Literally Really Good!



Lucas, who is 10, told me that his book Mister Monday by Garth Nix was ‘literally good, literally really good’. He told me that he kept it on the top of the top pile at home because it is so good. Normally he stacks them from large to small but lately he has been stacking them from bad to good. (He has 5 stacks of books in his room, one nearly up to the window ledge).

As it is mostly quiet this week, I can look at the books people have lent me because they are so literally really good. Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach is Fabulous and The Garden Going on Without Us by Lorna Crozier is Outrageous. The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp is Exquisite and Lighthouse Keeping by Jeanette Winterson is Devastating. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller is Just So Good. Heaven by Alexandra Adornetto will Cause Me to Die. Helen Garner is Confronting, Disturbing and Ought to be Read. Possum Magic by Mem Fox is Super.

By the time I have considered them all, there are more visitors, more requests and more questions….

Has Stan Grant put his next book out yet? Apparently it was supposed to be available yesterday.

Why is Welding for off Road Fabrication only available on kindle?

What time does the bakery close?

Why did they change the covers of the Ranger’s Apprentice series? The old covers are good but the new covers are stupid.

Did I know the book about the Australian town that had a damper making competition and the swagman won the competition and everyone was pissed off?

Did I think that the kindle was killing the book trade?

Did I know that my door hinges were creaking?

Robert described an important vision he had recently and as soon as he worked out which books were in that vision he would get me to find them for him. He said: imagine dying with lots of money but with an empty head! Imagine not reading at all! When I die, my whole library is coming with me!








Jeff’s Books


A young man came into the shop and asked me why all the book shops are closing. He said he wanted to open his own book shop and was looking for a place to begin. He asked if the other book shop in Strathalbyn ( Jeff’s Books ) had exactly the same books in it as I did and had he read them all, did I think?

I said that the owner is Caitlin and that she undoubtedly had read them – all 20000 of them and that all book sellers had an obligation to read all of their books before selling them. He said that is an incredible thing to be a part of.

I told him that no bookseller has the same books, that every bookshop is a different ecosystem, unique to itself and particular to the creator of the store. I stock books that I like on the confused basis that so will everyone else. I also enjoyed collecting children’s books and series for young readers. I do not enjoy the confusion of first edition points and I always mend covers with the wrong sticky tape. I have no knowledge of collectible or rare volumes and I have a problem with spiders in the autobiographies. My shop is next to a bakery which is good but all my spare funds end up there which is bad.

The only thing I would have in common with every other second hand book seller in the region is that we are all broke, although our landlords are not. Also I do not enjoy customers who demand a discount on already discounted books or who become discourteous when I cannot buy their books for my store or who would like to leave unpleasant pamphlets on my counter. Then they head angrily off to Jeff’s Books to try the same thing. Online communication means I can sometime warn Jeff’s Books before they are broadsided.

Sometimes customers come from Jeff’s Books armed with books titles and lists and words like pseudepigraphia hoping that I might have books like this at my shop, too. Then I have to quickly pretend that I know what pseudepigraphia means. But they go there first ‘because she certainly knows what she’s doing’.

I said that it’s good that you come down to see me too, and they replied: well, you are next to the bakery….

One customer told me that while other small towns may have fast food outlets such as Subway and KFC, Strathalbyn has books and an old fashioned lolly shop AND the Steam Ranger and you can’t get better than that!



A Swiss Watch will Keep Going Even if you Bury it in Cement

Niklas Rhose

Every day at the shop I am constantly informed of the most startling things. Like the stamina of a Swiss watch.

And I like the variety.

Once I was told a long story about gunpowder and how hilarious it can be. And once about the history of the tulip. Also I have been informed of the origin of cobblestones and about the problems of racism in Tintin in the Congo, which caused it to be removed from libraries all over the English speaking world.

