A Pirate Needs the Sight of the Sea…


“There was a single blue line of crayon drawn across every wall in the house. What does it mean? I asked. A pirate needs the sight of the sea, he said and then he pulled his eye patch down and turned and sailed away.”   Brian Andreas, Story People

I don’t know this book, Story People. Somebody asked for it once and gave me these lines, written on a piece of paper. He said he’s been looking for the book ever since he read this and that these words have been in his mind ever since.

They have been in my mind ever since, too.

Since I cannot forget them, I understand that the world has become a fraction changed because of them.

Today Robert asked for all of the Ainslie Roberts Dreamtime series. He says that the images in the paintings settle into his mind and give meaning to his writing and illuminate the way that his research should be going. And that even though he has books stacked against every wall in the house he is still looking for more clues and directions.

David told me that his life was never the same after reading Jean Rhys. And once somebody told me that reading Spike Milligan changed their world.

“This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colourful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children’s eyes. From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea–if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset.”

Scott Fitzgerald, Flappers and Philosophers

After I read this, everything about the word evening changed.

The broad collar of golden coin has never left me. And neither still has the single blue line of crayon.

Is it possible to absorb lines like this and to simply not know the meanings (yet)?

The city is built

To music, therefore never built at all,

And therefore built forever.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Somebody said that it is a good thing that I have Ann Patchett and Michael Ondaatjie shelved side by side, two great writers…

Ruth picked up her books on shipwrecks and was looking forward to a good night in.

I was advised to read Romulus, My Father and lent a copy of Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge.

I wonder what the 13 year old customer who bought William Faulkner last week is making of him…

I admired a copy of The Starthorn Tree that a young reader brought in to show me and listened to an explanation of why Dr Seuss is still so popular.

I am looking for a copy of Romulus, My Father.



In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves…. Rumi


Sometimes the noise of silence is unbearable. There is nothing about it that I like. When there are no customers in my bookshop, it means that it is silent. Then I wonder if the shop is doing well.

It does not worry Leon, he comes in and tells me not to worry about it because at least the weather is good. He tells me he is having another go at Twilight, the best book about vampires there is.

I ask him why everyone is just walking past the shop today, and he says it is because they don’t want to come in.

Then he asks me what I am reading, and I show him: Marcovaldo, by Italo Calvino, and he says it looked pretty boring. Leon always makes me laugh.  Then I stop worrying and planning, and the pattern improves.

A lady, who has just come in tells me that she always wished that she read books. The nuns did teach her to read but…….and she stood for a long time just thinking about this.

Leon asks me later if I thought the nuns had been cruel to that lady. I said I didn’t know, and he asked if she taught herself to read like he had to, and even though he still couldn’t read very well it didn’t stop him from having a go at the vampires. He just let the words make sense to him if they wanted to.

But it is hard to sit in silence and worry about the shop.

A young girl, perhaps 13, was considering a book for her birthday and could not choose between The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll (an enormous and very heavy edition in raspberry pink leather and with lemon and liquorice endpapers,) or a green and silver leather edition of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

I was curious about her dilemma; she picked the Faulkner. I asked her why, and she said that she didn’t know why, she just liked the book. But she also liked the gold on the pages, and she likes books that don’t bend. She said that she just knew she would like this book. These things just come to her. In the silence?

A customer has returned to lend me their copy of The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. He told me that I will love it and to take my time with it. It occurs to me that to be lent a beloved book is to be a given a renewed lease on enjoyment ( if I allow it to) and is also no small risk to the lender.

Outside there is an argument between a Telstra van and a milk truck who both want the same car park. Telstra is on the phone and I hope he can’t get a signal.

A lovely couple that visit every week tell me to keep up the good work.

I am asked for The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord, and Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. Then later, Alistair Cooke’s America, and anything by Dorothy Parker.

I am informed twice that people are tired of books now and just want to read from their phones. I’m not sure if this is true.

In the afternoon quiet I consider The Stone Diaries. In the silence (that means no customers) the books, the writing, the meaning of the books, everything is richer and more illuminated. Improved patterns.

“Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?”

Lawrence Durrell, Justine

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there…


Ingrida Barks 2

Is it possible to read too much? Is it likely that a state of over- read will blunt our ability to live skilfully outside the pages of what we love?

The shop is busy with conversations and requests and comments about the changing weather. But I am ambushed by my own reading and I can’t attend today.

(‘Do you have The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald, it better be better than his last book!”)

(Why don’t you put a coffee machine in here?)

“Owls hoot in B flat, cuckoos in D, but the water ousel sings in the voice of the stream. She builds her nest back of the waterfalls so the water is a lullaby to the little ones. Must be where they learn it.”

 Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary

What does it mean?


