Playing With Fire


A father and son stood by the door and had a lengthy argument about Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. I did not have a copy of this book and so could not assist them in clarifying their positions. But the discussion became heated enough for them to each accuse the other of not having read it.  A lady came in and thanked me for helping her buy a calendar last week from the post office. Then she passed back outside and the Stephen King dispute, which had courteously paused while she spoke, continued on.

But for most of this cold day there is nobody here except for Pepys and me

Until a couple came in from Tasmania and commented that our weather is quite fine and that the thing with reading is that you can do it whatever the weather anyway.

A lady bought a book, light romance, nothing too taxing, for her sister and presented it to her at the counter. The sister said that she was a scallywag. They admired Samuel Pepys which still sits superbly on the front counter and said that he obviously did not have enough to do with time to write a huge book like that. I said that this is only some of his diary and that actually he was always busy.

And this is true. On October 20th, 1663 having risen at noon, he found his coachmen having a fight in the street with strange fellow and he, Samuel Pepys,  had to cuff the drunk fellow several times on the chops and then left him on the street, very satisfying.

Then, later, a long intense debate between two young brothers amongst the adventure series in the front room. The trouble was that there was only one Zac Powers left and they both wanted it. The older brother presented a compelling argument to the younger brother that he might prefer Beast Quest more….the younger brother was doubtful and so was offered Star Trek, Boy and Beast and Star Wars. But he was disinterested and kept his thumb on the Zac Powers, pinning it to the table. The older brother considered the shelves a little desperately and finally, triumphantly, offered Skulduggery: Playing with Fire and then they could both come to the counter, winners. I asked chattily if they could see the fallen pepper tree across the road and they said politely ‘yes,’ but neither of them could look up from their books.

People dropped in to tell me that it was freezing and that the pepper tree over the road had fallen over. I said that I had a photo of it on my computer and they are shocked that I already have a photo of it as I wasn’t even here yesterday.

I was asked for books of elegant photography, Babar, Go Set a Watchman and if I had seen the overturned pepper tree. John read to me the first page of The Memoirs of Richard Nixon and said it was a worry. He came in while he waited for the bus and said that the buses don’t have heating on them and everything, including his troubles fell to ten below every time he had to ride in one. He held the door open while he told me this so that the temperature in the shop plummeted to match that of the bus.

Dot told me about Gorilla, Gorilla, her once favourite book that was set in the Congo and that she stole from her brothers because they would not let her read their Biggles collection. She said she just devoured books and had done all her life but that her brothers were still fools.

The rest of the day was quiet. I can tidy up the histories which fall down and the Roald Dahls which are scattered and the Robert Jordans which are out of order and the Zac Powers which are gone. I thought about the lady who used to read Gorilla Gorilla and how she had looked so sad when she talked about her brothers that were fools. She had also said that her father had though a daughter to be a waste of time.

I can read more of What Fresh Hell is This? (Dorothy Parker) which is brilliant and look out at the cold quiet people in the street and I think that the ones carrying books look the happiest.


“Yes, indeed!”

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A child found a library card in the back of a copy of A Wrinkle in Time and said: What’s this? His grandma looked at the card for a long time.

It is nearly noon and a man told me that his north England accent caused him a lot of problems. Then he asked me if I knew George Orwell’s real name. He asked it twice so that I would not have trouble with his accent. He did not come to buy a book, just to take the air as he was a guest at his brother’s house and needed to get out of the place. I said that I understood the situation.

Two adult brothers returned three times, troubled over a book of trains in the children’s section. Eventually they purchased a DK Atlas and left, still troubled. But I was on the phone to Robert who had rung to see if his Tantric Yoga has arrived (it hasn’t) so I ask him might he let Mick  know that his Penguin History of Greece is here. Robert says that he always battles mental health in the winter and it is only books that get him through.

