A Thousand Mornings


“The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth, it can lie down like silk breathing or toss havoc shoreward; it can give gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can sweet-talk entirely. As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you.”
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin


Dean picked up his Ghandi and talked about the Bhagavad Gita. He said that apparently it very much inspired Aldous Huxley who wrote among other things, Brave New World. Then he said cryptically that this is only the beginning. He also said he is worried about his electricity supply.

I said conversationally to a young council worker that it was hailing here not half an hour ago and the sky was black. He said: there’s no way!!!!! Then he said cheerfully that he doesn’t read much, he just wanted to get into the warm.

Anaïs Nin…..

Red Rackham’s Treasure (Tintin) has fallen on top of American Sniper so nobody can see the sniper anymore. I decide to leave it this way.

Jeanne picks up Sisters of Sinai and asks for me to look out for Pomegranate Soup for her and that reading gets her through the winter.

I am asked for Reading the Oxford English Dictionary: One Man, One Year, 21730 Pages by Amon Shea. The customer says: imagine doing that! Writing Home by Alan Bennett, a huge and heavy volume sits on the counter and looks impassively on, dubious of  anyone reading the entire dictionary.

A customer I have never met suddenly buys Writing Home by Alan Bennett and there is a gap.

Anaïs Nin, A Woman Speaks


Outside a lady tells indicates the General Cosgrove book in the window and tells her husband that she has already read that but…..he tries to edge her toward their car.

Amelia messages me that soon she is going to spend an obscene amount of money on Zola. Especially on Nana, the only book she had no copy of at all.

Margaret brings me tangerine cake that she made herself. Soon the entire shop smells of tangerine.

David bought Byzantine Art – he said that he coveted this book. And that life is difficult.

A visitor says that he lives in Yorkshire, England but now he wants to live in Echunga.

A man rushed in and asked me what an Encyclopaedia of South Australia was worth. I said that I did not know. He said he did not want me to give him $5 for it when it was worth, say $20. I thanked him for his concern.

A lady suddenly said as she stood there with a copy of Heidi: I do enjoy reading your blog. I am shocked and do not know what to say.

A man wandered around and told me that he had Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now on tape. He said: I can relax and listen to things. I can come out once a week and this is my day out. I am also learning to use a dictionary. I have never read a book right though. What are these, this old Pauper’s library here? Who is this Midsummer Night Dream? Who is this Thomas Moore? Who are the Irish Melodies? I told him about some of the books and he said: sweet!

A young woman said she just had the best half hour of her day. She displayed her choices in front of me, all paperback penguins, Hesse, Sagan, Gunter Grass, Bellow, Marquez, all old and worn with delivery.

The market across the road is busy, the street is busy. Someone has put a flower on my windowsill. People outside read aloud the titles in the window as they pass by. A young woman holds up books to her infant daughter through the glass. But the child, outside with her father, is distracted by the balloons above her. Her mother taps crossly on the glass so that the young man quickly turns the child to look at Angelina Ballerina. But the child is disinterested. The father looks through the glass, worried.

The day is Anaïs Nin; inside everything is Anaïs Nin because she said: create your own creation and be stubborn with it.

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.

What will we be like when we claim all our own resources….


Perhaps he could no longer walk calmly and safely on a level floor because he mistook it for a rope. Hermann Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Rowena told me that I should keep doing this. Keep working in a bookshop. That we should do what makes us happy when we can. And that some people will do what makes them unhappy because that actually keeps them happy. She bought a copy of The Hunger Games.

John stopped me at the bakery to show me his mountain bike, all packed and prepared for his trip to Tasmania where he is hoping for mild weather. Since he retired he rides everywhere and he can’t wait for August when he will leave and tour alone around the cold Tasmanian roads with his History of Abraham Lincoln for company.

I have not seen Leon for ages,  not since he told me that his migraines were getting worse and worse but to have the second volume of Twilight ready for him anyway.

