30 August, 2011


An insuperable barrier

In the past year or so I have dropped into the habit of browsing second-hand bookshops, something I've not done for years. In particular those few bookshops, of which type there are still one or two along the Charing Cross Road, which have outside trays full of miscellaneous junk. Booksellers often buy in job lots from, for example, house clearances. The dross, clean and intact but not even considered worth pricing up, is relegated to outside trays, where it is offered at a flat rate per item. (Often with bulk discounts like £1 each, 5 for £4, which seems counterintuitive for items as individual and specific as books, but there you go.)

I'm not after specific titles or valuable "collectables"; I'm more interested in the serendipity of finding things like long out-of-print Penguins and Pelicans which I missed "first time round". There are unexpected bonuses too, like a 2d London bus ticket presumably used as a bookmark in a Penguin probably last opened in the early 1950s. And a couple of non-fiction paperbacks containing relevant newspaper clippings from the 1960s or early 70s, inserted by the original owner. Fascinating stuff.

My most serendipitous find was a copy of the first Pelican I ever owned personally, my original copy of which has long since disappeared. Simeon Potter's Our Language, a popular exposition of English linguistics, brought back from a shopping trip into Manchester by my parents who knew I was interested in that sort of thing.

And in the original plain 1950s edition, too. And all for £1.

It was in this spirit that I entered a newly opened bookshop in Greenwich. There were no outside trays. In a sense which will become clear, the whole shop was one big "outside tray". There was interesting stuff on offer, to be sure, at prices of at most a couple of pints on the Wetherspoon scale.

I toyed with one and began to approach the counter, behind which stood a couple of late-middle-aged, middle-class volunteers. I could not proceed. As with the trapped characters in The Exterminating Angel, there was no physical barrier preventing me from approaching them, but nevertheless I simply could not take those steps forward to complete the purchase.

The clue lies in the term "volunteers". For it was an Oxfam shop, and there is no way I could bring myself to contribute so directly and knowingly to that organization's coffers.

And so it was that I returned the volume gently to its shelf, turned and left, and spent my money on a pint of expensive but delightful Japanese lager in the Spanish Galleon next door.

Me neither.

This doesn't make second-hand book buying any easy as charidee seems to have a hammerlock on the market nowadays.

Off topic -to be precise-but this saddened me. On Christchurch Road where Bournemouth becomes Boscombe there has--for many years-- been a book shop called "Books". New and second hand. I suppose the owner must have died with no relatives or something like that since for days on end recently two workmen walked in and then out with armfuls of books and threw them in to skips. I wonder if any effort was expended trying to give them to charities or auction them off in box loads.Perhaps these days they are worthless. Could have been sold or given away as winter fuel for the aged. I had forgotten how I seem to revere books. Daft really.

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?