“So could secondhand [book-]shops be the cockroaches that survive this nuclear winter?” – the somewhat startling question posed by Mark Mason in his recent “Back to the Future” piece on The Spectator’s book-blog (link to the right – and thank-you Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop) for bringing it to my attention).
A matter of retail doom for the new book trade as reports constantly tell us – drowning by e-commerce and e-readers. But is the second-hand trade somehow different? Our stock is, after all, 100% recycled and doesn’t rely on the just-published, yet-to-be-published or (increasingly) never-to-be-published. Could it be right, to quote Mr Mason again, that “The novelty value will be in physically browsing a shelf, not for the few dozen titles that are out that month and you already know about … but for titles you’ve never heard of, or meant to read but never got round to reading, or whose cover just plain intrigues you”.
We can but hope so – a world without bookshops is truly not a world any of us could be comfortable in – although as news reaches me only today of another ABA bookshop closing in the near future it is difficult to be sanguine. As against that, some new shops are unquestionably appearing – new ABA member Daniel Crouch has just opened up in Bury Street near St.James’s Square in the very heart of fashionable London – and a fine and impressive shop it is. A number of the shops in Cecil Court are also relatively recent in origin – and include several booksellers who have moved from office or home back into old-fashioned retail.
Green shoots? – I don’t know. But as Tim Bryars notes on the Cecil Court website, “Traditional ground-floor bookshops like ours allow for browsing and face-to-face discussion, and the chance to examine original material at first hand”. That is the essence of it. If you truly do not grasp that a text is not just a sequence of words, that all the subtleties and nuances in our understanding are conveyed in the manner, shape and form in which we read it, that handling and reading the original edition is the sine qua non of truly knowing a book, then you are probably not destined to be a book-collector – and you are certainly missing out on one of the most precious joys in life. An old book is a living piece of history you can hold in your hand and converse with. A bookroach which has already survived all the vicissitudes of history.
Come to the Chelsea Book Fair tomorrow and see what I mean – Chelsea Old Town Hall, King’s Road, (opposite Sydney Street), London SW3 5EE. Friday 4th November, 2pm to 7pm and Saturday 5th November, 11am to 5pm. The best and friendliest introductory fair for new collectors there is – a report on that anon.