Tuesday, February 07, 2012

You know that bump in Africa is really a dimple in the Atlantic Ocean?

Men of Dunwich was one of fifteen books I bought at the second-hand bookshop on campus last week. This is not as profligate as it sounds. The shop has a $1 trolley parked outside the door, which usually leans heavily towards things like obsolete first year accountancy textbooks. Yet I always have a look at it every time I go past - I cannot help it - and last week there was something interesting-looking about the Zulu wars and another called 'The World of the Phoenicians', so I took them in to pay. The woman at the counter was on the phone, and when I presented my books she just gestured to a corner where there were two cardboard boxes full of paperback books.
It turned out when she got off the phone that she had not yet gotten around to pricing them and putting them on the shelves, so was happy to sell them for $1 as well.

They were much more interesting than the usual sort of books on the $1 trolley. There was a lot of history, of a particular old-fashioned kind: lots of pre-20th century British history, from the Saxons up to the Zulu wars. Lots of the other sort of history you would learn in pre-20th century Britain: Classical Greek and Roman, with lots of primary sources: Tacitus, and Thucydides, and such. a smattering of more general history, a smattering of mythology, a bit of popular science (Gould and Feynman and such). And, er, not a few books on the 'history and sociology of sex'. You have probably already imagined yourself a personality belonging to those boxes of books. I certainly created a mental image of a donnish figure with a rakish streak, perhaps a retired academic in history.

Not until later did it occur to me that perhaps no such personality ever existed. You don't usually give the books you like away. And for every time you die or go into a home and liquidate your book collection, you are going to move house or have a general tidy a dozen times. I shudder to think at the personality that could have been constructed based on the box of books I gave to Saint Vincent de Paul when we left Guildford.

Maybe those boxes of books were sold by someone who had decided they were bored with 1066 and all that rot, and had repented of their youthful weakness for scholarly anecdotes about prostitutes in Victorian London. Maybe they weren't old books (as most of them were) because they belonged to an older person, but had been picked up by a student who liked to haunt second-hand bookstores and was leaving town.

I suppose used ebook readers will be interesting too.

1 comment:

Ma said...

Hmmm. So we leave a trail of books behind us. Keep reading!