Category Archives: Pretty Pictures

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”


So, last night a thing happened to me. I went to a party. I don’t get invited to parties much as a rule, I always end up pulling someone’s hair or sticking my fingers in the cake, and none of the other kids like books as presents. This, however, was a rare book trade party, and they always have to make up the numbers somehow.

The shindig, or indeed hootenanny, in question was the opening of this:

A bookshop, not messing about, yesterday.

A bookshop, not messing about, yesterday.

This is Peter Harrington Rare Books new Dover Street branch in the posh bit of Mayfair. In case you were wondering, no, there’s no bit of Mayfair that isn’t posh. If there were an un-posh bit, this shop wouldn’t be in it, I needed an escort of smartly dressed adults to get within ten feet of the door unchallenged.

As you can see, it’s very pretty, very green and exuding an air of calm elegance. My familiarity with calm elegance is right up there with my familiarity of say, early cuneiform, or the inner workings of the Antikythera Mechanism, but I have it on good authority from people who know calm elegance when they see it that, yup, this place is dripping with it.

Justin Croft was there, what more do you need to know? He’s like a calm elegance early warning system. He also doesn’t age, but that’s a story for another day, one when we have garlic and mistletoe and the backing of a reasonably sized religion.

"No, I am in fact 175 years old...hmm? Oh, virgin's blood mainly, and special soil..."

“No, I am in fact 175 years old…hmm? Oh, virgin’s blood mainly, and special soil…”

In case you were wondering whether I’m just plugging their shop because I work for one of their relatives, no, that wasn’t my intention, have you met me? I’m plugging their shop because it’s awesome. Not because it’s big, and clean and spacious, not because it has concealed lighting and air conditioning and a cool staircase and not because they were giving away free champagne and the bubbles went up my nose.

I mean, all those things are true, but they aren’t really things I give much of a toss about (except the free champagne), in fact they are usually reasons for me not to particularly like a place, being kind of grubby and low rent myself. There are other reasons:

Firstly, it’s a massive vote of confidence in the rare book trade, its future, and its customers. At a time when (once again) the majority of booksellers are predicting a rain of frogs and the imminent arrival of the Whore of Babylon (whom I believe collects Cosway bindings and Jardine’s New Naturalist), often whilst people who want to buy books off them are standing there looking all forlorn and forgotten, this is a successful, internationally lauded firm making the statement that no, they aren’t having any of that, they are going to sell amazing books to anyone who wants them and they’re going to do it with a degree of style. So there’s that. We like that.

Secondly, the staff. Normally I hate bookshop staff. I am bookshop staff, and I’m grotesque, so I naturally suspect the same of anyone in the same profession.

Me, only better groomed.

Me, only better groomed.

Dover Street is being managed by Ben Houston. He is not horrid. He’s annoyingly intelligent, reprehensibly helpful and informed and quite disgustingly friendly and efficient. He fills me with insecurity and self loathing. He gave myself and one of my colleagues a guided tour and he actually managed to make us feel as if we were perhaps his first or most definitely, favourite guided tour of the day. He’d probably done 50, and detested most of the last 20. I have a keen eye for vile and deceitful behaviour in others (I’m competitive that way) and could detect none. He gave us drinks and showed us wonderful books. He smelled nice, sort of sandalwoody with a hint of citrus, rather like one might expect the 1930’s to smell, only with less national socialism.

All that aside, he knows what he’s talking about, and he knows what he’s doing…personally not things I look for in a bookshop manager, but people who want to buy inscribed F. Scott Fitzgerald, sets of Cook’s Voyages in contemporary bindings and the world’s most beautiful first edition of The Hobbit probably feel differently. They probably think he’s peachy.

I was also introduced to Gracie Pocock, who initially had the bad judgement to attempt to make me believe she was actually looking forward to meeting me. Once we’d got that tissue of patent untruths out of the way I discovered that she is working in PR and marketing for the rare book trade. The party was her doing. It appeared most successful.

Yes. I know.

Public Relations in the  British rare book trade used to consist of wearing a shirt with not too much egg down it. Marketing involved a sign on the front of your shop and a postcard in the local newsagent’s window. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. It is still very much possible to attend a bookfair by accident, simply because you didn’t know it was happening and took a wrong turn into a church hall. This is a trade where a lot of dealers still get grumpy when you buy a book off them and ask for a receipt. Miss Pocock might have to get an assistant.

