The structure of the day



I wrote this just before Christmas in 2015. The shop had started to become something, and I was beginning to fit it. Again, I realise (now) that it was the regulars that made it happen, and that a small town is the best place to be.

“The structure of each day in the bookshop has become quite nice.

Each day forms, bulges out toward the afternoon, trims itself, and tries to return to normal by closing time.

Each day the flow of information is generous.

Each morning seems to be about Henry James.

At closing time, I am anxious to get home and keep going with Henry James. I am slow. Leon told me that I am slow with books, it is true. But I am justified – The Spoils of Poynton is a thicket. I have to go slowly.

Young families wash in on a tide of enthusiasm and spare time because the school holidays have begun, and it is summer. And there is a new Star Wars film. When they leave, the door is covered in fingerprints, and there will be an empty juice bottle amongst the Geronimo Stiltons.

‘Where’s that book The Cross Sections of the Man of War? Is it still here? Last week it was.’

‘Nanna is getting us books and we can pick our own. This one is about the war, but it’s book two, so do you have books one and three? I’m getting it anyway.’

‘Do you have William Gaddis? I’ve been looking for The Recognitions all my life. It’s up there with Gravity’s Rainbow and books like that.’

In my spare minute I have another go at Henry James. Not many people have ever asked for his books.

Karl came in with his book list and told me that his eyes gave way earlier in the year, which was disappointing as he has always been one for the written word. But now he is fine and ready to roll.

John complained that every time he went to the bakery his doctor would go pass the window and see what he was eating and then give him a rocket because of his health – his cholesterol is way too high. ‘Small town bullshit that’s what it is. You can’t even take a piss without somebody telling everyone at Woolworths about it. I’m enjoying that Dick Francis though, the only one of those crime mugs that can actually write.’

I am lucky to receive a consistent commentary on the weather. This is a topic with a satisfying variety of expressions available to share it.

‘How’s this heat? Keeping you busy?’

‘Cool in here.’

‘This heat is ridiculous!’

‘Good weather for reading, that’s what I say.’

‘Foul weather. And here I am out in it.’

‘Damn strange weather!’

‘Damn fine weather!’

‘This weather takes the cake.’

‘Don’t know how Christmas will go with weather like this.’

‘Heat’s bad but nothing like in the sixties.’

A lady told me that Gould’s Book of Fish has her flabbergasted.

All day I am offered suggestions for the best things to read. I free fall amongst the suggestions.”


Photography by Alexandre Petrotto

My great grandmother used to read in bed…

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I received a note under the door this morning which said: The Book Keeper: Sorry I was laid up half last week after surgery, then forgot to collect my book order. It was not signed. It continues to be cold and I do not expect many visitors today!

I was asked for Live Right For Your Type…please don’t confuse it with Live Right For Your Life.’ I said that I would take care to not get that one (as it doesn’t exist).

I received an email urging me to: go ahead and get The Patriots and The Nationalists. Then another email which said: also The Imperialists, locally.

Yesterday a man asked me for Len Beadell – he said he used to talk to him over the back fence. His grandson is also looking for Beadell books and that is because he is taught nothing at school. He said he feels that he has had an influence on the boy and he is pleased about that. I told him that my great grandmother used to read in bed and that this was my favourite thing about her and this had an influence on me. Actually it was all I knew about her.

He said that things like reading trace down the lines, jump the centuries and come out the other end, flying.

When he left he said: ‘Well done. Well done for being in an easy place where I can stop the ute and also go to the bakery. Then he came back and asked for books on pruning. He rejected the two that I had, pronouncing them as no good at all.

I was asked for the new Harry Potter, preferably second hand.

A man called Errol wrote out a long note for me which asked for A Modern History of Ireland: The Nationalist Movement. Nothing before the Nationalist Movement. The latter sentence was important, heavily underlined. He said that he couldn’t stay because his wife was forcing him to go and have lunch.

A lady stopped to describe for me the incompetence of the local council and their obvious disinterest in the town.

I received another email: Long time, no see. Last delivery. I need a 1976 Rigby publication called Coorong by Colin Thiele. I also want The Rock, Cradle Country and Range Without Man. Please put aside as I used to correspond with Colin T. Best Wishes, Ian.

I am impressed with Ian.

I am asked for Peter Gordon Bland: a Book of Poetry and told that if this man was alive he would be 80 years of age. Then: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. A young reader asked for a copy of Shatter Me and Size Twelve is Not Fat. Irene rang to ask for Graham Greene because she loved him. But not The Power and the Glory.

