There are books

“There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”
Stephen King

Walking past the window and clear as crystal

It was two tradesmen striding past my window, young and rugged up in t-shirts and shorts against the cold and talking to each other.

‘She said, ‘What do you want then?’, and I said, ‘a Moderna or two will do’. But she didn’t ring me back.’

The other tradesmen said, ‘Yeah.’

Then they passed the window and were gone.

A lady bent to read a title in the window out loud to her friend. The friend said, ‘Looks expensive. I’m not getting it.’

And then two motorcyclists, parked just outside the door, returned to their bikes. They were in no hurry. Holding helmets and thinking it over and pleased with the bakery they’d just been to.

‘Where do you want to go?’

‘No, no, you pick.’

‘Oh dear. Well. I think we’ll give Macclesfield a go. What do you think?’

‘Well. Right oh then. After you.’

It took a while to get set, get steady, get the gloves on and then go. But they did; two friends riding off slowly in the cold wind together.

A lady bought two books for a granddaughter, and then she too, rode away on a motorbike. She’d been dressed in all red leather with magnificent boots and a copy of Where The Crawdads Sing just purchased.

Across the road and on the bus

Every morning there’s a small waiting crowd over there, the people still and thoughtful. I see them when I’m putting my signs out. Eventually the bus pulls up, everyone hearing it first and making small movements of preparation before it arrives.

The passengers inside the bus look out at the cold queue, look at them without really seeing them, passengers thinking through all the things in their lives, thoughts that are now blended with the inside of the bus and the angled light and the feel of the engine through their feet.

There’s only a small queue this morning, but two people are farewelling a third man and shouting directions to him as they move toward the bus.

‘Go straight down.’

The listener was also walking backwards, his arm raised and thumb up, the thumb jerking up every time he shouted back.


‘Turn at the roundabout.’


‘Keep going down, you’ll see it.’



‘Yeah mate. See you’, and turned to jog toward a motorbike.

The bus driver, masked, was turning to each passenger then back to the front, then to the next, nodding his head, nodding his head. There was a bottle of hand sanitizer next to him and a jacket folded over the back of the seat.

The queue shuffled forward. A young man was trying to fold a pram on the footpath. A young woman at the front of the bus kept looking back at him. She had a toddler on her hip; the bus driver was looking at the young man through the windscreen. The motorbike exited the carpark entrance without looking to give way.

The young man must have got the pram onto the bus because the door was hissing shut, and the bus was pulling away and everyone’s heads relaxed and jerking back a little with the movement of the bus in exactly the same way.


If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
and falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.

If we could find our happiness entirely
In somebody else’s arms
We should not fear the spears of the spring nor the city’s
Yammering fire alarms
But, as it is, the spears each year go through
Our flesh and almost hourly
Bell or siren banishes the blue
Eyes of Love entirely.

And if the world were black or white entirely
And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely.

Louis MacNeice
Painting by Aron Wiesenfeld 

At the excellent public library in Murray Bridge where they have Lego Club

I took my grandson, who’s five, to the Murray Bridge library. He said he already knew about libraries because Mrs. Smyth takes them. At the Murray Bridge library, they have Lego Club for parents and kids. The models are displayed in a glass cabinet outside the library. I wanted to go inside and get at the books, but Max pressed his nose to the glass. He named the models: Minion Lego, the Bowling Alley Lego, Scientific Friends Lego, Spider Lego, Spaceship Club, Small House Pets, the set of UFO.

I thought we should go inside next and get at the books. At the door, a young man in uniform and a clipboard, ‘Are you here for the event?
I said no, and Max said yes. But we weren’t. Max looked at all the families entering the Room With Interesting Things Going On. But we hadn’t booked in.

Max tried 3 different seats in the book train. He found a book called Predators Bite and sat on the floor with it. Then he put it in the bag and asked me about rattlesnakes. Then went over to look through the window of The Interesting Room. The event was over. The dazed librarian was packing up.

Max climbed into the book train and read Predators Bite again, and then The Waterhole. He asked me about rattlesnakes again. More families came in. One family ate lunch at one of the tables. A lady with a clipboard was talking to two teenage girls who wore rucksacks and hiking boots. A librarian stuck a machine out of order sign across one of the borrower terminals. Toddlers running everywhere. The kind man with the clipboard stood quietly. Max’s bag was heavy and had to be dragged. He came to help me because I was so slow.
It was Danielle Steele. I said, Ok. He was pleased and packed it carefully.
‘I got you this because it’s fat.’ It was Anna Karenina. I said, Ok.
‘Do you want this maybe?’
‘Read it already.’
‘Read it.’
‘Look at THIS.’
‘Ok. Yes.’ It was Jasper Jones. Choice.

