Food for the Soul.
We get on average, about 200 books across our desk in a typical week.
These will normally get sorted into: say, a dozen for further research.
The rest are priced and put out on shelves, and then one or two are put aside“to read”.
These are the interesting ones.
And so it was last week that we came across a remarkable book: “Shady Characters” by Keith Houston.
In twelve Chapters he tells us the fascinating story behind all those strange tongue-twisting symbols in the typesetter’s dictionary!
The Octothorpe (aka the Hashtag) and the Interrobang are shown above, each side of Keith Houston's book cover.
And so it was we made up a little ditty to share below.
“Gram Epizeuxis in Synedoche”
Shebangs, Hash-bangs, Interrobangs, and Logograms
Dipthongs, Dot-coms, Octothorpes and Nomograms
Minuscules, Manicules, Majuscules and Pictograms
Hashtags, Ligatures, Pilcrows and Telegrams
Cryptograms, Histograms, Monograms and Anagrams
Ideograms, Epigrams, Holograms and Diagrams
These are just some snappy Dythirams
All Ex Cathedra....our shady oral Shebangs!
How wonderful it is, to return to a well loved book."But Hey!". Something has changed.It cannot be the book. It is I the reader, who having aged, and now sees what he had not seen before. And so it came to pass we re-read John Fowles' masterpiece "The French Lieutenant's Woman", this time slowly and with the help of Steve Blackey, our most recent Book Club Member and Fowles enthusiast from down under!
Here is the Author ruminating on the book's genesis...
[From: "Notes on an Unfinished Novel" (1969), and brought to our attention by Steve Blackey.]
"The novel I am writing at the moment (provisionally entitled The French Lieutenant's Woman) is set about a hundred years back. I don't think of it as a historical novel, a genre in which I have very little interest. It started four or five months ago, as a visual image. A woman stands at the end of a deserted quay and stares out to sea. That was all. This image rose in my mind one morning when I was still in bed half asleep. It corresponded to no actual incident in my life (or in art) that I can recall, though I have for many years collected obscure books and forgotten prints - all sorts of flotsam and jetsam from the last two or three centuries, relics of past lives - and I suppose this leaves me with a sort of dense hinterland from which such images percolate down to the coast of consciousness".
Perceptive readers will have noticed a slight gap (well...three months actually*) in our reading updates!
The reason...food for the soul indeed. In short: word indigestion!
We have been totally immersed in struggling through a book we have to digest word by word and line by line!
It's a two hundred page manuscript written in English, but between 1800 and 1860 in India.
It contains some 357 Recipes (or Receipts as they were called in those days), mainly local. The handwriting is peculiarly difficult to interpret...mainly due to the unusual formation of many letters of the alphabet.
The volume is shown above. It predates Mrs Beeton and contains much that appears to be new.
We have high hopes of making it available to a wider public.
We will keep you posted.
*[P.S. To quote Douglas Adams: "I love deadlines..I like the whooshing sound as they fly by"].
Books about Books and Book People are always great fun.
Here above are three of our favourites that have been revisited.
For many years O F Snelling was porter at Sothebys. This is where he learnt the book trade. One curiosity is that his book was produced in Teheran.
Having just read the final page, one finds a deep admiration for the humanity of the man. Read them for yourselves. Absolutely brilliant.
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We have just been reading Robert Sellers' "Hellraisers". In 2013 the actor and hellraiser extraordinaire Peter O'Toole died.
There were lengthy obituaries in The Times and Guardian, dwelling on his film masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia and his legendary drinking……..
However, The Times allows people to write afterwards to the “Letters” page, with any reminiscences that the editor thinks of interest....
About a week after Peter's Obituary appeared a lady writes in as follows (as best I recall.....).
"To The Editor"
I had the pleasure of meeting Peter a year or so ago...and in the course of a well lubricated conversation I asked if he was in any way religious, and, if so, what would he choose as an epigram on his tombstone....?
He thought about this for some time and then said....
“You know, I once had an old corduroy drinking jacket that I loved, covered in Guinness stains. I sent it to a dry cleaners, possibly Chinese........
I recall it eventually came back with a note pinned to it...”.
“Dear Sir, or Madam.….
We do apologise, but this item is being returned.
We have been unable to restore it to “as new” from its maker, as certain faults are impossible to remove.
Your obedient servant. etc, etc”.
Peter: “Yes. That would do nicely...."
I thought that was lovely.
Yours Sincerely…..(signed) Mabel Smith.
Sometimes it's just wonderful to come across by accident books so "different"...one just wonders where one has been all one's life. With the Gilbert Phelps' "The Old Believer" (Barrie and Jenkins. 1973), we find the protagonist, dying and in hospital after his second major operation. He watches the dappled light from the sun's rays slowly creep across his bedroom wall..and, in a dreamlike state where the minutes seem to last hours, he recalls the highs, lows and amorous adventures of his life. "...my thoughts wander about inside my head like an army of ants that has lost its leader"...."...my mind wanders like ripples in a pond". Ultimately, his nurse takes pity on him, and...well..you will have to read it for yourself. Cod Streuth (1986 Jonathan Cape) is another fine example, first read when it came out, now even more delicious in its subtle take on religion. The central trope, that a remote Brazilian tribe (the Tupinili cannibals), take ten random pages of Rabelais, brought accidentally by Jacques le Balleur, a Calvinist missionary, as their Bible, is just wonderful. Sadly, we could find no image of Gilbert Phelps, but only his 1993 Obituary in The Independent (to reach this, please left click on his name above). As it is stated so beautifully there:
"...the theme of people isolated or trying to isolate themselves from the corruptions of Western civilisation, in order to conserve the natural virtues of love and life in their engagement with the world, underlies most of Phelps's work". Indeed.
“Clive James displays all his artistry and swagger in these moving reflections on books he has long loved – and those he has at last begun”. So says Tim Adams in his book review of "Latest Readings" for The Guardian of August 16th 2015. How true!
A wonderful book to dip into. All of the big names..Conrad, Hemingway, Olivier Manning...etc are there, and, finding like us, that when re-reading a book after decades, it’s just..well…a completely different book!
As booksellers with a store approximately the same size as Shaun Bythell’s Wigtown venture, you can imagine the delights we found in his recent volume “The Diary of a Bookseller”. This is a daily Shop Diary, recorded over one year. We keep a daily shop diary also..but only transactions, mailing address, outgoings..etc…right down to 50p, but it had never occurred to us to jot the daily minutiae of customers queries and the comings and goings of staff. There are few books I have read recently, and immediately gone back to page 1 and read again…but this is one of them! Definitely a read for anyone in the book trade (especially perhaps, those with David as a Christian name!), and with aspirations to take on big name Goliaths like Amazon..and similar soulless golems.
Try these two links...
..click through here...!
Just after Christmas we came across this thought provoking line...
“As the twig is bent, so the tree doth grow”.
It stopped us in our tracks (we had been researching tree houses for a possible half-term spring holiday…).
A little research showed that this current form comes originally from a much earlier stanza in Alexander Pope's “Epistles to Several Persons” (1732):
‘'Tis education forms the common mind,
Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.’
The other coincidence is that we had been re-reading “The Man Who Planted Trees” 1953 by Jean Giorno and, while browsing online, had been struck by this stunning image of Meryl Streep (above right), taken just near us in the Lyme Regis Undercliff.
So, we booked our week in a tree house...but took with us just the three books below and the John Fowles' DVD of the film…
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