Sunday, October 16, 2022

Once Upon A Tome - Oliver Darkshire

A book that very loosely fits into my thematic October reading. Once Upon A Tome is one of those books that appear in the run-up to Christmas, destined to be the handy stocking filler for the book lovers and such like in your life. It'll be a good choice if you do buy it, funny and irreverent, not at all heavy going - exactly the sort of book to fill the days off (for those lucky enough to get them) between Christmas and New Year. 

Oliver Darkshire joined antiquarian booksellers Henry Southeran about 8 years ago as an apprentice, one of the roles he took on was their social media\twitter account - and made such a success of it that he ended up expanding the Twitter persona into a book which isn't quite fact or fiction, but is filled with an entirely genuine affection and respect for his co-workers. 

For me, it's that affection that makes the book work. Darkshire is undoubtedly funny and tells a decent story but his appreciation for the people who took a chance on what by his own description, wasn't a particularly promising young man and found him a niche he could thrive in - that's special. 

There's something of an insight into the rare book trade, though not masses of detail if you happened to be looking for hot tips. There's not much more insight into the world of Henry Southeran's either - too much has been changed - to protect the guilty I suspect, but there's a charming general impression. 

Things I learned; in high-end bookshops, you don't always have to be polite to customers. I wish this were the case on the high street because some people really need telling. Do not trust an apprentice with gourds. Never visit a client's house (to be honest this is a rule anyway, but fortunately it's not part of my current job). Appreciate your co-workers, and give them credit when it's due (always). Avoid dark cellars. Pay some heed to health and safety. Do not let books get damp. Never encourage customers.

If bookshops are your happy place you'll probably enjoy this book a lot - I really did and had to retrieve it from Doug a couple of times so that I could finish it. He kept trying to pinch it when I wasn't looking but was given away by laughing out loud each time he got a couple pf paragraphs in. 


  1. Brilliant review Hayley.

    1. I forgot to mention the bookselling role players game at the end - a truly accurate work of genius.