(I’ll just take a quick gander at the Westerns if you don’t mind)

(I won’t take Fat, Forty and Fired to read after all as it’s too close to home.)

“This is the seashore. Neither land nor sea. It’s a place that does not exist.”

Ocean Sea,  Alessandro Baricco

What does it mean?


(‘Well, about this weather, I say no thanks to it!’)

(I’m after Lillian Jackson Braun, the best books I have ever read. I’m getting myself a birthday present although my birthday is not for another 6 months!)

(Are you buying books at the moment?)

“Stars open among the lilies.

Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?

This is the silence of astounded souls.”

Sylvia Plath, Crossing the Water

What does it mean?


(How are you, how are things? I’m in the middle of putting in a seriously sneaky verandah so can’t stop for long. Have a good one.’)

(Do you have any Wilbur Smith?)

(Do you have Judy Nunn?)

(Do you have books on how to play cricket?)

(Do you have Simon Winchester?)

Inhale and hold the evening in in your lungs.”  Sebastian Faulks


(Are you buying books?)

(Any Spike Milligan?)

(There’s a queue at the bakery!)

Owls hoot in B flat…

This is the seashore, neither land nor sea…

Are you not blinded…

Inhale and hold the evening…


(I can’t choose between these three books. Which would you recommend?)

(I’m so interested in True Crime.)

(Let me tell you about the schools near here..)

Then it is quiet and I am aware that despite being busy, I have sold only a few books. I am uncomfortable that I am not successful. Surely I should be more successful at least than this time last year. Maybe I should have firmer future business goals.

“There is no past or future. Using tenses to divide time is like making chalk marks on water.”   Janet Frame


A visitor today commended me for persisting against all odds, that I was brave and she admired my energy.

My future here is not secure.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing

and rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.”



Photography by Ingrida Barks

The Fabled Belt of Deltora


Today, a young reader, Cody asked me not to forget to find his Boy Versus Beast books and also that his name was spelt with a K, not a C.

He then told me, in detail, the entire plot of the Deltora Quest series and how those kids found that belt of Deltora with the jewels in it, and that I was missing book one: The Forests of Silence, book four: The Shifting Sands and book five: Dread Mountain. Then he told me more about the story and that his favourite characters were Leif, Barda, Jasmine, Kree, Filli and Adin, and that is all of the characters in the books of series one.

His mother said that she didn’t know what he was talking about.

He reminded me that last time he was here, he found a book on the shelf that I said I didn’t have and suggested that I could check the shelves more often and please don’t forget the Boy Versus Beast books, to buy some or something. He said that he would be ok If I didn’t because he was going to have a go at something new….but it would be good if I got some of the beast books anyway. He wrote down the names of the volumes he needed, signed it Kody and drew my attention to his good writing.

His mother said that he already had too many books at home.

But he, unfailingly kind, explained that there was space for more, described where they would go and not be in the way.

When he left he reminded me not to forget about the Boy Versus Beast books and that he liked to tell other people about books.

I said that I did too.

The topsoil of our personalities is nothing….. Anais Nin


When visitors come through my door I like to see their faces. This is because their faces reflect instantly that like it here and will default to expressions of such delighted confusion that they often cannot answer my greeting ( unless I comment on the weather; this always provokes a mixed response of approval and outrage ).

Then they will begin hunting or browsing and they never complain about the books that are too low to see or too high to reach. I can recognise the start of recognition when they see something beloved. Also the astonishment when a title, long searched for actually turns up.

Children are captured by the moment, and can seize something new and risky, can make fast choices or fast rejections. Adult readers can be more suspicious, not wanting to be ambushed into a dull choice, worrying about books at home still not read and stung uneasily by the words must read on the jackets…

Some are enticed by colours and covers, size or weight. Others go strictly by lists. Some buy piles, some purchase nothing. Some confess to owning a kindle.

Some apologise that the book trade is not what it used to be.

Many read titles aloud, some laugh out loud and some are just silent the whole time. Many tell me who the book is for and why. Many ask me to replace their books because the dog got their only copy, the red wine got their only copy, some prick borrowed and never returned their only copy. Some are retrieving books and stories from their past and making them part of their future. It is fabulous.

Visitors who are clearly fatigued or unwell cannot help it that some of their real self will leak out, shine out, fall out when they speak of the books they are reading or have read and have loved very much. I don’t think they mean for this to happen.

But books read and loved keep themselves anchored to small pools of joy that stay intact, seemingly for ever.

And if layers of time continue to congeal over them, as they will (sediment over sediment), the instant a book is sighted and recognised, the memory is relit, refitted and emerges again, shouldering through the clinging and wearying topsoil that we so unwittingly collect…

“I would like to have your sureness…”


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

“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” Anaïs Nin


Outside the shop it is grey and raining and warm and everyone who comes in tells me that the weather is doing strange things lately.

