Shelf Interest: Books About Books
‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ isn’t the only book about books around at this time of the year. I’ve picked up a few already and I’m sure there are more to come. Here’s what I’ve got so far…
Bookshops – they look like the cosiest places in the world to work, don’t they? Apparently not, according to Shaun Bythell’s ‘The Diary Of A Bookseller’. Shaun lives above the secondhand bookshop in Scotland and has kept a diary of his daily life, totalling the till receipts and describing his ongoing relationship with staff and customers. Everything passes through his hands, from a book signed by Sir Walter Scott to ‘The History of Orgies’, but what rankles most is the utter thoughtlessness of the browsers, who complain about cost (this is in Scotland, after all) and bash the rarities about when they’re not even buying them. It’s a charming, evocative read, perfect for a Christmas curl-up.
More customer horrors come from Jen Campbell and her two volumes of ‘Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops’, from the parent who says ‘My children are just climbing your bookshelves. That’s OK, isn’t it? They won’t topple over?’ to the little boy entering a bookshop for the first time who asks his mother ‘Have we gone back in time?’ Appalling and hilarious by turns, it’s the customer interface at its worst.
Then there’s ‘Britain By The Book’ by Oliver Tearle. This is a scattershot voyage around Britain with stops along the way to discuss books associated with the various areas mentioned. Although it’s a bit all over the place (understandably so, given the premise) it’s knowledgeable and interesting. I like the fact that John Osbourne wrote much of his epoch-defining play ‘Look Back In Anger’ over seventeen days in a deckchair on Morecambe pier. Amusing to think that the play which ended ‘end of the pier’ theatre was written on one.
‘Paperbacks From Hell’ by Grady Hendrix (he has to be American) is a trawl through the arse-end of the horror novel industry of the 1970s and 1980s, when illustration was king. One tends to forget how liberating artwork was for an author of the fantastic – you could depict anything, and so here we have demonic teddy bears, killer baboons, murderous babies, seductive satanists, rats, bats, cats and eyeballs on forks. Hendrix provides neat little summaries of the many volumes he covers.
On the same subject, ‘The Horror! The Horror!’ by RL Stine delivers a fantastic collection of utterly disreputable horror comics from the 1950s that proves there was more to the genre than just EC. Divided by subject (Skeletons! Gorgons! Brainwashing!) these non-EC titles may lack the eloquent artwork of the EC artists but they make up for it with sheer gusto. ‘I’m not blind!’ reveals one character, ‘I’m the seeing-eye man for a retired blind werewolf!’ Of course you are, dear. The book also comes with a nifty DVD.
Finally Robert Forsyth has completed his lexicon trilogy with ‘The Elements of Eloquence’, following on from ‘The Horologicon’ and the ‘Etymologicon’, volumes that explore language by tracing origins, digging up rare or lost phrases and explaining how to use linguistic tools. I liked the expression ‘A small go’ – a pleasant night out enjoyed by all without anyone getting too drunk.