Life lately – a couple of secondhand book finds for myself and some gifts for others. I really love the old Fabers – such great cover design. Can’t wait to get stuck in to the poetry collections with some freshly baked Anzac biscuits this weekend!
A couple of weeks ago, I was exploring one of my favourite secondhand bookstores here in windy, wintery London, and I came upon Simone de Beauvoir’s 1954 The Mandarins. While a devotee to Beauvoir’s existential philosophical works, I confess that I have never read The Mandarins. A creative writing tutor and one of my French philosophy tutors recommended it to me (on separate occasions for very different reasons), and it is a first edition (in English), so it joined my pile of books to buy on the counter.
When I arrived home, I had a proper browse through the pages, and I (rather breathlessly) found these:
Carefully cut out, dated and noted, I had in my hands a collection of articles published on Beauvoir’s death. This is why I love secondhand books.
Book markets and book fairs are treasure troves to rummage around in and, I often find, are remarkably under advertised. Perhaps that is part of the joy of a market or fair – to stumble over it, to get caught unaware and find oneself surrounded by dusty pre-loved hardbacks of The Golden Bough, ripped pumpkin orange Penguins with odd illustrations, 1970′s ‘How to cook fish’ cookbooks and boxes of National Geographic, minus some cuttings.
The fairs that I really get a kick out of are often the ones you come upon in unusual spots, on unlikely days, and my discovery of the Southbank book market, tucked away under grimy, windy Waterloo Bridge, made the best use of space in an urban landscape that I think I have ever seen (although, I am biased towards anything book related). Strolling along the waterfront on ‘Queen’s Walk’, fold-up wooden tables of books loomed ahead of me, with a couple of gents huddled by the dock at one end – obviously the purveyors of said books.
The trestles were loaded with hardbacks, paperbacks, hard-to-find, rare and collectible books, children’s books and even a couple of trestles full of prints from books, saved and nicely framed. Oh, what a delight for cold, Wintery eyes! The prospect of book buying brought out into the public arena – what a fabulous idea. I could drink my black coffee and browse in the nippy air for that next gem to get my reading mitts around. They had several Sybil Bedford novels, which I very excitedly snapped up, after looking for these everywhere.
Apparently, this book market is not a one-off occurrence, but is, in fact, a daily Mecca of book wares. Come rain, shine, gales or snow, this wee market huddles under its protecting bridge and provides those lucky fellows who work and live in the Southbank area with an ample source of secondhand book buying. What a dangerous area to find oneself in – dangerous for my bookshelves, that is!
My ‘still point’, in Eliot’s fine words, is always a bookstore or a library. So upon moving to a new place, finding my anchors means finding my bookstores and my libraries. They draw my maps and orient my geographically inept brain like a homing dove.
In London, there is no end to the new bookstore discoveries, and this is not doing good things for my suitcase. I stagger with it, or to be honest, Guy staggers with it. Admittedly, this may be my huge COD (Concise Oxford Dictionary, although believe me, ‘Concise’ often seems to be a rather cruel joke) and Oxford Guide to Style – my editorial toolkit that is never far from this freelance editor. But this cannot bother me much, as the pattern continues – I still seek out where I can nip down to get a new book (library or bookstore) wherever I am so that I am never without some words to pore over.
When in Auckland, it was easy. I am more inclined to be a secondhand book buyer than anything – I love the reading the old inscriptions and straightening out crinkled pages – so my first choices were always Onehunga’s Hard to Find, Devonport’s Evergreen Books, Takapuna’s Bookmark Books or Auckland central’s Jason Books.
But London? It’s like starting from scratch and making unbelievably exciting archaeological discoveries along the way.
So you can imagine my delight when Guy comes home from his studio last week, comes into my study and deposits two secondhand books on my desk beside the politics manuscript I’m currently editing. Now, to be fair, I am rather lucky in that this ritual happens often – arrive home, deposit books, leave Elizabeth to disappear into them.
But this time was different. This time, along with a copy of H.D’s Trilogy (The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, The Flowering of the Rod) and a Raymond Chandler novel, I was introduced to the Book Barge. What an incredible idea – a floating bookstore that wafts slowly around London, stopping here and there to allow eager book-buyers to step onboard and pay a meagre two pounds or so for some treasures.
This is not one of my bookstores that is going to ground me, obviously. It will not be my ‘still point’. But instead, I will be keeping a close eye on its stops and trying to embrace its ‘slow book movement’ ideals.