The main reason why you should drop everything and go to the Dover Street shop is pretty obvious. The books; the books are absolutely incredible.

There’s this:

 

This copy has no way been there and back again...

This copy has no way been there and back again…

and somewhere there’s this:

McKenney & Hall, the original line up before the arrival of John Oates.

McKenney & Hall, the original line up before the arrival of John Oates.

and this:

It was the best of books, it was the...well pretty much the best of books actually.

It was the best of books, it was the…well pretty much the best of books actually.

All those images are the property of Peter Harrington Rare Books, just click on the pictures to see the descriptions. It’s well worth it.

So go. Go and browse. It’s beautiful. I haven’t been this impressed by anything in a long while. Usually my life is a storm of NSFW book lust on the one hand and the crippling disappointment of reality on the other. Occasionally there’s a brief moment of joy caused by finding a half eaten, forgotten pasty in my coat pocket, or when Adrian forgets to mark the level on the shop whisky bottle…but last night’s visit to Dover Street was a very grown up, considered, intelligent and important event. The appearance of a shop like that, whoever owns it, wherever it is, is a significant moment for the international rare book trade. Much as I love the teetering piles of old leather and the creaky cabinets of cloth bound oddities, and I do love them, fervently and indecently; they are where I grew up, and where many important things happened to me…but often the books deserve better.

That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day; are the books being given their due importance, their proper significance? Aside from the fact that we’re all trying to make money out of them, aside from the fact that there’s no such thing as free champagne, aside from the fact that we’re all fashionably cynical and that we have collectively more behavioral disorders than an off Broadway production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…that perfect copy of The Hobbit, or the corrected Joyce typescript, or a first issue Origin of Species or a 16th century navigational manuscript don’t actually give a damn how much money we put on them, nor do they care which of us get to put them in a catalogue or exhibit them at Olympia…the only thing that matters is that they are put in the best possible place in the world to be seen, and to do their job, and feed our sense of wonder.

Last night I drank free champagne in one of those possible places.

 

 

 

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Weapons of Choice 3: Artificial Nocturnes.


Charles Dickens; the beginning of modern fandom?

The “Dickensian” 19th century is probably where by loose mainstream (not to mention Western, and thus probably predominantly male) definitions, we start to become able to easily recognise cultural and social touchstones as being not too dissimilar to our own.

The everyday stuff; shopping, clothes, streetlamps, street layouts, art galleries, leisure pursuits, newspapers, literature, music etc. could all be considered to be loosely the same. Whilst we might be thrown off by a 15th century Florentine street scene (unless we’ve played a lot of Assassin’s Creed), we can look at a photograph of Christmas shopping in the 1870’s and say “Oh, Oxford Street!” We don’t have any difficulty accepting gaslight gradually morphing into the beginning of municipal electricity usage, the hansom cab, gentlemen in bowler hats, ladies in corsets and crinolines and Jack the Ripper as all having been iconic components of this period.

What's my name? Yeah, it's a byword for poverty, cruelty, deprivation and urban horror. That's how I roll.

What’s my name? Yeah, it’s a byword for poverty, cruelty, deprivation and urban horror. That’s how I roll.

A far as successful British 19th Century writers were concerned Charles Dickens was the commercial equivalent of J. K. Rowling. He was huge, without doubt the most popular novelist of his time and place. There are numerous possible reasons for his overwhelming popularity, but one deciding factor would be the broad nature of his readership. He wrote for everyone, and he did it at a shilling a go.

A nicely produced hardback book could cost up to a guinea, for many that would be a luxury too far. Dickens weekly parts were cheap, plentiful and conformed to a standard that had been popular since the end of the 18th century.

Dickens’s most famous works were serialised, most often appearing in 19 weekly parts bound in powder blue decorated paper and accompanied by illustrated engravings. “Great Expectations” on the other hand was serialised in “All The Year Round” from December 1860 under Dickens’ editorship. Thus for those of us whose purses didn’t run to building a library; periodicals and part publications were the way to go for a regular fix of excitement, romance and adventure.

It’s easiest to envision the illustrated parts as episodes in a TV series. Each one was likely to end with a dilemma or some sort of a cliff-hanger and the readership would wait in eager anticipation to discover the next event in the life of Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby. The only people to get their hands on each installment in a timely fashion would be people living in the larger cities. Copies would be distributed from person to person, read around firesides and gossiped about in cafes and railway carriages. Those who were living abroad during the height of British Imperialism could and did wait months for their prized periodicals to arrive and break the dreadful monotony of Company or Crown service overseas. They weren’t just appreciated and read as entertainment; they were shared and communally devoured as a pure and accessible form of escapism.

