Red is the Last Colour You See


A brother and sister are here in the shop and they are arguing over Dr Who; they are disputing the title. The brother, who is the youngest, says: It’s Dr Stupid Who!

But his sister wants this book, there is an object on the front colour, it is red and she presses one eye to the cover, enchanted with this ruby object. Their father tells them that red is the last colour you see and they both stand still. One of them asks: Do you mean when you die?

The father answers: No, I mean when you look at something. Red is the last colour you see. The children stand still again. They look around hard. They look at everything and test the colour red. But they are not sure.

The brother says: I can’t see anything if red is last or first and his father said: Ah! Well, don’t worry.

The boy says: What else is there that we might see or not?

They are all standing at the counter now with their books, including Dr Stupid Who. The father says: it is up to you, what you see or do not see. Then he says that he has lost his book, a copy of Dune by Frank Herbert and the children find it on the table in front of the biographies and they think this is very funny.

Noah and Max

IMG_2073 (1)Resized_20170725_122248-1

Noah and Max spend the afternoon together.

Noah watches and listens. Max climbs and bounces. Noah has eyes that can drink in the entire of his world so far, nearly. Max has a voice that can express the entire of his world so far, nearly.

Noah has a rocking swing. Max has more months than Noah and he can lean in and push the swing with his new precarious strength. Sometimes the swing pushes Max and down he goes. He cries and Noah looks on astounded. But there is no injury. Now Max thinks he will taste the swing, that smooth milky bar under Noah’s feet has information that is vital to his tongue. He leans in and tastes the frame with enthusiasm, again he is knocked sideways. Noah looks on in astonishment.

Now Max tastes each toy. He works rapidly, grasping, releasing, panting. Noah watches closely, he connects neatly an eye contact with his young father and offers a complicated sentence of noises, opinion and breath. He turns from side to side, kicks in surprise. There is too much to see. He notes everything that is necessary.

Max has run out of toys, he gives a small scream of rage. The babies look at each other.

Max turns to a new landscape, stands and holds tightly, he dribbles, yearning to taste the shapes and colours that float in front of him. There is too much to say. He says everything that is necessary.

The parents discuss development, milestones, progress. The babies look at each other again, gravely. They exchange the truth.


Linda and Monique

Charlie Devoli 2

Linda and Monique are mother and child. Today they are here at the shop, it is so cold, it is grey and dark but inside is warm and the coloured lights are at their best. Linda sits and reads, she is a still pool, just sitting and reading.

Monique, though, moves from shelf to shelf, from book to book, she examines pages and covers and the last page of everything. She is wearing thongs, not feeling the cold, she circles the table with the blue lights around the lantern and she gently touches this string of sapphire light. Then she puts the Redwall volumes back in order. Now she has The Clockwork Prince and she reads standing up. Linda reads on.

Other customers move quietly around them, the mother, a still pool, but busy, I don’t know what she is reading. The daughter darting again from treasure to treasure, examining the top shelves, the bottom stacks, the fallen books, the crooked books and ones that have ended up under the table. She reads the picture books, carefully and thoughtfully. Linda reads on, a still pool.

Monique reads standing on one foot, her head bent slightly to one side, a smaller pool, but already becoming a bigger one. Now she sits cross legged amongst science fiction and is she looking at Ursula Le Guin.

Linda reads on, a still pool.

Photography by Charlie Devoli

Barry and the Three Day Read.


Barry is tough and masterful and enthusiastic. And he loves books. He visited the shop with an urgent list.

He remembers reading Storm Boy in three days and he told me how he loved that fucking pelican so much that when he read that book to his own kids he cried for the second time. He said that he always read to his kids and now they read to their kids and so he feels he has not done so badly in the long run. But Christ, that pelican nearly killed him. He though that I could probably knock that book off in three days if I wanted to read it.

He has also read the Icefire books to his kids and also Terry Pratchett – he thought that the Tiffany Aching books were the best in the business.

