Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ex Libris.

One of my great pleasures (there were a few others) when I was a student in London, was to browse the second-hand bookstores. I don’t mean the glitzy, coffee serving mega book emporiums that have sprung up in recent years, but the dusty, uncatalogued and totally disorganised sort of book peddlers that used to inhabit Charing Cross Road and similar byways of the metropolis.

Turning a corner in one of the aisles of creaking bookshelves that filled the shop, one would stumble on a character, equally as unkempt as yourself (students weren’t leaders of fashion in those days) , who seemed to have been browsing there undisturbed for several days.

And then there were the books. Gloriously unclassified and always holding out the hope that you would find a real gem – and sometimes you did. I still have some of those and, reading the prices pencilled on the flyleaf, is to take a trip back to a different era of pounds, shillings and pence. And fortunately, the prices only ran to shillings and pence on my purchases.

This wander down memory lane (or Charing Cross Road, if you will) was prompted by the domestic rearrangement of our living room. The French artisan who rattled up our cottage some four hundred years ago was not much of a bookworm. He put in a fireplace, a window and overhead, some useful storage space for animal fodder. Undoubtedly he felt that was sufficient. Over the years, a few bits have been tacked on but no library. Consequently, my books share living space with ourselves in the same room.

Now a desire for change has meant that all the fairly carefully arranged volumes have been uprooted from their beds and replanted, higgledy-piggledy fashion, on the shelves. Searching for a specific volume has now become a quest for a holy grail. But in the quest I come across books that I had totally forgotten about. It’s just like finding long lost friends.

And it takes me back to those far off days when I was browsing the bookstores of Charing Cross Road. I think I’ll leave them as they are.


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