Did Reading Just Become Fashionable Again?
For some of us it was never unfashionable. A new documentary, ‘The Booksellers’, looks at the annual Antiquarian Book Fair in New York, the biggest and best such fair in the world. Tales abound of discovering folios and rarities, but there are sad tales too, like the bookseller who was devastated to discover that a very rare edition of Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’ was worth less than a first edition of Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royale’.
Passionate collectors don’t care what interests the public; it’s about private obsessions. Lately a number of books I’ve purchased have passed below public attention, but Kindle can be levelling like that; I’ll be attracted to a book without caring to see if it’s self-published or from a major house.
Of the above, all except two were published independently. All have been read with equal pleasure. None would have been easily found in any bookshop, if any were unshuttered. Weirdly, I can buy books in King’s Cross if I wanted to because WH Smith is open, not that I’m interested in the stuff they stock. ‘Jeremy Clarkson’s Big Book of Diesel Fumes’ won’t be gracing my shelves.
‘The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathan Fairfax’ is that rarity, a genuinely comic novel, and states that it was ‘Shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award’, but it doesn’t say whether they mean the city or the plumbing. The awkward Fairfax is a terrific creation. I’ve waxed lyrical about Robert J Lloyd’s books here before, with good reason; He has created a truly convincing and gripping historical series.
‘England’s Screaming’ is deranged; the fictional backstories to the heroes and anti-heroes of cult films. ‘Inferno’ is a deep dive into trash culture from Ken Hollings, who reads as if he’s living proof of what happens when a fine intellect does too many drugs. ‘Gesell Dome’ is from Guillermo Saccomanno, who reminds me of Hans Fallada a little, although I wish the blurb writer hadn’t put ‘a mosaic of misery’ on the back of his immense tome. And ‘The English Heretic Collection’, apart from being a good joke, is a bonkers leap through time and space linking landscapes to myths.
Bookshops have limited shelf space and even the giant flagship stores have cataloguing gaps. Half the books I stumble across are accidental discoveries. When I opened my ‘Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan’ and all the pages fell out from mis- and over-use I discovered that the edition had since been overhauled, and ordered it. Often it’s best to go down the rabbit hole on a topic and explore until you reach a cul-de-sac. I was browsing ‘Theatre’ and found an old edition of ‘The First Night of Twelfth Night’, absurdly cheap.
Where does it end? Facing my own mortality a little more than I’d have cared to at the moment, I wondered to whom I might leave such a lovingly curated collection. Who would appreciate the frankly peculiar range of subjects that suggests the collector cannot differentiate between Boswell and Norman Wisdom? The answer, of course, is nobody. Our book collections are our souls, as unique to each of us as DNA. I would be most disappointed to discover that someone else had the exact same passions.