Robert said that nobody (certainly not the government) will thank him for all the research and writing that he is doing until long after he is dead. But he does not care because there is power in death.

Monique told me that she will be looking for a new series to read very soon and hopefully as good as Cat Warriors.

A lady told her husband to shut the door and not let in the cold but he couldn’t close it because she was in the way. She asked him if he couldn’t just be careful for once in his life. But he is looking at the Ian Flemings and does not answer. She tells him to go in the other room. But he is laughing out loud at the Ian Flemings because “these books were a lot of fun!”

I had said to Robert, imagine if we all thought that we were actually ok, and didn’t need to keep tiredly striving for whatever it was. He said nobody will ever claim all of their own resources as being enough because our culture tells us to do otherwise. Like Apple and Ikea. Then he said he needed a coffee.

But I think it’s true that reading allows us to relent and relax on our careful hold on our lives. When people tell me about something they have read, they let go of everything and concentrate only on that one thing they are remembering: The Tower or the Smoke Catcher or the Chinese Riots of Lambing Flat.

And then our cramped clockwork can stretch and release and light out for a solo run without us.

I felt inspired and told a lady who was looking through the Colin Thieles that it is nice to see children reading the South Australian writers. But she put the books down and said that she might get her grandson some lollies instead and did I know if that old lolly shop was still in High Street.

I am asked for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Bully for Brontosaurus, for the location of the art gallery and advised to read The Fall of the House of Wilde. I was reminded that tomorrow would be 22 degrees, (practically summer) and that there was a horse float parked in the bus zone. I showed my Herman Hesse, some new reading for me, to a customer but he said he does not read the Germans.

My friend, who is 84, sent me a bag of books and the news that her daughter had died on Sunday. My friend is a braveheart. She has always followed her own self to her own self and not bothered to strive after anything that outshines her own remarkable life, because so far nothing has. She has read everything, favouring bloodthirsty thrillers above all else. Along with her devastating news, she sent me a stack of bloodthirsty thrillers.

You carried everything that mattered inside yourself….to live with yourself in affection and trust. Then you could do anything. Then you could not only walk a tightrope but fly. Herman Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Photography by Rubee Hood

Mme Sand: I’ll publish an account of your behaviour.


Two tradesmen are discussing the political biographies outside the window as they enjoy hot pies from the bakery. (It is freezing outside but they are comfortable and enjoying their break.) They say that there is no need to read these things; you can just see it all on TV, same shit, different day. But then one of them allows that the Julia Gillard book is good as his wife has read it. His friend quickly agrees.

An older man tells me his is very interested in Pat Barker and that he would like to see book shops continue.

I watched a concerned mother follow her adult daughter around the shop murmuring that there is a better edition of that book…and that book…and that book…she comes over to tell me that her daughter and granddaughter are mad for books and that she is too. The daughter certainly looks mad.

Patrick White was furious a lot too. I know because I am reading Flaws in the Glass and I have it here next to me and The Shorter Pepys.

Patrick White’s furious face. I admire it very much as I do all of his books but I don’t think I have any useful scholarly reasons.  But this may in itself be useful as it leaves me more time to read and drink champagne.

A small girl says to her father who is reading  Asterix and the Banquet: what do you mean that this is funny. She asks him three times and he says: wait until you grow up.

An old lady tells her grandson that he does not know what it is to get old. He asks her: but what about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and she says: let’s just sit for a while. He reminds her that it is important because his teacher is reading it to the class and she is reading it too slow. He says: hey Grandma, what book will you get then? And she tells him that she likes a nice love story or Virginia Woolf. When she was young she always read Virginia Woolf……her grandson tells her that he cannot see any wolf books.

I am asked why Nineteen Eighty Four is still so significant.