He came in today for a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, he wanted one for his grandson because every damn kid should read that book. He used to have a copy but his partner gave it away when she was on drugs.

Sadly, I did not have a copy of that. But I did have a copy of Storm Boy.

Barry was delighted; he said he’d definitely take that then, even though the pelican really messed him up. He also needed something else because he was visiting family and needed something to drown out his brother’s arsehole of a voice. He paid for the books and as he did, the shop door closed with a sudden bang all by itself and he said that I had a poltergeist in the shop, another damn thing to put up with.

Then off he went, back to his family with a copy of Storm Boy, as he closed the door on me and the poltergeist he said: mate, that fucking pelican…

Photography by Dean Nham





The old lady who bought a book for her friend.


An old lady bought a book for her dear friend. She came into the shop just on closing and it was very cold. Her friend lives in Goolwa and can no longer get out and about.

She knew precisely what he would like to read though. She knew in great detail what he already had read and she described the size and shape of each pleasure that books gave her friend who could no longer get up and go out.

She told me of his inclination for novels, for malicious characters, for historical curiosities and for Chinese food. There is a detective writer called Robert van Gulik that he loves. He will sit down to Chinese takeaway and read the novels of Robert van Gulik one after another. He liked books in hardback, he liked the heaviness of them and he liked proper paper. He always examined the spines of books and is scathing of the glued bindings. He would only tolerate glued bindings in his Robert van Gulik books. He liked the sewn books best of all, with dignified boards and a stout shape that will not stoop.

She bought him a copy of Barchester Towers and Heart of Darkness – he has already read these but they are always worth another go. She looked at the books carefully; she hoped they would not stoop.

Then she went home, with her gifts and her stout heart and her friendship that does not stoop.

Photography by Rula Sibai

The Young Lovers


They came into the shop yesterday morning.

They looked through the classics, the science fiction and the reference books together, laughing, tender. She carried a copy of Pinocchio around, she kept tapping him on the shoulder with it. He was looking through the art books and every time she tapped him with the copy of Pinocchio, he laughed. They bought the Pinocchio and also a copy of Wind in the Willows  and then The Kite Runner.  They were best friends. He struggled to stand upright Little Dorrit and Great Expectations which had toppled from their places, he could not stand them upright at all and she bent forward, hilarious with the fallen paperbacks and his kind hands.

He said: excuse me, I think it was you that knocked them forward anyway… they are both glowing, pushing the wayward Wordsworth classics back into rank, staring at Hans Christian Anderson, examining bookmarks, waving Pinocchio, floating in the blue.

Photography by Zeny Rosalina

The Door


Visiting my bookshop means a complimentary struggle with the door. It is not old or new or beautiful. Everybody finds the door difficult except for Dick who is 94 and said that he’s gotten through worse doors in his life.

The door opens sulkily on a wheezing breath and then stops abruptly, its hinges allowing it no further; it will bruise a pram, thud a shoulder and remove confidence. Then it won’t shut at all. This door will creak and croak back to the last half inch gap and rest there for ten seconds and then abruptly shatter the peace of the shop with an impossible crash. People will jump in horror and stare at me and at the door, holding their books, their hearts and their lives in place with one hand over their chests. Each shopper thinks it is their fault. Sometimes the shock causes them to put chosen books back, and then I think that I should just remove the door and not have one.

My door can also stay half open, holding its breath and this bitchy balance for at least two hours and then crash land into the door frame like a truck hitting the building. One young man said he had a door like that at home, and that they do this because the closers are fucked. All the old heavy doors do it. Also the hinges could be fucked. He examined the hinges and said that they were not fucked.

My door will not let a pram out. Mothers, shopping, toddlers and prams are mixed together in a hot doorway jam, trying to exit. They always apologise as if it is their fault. It isn’t ever their fault. They will crush their prams to cardboard rather than be unkind about my door. The door stands there rectangular and exultant.