Inside the shop I can only think about Anais Nin because I am very slowly reading her journals. She is dead now. And her writing, as someone said to me, is brilliant and brave.

She wrote what she really thought. This is a terrifying concept. Because, as she said:

“When one is pretending, the entire body revolts.”

There is thinking enough for weeks and weeks in this small sentence.

Sculpture by Ken Martin

‘….or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.’


“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”

 Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 My first customer today is entertaining. He said : I am trying for The Lark ( Henley, T.E ) but something else got in there instead, it was The Heron (Farley, Paul ) a brilliant, brilliant piece that won’t let you EVER forget it!. So I’m starting my work again, and the book I need is The Poetry of Birds, edited by two people, can’t remember who. But at the beginning, there’s an intro, first line goes like this: Most of the poems in this book were written without the aid of binoculars. And in the book is this poem, The Heron, it’s about flight, it’ll make you laugh, it’s fabulous! Can you get me this book?

A man put his head through the door and said: mate, have you got the Yates Garden Guide? I said that I did and he said that this is good because gardening stopped him from going mental.

A lady, listening in, sympathised with him and also advised me that my shop needed more Steinbeck, more Wodehouse and also more pedestrian crossings in Strathalbyn. She said her husband would go mad if she stayed any longer but she would buy the Clive James (who is fascinating).

I told Leon that I didn’t read vampire books and he said that I shouldn’t say that to the customers. It is better to keep quiet and make sure the books are in the correct order.

I spend some time putting all the vampire books in the correct order.

I was informed that Ezra Pound did not like Henry James and that some people had thought that Henry James did all his work in shallow waters but that turned out to be quite wrong. This reader bought five of Henry James’s novels even though he had ‘no time to read at all’.

A young reader bought Paddington, remembering how happy it once made her when it was read to her as a child and looked forward to this happening again.

A new visitor commented that the passing of Umberto Eco was a huge loss to the world. He bought The Prague Cemetery, pleased to have a hardback copy as his paper back volume had broken its back. He said that Umberto Eco soared over the rest of those European hacks.

I learned that:

The Poisonwood Bible asks the proper questions and Ulysses is just one big question.

A.S.Byatt, (Possession: A Romance) did not get on well with her sister.

Stephen Fry is hil-ar-i-ous!!

That reading put you under the guardianship of the best minds, providing you made sure you looked for the best minds. Like Frank Herbert, John Wyndham and possibly Isaac Asimov.

That reading historical books was a backwards take off into the past and did I have the fourth book by Jean Auel in the Mammoth People series.

Seeing without binoculars.

The Heron

One of the most begrudging avian take-offs

is the heron’s fucking hell, all right, all right,

I’ll go to the garage for your flaming fags

cranky departure, though once they’re up

their flight can be extravagant. I watched

one big spender climb the thermal staircase.

a calorific waterspout of frogs

and sticklebacks, the undercarriage down

and trailing. Seen from antiquity

you gain the Icarus thing; seen from my childhood

that cursing man sets out for Superkings,

though the heron cares for neither as it struggles

into its wings then soars sunwards and throws

its huge overcoat across the earth.

Paul Farley



No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief

Michael Duliba

There is a poet called Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote this line and many more lines as well, in the 19th century. This line is the title of one of the ‘terrible sonnets’. This means one of the sonnets he wrote during a time of profound depression and anguish that Hopkins seemed to have experienced for most of his life.

But I didn’t recognise the words when somebody once asked me about them hoping that I might. Then later I found copies of his poetry and read all of it.

I found the poem: No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief…

Then, one day, an old older couple from interstate came into the shop and asked for something for their son who had depression, something good to read, not necessarily happy but really good. Nothing pretentious. They said they would do anything to help him and that they were thinking that illness really was the night side of life. They asked me if anyone had written much about it. They looked impossibly sad.

I said that yes, people had written of it, had always written of it.

(I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.)

I asked them if their son might read poetry.

They said he might give it a go.

(Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark)

 They asked me if I meant poetry that would actually go there.

(O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall)

I said yes and they withdrew to inspect the poetry books and also the thrillers.They asked if this poet, Hopkins, was from the classics, books not so relevant or useful anymore…

(And I have asked to be

Where no storms come,

Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,

And out of the swing of the sea.)

I said carefully that you have to read it for yourselves and then you will know if something is good for you (or not).

(..all things counter, original, spare, strange;

(Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

They bought a copy of Gerard Manley Hopkins because ‘you can’t go wrong for $5’ and also Wizard and Glass by Stephen King because he is a pretty crazy writer, good perhaps for distraction.

I wished them all the best. I have not ever seen them again.

    (Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

     Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

     Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

    Crying, Whát I do is me: for that I came.)


Poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889).

Photography by Michael Duliba