A young man, who looks like a Viking, tells me that Game of Thrones was actually based on two wars: the Hundred Year’s War AND The Wars of the Roses. People tend to think that it was only the Wars of the Roses. Do you have China Miéville? Then he tells me that he’s been waiting for Tamora Pierce to put out another book and that he’s been waiting for ten years now. He looked at his watch to demonstrate himself waiting. Then he asks for The Shepherd’s Crown (Terry Pratchett) but I don’t have it. He says that I should have has many Terry Pratchetts as possible as these books are more significant than people realise.

An older man bought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and rode off on his motorbike with the book shoved down the front of his leather jacket.

I have some books to sort and shelve. I am keeping Pages from the Goncourt Journals (Edmond and Jules Goncourt) for myself. This is because I admired the cover and opened the book and read an entry, a reference to George Sand. I know nothing about her but I do know that I must read this book.

End of January 1852

Argument between Mme Sand and Clesinger:

Mme Sand: I’ll publish an account of your behaviour.

Clesinger: Then I’ll do a carving of your backside. And everybody’ll recognise it.

Robert comes by to pick up more volumes in his Myths and Legends Series and I show him the Goncourt Journals. He tells me that he loves the French. He said he has had three cups of good coffee and his brain is going mad…the best time to read. I said “Well, good luck with the Myths of the Middle Ages….” and he said that the election campaigns are  keeping us all stuck in the middle ages anyway.


…all things try to keep on being themselves; a stone wants to be a stone and the tiger, a tiger. Jorge Borges


Yesterday morning a young woman put her head in the door to speak to me. It was raining hard and she said that as she was soaking wet, she couldn’t come in – and she really was soaked through. She said that she was really enjoying Angela’s Ashes. She looked at me anxiously and I wondered why this was. Then I remembered that I had said to her when she purchased the book: I hope you enjoy this book, let me know what you think.

And she did. She came back through the winter morning to tell me that she did.

Then a man came in and stood by the heater in obvious enjoyment. He said that when he dies he will have his ashes scattered in a book shop. His girlfriend looked at me and then said to him that nobody would want his ashes.

I am still reading Dorothy Parker and I carry it around. I think that if she could write how it was then I can be who I am.

A lady brought some children’s picture books to the counter and said: these are me, these are my life and they make me feel happy. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, maybe I never will but I am going to collect these books for myself anyway as they are about who I am.

A group of people all came in together and one man said to me: you have there Zen for Cats….well, I have a friend whose name is Zen!!!!!

He leaned in toward me, bright with delight: And my name is Brian, so there you go! He waved his arm at some nearby shelves and said: not too bad at all. His wife tried to edge him out but he was still too happy with his observations to leave yet.

A lady asked me what I thought of The Water Babies. She said she might go for a smoke and then come back and grab a copy. She said that this here (my shop) was a peaceful little cubby hole.

Outside, the dog lover’s club had gathered outside the bakery and laid out a carpet of rugs and blankets. The cyclist group stood nearby, famished and eating silently. Margaret came in and commented that it is hard the walk the streets these days.

Tina and her family came in for more Enid Blytons but the children picked a large craft book instead. Tina told me that they would scribble out all of the witch and magic activities and her mother said, alarmed, that scribbling in books was also bad. Tina was outraged and answered that she had always told them to block out the bad things. I watched the mother herd her family out of the shop to go home and consider this New Problem.

Three adult daughters brought their mother in to help her choose some books but when they came into the shop they realised that she was not with them. They brought her back again and she pushed magnificently past them all to introduce herself. She chose a small and superb collection of books and left again while her daughters were still muddling in amongst true crime.

A young man bought Romulus My Father. He was dressed for work, a suit and tie and briefcase and he was silent. When I considered the title he said suddenly that the film of this book had affected him profoundly. When he went out he left his wallet on the counter and I had to call out to him in the street where he was reading as he walked away.

A small boy bought Monster Blood Tattoo (volume one) because the dragon on the front looked like his dragon he had at home. I was impressed. I saw his parents look quickly at me to see if I might be impressed. The child was unconcerned with what I thought because he had his book and a dragon at home.



