On Books, Other Stuff

Normal people. And some reflections on a Sunday book signing by an ordinary writer.

Writing this while sitting alone at a designated table set up in front of the new Exclusive Books store at the V&A Waterfront with a poster advertising that I will be signing books, like a mirror behind me. Sanitiser and a bottle of water to my left, books – both Afrikaans and English – in front of me.
I have a two- hour slot and it’s just gone 12pm. I’m feeling a little sheepish (or more accurately, self- conscious) and am reminded of sitting at Cresta Centre in Randburg behind a steel trestle- table many years ago during the school holidays selling charity Christmas cards. Except that the customers had a real intention to purchase.
Hullo! Is there a coffee shop in here? says a customer looking at me fleetingly. Oh, you don’t work here, do you?
I smile – though it’s unlikely that she sees this behind the mask and start answering but she interrupts and says, oh is this you ?(noticing the poster) And I say yes, and she says, that’s lovely and walks out.
A pretty young woman with long painted nails stops and picks up a book and asks if I am the author and what is it about and even as I start telling her I bore myself and when I mention C J Langenhoven – who? , um… an Afrikaans literary hero of the 1920’s? – and she shakes her head, and then even after the bit about history and biography and, even ‘a woman’s story’ I know ….
An older whiter woman comes past with her teenage daughter and seems interested. She reads the back blurb.
Ooh, my father’s family came from Poland …he was one of the (something) orphans… I must tell him about it, …is it on kindle?’ she says while being rudely interrupted by her young teenage daughter who mumbles about needing a new calculator.

You don’t often meet an author in a bookshop, she gushes, it’s my dream to write a book… and then she is gone.

There is a crowd of Germans looking at the pictorial non-fiction behind me on beautiful books of Cape Town (lucky for them, just in time before the Global North unscientifically declared Africa responsible for more Covid and shuts us out again…even bookshops are hugely affected, as confirmed by EB manager) and across the way a man in worn out pink suede pumps and greased back hair thumbs through Zapiro’s new book ( what a genius he is ) and puts it down.
Another stops to look at a new book, History of South Africa by Thula Simpson and the Siya Kolisi one. Not everyone knows about Searching for Sarah.

A new writer whose book will be launched next year and which I was privileged to read and review pops in. I sign her copy and we chat about the book writing world for quite a while.

As long as I have the finished book in my hand, that’s enough for me, she says.

And there is the real truth: there is still no more comparable satisfaction than that for me.

When she leaves, I carry on people watching. And writing. Some are a little embarrassed seeing me sitting there and walk past hurriedly without greeting me at all. Others smile awkwardly and pretend they’re looking for something. A pretty woman in designer jeans is so quick to escape that she nearly knocks her skinny hip on the edge of the table and pretends not to notice me.

I rearrange the books on the table so that Sarah and Saartjie sit comfortably in the middle of the table, side by side.
Oh, it’s an Afrikaans book says one passerby skimming the book while the English one sits right next to it. I smile behind my mask and try to catch her eye, but she’s gone.
It must be my mask! They don’t recognize me! jokes the new, unknown author sitting in the bookshop surrounded by 1000000000’s books, amongst bestsellers and top sellers, and well- known authors and well- established authors. She smiles behind her mask while she writes.
Gee, there are a lot of books in this place. And they’re not flipping cheap either I think thumbing through the Season’s magazine offerings, while eyeing some customers leaving the story with their Zara paper carrier bags and Country Road purchases. Oh, there goes a small Exclusive Books bag I see. (I count only bag while I’m there for two hours).

Dad I want warrrrter, says the kid behind me, warrrrrrter Dad … Dad…. Dad… Dad! I said I want warrrrrter he repeats while Dad browses books and leaves. Empty handed.
An older gentleman picks up an Afrikaans copy and spends some time browsing the back cover. Hi, I say quietly. Or do I even say anything? The mask hides both smiles and words. He carries on reading and eventually puts it down. No eye contact at all.

Thirty- five minutes more to go.
A nice- looking guy walks in, places some stuff he has purchased from Pick ‘n Pay on the edge of my table.
Mind if I leave this here a minute? he asks. No problem at all I say.
He’s gone for quite a while and when he comes back, I take off my mask and say (with just the slightest of winks) there’s a quid pro quo here for watching your stuff and he smiles. We chat briefly- in Afrikaans- about books and things and Langenhoven and writing and he marvels at the fact that someone actually sits down and writes a book. And finishes it. His hand rests gently on my shoulder when the photo is taken.
Were you looking for anything specific? I ask, my market research mind now deeming it fit to report to the manager about my observations of human behavior of Sunday lunch time shoppers.
No, not really, he says, picking up his Pick ‘n Pay stuff and putting his mask back on.

I just love being in bookshops.

I know what he means. He wishes me well as he leaves.
I pick up my phone and see a Whatsapp from our family group. How’s it going Mum? You selling tons of books? Smiley wink face emoji.
I finish my (complimentary) bottle of water and sanitize my hands.
Young boy and his friend pass and say, ‘hullo!’ like they know me (he is unknowingly dragging a white serviette which is stuck to the underside of his shoe) and an oversized woman stands absentmindedly scratching her largish tummy while looking at the display of my books right above her, then straight at me and walks out.
Diagonally across the way is a young man carrying a Paul Smith carrier bag. He has particularly gorgeous wavy highlighted hair and a generous bulge. It’s hard not to notice. His shoes are white and his pants are tight. He browses through Siya Kolisi’s book, puts it down and walks out.
Ten minutes left. I ask my daughter (who has been clothes shopping while waiting for me) to pay for the book I’ve been eyeing in the Season’s Readings magazine (Atomic Habits by James Clear) and I see the manager coming over to me.
Well, that was fun! I say. Thank you so much for having me in your beautiful store.

And thank you for following me in my Searching for Sarah for 2021!

Be safe and take care out there!

xx

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