The Bookish Universe is home to many tribes, clans and cults. For example:
There are Bookworms.
There are Book Bloggers.
There are Book Nerds
There are Bibliophiles.
But finally, leaving the best until last: there are BOOKSELLERS, and most specifically, British Bookseller extraordinaire, Martin Latham of Waterstones, Canterbury, who has published his Tale.
After three decades in the book-trade, he shares a treasury of anecdotes, stories, histories, and personal memoir which makes for fascinating reading. He reflects on all things bookish via Bookstores, Cultural History, Literature, Libraries, passionate Book Collectors, bookish cities (apparently #1 is Venice – who knew?) Marginalia, Book Pedlers of bygone eras … each page is a plethora of fascinating titbits, ideas, name dropping …. in one sentence we meet Fantasy Writer Terry Pratchett and Dutch graphic artist, M C Escher, he of brain twisting geometric graphics.
Having read the description of his father’s passion for collections, I am un-surprised by the splendid cornucopia offered by the book. After such a childhood one can forecast a boomerang effect either towards Marie Kondo-style Minimalism or further enthusiastic squirreling. I enjoyed the section so much that I’m giving you a taste of Maison Latham during ML’s childhood:
My father was an extreme case as a collector …. He gathered up from London street markets and wartime souks not only thousands of books and coins but prints, fifteen or so walking sticks (he never used one) …. many toasters, a knobkerrie, an umbrella-stand full of spears, a Zulu shield of hide which groaned when a storm was coming …. A sextant (he never sailed), scores of old tools, sash weights, three hand-operated drills (he never used an electric one), different grades of chain, an early intercom, two or three Smurf petrol tokens, and all sorts of promotional key rings, a few Roman toga brooches, the hand of an ancient Egyptian statue of Sekhmet … Hittite cylinder seals, both real and forged, an entire run of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, rescued from a skip outside the Society’s offices in Adam and Eve Mews, a rifle, a Luger pistol, a green glass ball to repel witches, a hand grenade with the pin in, a whole cupboard of clocks and watches he was gradually repairing, a wooden box full of cigarette cards, a magic lantern which smokes when in use, with eerie glass slides … a gilt set of stairs (only two feet high ) from his Aleppo war service, hundreds of years old ….a four-foot Aboriginal boomerang, two seventeenth-century Persian vases …. Two human skulls … hundreds of fossils, a Tsarist-era display box of gemstones, with inscriptions in Russian ….
And these are merely extracts from the bulging list! I was enchanted, and simultaneously glad I wasn’t the cleaner at Maison Latham. By the way, I think ML falls into the squirrel category.
I loved his final chapter titled ‘Bookshops’ which seem to be owned and staffed by any number of wonderfully eccentric people, and patronised by the entire Who’s Who of contemporary culture. On the strength of this chapter alone, I am plotting to steal the book from Koeberg Library, but common sense tells me that its not worth incurring a lifetime ban from the Cape Town Public Library system.
Without doubt ML’s Bookseller’s Tale would be #2 on my list of essential Desert Island books.