“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”



Young readers are not troubled by where a book is placed on a shelf, nor by the section of the shop where they might find it. But if they find a book I say I haven’t got they think this is hilarious.

Many adult readers are very agitated if they find a title in the Wrong Section. Many will move them for me. One lady advised me strongly to move the Rolf Harris books right out.

I am asked how I choose the books. This is easy: they must be good books.

Or Christian books? I was asked.

I say again: good books.

Some books such as Peter Ackroyd’s massive biography of Charles Dickens must be a 1200 page satisfier because people lug it out beaming with happiness, impressed with its weight and fortified against the winter. But Schapelle Corby’s book is handled with doubt…They say knowingly…I don’t really know about this… and then they buy it anyway.

I have shelved Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro and Mazo De La Roche in the front room; the Canadians enjoying the sun together. I have put Judi Dench nearby, these four would get on.

Miley Cyrus (her autobiography), I am dubious. The other books all lean away from it, amused.

The Count of Monte Cristo stands aloft in blue and gold. Robert always admires it. He says it is the triumph of art over imprisonment.

The history shelves are always in shambles. The sports shelf remains untouched. The fantasy novels shimmer impressively under a string of lights. The classics are old and worn and in constant demand. The biographies are quarrelsome and constantly changing positions. Lance Armstrong has been jostled to the back. Oprah by Kitty Kelly always seems to have a whole shelf.

The children’s books are pulled out and sampled and moved and reshelved and retrieved and relocated in a triumphant cycle of search and selection.

The Dr Zeus books are never there.

Stravinsky’s Lunch sits on the counter so I can look at it.

The art books are forlorn, still unchosen, wishing that the erotic art books didn’t always go first.

Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is an odd shape and always falls from the shelf and once was trodden on. I thought: serve you right! And no matter where I hide To Kill a Mocking Bird it is always found and rushed to the counter.

Gary says my science fiction is quite good and is glad I stock the old stuff. He instructed me to separate the fantasy from the science fiction because to shelve them together is Wrong.

I was asked if I realised that Donald Trump had written books. I said that if they are good books they could be here. Therefore none of his would be here.

I was told that Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines should NOT be in the Australian section.

Shelbe wrote me a list of all the books her dad has brought from my shop. I asked her if he has enjoying them and she said he has not read any of them and that at night time he just watches TV and drinks beer.

I display Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and it sells within one minute.

I display Wind in the Willows in many confusing places so it does not sell and I can keep it.

Max says his collection of Australian memoirs and histories is now equal to mine.

The shop won’t stay tidy.


“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

How valuable…

Martin Dorsch.jpg

With lightning

One is not enlightened

How valuable.

 Basho, The Complete Haiku

I am reminded each morning that now it is cold. I have lit up a string of red lights around A. S. Byatt and Virginia Woolf to remind me of warmth and brave living. People look at the lights across these books and say: this looks so warm with the red lights there. I have added Kate Grenville and also John Kennedy Toole, who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces and then died before it was published and before he knew how important he was.

My fist visitor today, after commenting on the beginning of winter asked for Of Mice and Men. She had always wanted to read John Steinbeck and also thought that my coloured lights were nice, just the thing for a dark day.

A young browser looked at The Imitation of Christ and murmured:”…well, maybe not today…”

Robert is going to challenge an unfair Centrelink request and he does not care if it takes the rest of his life, so long as he still has time to read.

One customer told his friend that it was a bloody good day and his friend answered that this was true and that she was full of water. He said that slowly the ground will become good with it.

A lady told me that she wanted to read The Diary of Samuel Pepys, some kind of reader’s version. I said that even that is just over a thousand pages. She decided she was up for it. Then she told me that when she was a librarian, the woman at the next desk did absolutely nothing and yet still managed to look busy. She said that this woman kept it up for about 10 years – and this is only a little longer than Pepys kept up his diaries!

