Whatroaches? Bookroaches!

“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.

Chelsea Book Fair

Chelsea Book Fair

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.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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