I like hearing about the great writers and the Outrages they Committed. It is good to hear that everybody has Terrible Trouble with Ulysses and that Middlemarch is a Long Plod. And that Tom Cruise was a disappointment as Jack Reacher…

Dale said yesterday that he feels as though bookshops deliberately ambush him into buying something good when he clearly doesn’t want to. He said this unhappily. He bought Love, Again by Doris Lessing because Doris Lessing is ‘too strong a woman for him to say no to.’ He had also told me not to live in Mt Barker because it is full of diverse elements. However, I should keep on with Anais Nin because she is brilliant and brave. I said that I intended to read all of her journals although it will take me a while; I am a slow reader and he replied that the diaries were written over decades, and so I had plenty of time.

I was asked to find more South Australian poets and more Ernest Hemmingway.

Peggy told me that she didn’t read the Narnia books until she was old.

And Brian wanted a copy of the Truckie’s History, a book he wanted to read again. He wanted to take it to a family funeral this time, when all the womenfolk would be at each other like a pack of bitches, but he could just sit back and enjoy a read. (If I could possibly get him a copy please.)

A young reader of historical novels told me that collectors of moths no longer have to kill them because now we have the internet.

A little girl (7) told me that her book Too Late Bendigo was for her to read to her mum.

A visitor with homemade anti-Islamic pamphlets asked me if he could leave them for me to distribute from my shop and I said no.

And finally, at the end of the day, I was asked to track down a book about tug boats that is apparently ‘as hard as shit to get.’ Two of the tugs were called Batman and Robin and these were his favourites as a boy. He lent his out and it was never returned so now he was on the hunt for another copy. He shared everything he knew about steamships. His own stories made him laugh.

At the end of the day, I still had 15 minutes left for The Royal Whore: Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine by Allen Andrews, which I only began this morning, and which is brilliant.

Photography by Niklas Rhose




‘listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go’ (e.e.cummings)


Steve is my first customer today and has come by for more westerns again. He is furious that someone has tried to shoot his cat. He said that if his gopher was any faster he would shoot back and kill them. He apologised for the other books he had with him from the local library, but felt that he should be supporting libraries too, seeing as the government didn’t. I thanked him for supporting me and asked if he remembered the first time he had stopped here. He said that he didn’t. I commented that reading is a good way to get through the day, but he replied that his days were quite good anyway and would be even better if he could get the bastard who was trying to knock off his cat.

Reading is not escape for all readers. Only for some.

Everybody has a different angle on this idea: either their reading translates into an escape from something, or it works as an enhancement of where they already are. But some readers referred to reading as a portal to elsewhere, like another world. As close as next door.

Mary picked up her copy of The Tulip by Anna Pavord and told me that she is volunteering to sit at the gallery on Saturday afternoons, and that it was going to be hell.  But a good book would get her through.

Marty told me that Beau, his brother who is five, only looks at the words but does not read them. But he himself actually reads them, and this is how he knows so much about Star Wars and the Skulduggery books. I asked if he read books in his spare time, and he said that he played sport in his spare time. He reads books in all his other times.

There are no answers, only more perceptions.

Leon asked me for the Harry Potter books, wondering how many there were in the series. He has finished with vampires for the moment. He looked at the stack of Harry Potter books and said that he was done with seasons one and two. That he needed the third one. He said that he has injured his back, and his dad told him that the best thing to do for this was to hang yourself. From your arms so that everything straightened out again.

Dylan has been wanting a copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making for a long time because with a title like that, it had to be good. Later he told me that it is a brilliant book. He said that it is a toothsome romp of a fairy tale, and I said ‘good description’ and he showed me that this is what is written on the back of the book. But now I’m going to read it, starting tonight. It is about a child called September, exeunt on a leopard, blown by the Green Wind who lives above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Harsh Airs live…

Garth said that the best writing came about because the universe that contained those writers was in no way good, and so they were compelled to write in order to be able to survive. But then, when any of us  encountered those books for ourselves, our universe became a little better. Garth said that all great art does this.

Photography by Eric Johansson