What do they see, these children who are brought into bookshops, who are allowed to look and choose, are encouraged to read, and whose parents drift aside into their own place; Jack Kerouac, Terry Pratchett, Dune, Sonya Hartnett, Evelyn Waugh, The Remains of the Day, Dark Emu, Toni Morrison, Colette, Lee Child, Alice Walker, Debra Adelaide, The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis. The parents try to remain present. What do their children do?
One family: the five year old telling his dad about a book, desperately. ‘It has a man on the front, with a helmet on.’
The dad says, ‘Show me, take me to the book. You look after me.’ They bustle toward the book – there is a long conversation. Then they drift for a while. Dad has three books. The child has one and has finished.
‘Do you feel like you want to go? To the car?’ The child does.
‘Well, I think mum needs more time.’ We all look at mum. She is leaning, ankles crossed, against poetry, plays and Virago Classics. Child and man gaze at her. She wears olive green, mustard, deep wine, navy blue, chocolate brown, and she is motionless. Three paperbacks at her feet, ready.
Another child spins on an axis.
‘Dad dad dad come back.’
‘Come back dad dad dad dad dad dad dad. This is my book.’
Some children find books for their parents.
‘Dad, look at this, you should get this.’
‘I like it. I the way you think.’ The child, about eight, expands. ‘This is fantastic, too.’
One father tells his partner, ‘I can tell you how that ends.’
Their daughter, about ten, looks on, impassive. She says to me on the way out, ‘I’m reading Lord of the Rings.’
A child, maybe six, listens to his parents argue about Henry James. ‘Portrait of a Lady…we have it.’
The child says, ‘I just found a portrait of a lady.’ They swoop. Oh my God, did you hear that?’ The child shows them a book with a lady on the front.
Some parents say, ‘Hands behind your back, remember,’ while they handle all the books.
Outside, when I am hanging my balloons: ‘Why do you always do that, can’t you do anything right?’ Parents talking in car parked right next to me. They are talking to a child in the back seat, but I assume they are talking to me.
Some children take a seat and just read. Some make a stack, and their parents look on admiringly. One daughter told me about history joyfully, and her father stood back, looking at her with utter respect.