Think of me as a DVD box set of the entirety of Farscape...

Think of me as a DVD box set of the entirety of Farscape…

This then appears to be one of the components of a flourishing fandom:  A “readership” that stems from many different walks of life coupled with the shared anticipatory experience of waiting. In addition it also needs the kind of social structure that permits a form of leisurely speculation as to motivations and physical and emotional repercussions on the part of the characters. There must be “gatherings” of followers discussing how Nicholas would get Smike free of Dotheboys Hall.

Nowadays the arena of fandom is incontrovertibly the internet…enough emotional energy has been expended on Tumblr to determine any potential for a relationship between Molly Hooper and Irene Adler, or the possible sexuality of Stiles Stilinski (which incidentally is something the show’s writers don’t even seem to see as an issue…crucially it’s the fans who desire and discuss the boundaries and the labels, who take and own the characters and settings) to power a medium sized Chinese city.

In the mid to late 19th century Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook would have been the after supper fireside or a walk in the park or the parlour in the evening…Dickens, Collins and many of his contemporaries ran a regular circuit of talks, lectures, amateur dramatics and informal gatherings, pretty much the pre-internet equivalent of posting spoilers or hosting a podcast.

The emotional connection of the readership to Dickens’ characters is undeniable, and again the pre-eminence of emotional over “intellectual” appeal seems to bind a group of viewers or readers into a fandom. It’s all about the emotional impact of a narrative; identifiable characters with clear cut motivations facing unusual events in a manner with which we can empathise. It’s one thing to make us think, but if you can make us laugh like drains and sob uncontrollably week after week…you have a fandom.

Possibly one of the most familiar examples of this would be the reaction to the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, the final part of which was published (in “Master Humphrey’s Clock”) in February 1841. This from the inestimable Victorian Calendar:

 

“Countless tears are shed across Britain at the death of dear Little Nell.  Her passing takes place in the newly published final chapters of Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop. The final scene is as famous – or infamous – as anything in Victorian literature:

‘She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who has lived and suffered death … Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead.’

Dickens had struggled mightily: “I am breaking my heart over this story,” he told a friend. Dozens of readers wrote him begging that Nell be allowed to live. His close friend Macready, England’s greatest actor, after reading the final pages, wrote the author, “I have never read printed words that gave me so much pain.” It seemed everyone was grief-stricken. Lord Jeffrey, one of the nation’s leading judges, was found openly weeping by a friend, “I’m a great goose to have given way so, but I couldn’t help it.” The Irish champion, Daniel O’Connell threw his copy across the room, more in disgust than grief, claiming Dickens “had not sufficient talent to maintain Nell’s adventures… so he killed her.” When English ships reached American ports, people stood on the dock shouting, “Is Little Nell dead?” Sales of Dickens’ struggling journal Master Humphrey’s Clock rose to 100,000, many of them soon tear-stained.

For early Victorians, the open expression of grief was not anything to be ashamed of. By the latter stages of the century, however, the reaction had set in. Fitzjames Stephens wrote that “so many foolish tears had been shed” over Nell.”

"Poor Nell...Too...Many...Feels."The Editor, London Illustrated News, Feb. 1841

“Poor Nell…Too…Many…Feels.”
The Editor, London Illustrated News, Feb. 1841

The parallels between reader response here and reader response to the death of Dumbledore (just as an example) aren’t much of a stretch. It’s doubtful that anyone who developed a favourite Dickens’ character ever again rested entirely easy until the last page was turned and the finale reached still breathing. Charles Dickens, Ladies and Gentlemen; The Victorian Joss Whedon.

In 1841 I could have quoted her death scene to any of Mr Dickens’ multitude of readers and would have received a response probably very similar to the one I’d get if I was on Tumblr and said “I am a Leaf on The Wind.”

I would not be popular.

I would get this...The Black Spot of the interwebs,

I would get this…The Black Spot of the interwebs,

Next up Sherlock Holmes; the fandom that will not die even if you chuck it off a waterfall…and my problem with the concept of “quality”.  Actually my problem with quality should be pretty self-evident, but hey…


London Calling! Move without pausing to the Old Operating Theatre.


