…all that light…


I visited the Flinders University Library last Wednesday instead of opening the shop. I went there not as a student but as a visitor but I can borrow the books through my daughter who is a student there. So I do not have to borrow as a student, but as a borrower and reading where I please.

And so I am not really there at all, although I am somewhere. The agony of choice available to me in a university library when I am not a student is so indulgent that it became impossible to remember the day or the place.

It is being away in some place that contains immense possibility and invitation which it does because it is a library and a really good one. And there is also endless provocation and endless comfort, like friendship, no matter where or how the friends are placed.

I can choose as I wish and never come to the end of it. It is a pity that I am not earning a qualification or gathering a thesis with my reading but I am not. This seems gloriously wrong and terribly wasteful.

It is a diabolical experience to meet a thousand books at once and only be able to choose a few.

I chose fourteen senseless volumes for absurd and important reasons and these are those:

Chapters From Some Memoirs by Anne Thackeray Ritchie: she is the daughter of the Thackeray who wrote Vanity Fair. It contains a memory of the day she met Chopin as a child, she writes absurd lovely romances. This book is small, bound with red tape, the boards and pages cut precisely, it had no barcode; had not been borrowed since the application of any barcode,  it had to be carried gently out the back to receive a fresh tattoo.

A Lame Dog’s Diary by S. Macnaughtan, another palm sized very old volume, bright red and no barcode. Why is it there? Who has read it?

From the Porch by Lady Ritchie – this is Lady Thackeray again; in green and gold, rough cut pages, dusty, humble.

The Honey Flow by Kylie Tennant because the first line is this: Chapter one: Every time my memory opens its mouth it dribbles roads.

Dawn Powell Novels 1930 – 1942, dressed in green and black, The Library of America, heavy, fine paper like white silk, dense and divine, a thousand pages sumptuous. And the first novel (Dance Night) begins like this:

What Morrie heard above the Lamptown night noises was a woman’s high voice rocking on mandolin notes far, far away. This was like no other music Morry had ever known, it was a song someone else remembered, perhaps his mother, when he was only a sensation in her blood….

A Long Time Dying by Olga Masters – because of the way she describes Australia outside of the front door.

My Butterfly and Other Tales of New Japan by Hal Porter – I have been advised not to miss out on Hal Porter.

The Stolen Soprano by Compton Mackenzie- this is because in The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett,  the Queen was reading Compton Mackenzie and I always wanted to, too.

The Story of a Non- Marrying Man and Other Stories by Doris Lessing – this book is brown and gold and it was on the wrong shelf, it did not care if it was chosen or not. So I chose it.

Southerly – Volume 68, Number 2, 2008 Little Disturbances, because it has short fiction and poetry by Australian writers unknown to me, and it has Indigo in Absentia by Kirstyn McDermott which I  do know and need to read again and again etc.

Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon – because it is blue and silver and massive and is the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

The Power of Delight: a Lifetime in Literature by John Bayley, which may be dull but maybe not. Dark blue, and huge, it looked so new and wistful, anxious to be read.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller because I have never heard of it or her.

The Journal to Stella by Jonathon Swift although I am not so fond of him. But I want to know what he wrote in his letters to Stella.

And then I went home to read.


Photography by Joshua Hibbert






The House of Brie


It is September and it is warming up. Passers-by are not so huddled, and they do not walk by so fast. They stand in the sun and look through the shop window.

A couple came into the shop and bought Alice in Wonderland for their daughter and a Star Wars novel for their son.

They said, ‘Well, this is great, this book being blue, also with summer coming and everything.’

Outside there are young people leaning against the wall, the warm wall.

Robert visited and said he wouldn’t look around because he knows what will happen to him: he will be ambushed by some book on the Ancients, and at the moment, he just needs to pay his AGL bill even though they don’t deserve to be paid. He also said that the Thames and Hudson Art and Imagination Series is the best thing he’s ever seen.

I am asked for dozens of obscure titles; the sun is warming up everybody’s reading lists.

A little boy sent his grandmother to the shop  with a pirate book reading list. There were hand drawn illustrations on the list to make sure she got the right books. She said he always makes these lists for her.

I take longer going down the street because I want to stay in the sun, and so does everybody else.

An older couple spend ages looking at a copy of Pinocchio.

I am asked if I think Harry Potter is a suitable series for a young person.

A man buys three very worn cartoon books and tells me they are brilliant, but his wife says they are stupid.

Down the street I see Alan buying wine and beer. Alan is Swiss and has a fabulous accent. He is gloomy because he grows his own vegetables, but his wife said they are all shit and just bought a lettuce from Woolies. He looked at the brie I had bought and said I must leave it out of the fridge for at least ten days before eating it, as is proper for brie.

I said, ‘Maybe.’

He said: then you pack it into a good house of  bread, cuddle it up with roasted garlic, a square of butter over the top and bake it. It is the proper way.

I said I was going home to make it.


The New Things


There have been some new developments.

Noah has experienced a tennis ball rolling over his chest and onto the ground.

This caused him untold mirth. There was movement and shape and sensation and hilarity and all at once. So why does a baby laugh at this or that? It is a true mystery and now there is a new glowing segment of Noah that is a mixture of dad and laughing and mum and that day on the lawn with the tennis ball.  And it caused him to not be able to NOT laugh. The expanding Noah…

Max has discovered two things. The first was the magnificent sound a zipper can make when tapped on a wooden floor. The zipper is attached to his pyjamas, under the left foot. He can hold onto a chair and tap the left foot, standing straight and superb, tapping and tapping.

