“The world’s the same, there’s just less in it.”


“We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

 

martin

Martin Stone; patron saint of lost books and booksellers. (photographer unknown, but it’s a great jacket)

Martin Stone has moved on. The tip-tapping man of many pockets, drainpipe legs and dangling Gauloises has succumbed to a grim and irresistible disease. The flea markets of Paris and the stalls of Portobello should, by rights, be islands of silence.

Not for too long though, Martin wouldn’t like that, just a minute or two of quiet, slightly damp, reflection followed by a shrug and a return to bustling commerce.

His kind of memorial would involve a knowing nod and the production of some specially secreted oddity from under a stall; a sly grin and a “I thought you might come by. Take a look at this.”

Stop all the clocks, shut the bloody dog up, all that stuff. He dealt enough poets to know that understanding words and understanding books are very different things.

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Portrait of The Artist as a Young Rockstar

Everything about Martin was a good story.

I was in one of those Parisian flea markets with him quite recently, the bugger made me get up really early and meet him in a cafe somewhere in the dimmer aura of Paris, full of sullen, smoking men in wet woollen coats drinking coffee strong enough to take the silver off a mirror.

“This place is great!” He enthused, giving a credible impression of a mer cat in a tight Paul Smith suit. “Stick close though, some of these bastards can be a bit touchy.”

I wasn’t sure whether he meant the occupants of the cafe or the promised flea market nestled nearby beneath an underpass, he probably meant both.

I walked around with him, or in fact trailed after him, for an hour or two, trying to keep up with the rapid French, the knowing laughter, people shouting his name across makeshift aisles and endless boxes of dodgy Gallimards that he would sift through in the time it took me to figure out there were actually books on a stall that looked at first glance like someone had upended a skip full of 19th century brothel furniture onto a table.

He’d have moved on before I could get five books in. You knew incontrovertibly that once Martin Stone had moved on, there was nothing good left. He smiled at everybody, carried away very little.

On one stand near the roadside he shook hands with a lanky bloke who looked like he should be in a documentary about the Resistance. I bought a piece of schoolboy smut written by George Sands’ nephew, while Martin solemnly unwrapped something wrapped in layered plastic bags produced from an ancient suitcase. It was one of those typically French artist’s books, all pochoir and glassine, and the two of them leaned over it to protect it from the drizzle while Martin leafed delicately through it.

“Give me a minute.” He said to me and hurried off with his phone pressed to his ear.

The hero of the resistance looked me up and down and gestured after Martin.

“Is he well?” He asked.

“No.” I shrugged. He shook his head mournfully, and stamped his feet.

Less than five minutes later Martin returned, they nodded at each other, Martin took possession of the book in its wrappings and we headed off.

“Anything good?” The book had disappeared into yet another bag.

“Oh yes! Lovely thing, really scarce, only ever seen one before.”

“Shouldn’t be hard to shift then.”

“Oh, already sold it. Four and a half.”

That’s pretty much how it went on. Later in his flat in Versailles we ate cake and talked about Michael Moorcock. In retrospect every minute I was lucky enough to spend with Martin over the last 20 years was an education in knowledge, charm and enthusiasm, and there weren’t anywhere near enough of them.

When I was in my 20’s he gave me the keys for his then apartment in the Rue Cels in Montparnasse and said I could flat-sit while he was in the US. I spent a week drinking wine and eating cheese, reading Sebald and wandering through the Jardin de Luxembourg. Bill Wyman phoned his answering machine. I listened to zydeco. He could tell I needed a break, he knew the signs, and he generously provided it.

In return, when stuck on one of his overburdened forays to London, he’d occasionally come and sleep on my couch in Waterloo. We’d smoke too much and drink too much, before he climbed the huge, terrifying mountain of learning not to, and I would wake up the next morning feeling simultaneously close to death, and privileged.

We talked about books. He knew more, stored and treasured and preserved and embodied more about books than anyone I have ever met or heard of. Despite his vast knowledge, amazing memory, and almost magical ability to track and locate gems of bibliophilic rarity, he was always quietly offhand about it.

He taught me the priceless lesson that just because something isn’t worth much, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I always felt that his mere existence gave me a kind of permission to write four hundred word descriptions of books worth fifty quid; this was not a qualification that necessarily appealed to any of my subsequent employers. There are books in my office right now that bear his small, neat pencil annotations, there are probably similar books in the offices of every major book-dealer in the world.

He got around.

I was supposed to go and see him this week, he died the day before I was going to catch my train. I won’t regret the books I never bought, or the ones I really shouldn’t have; but I will regret that. Without him I might have been a bookseller, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and be a good one. That’s still a work in progress, but if I ever make it, it’ll be down to him.

We weren’t close, but I loved him. I didn’t know him well enough, but I am very grateful to him. The world, such as it is, has lost something important, and is a lesser place because of it.

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About bibliodeviant

This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

5 responses to ““The world’s the same, there’s just less in it.”

  • Karol Weyna

    Thanks. As I get older, I appreciate my friends more and more. Sorry for your loss, and kudos for your portrait.

    K. Weyna, self-exiled in France

    Bibliodeviancy wrote: > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com bibliodeviant posted: ““We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”   Martin Stone has moved on. The tip-tapping man of many pockets, drainpipe legs and dangling Gauloises has succumbed to a grim and irresistible disease. The flea markets of Paris and “

  • johnny haddo

    Reblogged this on theperfumedgardens and commented:
    remembering Martin Stone..book hound_

  • Jeremiah Cornelius/Mike Moorcock

    Martin was a friend for many years. In music circles he was generally known as Stoney but I never could call him that because it didn’t seem to carry enough respect. He could be a difficult friend, even after he got his act together and joined AA, but he was almost impossible not to love. He had always been somewhat obsessed with his own death but his Sufism in the end helped him die peacefully watched over by Lynn Hoggatt, who had worked hard to help him get and stay sober through the years. She, Simeon Gallu (the other half of the Gibson Girls) and his brother Nigel all helped him through that crises as well as the recent one, a horrifying and disfiguring form of cancer. Honestly, it was a nightmare for all and I am glad, at least, that he’s now free of it.

    • bibliodeviant

      I’m sorry for your loss, as well as my own…in fact it’s pretty much everybody’s loss. Few of us can be described as good men, but people like Martin seem to merit the word “great”
      He was much loved.
      Jonathan

  • Terry Craven

    Beautifully put.
    I feel the same.
    If ever I get near being any good at flogging books, it will be because of Martin.

    I was privileged to pass four months of early Saturday mornings at said flee market before I came to Madrid to set up my spot. If ever you come this way, please stop by Desperate Literature and we can share stories.

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