How astonishing, when the lights of health go down…


There is rain coming in the shop door; at last, rain for our winter. It’s cold, but at least it is there.

Yvonne called out exuberantly from outside: ‘keep warm’. She indicated her little dog Marco; he had two coats on.

Robert is excited because two more of his Art and Imagination series have arrived, and these will keep his mind off Telstra. He said that Telstra do not care about him, an old man, a pensioner, and they would cut him off from the world. Then he admitted that to be cut off from the world is exactly what he wants, because then he can get on with the book he is writing. Then he said that nobody can afford electricity in this country anyway.

I told him about Virginia Woolf because I want to tell someone about her.

He agrees that she was a pioneer and a stand-alone.

Dion is here and observes that everyone is feeling the cold, which doesn’t help. He has been sick for most of his life. And he says he is going to give up smoking again. Robert said that nobody is going to take his smokes away, and then they both leave, back to their tricky lives.

A woman brings some books to the shop, but I am unable to take any more. Her parents have both died of cancer and she must clear their library. She goes back outside and sits in her car for a long time. I feel bad.

A young visitor is examining Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps, and he looks at me and asks, ‘How do they draw these maps…?’ There is a dispute on the corner outside the shop again. Motorists cannot agree on the courtesies of the intersection, and there are voices, horns. The young visitor replaces the map book and leaves to view the argument.

There is a small boy looking through the door at the rain.

There are two tradesmen out on the footpath eating from paper bags, and they are examining the sky and making predictions. They say that it won’t last.

Alex tells me that her Tupperware party was not so good because nobody came. She buys a copy of The Mandarins by Simone De Beauvoir.

A young man asked for Inside the Spaceships by George Adamski. He said it is a true account of an abduction by aliens, and that he asks in every bookshop for a copy. But I don’t have one.

Another reader asks for Patrick Suskind’s Perfume.

John brings me a copy of Inferno by Dan Brown to read. He is struggling to walk now.




Photography by Ray Hennessy

“Consider how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul…”

Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill

I think that these books are picking me out.


Now it is winter and the wind is cold. But there is no rain. Visitors to the shop remind me sternly that there has been no rain.

But there are leaves, simply everywhere and gathering in noisy droves in my doorway. Visitors open the door and say: sorry about the leaves. Yvonne said: blast these leaves, the nuisances.

There is a small girl and her glasses are faulty, one arm is loose and they slide and swing and she must adjust them every few seconds. But she is not minding this – she is telling me about Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism and these books are ABOUT MOLLY and she is an orphan who can hypnotise people. She is magic.

This little girl breathes and remembers with her eyes shut and her glasses slipping and falling, that Molly Moon defeats a bank robber. She says that she picked the Molly books once in the library but when she tells me her story she says by accident that the Molly Moon books picked her out when she was at the library and just went past the shelves.

Photography by Florian Bernhardt





Robert reads ancient histories, unconventional science and philosophy and he loves conjecture, conflict and conspiracy. And he is writing his own book.

He follows national politics carefully and furiously and finds little to admire in our politicians. However, he is very respectful of Robert Graves, Sax Rohmer and Ainslie Roberts and has studied closely the writing of Sir John George Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon) Carl Jung and Marion Woodman. His reading list is a thousand years long.

He is fierce about government iniquities and he collects bookmarks. He is currently outraged about the situation with our power supply in South Australia and believes that no matter what happens, it is always, always and always the small local Joe that pays the cost of everything.

Every day for Robert is significant and profound – this is through his reading which he believes is revealing corruption and fraud on a global level and also through local news such as the birth of my grandsons; news which Robert believes is the most important of anything at all.

He may never finish his book but this does not bother him as for him it is the work that is important, the reading and the research and the fitting together of patterns and configurations, plots, intrigues and overarching beauty of world history.

He often says that he knows of people who do not read at all and he wonders how they do it.




I think that the only way to go on is to see if you can…


Mrs Elman said that her hippeastrums are being frosted each morning and that she needed to give the trees a damn drink whether she wanted to or not and there was no point in avoiding it. She also said that the Chinese are a cunning race after what she saw on television last night.

