Where Can You Find Forgotten Authors?
The same question keeps coming up when I do Q&As; Where can I find more forgotten authors? Luckily, books seem to be going through a boom time in the UK, with many new bookshops opening.Electronic reading has found its rightful place, as a useful travelling companion, and has increased the sales of physical books.
There are more and more specialist houses revolving lost authors, too. House of Stratus, Persephone, Tartarus Press, Canongate, Overlook Press and Faber Finds are just a few of the houses digging gems from their back catalogues. There have been missteps in the past. Virago Press attempted to decontextualise EM Delafield’s delightful Provincial Lady novels by commissioning a critical preface that all but dared us to enjoy them.
It seems that a key requirement of any gentrified area is to open an independent bookshop. There’s a terrific one in Broadway Market, but I didn’t find one in Columbia Road Market (although I’m sure there must be). The key to survival in a small shop is ensuring your stock is an indication of personality.
Secondhand book fairs are largely unpublicised. One of the best is in the Royal National Hotel in Bloomsbury. It runs monthly, second Sunday of the month, usually with over 100 dealers. It is the largest monthly book fair in the country and now the only regular London Bookfair. There are specialists in antiquarian, secondhand, and out of print books as well as ephemera, print and map dealers and professional bookbinders.
In my experience charity shops have lousy book selections, and you rarely find anything other than potboilers. Should you use Amazon? I do, but I source locally so that at least something returns to UK book dealers. Ebay turns up gems (sadly it hasn’t yet found ‘The Fosdyke Saga 11’ – the only one I’m missing) and it’s often possible to catch paperbacks with the specific cover art you want.
Collecting forgotten authors used to be cheap, but hard work. Now it’s the opposite, but you can still find plenty of affordable treasures, thanks in part to the way the books look. Flashier covers command higher prices. My childhood secondhand book dealer had a strange system of pricing that valued a paperback of Leon Uris’s ‘Exodus’ at five shillings and a first edition by JG Ballard at one shilling because a/ he had heard of the former and b/ it was a lot thicker.
As a result, I spent every Saturday morning searching through his randomly arranged racks digging out lost joys and trying to rescue them. When books are not costed according to value but by their weight and whether they have a naked girl on the front, you find a lot of bargains. You also lose all sense of quality control. Much of what I bought was dropped into the bin by my horrified mother, but some stayed with me for life.
They’re staring at me now from the shelves – hurrah. Get searching.
Adverty bit: ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ is out now.