30 August, 2011
An insuperable barrier
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.
This doesn't make second-hand book buying any easy as charidee seems to have a hammerlock on the market nowadays.