She has come in to the shop to fetch some more reading – thrillers are her choice for the winter. She is admiring the sun through the window, noting its warmth after the cold that iced her hippeastrums this morning. She remembers that a friend of hers is standing guarantor for a family real estate purchase, she tells me that this is not a thing that SHE would do as it’s the right way to end up with nothing. She advised her own daughters of a better way.

“ …told my girls to share up and square up what’s mine after I’m gone and if there’s nothing left you can take the begging bowl around to have me buried.”

Outside the sun is gone and it is chilly again. She stands still just thinking peaceably.

She loves to read Jo Nesbo and David Baldacci, she and her husband used to read them together. She is tall, she stands with folded hands and a strong umbrella and she looks out of the door at the tangle in the street: cyclists, walkers, a stamping horse float, cold cloud….

I am reading Night and Day by Virginia Woolf and she looks at the cover. But she is not interested in Virginia Woolf… one of those silly, clever people, wasn’t she…

She suddenly says: young people want everything at once don’t they…I only ever had lino…no carpets of course…and you never saw us looking for leather. Nothing was ever easy… I think that the only way to go on is to see if you can.

And then she left.

Photography by Pavan Trikutam


Max and the Ukulele


One of the Aunts is not feeling well. She consoles herself playing some music to Max who is now six months old and sitting up, sitting on his own bottom and leaning over his feet,  making a tripod of triumph.  He experiences every note of that ukulele as a direct and liquid strike upon his sensibilities for he trembles and inhales noisily and he wants the strings and the sounds, he wants the small and gleaming hip of that instrument in his mouth, on his tongue. He would swallow the notes. He would breathe in the wood and the shine of that lovely ukulele.

He is being sung a love song and he is in love with the love song. He clutches his Aunt’s moving hands, leans over the instrument, he places dribble directly across its stringed wrist.

It is hard to keep still amongst a love song, between a ukulele and a real singing voice.

The Imps of Reading


I like to listen to the people that visit my bookshop. I like to hear what they read and to discover the strong and fabulous details of why and how.

A lady brings in her friend to show her the shop, the books, just everything. But her friend is not impressed. She has unfortunately read everything that is on her reading list and there is nothing new here. She is confident to condemn The Magic Pudding as ordinary and that it’s a pity that as a children’s book, it simply fails to deliver. The lady who brought her in agrees and looks sad. Then her friend announces a headache and says she must leave now.

There is a lady just outside the door on her phone; she is loudly telling her mother that she ought to read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  Her mother must be objecting…. but she is told that she is going to read it regardless, as it has just been purchased for her birthday.  The lady urges her mother to realise that it is good to have new books added to her (faulty) reading list. Then they discuss eggs, and then an upcoming family event.

The lady puts her phone back in her pocket and comes back inside, she passes the lady who is suffering from headaches and they are two busy ships, passing in the night. The imps of reading lists will not let them rest.

You are not having the keys.


A mother says: You are not having the keys. You are not having my keys. And the baby gazes back, tranquil. She speaks to a young girl who has come into the shop with her: Will you read this do you think? No, the girl shakes her head.

“He still wants the keys.” They both gaze down at the baby who is sitting on the floor.

The older girl has found two books and is holding tightly to them: Bulfinch’s Mythology and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Her mother offers her The Silver Brumby and then The Fault in Our Stars. The girl shakes her head.

The baby has the keys; he shakes them over and over again with his head bent to one side. He drops them, picks them up, drops them and leans over, he puts his small ear directly onto the keys.

The mother says: well, you should not be having my keys. They both look at the baby again. The mother leans back in the chair and closes her eyes. The baby shakes the keys, clenches his eyes, enchanted by the noise, the sounds, the music.

The young girl holds her books up in the air and away at a distance and regards the covers. She herself is away at a distance. She eventually drifts over to the counter and tells me that she is going to bring her dad here. Her mother stands up and follows; she tells me that she has no time to read anymore, you know how it is.