What’s that you say bibliodeviant? This isn’t another post where you wax all pretentious about how much you really, really like books? Because we weren’t sure whether you liked books or not…it’s always so difficult knowing what to get you for your birthday…if only you like books it would be easy.

Yes, well, I know what you can get me for my birthday…I would like to be the man who made this please:

Yup, that a weird collection of Lewis Carroll related strangeness, and yes, that is the Cheshire Cat’s skull…Now move along.

The true splendour of this man’s exploits can be summed up by me saying that he once exhibited a sample case and expedition trunk reportedly salvaged from the Challenger expedition to Maple White Land. The expedition detailed in Doyle’s The Lost World. It had a Pterodactyl wing in it…A Pterodactyl wing.

And…he is having a Splendid and Thrilling Exhibition of His Breathtaking Wonders, in London, at the Old Operating Theatre near London Bridge.

“Alex CF

Alex CF offers the public a unique opportunity to see his bizarre crafted specimens in the setting of the Old Operating theatre. A collection of 19th century biological specimens of species thought to be the stuff of legend, from Vampires to dragons, their preserved remains and enigmatic stories the life’s work of curator and custodian Alex CF.

Related website: www.alexcf.com

 

Everyone who can should go along to this exhibition. There are reasons, obviously, many dark arcane possibly terrifying reasons. Reasons that man and woman should not expose themselves to without the correct application of protective sigils, and gin.

Reasons like this:

A sample Cabinet from Dante’s expedition into Hell…

And this:

The fact that I want this badly enough to be reduced to making incoherent grunting noises doesn’t say anything bad or strange about me does it?

Reasons like the fact there are far too few people doing things like this in a world where there are far too many people eating at Chick Fil-A and obsessing about other people’s sexual habits and being inappropriately intrusive into what deity other people worship. Visit this exhibition, worship Cthulhu, read books.

/end channel ident

All the details of this wonderful event and it’s extremely cool venue are here:

http://www.facebook.com/events/418934891481289/

 

I am going. Even though this man is talented enough and intelligent enough to fall into the category of people I instantly fear and hate, I’m still going, I may go several times, if I don’t do anything embarassing the first time. He also spends time in the company of the luminous personage responsible for this place: Wurzeltod

Between the two of them there should be some sort of quite spectacular but ultimately damaging cosmic event caused by the achievement of a particularly arcane brand of creative critical mass.

I’ve changed my mind, I hate both of them. And fear. Fear and hate in equal measure. But I’m still going to the exhibition. More than once. I’ll be the badly dressed Victorian nerd in the corner, the one with all the empty space around him, enveloped in the alluring scents of juniper and formaldehyde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Book of The Week: We Carry A Heaven In Ourselves…


Haven’t done one of these for a while, I’m sure that people have forgotten I actually spend my day surrounded by books rather than lurking in a screen filled cave attempting to absorb the contents of the internet. I’ve got a ton of stuff to write about at the moment (I’m not promising any of it will be any good, but hey, if you want good go here, and here), we’ve had an influx of very cool books, I have another catalogue to write  and we’re gearing up for the imminent publication of Jon Gilbert’s epic Ian Fleming Bibliography.

So for starters, something barking mad:

Not just mental, but contemporary hand-coloured mental…

BARRETT, Francis. The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer; Being a Complete System of Occult Philosophy.

London: Printed for Lackington, Allen and Co.,  1801.  [38020 ]

FIRST EDITION. Quarto (270 x 210mm) Three books in two parts pp. xv, 175,198. Bound with the half-title but lacking the leaf of advertisments to rear. Later 19th Century half tan morocco leather, cloth sides, raised bands and gilt titles to spine. All edges speckled red. Frontispiece portrait, 22 plates (1 folding and four hand-coloured) and smaller illustrations and tables within the text. Some rubbing to edges, armorial bookplate of J. Griffith Dearden to front pastedown. A remakably clean and fesh example with just some browning and light spotting to frontispiece and title, with a faint stain to the gutter of first two leaves. The colouring of the Demon portraits is particularly vibrant, with more use of blues and greens than the more usual browns and reds. Francis Barrett was an eccentric student of the Occult (and amateur balloonist!) His major work, The Magus, was influential on the occult revival of the 19th Century, both on the Gothic novel and Romantic works and later, with the publication of a facsimile edition c.1875, groups such as the Golden Dawn. Although he was heavily indebted to the works of earlier masters and perhaps added little of his own philosophy, though he did translate some Latin passages, the Magus was the first collection of major Occult thought in English since the 1651 translation of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. An uncommonly clean and unrestored copy of an Occult landmark.

