for a meeting. I can hear the trailing ends of one idea after another.

‘The point he’s making is that….’

‘What people don’t realise….’

‘With my play, I had to…..’

‘Yeah, but that exerts…’

Someone is reading aloud. Everybody listens. The reader stands up. Finishes. Everyone dives forward with an idea….’I’ve got that on Instagram…not the book…it’s on something…’

‘No, no no, pretty much…..not that one…’

‘In The Uncommon Reader…’  Someone narrates the plot of The Uncommon Reader.

‘Listen to this…’

‘I was like…’

‘There’s this really long word in this play…’

More reading out loud.  An argument. A selfie is taken.

‘Oh my God. I’m getting that.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘I love this.’

‘The exhibition was in 1910…’

‘This was published in 1948.’

‘I don’t reckon…’

‘So what books are you grabbing hon…?’

‘I know. I don’t know. But I’m getting this now. I just googled it, I love it.

It was Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost they were reading from, and that they are now buying.

Then they leave, one girl hugging the ‘beautiful book’ and telling the others she can’t go out tonight because she has rehearsal.

 

 

A Tale from The Decameron, 1916, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Do you have any books on sharks?

78584174_426772711609408_5861724232609693696_n (2).jpg

Three children and their parents. They carry the books around, reading as they walk, reading out loud, spotting something else, kneeling down to see. Wondering and thinking, do we need it, have we got it? We do. We don’t.

Look at this.

Seen it.

Look at this.

I want it.

Three Harry Potters make it to the front. And then a book on sharks that they asked for and stood over, pointing and discussing, and which can’t be left behind. Very good.

Dad comes back, he just ducked out to the 12 Volt Shop (he said), and now has a good look at the selections. Very good.

Then they all muddle out, bumping and swaying, which is how you walk when you read at the same time. (Very good).

Oh, no…

Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to Her Tale by Mary Alayne Thomas.jpg

I watched this reader come into the bookshop and sigh over the books, while at the same time maintain contact with friends outside the window.

There was something on the window table that was enthralling. She bent to read. She held her phone to her ear, whispering the plot to a friend perhaps. What was the book? I couldn’t see.

Her friends were clustered outside the window. They leaned into the window and made significant expressions. She stared into their faces and spoke into her phone. She stretched her face around the agony of the news.

The book, a paperback. She held it open with one elbow and signaled something diabolical though the window. I drifted close by. It was Dangerous Creatures.

There was a desperate exchange of information by phone and face.

The reader raised herself on her toes for emphasis. The watchers drew back in respect. Maybe someone in the book died. Should I offer support?

The reader knelt down to read further, calm and out of view. The watchers fogged the window in alarm. It seemed to me that the entire day paused.

Finally she rose. Replaced the book and fled the shop, one hand clasped over her mouth, keeping the the angst organised. She allowed me a brief glance. Outside the door she raised both arms and was received by fellow readers. I saw their young and tortured hands reach for her as she closed the door.

Readers.

Artwork, Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to her Tale, by Mary Alayne Thomas