What with having to work for a living it’s been a while since I’ve had much success in tracking down a decent haul of second hand book treasure. It doesn’t help that most the second hand shops within walking distance are charity ones – I understand the policy of only taking nice new clean looking books but from my point of view it’s not making for the most interesting selection.
I did actually spend some time in an age concern shop on Saturday trying to work what the stunning number of Dan Brown’s on the shelf says about the city – undiscerning enough to buy the book (bad) or discerning enough to dispose of it forthwith (good). The other book that I find disconcertingly ubiquitous in charity shops is Elaine Dundy’s ‘The Old Man and Me’; last year it was Miles Franklin’s ‘My Brilliant Career’ (why when it’s a Virago book it’s never an unread Muriel Spark is one of life’s mysterious injustices), but really – why ‘The Old Man and Me’? Did everybody get it for Christmas having already bought a copy or what? It sometimes occurs to me to wonder what I might be doing now if I had given my career as much thought as I give things like this, possibly for example I would have had a career rather than jobs – but where would be the fun in that.
Today however has been a red letter day, thanks to all the travelling over the last few weeks I had a day off to take (bonus of a job over a career where I daresay days off are for wimps) and as the blond is on holiday we went off on a tour of the county’s booksellers. First stop was the town I went to school in. It acquired a Waitrose last week which is the only improvement it’s seen in the last twenty years, it’s sadly lost the very decent independent bookshop that once lived on a corner of the high street and now only has a couple of shelves in an age concern. With the lightening reflexes born of trying to stop wine bottles before they hit a stone floor I managed to grab the only interesting looking book in the place before the blond even noticed it. She says I reminded her of one of those frogs with the long sticky tongues when they’re catching flies. I got Sybille Bedford’s ‘Compass Error’ for £1 so am happy to rise above the allusion.
After that we moved on to a town I used to work in – it gave me a bit of an advantage because I know the book hotspots and she didn’t. Like the good friend I am I shamelessly took advantage of my knowledge to head straight for the best shelves and can report that it totally paid off. I managed to get a lovely copy of ‘Henrietta’s War’ by Joyce Dennys which I have wanted since Bloomsbury bought it out but have never felt I had the money for. Very pleased. I also found ‘The Camomile’ by Catherine Carswell, which sounds interesting but mostly I fell in love with the cover, and Sarah Scott’s ‘Millenium Hall’ which I’ve never heard of before, but which is apparently an important and visionary work about a utopian women’s commune written in 1762.
The blond didn’t buy any books and rightly treated me to the odd dark look until I introduced her to a purveyor of excellent sandwiches. Restored by food we called into a craft shop to find ourselves being harangued by a very racist man with a passion for cross stitch at which point it seemed like time to come home.