Still tinged with disappointment at the very modest haul of books from the Midlands (although we did very much enjoy Birmingham itself), I set off to see what my native West London had to offer. First stop was the Ealing Bookshop near South Ealing Station. My father used to have an office just a few yards from here, so familiar terrain.
A pleasant and friendly small shop – strictly second-hand, rather than antiquarian, rare and fine – but a shop full of books you might want to own or read, the books all clean and very modestly priced. I picked up a copy of Aubrey Burl’s Rings of Stone (1979) – a book which by chance had been highly recommended in another book I’ve just been reading – wonderfully evocative photographs by Edward Piper of fifty of Britain’s endless number of prehistoric stone circles. First edition, hardback, dust-jacket – all for £3.99 – and this rather illustrates the problems of the second-hand book-market. This is an interesting, well-written, attractive, well-made and well-illustrated book which anyone would have been happy to pay £20 or £30 for twenty years ago – it has to be worth that simply in terms of production: there are still people asking that and more on the internet, but a lot asking a lot less – £5 the cheapest I found. It would cost more than that to post. There simply is no value any more in books at this end of the spectrum.
I also found a first edition of a newish novel by a favourite author that I’d somehow missed when it came out – almost as new and priced at a third of the published price. Couple of other things I fancied reading. Total expenditure £15.99 – can’t complain. But still no books that I would be in any way hopeful of re-selling at a profit.
On to a place where I know will find something: Foster’s Bookshop on Chiswick High Road. I’ve blogged about this shop before, almost exactly a year ago, but I make no apology. I said then that this is “the sort of shop every high street should have – crammed with goodness, books you would like to own in every corner” – and so it is. I can’t imagine the amount of effort that must go into making a suburban high street shop like this survive and prosper, when so many others have failed. But it does. No sign of Stephen Foster, but his brother was there – not Paul Foster, whom we all know and has a separate business – but a third brother in Peter Foster, whom I had not met before.
The shop slightly dislocated by a recent film-crew, but I quickly scooped up half a dozen good things. There were many more which took my eye, but all of them too accurately, precisely, and fairly priced to leave scope for a little bit of profit for me – but these things are sometimes a matter of perception, winnowing and spotting a little bit extra to research. I could see a little bit more to made on a signed and inscribed Ted Hughes – here it’s a matter of how significant the inscription is and there can be more than one opinion about that. I could see a touch more to be made on a Raymond Chandler and possibly more still on a sparkling Somerville & Ross (it’s a book with a not widely known issue-point and it simply doesn’t turn up this bright). Who knows what on an undated children’s book in a curious and lovely padded fabric binding unlike anything I’ve seen before, which also has one of the least politically correct illustrations I’ve seen in a very long while (I’m not even going to illustrate it). Then there was a Confucius – the pre-war Lin Yutang translation in a sweet, sweet, binding (pink calf, with white morocco discs up the spine) – a couple of other things. Well satisfied with my haul. And there are plenty of books still there for you to go and buy and enjoy.