Voltaire and Rousseau- Day 2
Another day at the shop.
Another day amongst Shakespeare and Doyle and Austen, amongst boulder sized Bibles and palm sized novels.
Another day of smiling, and another day of picking up the books that have fallen to the floor.
Like yesterday was punctuated by books, today was punctuated by people. So many people! Eccentrics, students, foreigners, people off the street, all flooding in to have a look at the marvellous place that is Voltaire and Rousseau. No one left without a purchase, and no one left without a smile on their faces. I could document every one of them, pointing out the details that stick in my mind - the woman with flyaway hair and wiry hands; the man with half moon spectacles and white gloves; the babble of students who knocked over most of the history section with one well aimed push to the side; the student who simply stared, open mouthed, before absentmindedly picking up a book and paying for it; the man who talked at length about how he traces illustrations from old books and sells them. I could tell you about all of them, but instead I’ll narrow it down, starting with Brian.
Brian isn’t a customer. Yesterday, when I got a fleeting glance of him through the window I thought he was, but it turns out, he actually works in the shop. Not that he’s meant to. He was a painter that had been hired to re-decorate the lane, but he was quickly roped in to collecting books and putting them away. He’s nice, cheery. At first glance, he looks as though he’s in his late 50s - all wrinkles and crevasses - but when he smiles, the years drop off his face. He smiles a lot. And laughs. He has a booming laugh that wakes the cat, causing it to mew and squeal before setting back down on an old copy of The History of Britain and falling asleep.
Brian and I had some good conversations. We talked about school, about music, about books (a subject that he apparently doesn’t care about, despite the fact he helps out in a bookshop). He laughed at my comments and I laughed at his. He told everyone who would listen that I was his new boss, and that if they needed anything, they were to go to me.
And they did.
The second person I want to tell you about was an older student. She came into the shop in the early afternoon, a pink scarf round her neck and fingerless gloves on her hands. She smiled at me and went straight to the theology section.
She was there for over half an hour until she talked to me. “Excuse me,” she asked, “do you work here?” I nodded and she beamed. “Could you get that book down for me?” She pointed to a bookshelf, and my heart jumped into my mouth.
I would be lying if I called it a book. It was a beast.
The book the woman was pointing at was a Bible the size of a small dog. Its leather covers where falling off and the page were frayed and ripped at the edges. It was perched on top of some folios, and its mighty spine was brushing the ceiling. I needed to use the ladder. In fact, I would need to use a jetpack.
I hurried off the find the ladder, bumping it off shins and lights as I moved it towards the Bible. The woman was watching me, the ghost of a smile on her face. I couldn’t tell whether she was amused or sympathetic, but either way, she wasn’t exactly helping. I climbed the ladder and curved my hand around the beast. I edged it out, inch by inch, until it was resting in my hand. It weighed a ton and handing it to the woman below I could almost hear my bones creaking, trying not to drop it on her head. She smiled and said thank you, and then wandered off, the Bible under the arm.
And guess what? An hour later, after she had left, I found the beast sitting among paperback novels, joined by its friends The Family Bible and The Analytical Bible, both of which were just as big and just as heavy. I had to climb the ladder and put the monsters back on their shelves, almost breaking my arms in the process.
The third/fourth people I want to tell you about arrived in the morning and, again, headed straight for the theology section. One was a boy, and one was a girl. Both were students and at first I paid no attention to them. It was only when I tuned into their conversation that I began to smile.
The girl was German, still learning English, but they were having a conversation about the effects of the Scottish Reformation on English culture.
I have never wanted to be a student so much in my life. So many interesting conversations! So many books, and words, and friends, and journeys (metaphorical and literal)! So much stimulus! I sounded like heaven, and as I listened I itched to join their conversation, but I couldn’t. So instead, I listened, and I listened well.
And finally, the authors.
Every so often, a thought would pop into my head. Every one of these books has an author. Every one of them. Who writes books on Romanian politics in the 1990s? WHO?
The thought vanished as soon as it arrived, though it did make frequent visits. I’ll ponder it more tomorrow.
For now though, so long, and thanks for all the fish.