The second was the fabulous noise a chair leg can make when moved back and forth across a wooden floor. This new information caused Max to clench his mind in delight, to repeat and repeat the new experiment, to scan the watching faces for recognition of his miracle.



The Cat


A young mum and her two children came into the shop one afternoon.  She  asked for The Magic Rocking Chair but her son wanted Lord of the Rings. She gave a small scream because she found instead The Magic Faraway Tree and then gave another scream as she remembered that the other book was actually The Magic Wishing Chair and that both of these books were by Enid Blyton. Her two small children gazed upon her, he with Lord of the Rings in his small hands and his smaller sister with a Thea Stilton. The children then went whispering under the table to begin their reading. Other customers stepped around their protruding feet.

The mother called down to her son that maybe Lord of the Rings might be too big for now. He said patiently that he was just pretending. Then he came out and over to the window, he wrestled a volume of Hans Christian Anderson from the sill, and as he did, he toppled the wooden cat that sits there. He was appalled. His sister came up behind his devastated back and said: oh a cat!

They looked backwards toward their mother but she was unavailable, she was kneeling down and gently turning the pages of a volume of Pippi Longstocking…she was reading out loud to herself.

Suddenly the boy reached out with both arms and pushed the cat back upright, where it sat perfectly again. Brother and sister looked at each other, smiling, relieved, delighted.


Reading at night…


Once a young person came to the shop and bought a copy of The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and also Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson, even though she had already read both of them before.  And she said that she does all her reading in bed at night and then comes home in the morning.

Such was the intensity of her reading.

The Little Girl Who Chose Babar


I like listening to young people talk about what they read. I like the way they stand and gesture and run out of words. This is soooo good. Oh my God, this is so good. This is soooo good.

They rarely analyse, criticise or predict. The book is relevant or not, there is not much in between. The book becomes a fragment of them or it doesn’t.

One girl said that when she reads, everything becomes real. She looked at me intensely, anxiously, daring me to disagree. I did not disagree. She said: Oh my God, I loved Twilight. Her friend who is tall and gracious and grave, said: I have read Twilight, too, and I think that – but her  friend interrupted, I believe that when I read it, it is all true. She described her two shelves at home, packed with books, spines, titles, only the best ones. She has read them all.

Younger readers have to describe even more intense and glittering experiences with even less words. Geronimo Stilton is soooo crazy, Across the Nightingale Floor is like… mad. The Eregons are – but this boy had no words.  He then offered, politely, a suitable description for me: it was quite good, very good.

But his own words of his own experience, he did not share with me.

One girl, nine years old, described a book, a reader in her classroom that she wanted so much she might die. It was a mystery that you solve as you read it, it is soooo good.  it is soooo fun,  it is even on the internet!

A small child, about four years old chose Babar. Her father thought it not the right one. She turned away, clutching the book, frowning, furious, she wore pink gumboots and a red dress, she had scarf that trailed on the floor, she was organised for the cold.  And she would not let her father take the book, though he worked hard to retrieve it, to choose a better one. But there was no better one; there was only Babar and there were no words to explain.

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale


Screenshot_2017-09-01-20-57-15.pngI have finished reading it.

I read it whenever I could find a minute, not stopping even once. I read it at the shop and was asked what I am reading. Visitors said: oh yes, that book. Or they said: what’s it about? Or they have heard of it, know of it, mean to read it, want to get a copy, know someone who has read it, have seen the television series, don’t want to read it, they do not like books about oppressive and brutal regimes etc, etc.

And it is a brutal regime, a totalitarian society called Gilead, set a part of the old United States and one that treats women as property. No nice things happen. I was advised by one customer that everyone should read this. It was first published in 1985 and I read that Margaret Atwood is as deeply concerned with oppressive regimes as she is with the widely held attitude that they won’t happen here. And though it was written a while ago and is about a time far into the future, it is about each one of us, about the small and normal things we scratch around doing to live our lives and would keep on doing if we were to enter a new life that we could not survive.   I was asked if it had a happy ending but I think that Margaret Atwood is too sublime a writer to need the happy endings. Life is rarely about these. It does seem so very important to read these books.

I have no copies of this book in my shop and I cannot part with mine.

Max reads


Max has found the shelves of limitless possibilities. Available blocks for pulling and pushing and stacking and holding and tasting, there is no end to the heavy and papery movement of sliding books. Max’s baby hands flicker and clutch, trying to open the books, trying to close the books, breathing, forgetting to breathe. His big toes are pointed in concentration. And the books, the pages, the authors look on unafraid, such passionate exploration is what they were made for.


…and the blue lights shine with a heavenly grace…


Dale came into the shop one morning to find a copy of The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton. I have never met him before. He said that he doesn’t read books at all but had decided to start – with this book: The Consolations of Philosophy because his friend said it was good. It was going to be his first book. He hoped it was a good book to start with.

He said that his friend is always reading, is always talking about this book and that book. He said that in one of his favourite films, there is a song that says: …and the blue lights shine with a heavenly grace… and his friend, she is like that. He is always learning something from her.

Photography by Martin Sattler