I received an email: I don’t think I’ll get up the street today. All is well. I just don’t plan to go anywhere. Do you have The Food Doctor by Vicki Edgson and Ian Marber.

I was asked for One Shot by Lee Child – not the copy with Tom Cruise on the front cover. (Please not that one.)

I have not sold a single book at all, but the day is bulging with enquiries and requests and the council rates.

I was assured there would be lots of people visiting during the Antique Fair.

Do you have Nana by Zola, hardback only?

Do you have Push by Sapphire?

Do you have In the Steps of Saint Paul by H V Morton

Do you have Mary Poppins…

Do you have The Order of the Stick?

But I did not sell a single book. I am cold and am going home to read Gould’s Book of Fish in bed because my great grandmother’s love of reading has jumped the centuries and come onto me, flying.

Pressed against the sky…


I am asked for Nan Witcomb’s The Thoughts of Nanushka, Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond Feist and Pony Pals, numbers 9 and 10.

In the front of Gould’s Book of Fish there is a quotation: My mother is a fish. William Faulkner. This book, by Richard Flanagan, sits next to me. On a day where there are hardly any visitors to the shop, I read and read it and feel busy.

Outside the window, a tiny girl admired the wooden cat. She tapped on the glass, and pressed her nose on the cold glass against the nose of the cat. She said hello Mrs Cat and her mother says: come along, come along.

An old man, outside the shop, turns when his wife asks him if he would like to visit the book shop. He says: but I haven’t bought a book in 40 years.

Inside, a brother and sister are kneeling over the Goosebumps. They began to argue over which of them is taller. Their mother is in the Wordsworth Classics; she is not interested in intervening as she has Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

Everyone is coughing today.

A couple look intently through the historicals for a long time, pointing to and discussing the titles, gently tapping the spines.

A man said that he was introduced to Emile Zola during his teens and has been hooked ever since. He said the translations from the seventies are the best but it is unusual to find them anywhere. Then his wife said that they have too many books at home.

I was advised to read Clive James. I was intensely interested in a story someone tells me of  how Ezra Pound wrote a long poem and then distilled it down to just three lines.

A lady said sadly that the council have lopped her trees after the recent windstorms. They have done it so incorrectly that she fears they will die. She buys West With the Night by Beryl Markham.

I am asked how to get the census booklet in paper form and advised that the government has not thought this census thing out properly.

A man tells me that he is planning to read all of Proust, sometime in the next hundred years. He said there is something in one of those volumes about a church or an old building that is pressed against the sky. He would do anything to find those words again but cannot remember where they were.

I am back with Gould’s Book of Fish which is a novel in twelve fish, is Van Diemen’s Land, convicts,  our awful history.

“Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


A young boy told me that his school was hit by lightning and so there is no school until Thursday. He had a Captain Underpants book and he looked pretty happy.

A lady said: I only read when I travel, but I would like to talk about Pearl S. Buck and also can I have a look at the books that you are reading right now…I show her a tangled pile of books that have been lent to me and on top is Gould’s Book of Fish. She looks at it and says ahhhh…

Dean asked for Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World and a little girl hoped for Monster Street.

An old friend drops in unexpectedly and tells me that she has a brain tumour. She says that the MRI scans are worse than the tumour. Then she says, don’t worry, I just get on with it, it’s what you have to do and who knows what could happen.

A lady, who has been before stopped to tell me about her adult son with autism. She has never known family life without a son with autism and there is no growing up and leaving home and the worries and concerns of childhood do not end and there is no sit back. No  resting. But she was cheerful. She bought a book about fairies and a copy of Billy by Noel Morrison which is about a child with autism and then went to buy potatoes around the corner.

She also told me that he is a good person, he draws and is courteous. She said his drawings are especially good. The amount of information he holds in his head is distressingly huge.

A lady spoke aloud about Han Suyin; she is reading aloud from the back of a book, possibly reading it to me. But I am reading the back of Gould’s Book of Fish and could not attend to her:

This book is an enchantment of presentation, but that is just a prelude….

The lady is humming to herself, impressed with a stately copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Soon she goes into another room, looking for the historicals. She says she has been here before but I cannot remember her.

I have been ambushed by Gould’s Book of Fish.

I was asked to find The Grimm Grotto, book 8 of A Series of Unfortunate Events and volume 3 of the Wool trilogy and then Beautiful Chaos, book 3 of the Beautiful series. I am asked for Paddington.

I am told that my Charlaine Harris books were in the Wrong Section and firmly advised to move them.

I was asked for directions to Milang.

The day is folding up, beginning to rain and soon I will go home, taking  Gould’s Book of Fish which I will read along with The Arabian Nights. They have nothing to do with each other.