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.

8 comments on “Did Reading Just Become Fashionable Again?”

  1. Graeme says:

    Hello Christopher, sorry to hijack your comments page but I could find no other way of contacting you. We haven’t spoken before but I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years now and a reader of your books since the 80’s.
    I have just started my own blog, also mainly about books and authors with a London slant. I promise it’s not copying you, just that we have the same interests. I hope to use mine more to promote some lesser known authors in the future, but my first article happens to be about you so, as a newcomer feeling his way and not wanting to upset anyone, I thought I would let you know in case there’s anything you’re not happy with or feel needs correcting. I have also linked to this site. You can read my blog at eightthousandbooks.com
    I wish you the best of luck in the future, Graeme

  2. admin says:

    I have no problem with this at all, Graeme – I’m extremely flattered that you should kick off your new blog with me!

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I would imagine that interested parties have already lined up outside your door with shopping trolleys. I’ll admit that there are a number of people who would say “everything but…” but even they would have friends who would take that extra bit.
    There are a few books up there that I’ll track down myself.
    Good luck with the blog, Graeme.

  4. Andrew Holme says:

    Admin, you mustn’t sniff at ‘Jeremy Clarkson’s Big Book of Diesel Fumes.’ Not recommended.

  5. Paul C says:

    The Fairfax novels look interesting – I’Il give them a go, thanks. Otherwise, how depressing to note that the (very minor) TV celeb Richard Osman’s debut crime novel sold 135,000 copies (in hardback !) in the week to 19 December. You don’t need to spend decades honing your craft Chris you just need to host a couple of very boring quiz shows on TV and become a vacuous celeb instead. Who needs talent when you’re a TV non-enitity ?

  6. Rob Lloyd says:

    I’ve downloaded ‘England’s Screaming’. (Too tight to pay for the hardback.) Looks a perfect fit for me!

  7. Keith Ravenscroft says:

    Actually Chris I think it has. And let me say it’s good to hear you are well and working hard. I just completed 2 excellent books. Will Elliott’s Pilo Family Circus (send in the psychotic clowns)- I didn’t think I’d end up completing this, but fortunately I didn’t abandon it. Also John Langan’s The Fisherman- definitely recommended (a little cosmic horror). I also have 4 of your Bryant & May books still to read. I was wondering, although you’ve probably been asked hundreds of times, will you ever be writing and publishing another book of ‘shorts’. Or perhaps another Disturbia or Psychoville? This has probably been answered a thousand times, but I haven’t visited your website for 5 years or more. I’m still happy with my signed copy of Roofworld and your limited editions- Bureau of Lost Souls and Red Gloves. All the very best, Keith (Netherlands)

  8. K Ravenscroft says:

    Ps. Sorry Chris I only just found our about your illness. I’ve been suffering with stage 4 cancer for more than 2 years now. As you say its not a battle but a journey of endurance.
    Stay safe,

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