I understand because I am reading more of Dorothy Parker and I am still impressed that she wrote of her own darkness with no apology. It makes me think of that my own small clear stream of sadness and how I can keep it flowing and flushing.

A lady spends a long time looking at the cat books until her husband asked her anxiously to come along now. But she said that there was a book called Cats of Cornwall there and she must look at it more.

I was advised that the weather was lovely apart from the wind and the cold. I was told that the sky could use some more light.

One man was delighted with A Home Handyman by Readers Digest but he didn’t buy it as he thought his wife would be at him even more if he did. While he was telling me this, another man looked through the window and said:  here comes the train, full of damned tourists as usual.

A lady whispered to me that Anna Funder’s All That I Am was a great book.

I was asked for Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon and this customer said that the most important part of a shop is the windows and did I know that Belloc in The Path to Rome said that he worshipped windows. I said that I actually did know that and that he wrote about tunnels too, and light.

Meanwhile the rain keeps drumming the asphalt and visitors try to force the door shut as quickly as possible. Andrew was disappointed that his Knight of the Seven Kingdoms had not arrived. A man sung a Frank Sinatra song as he browsed until his wife told him to stop it.

Some new visitors bought some old and very attractive travelogues; he was planning to actually read them and not shelve them for decorative purposes and I was impressed. He told me a long story about Sir Ernest Shackleton, starting at chapter one which was titled Into the Weddell Sea and then he asked me if I read the vintage travel volumes and I said I looked for travel books written by women. He nodded politely but Jo, his wife,  came forward and said “yes indeed.” She bought a copy of Daisy Bates in the Desert.

I was advised to read Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac and to try David Malouf. I promised to see to it but am still tangled up with Dorothy Parker and Samuel Pepys and intend to be for some time yet.




Your shop is stupid and you are mean…


This morning I was told that the weather is filthy and my shop would be warmer if I fixed the faulty closer on my shop door.

And it is filthy outside. Yesterday somebody’s green bin went down the road broadside and there was a scene when a group of travellers found the bakery closed. They stood outside my shop and said that they ‘couldn’t believe it…’

Then they all left for Goolwa except for the Winnebago driver who stayed back, phoning somebody to tell them that he couldn’t believe it.

Arthur found a copy of The Spanish Bawd (Rojas) and was delighted because he only had a copy in Spanish at home. I noticed he had both pockets stuffed with paperbacks that he had bought before and was still reading. One of them was called Ferdinand and Isabella and it was packed with bookmarks.

He was going now to the bakery to read and I had to tell him that the bakery was closed for renovations. He said that he couldn’t believe it and went out looking tragic.

A young man, who was on the hunt for naval stories predicted that it wouldn’t stop raining until summer. But I am hunting through the counter for a pencil and I am distracted by Samuel Pepys and not concerned about the weather today.

Later, Jai told me a very long story of how the university threw him out of his course. He told me that they, the government and everybody including myself needed to listen to him properly and stop throwing him out of everywhere. He reminded me that I was unkind and that he knew I would throw him out of the shop as I did last time. He said that I was mean to him because he never bought any books and also I had not bought his own book even though it did not cost very much. He said triumphantly that the shop is stupid.

I wondered if he would like a cup of coffee at the bakery (which is closed) but luckily he said he did not need stimulants. Then he left furiously, trying to bang the door but it wouldn’t because the closer is faulty.

I am wondering if I have a proper job when Margaret drops in to lend me another music recording. It is Kathleen Ferrier and she says that I will like this. She says it is good against the winter.

Outside somebody drops a whole bag of fruit onto the wet pavement and I see them leaned against their car in despair.

I look to Samuel Pepys and I read that he often had to lie a bed for a long time. And that in June, 1665, he became terribly sad and was forced to buy some roll tobacco to chaw – which took away his apprehension and the bad smell of himself.

A young reader tells me that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is so textured that it is almost real. I am immensely cheered up. When I am packing up for the day I think that Samuel Pepys is so real that he must have been real.

How valuable…

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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