The girl asks me for Brave New World and the mother announces that she might wait in the car and the young girl turns back to the shelves, she holds the chosen books in front of her, both arms tightly around them, she gazes up at Samuel Pepys and Vikram Chandra.

Outside in the street the baby hurls the keys across the footpath.


Photography by Ryan Holloway

That’s the thing!


Yvonne continues to look in the door of the shop most mornings and ask me how the babies are. I tell her they are growing and happy. She always says: Well that’s the thing isn’t it!

When Morgan looks at his infant son, his son looks at him and they exchange evidence that each now lives for the other. Noah’s face is too small to hold in all the joy. And that’s the thing.

Outside the shop there is a father securing a sheepdog in the back of the ute. The son, about 8, stands patiently by. He asks his dad if he can get an icecream and a hero disk. His dad says: yep, soon as I tie in Baily. The son balances on the edge of the gutter and puts one finger on Baily’s nose to help and his dad says: well done. The child smiles. And that’s the thing.

Once a boy told me that he was 10 years old and going to read Brisingr. He asked his dad if he could get him Brisingr and his dad said yes. Then the child made a good joke: he said – can you get me a dragon? And his dad said: maybe… and the child laughed darkly to himself. And that’s the thing.

Joe visited two days ago to pick up his Charmian Clift book and said that he has had a win. That he kept every book he ever had on making furniture, but nobody wanted them. So he asked his son if HIS son, an apprentice cabinet maker might like them, and his son said: he won’t want them, just chuck them dad.

But Joe called his grandson himself and the boy said: I’ll be down on Saturday, Grandpa, keep them for me. Joe said: I’ve had a win.! And that’s the thing!

Dale’s dad told him that he should read history as it occurs. Dale said that he just wanted to read Skulduggery, all ten of them in the right order. His dad argued for the reading of history (as it occurs), but they left with five Skulduggery books and no history and Dale was happy. He carried all the books himself. And that’s the thing.

Small things are always the thing.

The Commando Torch


This morning there are three boys and their father here at the shop. The boys have come from the soccer field, they are in short sleeves, not feeling the cold.

They pounce on The Titanic. But they already have it. They know about The Snake Book, they have that at school. They carry around Greatest Dinosaurs On Earth and they argued over Gadgets: How Things Work because the mobile phone on the front cover was old….heaps old. They very much wanted Steam Trains: Cross Sections and they considered The Great Science Experiment Book. The oldest brother, however,  said the experiments in it were not very good, they all deferred, put the book back.

Their father read aloud from The Art of Polite Correspondence which he thought was very funny and the boys looked at him politely.

Now Bill, a regular customer, is here, telling me about the commando torch he has just bought online. The boys look across briefly.

Bill said it is the best torch there is, probably for using in the jungle. The boys look up and across again. This led torch has a concentrated light beam and is rechargeable.

The brothers glance at each other, assessing the information. The oldest brother will decide on its value.

Bill said he didn’t want a night stick, they don’t have a long runtime even though they say they do. His torch is the one used in the actual army. He might use it to read in his tent when he is out in the bush and all that.

The oldest brother is standing up and looking over, hoping to perhaps see the commando torch.

But the torch is still in the mail and Bill is leaving. The boys watch him pack his Bryce Courtenay books into a motorbike helmet, they look at his impressive tattoos, watch him leave: the man who will soon have a commando torch to read with in his tent.

The boys look at each other, they say nothing. One boy says he is getting a book on submarines. The others do not answer.

Their father comes out, he has a book by David Attenborough. The youngest son says: can we go get a torch?

The father says: I don’t think we need one do we?

Reading stops me from getting the gardening done.


Ricky is a delightful old lady and a delightful reader and a delight. She reads troublesome histories, historical mysteries, Thomas Hardy and Latin Grammar. All her life she has read and read and read and never got the gardening done. She said that when other people are busy, she is always reading.

She came in to the shop with her friend yesterday to pick up her books: Lenin on the Train, A Gentleman in Moscow and Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. She said to me that it is important to read history, very indeed. She said that Stalin was not such a bad person as we think. He would have just killed you. Her friend looked at her and said: Jesus Ricky!