In The Collected Dorothy Parker I read this: “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.”  Dorothy Parker was an American author, poet and critic who wrote across the early 1900s. She was a brilliant writer and she was very funny and very sad. This made it agonising for her to sit still – but clearly she knew this because she said it: “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.” And she wrote with unfailing honesty her stories and poetry and thoughts. This means that we can read them and then honestly claim our own stories and pain, too.

Although we are encouraged not to, I think that it can be very useful to sit still and risk a seeming achievement of nothing. This could make the activity of reading a challenging one. Perhaps this is why many people bring in printed reading lists…so show some progress.

A grandparent expressed her concern for her grandsons that could not sit still. She asked for some picture books about farm animals: she was going to begin reading to them and introduce a new kind of activity.

Reading is slow and accumulative.

I listened to a reader tell me many details about Tom Keneally’s Commonwealth of Thieves and I was convinced to try Mary called Magdalene by Margaret George.

“So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'”

 Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ in his 1948 book, “The Naked and the Dead.”

Photography by Martin Dorsch

It’s the things you’ve got as gets worn out….

Christine Battaglia

“Ay,” said Alfred. “I thought I was getting a bit oldish— but I’m not. It’s the things you’ve got as gets worn out, it’s not you yourself.”         D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow

In any spare moments I get here, I am reading The Rainbow.

D H Lawrence, on the last reading, which was when I was in high school was heavy, gloomy and ludicrous. But now…..he is not. I think that he is brave; he did not write for accolades, he is  intimate; he writes with microscopic and tender detail and he is also solitary in his regard for life.

A small boy brought a book to his father and held it up. He said: ‘ …dad, I bet you did NOT see this….’ And he was tremendously delighted because he was right; his dad had not seen that book.

Outside the shop, an old lady sharply rebuked her husband for trying to cross the road with the books they had just purchased. She said she did not want the books messed up if he got hit by a car.

Robert told me this morning that he is being got at by somebody. I have always thought that Robert’s unconventional interests and perceptions have somehow kept him young. His interests and perceptions have not yet worn out, will possibly never wear out.

A young woman spent a long time amongst the self-help books today and she seemed weary. I know that these books wear out very quickly. I felt sad for her and would have liked to offer Carson McCullers or Anais Nin or D H Lawrence but that would be presumptuous.

John came in while he was waiting for his bus and told me about the biography of Abraham Lincoln that he is still reading. He told me that Abraham Lincoln’s father said he would never amount to anything; he didn’t do any physical work on the farm. ‘Oh the details in my book are incredible but imagine that – Abraham Lincoln’s own father told him that he would amount to NOTHING.’

Then he told me about  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich……..’Ivan S won the Nobel Prize for this book. And he was not allowed to have the prize, the utter bastards. That’s the kind of book that gets to me, that’s the exact stuff that gets to me, with oomph, not this other unessential stuff. Also I like For the Term of his Natural Life…’

‘And what about that Boris Johnson – that’s a funny name for an Englishman, do you think his mum was Russian or something? He was Winston Churchill’s grandson.’

John told me before he left that They were going to take his heavy vehicle license away from him; it’s all insurance or something, the utter bastards. The rigmarole…. you see I don’t have a computer and now I want to get away from it all and, so, wait for it: I’m riding my bike to Murray Bridge and catching the train to Melbourne. Then I’ll ride to the ferry and go to Devonport and register myself with the police there and ride my bike again for six weeks around Tasmania. I hope it’s cold. I hope I don’t get eaten by a Tasmanian tiger or something like that that doesn’t exist.

John is 72 and is not wearing out although he feels that the government is. But I cannot say exactly why he is so enduring. He, Robert and many other customers I meet here have a profound interest in the details of something that seems to transcend their daily lives. And although they recognise their passions in literature and reading, it is in each day of their ordinary lives that they loom up, large and colourful and not wearing out.

“In our village, folks say God crumbles up the old moon into stars.”

 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Photography by Christine Battaglia