A History of Reading

“At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.”

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

The Ideal Reader


A fisherman from Kingston came in looking for Terry Pratchett and told me that once he bought a Terry Pratchett in Mt Gambier. He said the beach along the Kingston coast is a mess but that is the fault of developers and the council. He said that Terry Pratchett would have said a thing or two about that! Hahaha! I agreed with this and he went out very pleased.

I remember one morning this week, a man was waiting for his small daughter. But she had found The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth and this book is book five of The Chain of Charms series. She was about seven years old, kneeling on the floor to read the book and her father was moving impatiently. His work boot nudged and toppled Animalia and she rebuked him silently with a lifted finger. He stared through the window, rattling keys, obedient. Suddenly she stood and showed him the cover; she was radiant and suddenly, so was he.

A man said that his hallway was lined with bookshelves and it was the length of a cricket pitch. His wife said she did not think it was this long.

I have finished with the Edith Wharton and I read the best stories in this book twice over so as not to miss anything. I am not reading anything else, not yet, because the story Mrs Manstey’s View will not let anything else in.

I was asked for Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons and Secret Servant: The Life of Sir Stewart Menzies by Anthony Cave Brown. This reader told me that Nagal’s Journal, which he found here last time, is the best thing he has ever read. He said that the diaries on the ships, as kept by the captains are the best reading there is. He squared his shoulders and stood back to see if I might disagree.

Three teenage girls were talking and talking. One asked for Sherlock Holmes. She hopped up and down when she told me how much she loved Sherlock Holmes. But sadly, I had none. She said: imagine this, imagine Sherlock Holmes in hardback. I really want to find this…Oh my God.

Her friend said: look at this, I am so into this. Oh my gosh guys. What will I do? Oh my God, I am going to have this.

What is it?

It’s Harry Potter. They all bent over the volume, close together and suddenly speechless. They whisper: it’s a hardback, it’s in another language. Oh my God. They place the volume on the counter and look at me dazed. She says: I collect them. Then they left, leaning on each other, hilarious, rapt.

A tall man in front of me examines the Wordsworth classics and is intense and frowning. His wife is amongst the Art. He leans back; as usual there is nothing for him! He returns to Art but his wife is not finished. She says: I’m not nearly done. She is frowning now too; he moves away and she stops frowning.

One man was intent upon the histories. Then he came away abruptly from the shelf and regarded his son who was texting angrily outside the front door. He said he might come back another time. He closed the door politely but also angrily.

I was told that Dick Francis wrote better books than his son. A lady told me that her fifteen year old grandson loved to read fantasy series but she was going to buy him a biography of a yachtsman instead.

A very tall and smiling man bought Martin Chuzzlewit and said that Charles Dickens had the most extraordinary way with words. He said he was reading them all, he did not like Bleak House but the rest, just marvellous indeed.

I have only read two books by Charles Dickens and they are not easily forgotten. I told him that when Daniel Quilp drowns in The Old Curiosity Shop I was glad! He said: yes indeed!

Two men together were talking about their teenage sons. One man said that his son would not show him how to use the remote for the television because he learns too slowly. His friend said: hahaha.

They asked me for a copy of Watership Down.

I was asked for books on card tricks and a young girl showed me a plaster dragon she had just bought from the goodwill shop. I was asked for the Wind in the Willows.

A man said he had a lot of time for Willa Cather. He asked me had I read her. I said that I planned to but right now I am with Edith Wharton and he said …AHHH…and he looked very happy. He told me that when I get to Willa Cather to read Death Comes for the Archbishop first.

I am floundering and falling amongst all of the titles, all of the must reads and the best reads and the don’t miss reads. It is a good way to be.


“The ideal reader is the translator, able to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down to the marrow, follow each artery and each vein, and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.”

Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader by Alberto Manguel







No day is ever the same.


Two boys sat outside on the wet pavement and removed their football boots before coming into the shop. They walk about in football socks, whispering hilariously.

Margaret rushed in needing some reading glasses; she said she couldn’t go up the street to get any as the committee had only given her one minute. She told me that someone has left football boots outside the door.

Dion rang. He is still very ill, too ill to read. He said sadly that his eyes hurt too much. He said he keeps his chin up otherwise he would go around the bend. He took his mother with him to the specialist, and if she hadn’t been there he would have had a certain few things to say to that doctor,  but he could not speak that way in front of his mum.

A young boy told me that he only likes short stories. He likes short stories because with them, you never know what you are getting, like Paul Jennings. And also, you get more.

Another young boy asked me for anything on cars please, not trains or bikes, ‘as I hate them. I just want cars.’

Toward the afternoon I complain about the cold, but a visitor, a stonemason, says that where he lived in England they had to light a fire on the building site to thaw out the builder’s sand. He said: this here is summer!

I am reading English Fairy Tales and Legends.

I am reading The Arabian Nights

I am reading Gould’s Book of Fish which is gruesome.

I am advised to read Go Set a Watchman.

I am told I am lucky.

I am asked why I read so much.

I don’t know why I read so much.

Daryl waves his arms hilariously to demonstrate the charm of George Borrow travelling through Spain and conversing with the gypsies, and as he gestures he knocks over a Wodehouse biography. He said that he never thought much of Wodehouse anyway, but the Spanish, well, they were a different thing altogether. He has chosen Into the Looking Glass Wood by Alberto Manguel.

The thing I know about Alberto Manguel is that he loved reading, and I tell Daryl about The Library at Night, one of Manguel’s other books. Daryl asks why I tell him about books that I don’t have here, and I am apologetic. I consider lending him my own copy but decide selfishly not to.

No day is ever the same.

A girl comes in asking for the 72 Tree House Stories but I tell her these are only newly published. She says that’s ok. She made her dad stop the car anyway.

Sandy asks for the Boy Versus Beast books and Dawn cannot find her copy of Heidi. She says she know exactly who took it.

Before I close up for the day, John tells me a long story about electricity.