NOT MORE TALES FROM THE BOOK TRADE?

When I said last week that nothing dates faster than a political book that wasn’t strictly true. Nothing dates faster than a travel book. We end up throwing away about 99.5% of travel books for the simple reason that no one will buy them unless they’re up to date. And people tend to hold onto their travel books for a few years or sometimes many years before donating them.

This week I spent some time with BBHs (‘bloody big hardbacks’). We get a lot of these, the kinds of books that have glossy photos in them and relate to a TV series, for example Life in the Freezer/Life on Earth etc etc… BBHs which relate to art or photography or design are more interesting and often we can put them out for higher prices.

For some reason we had a large number of books on how to put out fires, leading to a discussion about where they should be shelved, a discussion that did not come to any particular conclusion. The ones on fire engines we decided could at a pinch go into our motor section. Maybe they need their own separate section. Appropriate for Christmas though, don’t you think? both literally and metaphorically. I stacked them near a fire extinguisher to make them feel at home.

Things that fell out of books this week:

  • An American  mother’s  account of her son’s second birthday:

Yet he is still so young. Flies, spiders and bees scare him. He still panics if he walks into a room and can’t find me.

This young man was two in 1996. Now he’s twenty two years old. I wonder what he’s up to? If there’s a moral here, it’s to make sure you shake your books before you donate them to a charity. Take it from me, your books hold your life in them. I wonder actually if this woman is a writer. The account has the kind of detail in it that suggests that she is. But at any rate her son should be reading this tender portrayal of himself helping his mother make his birthday cake, (lots of molasses!) not me.

  • The full text of the sermon preached by David Jenkins at his enthronement as Bishop of Durham September 21st 1984 fell out of a copy of the Oxford Book of Prayer.  There’s a strange connection here because he was the chaplain of Queen’s College, Oxford for 15 years, which is where I was brought up. He left in 1969 and my family arrived in 1968 so there is the faint chance that as a small child I was taken to evensong in chapel and heard his sermons.  In due course he became Bishop of Durham where my aunt and uncle lived. My uncle taught English at the university and  since my family background was conservative, with both a small and large C and Jenkins was the archetypal ‘turbulent priest’ (from the establishment’s point of view at any rate) I remember there being a fairly constant critical rumble about him.  But reading his sermon I was struck by how fearless his first paragraph was. 1984 was in the middle of the miner’s strike which hit the North East particularly badly and was a time of extreme social divisions in Britain. The subject of his sermon was this verse from Romans: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace by your faith in him, until by the power of his holy spirit, you overflow with hope. Romans 15. 13.’ Here is that opening paragraph.

“We could do with some help from this “God of hope” here in the North East. Unemployment is at 35 to 50%. They propose to dump radioactive waste on us as if we are the scrap-yard of Britain. The Miners’ Strike highlights how divided and distressed society is, to the point of violence. Christians seem absorbed in bad tempered arguments about belief, or marriage or politics. The organised churches find financial problems looming larger and larger. We all wonder if old men in the Kremlin or in the White House will over-reach themselves and actually use the nuclear weapons which are unthinkable but real. If you stop and think, hope does not come easily.”

I don’t know about you but that is an opening that would make me sit up and pay attention. Towards the end of the sermon he criticized both sides of the dispute, and suggested that Ian McGregor, Chairman of the National Coal Board should be removed. This apparently produced a ripple of applause; the first heard in Durham cathedral during a sermon.

No books donated this week.

Needless to say having donated 70 in the past month I had a trip to Foyles and began buying books like a drunken sailor, including these two extremely stylish books from the publisher Fitzcarraldo.

fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo Editions is a publisher I very much admire. Occasionally, I fantasize about the kind of writer I would like to be: cool, intellectual and so sophisticated as to be completely unreadable by anyone who hasn’t got a PhD in literary criticism or cultural studies. In this fantasy I imagine myself being published by Fitzcarraldo because I love the look (that cobalt blue) and feel of their books. However, as you, dear reader, know perfectly well from having read this blog, I am so laughably not that writer, it is a dead cert that I will never be published by them.

Another reason I am certain I will never  be published by them is because no one involved with Fitzcarraldo sweats. Not one. No sweaty hands there at all. How do I know this? Well, look at this very, very white papery cover of The Years by Annie Ernaux.

the years

Holding back the … but not with dirty hands.

And it’s not shiny, it’s paper. White paper. There could be no more traumatizing book cover for a sweaty handed person than that. Why? because that cover is going to be a complete mess in a nano second if you have got any kind of moisture on your hands. In fact since buying it I have not dared open it. Perhaps before reading it I will have to buy a pair of those gloves that police officers put on when examining the scene of the crime. Either that or make it a nice festive Christmas covering.  It’s not a book cover which will survive being read in the bath (the moisture! the moisture!) or thrown in a bag and taken on the bus, not my bag anyway. You couldn’t read it in a cafe or after you’d read a newspaper… Enough already, I’ll save my deeper thoughts on white covers and why publishers should never ever use them until next week.

Emerson continues to haunt me. Practically the first book I saw in Foyles was The Illustrated Emerson: Essays and Poems which I bought immediately. Pam, who is kind enough to read and comment on this blog told me about a book called Mr Emerson’s Wife by Amy Belding Brown which I might read. It’s historical fiction from the point of view of his wife, Lidian, and she also sent me this quote.

emerson

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Something we could all do with being reminded of from time to time. Thank you Pam.

11 thoughts on “NOT MORE TALES FROM THE BOOK TRADE?

  1. Love that final quote! Thank you Emerson.

    Those Fitzcarraldo editions are lovely but I totally agree about the white paper. I have eczema so my hands usually have some sort of emollient on them – that book would be a greasy mess in no time in my paws! (I feel I may have overshared there Victoria, apologies!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Overshare away Madame Bibi… sweaty hands, greasy hands – all hands are welcome on this blog! It’s sitting on my desk waiting for me to have a cool, dry handed moment. Since Christmas is approaching that’s unlikely for the forseeable future…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Now a plastic jacket would be the perfect thing and in fact I might have to go and buy one because otherwise I’m never going to turn back the pages of the years so to speak! Maybe we should try selling them who know what might happen?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi FF don’t worry I couldn’t turn myself into one. I have an incapacity to be that serious. The Bishop of Durham was a complete loose cannon. He was constantly blurting things out that horrified the powers that be. Four days after he was inaugurated as a bishop in York Minster it was struck by lightning and the roof of the south transept was destroyed and it was widely commented that God was showing his wrath. My mother always called him a silly man but I think he must have enjoyed stirring things up!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That reminds me of buying The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok when it came out and asking for another copy because this one had thumbprints all over it… Erm yes, I was told, that’s how it comes. An early lesson in the power of bookcover design…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent – well that is the trouble with white books they get filthy very quickly. In fact I had to go through the pile of The Years in Foyles to find one that was in OK condition. You want the book to start out looking relatively OK, don’t you? Even if you know by the time you’ve finished with it it’s going to look a mess.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gosh, so much to comment on here! These tales get more and more riveting.
    You taught me long ago to always check books. Can I also put up the same advice for pockets.
    I feel you should have an exhibition area in the shop to display all these social mementos you find. They do have the feel of a comment on the last century.
    And as for you buying like a drunken sailor! Being a Strictly addict, I know this is one of the moves in Charleston and so I suddenly had visions of you dancing around Foyles …
    And Yes, I would love to be published with that amazing blue as the cover, and I would also like to overflow with hope.

    Liked by 1 person

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