20 minutes in the life of a bookshop owner

I should be writing about a greater length of time. But 20 minutes is ample today.

A young reader bought A Little Life by Hawaiian writer Hanya Yanagihara and paid with gold coins and carried it away. When she left, I saw over her shoulder someone trying to reverse a bright blue trailer into the space next to the footpath. The trailer jumped the kerb, and someone stopped to assist. They said, ‘Yep. Yep. Yep. Woah. You’re good.’

A lady came in hoping to buy my Winnie the Pooh stained glass hanging, but I declined. Not for sale. She hung in the door way disappointed, and her husband behind her said, ‘Come on, it’s not for sale’.

Sarah loomed up behind them and came in to tell me about her planned trip to Sydney: she needs a break and Wayne is being annoying again. She said the banks in Sydney are a disgrace, but then conceded that the banks everywhere are a disgrace. She left to go get her shopping.

The blue trailer is gone; a ute with all the windows down has taken its place. A dog with a red collar looks through the window at me. I sell a cook book over the phone. An old gardening book on the shelf next to me falls to the floor for no reason at all. I sell four Anne McCaffrey books.

I take a booking for the guitar recital. A lady in the front sways from side to side as she reads. Outside, a group of friends looking in, and one says, ‘Oh Gawd, don’t go in there. You know what I’m like in a bookshop.’ They leave.

It’s hot outside, and the traffic has banked up. There’s a train going through. A couple walk past slowly with bent shoulders and bags of groceries, and he says, ‘What’s happening here?’ She says, ‘Blessed if I know.’

Twenty minutes is up.

The Light Gatherer

The Light Gatherer by Carol Ann Duffy

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candleworth under the skin, enough light to begin,

and as you grew,
light gathered in you, two clear raindrops
in your eyes,

warm pearls, shy,
in the lobes of your ears, even always
the light of a smile after your tears.

Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
or I’d enter a room to see the corner you played in
lit like a stage set,

the crown of your bowed head spotlit.
When language came, it glittered like a river,
silver, clever with fish,

and you slept
with the whole moon held in your arms for a night light
where I knelt watching.

Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,

and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,

like a jewelled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening out
at the end of a tunnel of years.

by Carol Ann Duffy
Painting by Mark Boyle

Notes on the notes I made about second hand bookshops

I thought I’d better update the original version in case, like technology, it had become defunct through not keeping up. So, here it is:

1. Bookshops change every fifteen minutes. Still true.

2. Every second-hand book is hand chosen; a second hand book shop is a carefully curated collection. Still true.

3. There is only ONE of each book. Correct. But once I had two copies of Ken Follet’s The Evening and the Morning, and I took one home.

4. Each volume is only there for a short time; sometimes just a few minutes. Still true, but some of the autobiographies of male Australian politicians have been there for ten years now. Just saying.

5. Thus, you need to capture a book quickly. Still relevant.

6. Second hand bookshops attract readers. Still do.

7. They attract writers. Yes.

8. They attract collectors. True, but more readers than collectors at my shop.

9. They attract really nice people. Without exception.

10. They attract other books. Always.

11. Books get together at night and have families. This is becoming a problem.

12. They appeal to reading addictions. Obviously.

13. A reading addiction is good. Obviously.

14. Book shops nourish curiosity. This cures boredom.

15. But, as Dorothy Parker apparently noted, there is no cure for curiosity. LOL.

16. If you own a second hand bookshop, you will still invade every other second hand bookshop and carry all your new books home with joy. Fortunately, this hasn’t changed.

17. People who have a second hand bookshop love selling books, but then they wish the books were still there, not sold. I am working on this.

18. People who have second hand bookshops often hide the books to take home for themselves. I am working on this but not very hard.

19. Make your way to a second hand bookshop and see what happens. Please.

20. Do it soon. In fifteen minutes, the shop will change again. And again.

21. I have noticed a new interest in slow reading as opposed to speed reading. This can only be good.

22. I now sell more books on mental health than ever before

23. I also sell more classic literature than ever before.

24. Visitors are more vocal, more grateful, and more expressive about how important bookshops are than ever before.

25. The yearning for less to do, less to see, less to think about, and less to achieve is currently very intense.

26. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to keep second-hand bookshops going. This is because running costs keep going up, but we are all trying to keep our books the same price.

