They man who said, ‘Does anyone even read books anymore?’ as he passed my bookshop

He called this question to a companion as they walked past the shop. The speaker was walking in front, the companion behind, and he answered, ‘Apparently not,’ without looking up from his phone.

Then a man inside the shop moved into my vision. He was bending over a history of Stonehenge. He shouted loudly to me:

‘Stonehenge. You ever been there?’

I said I hadn’t, but I hoped too. He looked at me happily. ‘You ought to. It’s grand.’

Last week I’d showed this book to Irene, who loved British history, and she said she knew all about Stonehenge as she’d lived right next to it for so long. What she’d really wanted that day, though, was anything on King Charles I. Apparently, he was a devil.

Anyway, the man who thought Stonehenge was grand now joined his wife in the front room, and she (with two books clamped under her elbow) was saying to a child,

Katie the Kitchen Fairy. That sounds interesting.’ The child tacked the book under one arm and reached for another. Next to them was another family group. A teenager balancing a high stack with both arms was saying:

‘But you never know when I’m ninety.’

In front of me Robert has loomed up, still waiting for his latest order and talking about Oliver Lodge, who could communicate with the dead. Robert’s having trouble with his vision. But he said, it’s all right. It’s all about transfiguration. Transformation. What I need is a new body. And I’m going to get it.

I looked at him admiringly.

In the front room, the conversation flickered on.

‘I used to say that.’

‘I do read. I just don’t read very much.’


A Sprinkle of Sorcery. That sounds good. Somebody, a man’s voice is reading out loud. Murmuring and sinking and saying, ‘and then he took the golden glass and placed it where it received three pieces of moonlight…’

‘I like that.’

Two young people pass the counter, wearing tracksuits and carrying water bottles. They browse quietly, intensely. He has his hair back in a pony tail. They have stout summer sandals. They turn their heads from side to side, reading the spines.

A young man brings a stack of Kevin J Andersons to the counter. He says, ‘Been looking for these. Hell. For ages.’ He has too many to carry. His dad, peering through the door, rushes in to help.

They leave. Outside, they join a merry group. Someone shouts, ‘You didn’t let him into a bookstore, did you?’ Laughing. More shouting.

A child is bobbing and singing in front of me. She’s tapping a picture book on her knees as she steps seriously from side to side. She doesn’t notice me sitting there. Then she dances back into the front room and lays her head into the side of an older woman, who places one hand on the side of the child’s head and strokes her head. The child is still, but her feet continue the dance.

A man overpays me. He says, ‘No, keep it. Put it toward a drink for new year.’

I will.

A man left quietly. As he moved through the door, he looked back and said, ‘Well done, this is great. Couple of things I want. I’ll come back.’

In the back room, conversation:

‘Big job to pack up though.’

‘I don’t want to read that now.’

‘Ann Patchett. God, she’s good.’

‘What’s that thin book there? Hand it over Paul.’

Two teenagers pile books onto the counter with gleaming eyes. They have black nail polish. They tell me they collect books in series. They want Witcher, but I don’t have that. That’s cool. They’ll be back soon. They ask where the Persian teapot came from. I said, a gift from my sister. They nod approvingly. Cool as.

Still Life With Coffee Pot after the painting by Vincent Van Gogh

Over the china a plump spout peers
past grey-blue shadows reaching to the right;
the solid things, like all his jugs and jars,
stream left, the side of silence, madness, art.

A black pot arabesques with heavy grace,
squat cups stretch vermilion rims,
a chequered milk jug grown elastic as chess,
leans beyond the litany of names.

These are the humble moved by a vague unrest,
handled shapes of light, dumb to be told.
The fruit sits tight, easy of any quest,
bright worlds of tangerine and gold.’ 

Jan Owen

Back again: the streets outside are hot

When I opened up this morning, I had to lean against the hot air coming out of the shop. Yesterday had reached 40 degrees where I live.

All the books look limp but have survived it, nonetheless. They always do.

A young man came in immediately after I opened and bought a small stack of heavyweights: Walt Whitman, Johnathan Swift, John Steinbeck.

A lady bought the pop up carousel doll’s house, A Charles Dickens (American Notes), and an A. A. Milne volume of lesser known works.

Families, children, teenagers trailed in and carefully selected their next read, or another read. Everyone is pleased with the weather today; it’s cool and cloudy, a relief.

Rob visited with a list of furniture making books. I couldn’t get any of them.

I sold a copy of The Man in the Iron Mark (Dumas) and The Man who loved China (Winchester).

I ate two chocolate frogs.

I was asked for May Sinclair and Janet Frame.

Outside: tourists everywhere. Good to see them all back again.

If I were rich

“If I were rich I would have many books, and I would pamper myself with bindings bright to the eye and soft to the touch, paper generously opaque, and type such as men designed when printing was very young. I would dress my gods in leather and gold, and burn candles of worship before them at night, and string their names like beads on a string.”
Will Durant

In the days before Christmas, I got a zucchini

I got the zucchini from some super-customers: a old couple, who also gave me a plate of gingerbread men made and iced by themselves and covered in glad wrap and Christmas ribbons. They were spending Christmas alone this year.

We talked about vegetables because I was so pleased with the zucchini. I said, ‘these are expensive’, and they looked pleased because they didn’t know that. They still grow all their own vegetables.

I watched them look at each other. Sharing a brief flash of decades. Gardening. Loss. Dirt. Things eating their plants. Children gone now. Loss. Strength.

