There was once a women who lived by - no, in - a second-hand bookshop. She lived in the flat on the first floor and ran the shop which took up the whole of downstairs. There she sat, day after day, among the skulls and the bones of second-hand books, the stacks and shelves of them spanning the lengths and breadths of the long and narrow rooms, the piles of them swaying up, precarious like rootless towers, towards the cracked plaster of the ceiling. Though their bent or riffled or still chaste spines had been bleached by years of anonymous long-gone light, each of them had been new once, bought in a bookshop full of the shine of other new books. Now each was here, with too many possible reasons to guess at when it came to the question of how it had sunk in the bookdust which speckled the air in which the woman, on this winter's day, sat by herself, sensing all round her the weight of it, the covers shut on so many millions of pages that might never be opened to light again.
An imaginative, if initially a little depressing, description of used books which belies the perky sense of renewal that actually fills this story, as it follows the life of a fly and the life of a book.
I have never read any Ali Smith before, but on the basis of this story and the few others I have read from this collection, I will be on the lookout for her in future. I notice she has written one the Canongate Myths series: Girl Meets Boy (a re-writing of the myth of Iphis) which is now on my wishlist.
'The Universal Story' was in the collection The Whole Story which I heartily recommend.
I am now off to refine my book cataloguing vocabulary. No more rubbed, sound, or mint for me! I shall take to using 'bent or riffled or still chaste'!