27. Every single book you buy is a blessing to us and a reason to keep going.

28. The old list was not defunct.

Image by Karbo

The best things people have said to me in my bookshop

  1. My god that door is solid. Suits the shop.
  2. Thank you for letting us look at your gallery
  3. I never lend books to anyone
  4. I feel that Harry Potter is here somewhere in the walls
  5. I’m not busy. I have plenty of time to read. And go to the pub. Are there any pubs here?
  6. I’m so glad you haven’t closed down.
  7. I’ve decided to read the whole series
  8. Is this a library?
  9. Is there a secret door to the bakery?
  10. I’ve chucked my reading plan. From now on the books tell me where to go.

Obligatory reading

“I believe that the phrase ‘obligatory reading’ is a contradiction in terms; reading should not be obligatory. Should we ever speak of ‘obligatory pleasure’? Pleasure is not obligatory, pleasure is something we seek. ‘Obligatory happiness’! […] If a book bores you, leave it; don’t read it because it is famous, don’t read it because it is modern, don’t read a book because it is old. If a book is tedious to you, leave it, even if that book is ‘Paradise Lost’ — which is not tedious to me — or ‘Don Quixote’ — which also is not tedious to me. But if a book is tedious to you, don’t read it; that book was not written for you. Reading should be a form of happiness, so I would advise all possible readers of my last will and testament—which I do not plan to write— I would advise them to read a lot, and not to get intimidated by writers’ reputations, to continue to look for personal happiness, personal enjoyment. It is the only way to read.”

Jorge Luis Borges, Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature
Illustration by Lucy Almey-Bird

Three friends: a portrait

Three friends browsed in my shop. They knew each other well; they talked without looking, finished each other’s sentences or didn’t need to finish sentences at all. They argued a lot.

‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard in my life.’

‘Hey, I’m a professional. What do you mean?’

And they disagreed about books.

‘I read that. Didn’t do much for me.’

‘You always say that.’

And they agreed about family.

‘I heard about that.’

‘Yeah, the little turd.’

Painting by David Hettinger

Trying to cross the road with children who go faster than you do

Red hair. They all had read hair, so I knew it was a family. It might have been dad there, but I think it was Grandpa: the authority was different. Not so intense but equal in concern.  Bright with pride rather than ire. Grandpa needed to cross the road: he had all the bakery food.

It’s a grey day. Rain in the distance, and customers telling me as they come in, ‘there’s rain coming’, or ‘good reading weather’. Which it is. I, myself, have just started the mighty Quincunx by Charles Palliser, and it’s difficult to concentrate on the normal day.

Against the grey air, the read haired family are flames on the road. One child leapt off the footpath and then abruptly returned to Grandpa, who has the food and who isn’t so fast. He calls –

‘Watch the road.’

‘But he said to go.’

‘He’ is a brother, and he’s carrying a can of coke and looks at his brother without saying anything. Then he walks across the road.

Grandpa follows, but younger brother remains on my side of the road. Grandpa comes back and they hold a brief talk. Over the road, older brother is now leaning against the car and drinking his coke. Then mum appears, approaching silently from the council toilets, and older brother seems to be galvanized into some kind of explanation. Then another man appears and listens in.

I watch them standing together and staring across the road at the missing ones, who are still talking, the man with his arm around the boy’s shoulders. They are both looking at a phone.

Up the road, the police have set up a Breathalyzer station. The cars move slowly in and out. I can see Sarah over there, talking at an officer who is listening and nodding at the ground.

In front of me, a young man is buying Gabriel Garcia Marquez and George Orwell.

Outside, it’s quiet now. The traffic has vanished. Grandpa and grandson are walking across the road together. The rest of the family are sitting in the car. It’s still grey out there, but it isn’t.