My door likes to lose its stupid doorknob in every tenth shopper’s horrified hand. The golden bulb throws out the screw quietly and slides off just as the door opens one inch. Then it will smash spectacularly back into the door frame and ruin a day. People always think they have broken my door and they apologise over and over again and the door expands ready to do it again.

But small children can reach the lower handle. They love the heavy, solid move of it. They love the cold glass and often lick the toffee, clear panels. They can open and shut the door over and over, bang and bang and bang without going in or out. If it crashes unexpectedly, they love it.

Parents, making important reading choices call out to their children: don’t make trouble.

I feel that, when assaulted by such enthusiasm, the door withdraws in consternation and then horror. I urge the children silently to keep going. Tap the glass, open the door, peer out and shout hellooooooo to an empty street. Push on the wood, but it won’t close. So lean in panting, chest to wood, kick it, push it until it gives way with a sullen and furious small click, defeated.

Just looking out of the window.


There is nobody here today, just me looking out of the shop window. I am side by side with Judi Dench, Clarissa Dickson Wright and The Boys of Everest, all looking out of the window at the rain and a crowd of people coming off the train, rugged up and treading through the water, angling for the bakery.

Outside two women are arguing over a small boy who looks up at both of them happily. They open my door, one wants to come in but the other argues the need for a toilet, they become exasperated, one heads crossly back across the road alone and the boy and the other woman look at each other steadily. They do not come in.

It is dark, the rain continues to fall, everybody outside is leaning forward as they walk. One man says that there is no law against the weather.

Many people run grimly through the rain and return to sit in their cars and eat lunch looking out of their windows. As they eat, they look happier.

Inside I have put on the coloured lights, the winter likes them. I need to sort Art and tidy up the Young Readers again. The steam train sounds good, the whistle causes passers-by to pause and believe the sound. They ask each other if they heard it.

The bakery is crowded and the windows are steaming up.

Inkspell, Pig Plantagenet and The Hitchhiker’s Guide are glowing under the lights, the three of them keeping the day upright.

There are two men peering through the glass, they are arguing over something. But in they come and tell me that things are slightly damp even though on the plane this morning they saw the actual sun. But never mind. They are both dressed completely in black but one is wearing the brightest red scarf I ever saw. He is immensely cheerful. As they leave, he says to me: very good!

Photography by Michael Podger



Louis came into the shop to find Modern European History. He said that last time he came here there was a book he wanted and as he reached for it, someone else got it first. I could not remember this happening; there are never crowds in front of my shelves. But Louis was dismayed, he said the book was so close…I asked him what the book was but he couldn’t remember.

He came back again and considered The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a paperback student’s edition with useful notes. He carried it around for a while. I found it later abandoned in the biographies. He walks hesitatingly,  carefully but carries no stick, he is cautious in front of the shelves. He won’t carry more than two books at one time; he has a lot of trouble with dialling incorrect numbers on his phone and finds it difficult to turn around. He loves to read. He is polite, enthusiastic and unfailingly kind. And this time he found The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, a shining, warm gem of a book and from this book has decided to read Marcel Proust, the entire lovely series. He also wants a biography of Paul Keating and is keen to try Barbara Kingsolver, perhaps The Poisonwood Bible. He said to me: tell me some more great things to read….he said that his home is one mad library…

Max falls asleep

2017-07-03 18.05.50.jpg

Max has been handed a bottle of warm milk. He plays: handles it upside down and sideways, puts milk everywhere and sometimes drinks a little. He is not hungry and so is easily distracted; his eyes record an orange ping pong ball rolling on the floor nearby and he is lured by its perfect journey across the hard floor. He allows a mouthful of milk a return passage back onto the teat. There is a red towel collapsed nearby, his eyes cannot get past it. But finally he can leave the red towel. His eyes journey from point to point, from colour to noise, then to some other outstanding sensation that must be examined. The warm milk flows tidily down his neck. His hands starfish up and down the flank of the bottle, he grasps and clutches  and sings a steady hum of satisfaction. Then suddenly, he is asleep.