‘This has fireworks on it.’
‘Ok. I’ll give it a go. (It was The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall. Never heard of it.)
‘What’s a go?’
‘You know, give it a read.’
‘Get this Nanny. It’s got green on it. ’It was Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett. ‘Yes, put it in.’
There was a crowd of teenagers rotating through Young Readers and then falling into beanbags, consulting phones, chewing gum, eyes urgent. Max watched, standing with one hand on the shelf and one small foot stacked on the other foot.

He came back.
‘Get this, because you’ll like this because it’s got a railway train track on it.’ It was Enemies within these Shores by Debbie Terranova, the train track barely visible at the bottom of the front cover.
‘Good work.’
Get this because it’s got a monster see there.’ It was The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. Strong pick.
Nanny get this maybe. It was Savage Lane by Jason Starr, who is apparently an internationally bestselling author.
Max spoke in an urgent voice. ‘Look at THIS.’ It was V2 by Robert Harris. ‘It’s about rockets. And moons.’ He looked at the cover. There’s a map. I’m getting this.’ He packed it in.

‘This has got a bit of red or something on the back.’ It was Willa Cather, an old hardback with gold faded covers and a weighty nonchalant page block needing to prove nothing. Unusual for a public library where most books are now achingly new, average, and safe.
Willa Cather: O Pioneers!
Max watched my face, knowing he’d stuck gold, and pleased.
‘Is it good?’
‘Very good indeed. How’d you know?’
‘I do. I’m a big guy.’
Willa Cather.
Time to Check Out. We had to drag the bags. Max sat under the terminal and packed the bags. The machine got stuck at book number 14, and a librarian dashed to help.
A man tried to use one of the other terminals, not seeing the out of order sign and banging his books around and sighing. He only had two books. We were taking too long. Max was reading Predators Bite under the terminal with books scattered around him in an untidy grid of escaping tiles. And I was reading O Pioneers, with the printed docket for all the books we’d borrowed curling around my ankles. Oh Willa Cather.

Voices from the back room

Readers in the shop, caught on currents of enthusiasm and memory, call out to each other. If the readers are in pairs or groups, they converse in low calls.

‘Oh my god.’

‘I bet you.’

‘Oh not that.’

I can hear them from the counter and I can see it: the pulsing electric current of shared read texts.

‘Yeah. Yeah.’

‘This didn’t start well.’

‘I know about that series.’

Then other customers come in out of the cold and overthrow the current. Robert came in to show me a mistake in his copy of The Complete I Ching. The book had been bound with a whole page missing. We poured over the mistake, delighted. I emailed the publisher, Robert dictating. We examined the rest of the book, hoping for more.

From the back room: ‘Is that series three?’

‘I actually think it should have ended there.’

‘I know.’

Robert left, having ordered a list of new volumes. I went back to shelving Young Readers. Someone rang for a copy of Little Women: not an abridged version, thanks. More talk from the back room:

‘That book stole his soul.’

‘That’s intense.’

‘Yeah. I know. But it wasn’t his fault. Do you want this?’

The conversation continues.

Outside, it’s raining.

Illustration by Francois Schuiten

There is no shortage of good days

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Photography by Rosana Zanetti Fait

The urgent child reader

She’s a little reader, but an enormous one. I can tell. They stand there and don’t need to tell me anything. Then I think, ok.

They look through everything kindly. They know what they need.

‘I need Artemis Fowl’.

I say, ‘Ok.’ And we go to look for it.

Young readers are always kind.

‘I need number 5.’


‘I also need Tolkien.’

‘Do you mean The Hobbit.’

‘No, I’ve read that.’

I say doubtfully, ‘Lord of the Rings?’


‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s ok.’ Said to me warmly.


‘I also need the Flood books.’


‘I’m up to number 11.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘It’s ok.’ Said to me warmly.

‘I also need.

‘I also need.

The list goes on, but I don’t have it. ‘It’s ok.’ Said to me warmly. And the child reader leaves, still happy.

Then suddenly she bursts through the door again.

‘Just went to get some money from mum.’

And she gets a book. And dances back out with it held against her neck and her head going from side to side because she’s singing the title out loud and heading for the car across the road, and there’s her mum watching from the driver’s seat and ready to start the engine and get home to start dinner because it’s late now and it’s cold.

Illustration by Katarzyna Oronska