A lady asked for a book on horse massage.

Robert came in and left again abruptly. He came back with a box of tea: Red Clover. He said, ‘Make a tea of red clover flower. You’ll be well again. You’ll be free of it in a few minutes. It’s good on several fronts, and the doctors don’t want you drinking it because it’ll put them out of a job.’

Robert had been in the other day and recited very strongly his version of The Lord’s Prayer. His version begins: Our mother who art in heaven

He’s furious with the patriarchal version, which, he says, cages women out of reach of their own power and holds up men, foolish men, as if they ever knew the truth of anything.

We talked about Bill Gates and the price of vegetables at Woolworths. He said he was pleased with his recital of the mother’s prayer, which was fast but without error.

I agreed. I promised to try the tea. And get better. He agreed. He said it was a good day because the bank teller was friendly and helped him out. He left.

Sarah came in and told me how she got told off at the hospital for being ill. She described her Christmas day plans. She’s spending the day alone, but her plans are strong: a roast lamb, good vegetables including parsnip, gravy, the works. A nice bottle of white wine. A trifle, which she will make herself. She’s invited Wayne even though he’ll probably ruin everything.

I admired her strong and detailed plans. Her strength. I gave her my gift, which she said she’ll take home, and she said I was her best friend. I became well.

Marion came in looking for Robert Newcomb books. She said she’s spending Christmas day alone. Her family are interstate.

Lia came in wanting history, British, the Royals. She said she’s spending Christmas day alone. She bought an Antonia Frazer: King Charles the Second: His Life.

I played Silent Night. Glenda said, She wasn’t a virgin. I write it here because it’s always worth publishing the truth.

Glenda want home to celebrate Christmas on her own, unapologetic, because she lives life on her own terms.

Felicia came in for children’s books. She said she’s spending Christmas alone this year. She looked at me and I looked at her. I nodded. So did she. She bought Star Wars Lego readers.

Louise said later, when I repeated a previous conversation, ‘Of course she wasn’t a virgin. Why should she be?’

Barry is also spending Christmas day alone. He had a good plan. He bought two train books: gifts for himself. I nodded. He said that he might even wrap them. I said he should definitely wrap them. He nodded. He will. He already got the wrapping paper.

Alan came in and said the government have made him blind. He showed me his eye patch. He’s going to sue them. He want out again, happily.

I went home and drank a cup of red clover tea. Within half an hour I was better.

Happy Christmas to all.

We don’t need to have just one favourite

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.”
Lloyd Alexander
Illustration by Leonor Perez

The man whose sister had shingles (but he wasn’t told about it)

This man is a good customer: he becomes distracted by the books and stacks them up ready to take home. He’s an excellent reader. Today he was on the phone.

‘I’m in a second hand bookshop.’

‘Oh it’s chilly. We’ve had the fire on for 3 nights. In December! I know that’s normal for you.’

I watch him go through the ships and boating books as he talks. Then he looks through trains.

‘I think the weather is probably shithouse over there anyway. ‘Hang on a sec, I’ve found something.’

I like customers who find things. But I am always careful to check what they’ve found in case I want it for myself. Then I have to tell them it’s not for sale. But it’s ok. He can have that one. He’s still talking to someone. Where are they? From the conversation, I imagine an old estate in Belgium where it’s freezing, and they can’t get their Christmas groceries on time because the delivery drivers don’t care about anything.

‘12 degrees? When was that? That’s warm for you, isn’t it?’


‘Hang on again, I just have to pick something up off the shelf.’ He has an enormous books on the history of trains. Carries it awkwardly.

‘Does Barry still like trains? Oh. Fair enough.’

‘Who was that Chinese author you said? Oh good. Oh good.’

‘And I suppose he’ll do what he threatened to do, which is to keep the place.’

‘Yeah righto. Righto.’

‘Hang on. There’s something here. You’ll like this.’

It’s a copy of The Luggage of Life by F W Boreham. I wonder if he’ll buy it. He is. It’s on the stack.

‘I’ve got to go home. My sister’s got shingles I believe. Yes, but of course no one tells me anything.’

He stood still and listened for a long time to some kind of explanation.

‘Righto. Oh look here. I’m getting this. It’s his complete letter. Yes, that was in New York. I remember that’.

‘Ok.’ Then he hung up and told me that when he was a kid, he’d always wanted to go to sea, and he had all the Harold Underhill books.

Then he left. It was quiet after that, so I rang My Aged Care Providers to continue a conversation about my dad’s aged care package: level 4. I was disappointed. It didn’t go well.

Then Alan, who’d come in while I was on the phone, said I shouldn’t worry because those government departments don’t know shit from vegemite.

Nothing much is happening yet

The Christmas shoppers aren’t here (yet). But there’s still time. I’ve prepared the treasure and let it all lean and lie enticingly around the shelves. The lights are up and on.

The postman has dropped off a Merry Christmas card calendar. I can tear off the calendar and stick it to the fridge. Inside it says,

‘In 2022, we have emerged from the Covid 19 pandemic with optimism for the future.’

Outside, there are trucks parked up and down the road, the drivers getting lunch. Passers by are rushing today, and nobody is coming in. A young couple sprint across the road; he is wearing one shoe and carrying the other. Three ambulance officers pass my window without looking in. They are hurrying and carrying paper bags of food.

A lady comes in and buys a gardening book: she’s going to make a no plant garden like the one in the book. She shows me and it’s beautiful, all stone and fountains.

Total sales, 1 (but a good one).