Hello there, I’m Francis Barrett, come up to my place and I’ll teach you alchemy and take you for a ride in my beautiful balloon!

Those of you familiar with my ramblings will be aware that the above catalogue description issues from the steady hand and calm mind of Mr. Blair Cowl, Keeper of Ye Cupboard of Darknesse. All further attempt at erudition is entirely my own fault.

August 11th, 1802, Greenwich, London: Enormous crowds gather to witness Francis Barrett, occultist, alchemist, Brother of The Rosy Cross, astrologer and scholar attempt to add the title of Balloon Adventurer (or “Ballooner” as Lauren Avirom would have it) to his list of titles. The Times of the day reported:

“The roads leading from London…were filled the whole of the afternoon with conveyances of every description…Blackheath resembled a race-ground, carriages were continually passing over it…”

The crowd was enormous, fractious, rambunctious, largely drunk and destined to be disappointed. In this context “disappointed” means that the military had to be hastily drafted in to control it.

Magister Barrett’s balloon encountered problems. His plan was to use massive amounts of sulphuric acid mixed with iron filings to create hydrogen to inflate his airship. The theory was fairly sound except for the niggling detail that vaporized sulphuric acid is a trifle aggressive, and proceeded to eat through the barrels and the hoses intended to deliver hydrogen into the balloon.

The flight had to be delayed until the next day, the only people happy with this were the pickpockets, who were having, literally, a field day. Barrett apologetically (and probably rather nervously) promised results by 3pm the next day. Barrett and his cohorts (including the Chevalier Andrade, whose grounds were hosting the experiment…and the horde) worked through the night attempting to improve their airship. The crowd returned, about half of them wanting to see a balloon fly, the other half wanting a riot to kick off. The pickpockets had bought friends, and a number of people were robbed blind. Barrett’s balloon eventually clambered sluggishly into the grey sky, unmanned and un-basketed, it managed to lurch three miles or so and pitched into a marsh. The populace were not amused. Barrett and family left London under something of a cloud.

Mr. Robert Southey, never one to keep his mouth shut, had this to say in one of his millions of letters:

“…We dined at the traveller’s room at Swansea. There came in after dinner the balloon adventurer Barrett to sponge a glass of wine. Tell King I have seen a greater rogue than Solomon! This same Barrett who took in the people at Greenwich – and who wrote a book called The Magus – of which I have seen the title page and his own rascally portrait as frontispiece. My gentleman professes to teach the occult sciences. Unhappily I did not know this was the fellow when I saw him – else I would have gone thro his sciences! – and he puts all the letters in the alphabet after his name to look like honorary titles. A dog – he had better break his neck from a balloon to save the country the expense of hanging him.”

Whereupon the recipient of the letter probably wrote back telling Southey to stop beating round the bush and just say what he really felt.

Barrett was possibly the least successful balloon adventurer ever, he made exactly one half-way successful flight; spending a couple of hours being dragged through hedgerows by a recalcitrant airship that was dismembered by over enthusiastic field hands as soon as it eventually came to rest. We’re not going to talk about the time he almost set a dog and a cat on fire.

However:

Lack of success as an aeronaut aside, Barrett’s true importance lies in the fact that he was virtually the first “magician” since the Medieval period to create a magical “Do It Yourself” textbook. It remained a significant part of the exploration of the occult until the publication of Crowley’s Magick In Theory and Practice (1929) supplanted it slightly in the minds of serious practitioners on the grounds that magickal education is all very well, but it’s better when there are also naked people involved.

Besides, would you trust this man with a hot-air balloon?

“The Magus” is a remarkable piece of work, covering as it does just about every part of magical theory. The title alone covers three quarters of the page:

“The Magus, Or Celestial Intelligencer; Being a Complete system of Occult Philosophy. In three books: Containing the Antient and Modern Practice of the Cabalistic Art, Natural and Celestial Magic & c. ; shewing the wonderful effects that may be formed by a knowledge of the Celestial Influences, the Occult Properties of Mestals, Herbs and Stones, and the Application of Active to Passive Principles Exhibiting The Sciences of Natural Magic; Alchemy or Hermetic Philosophy; Also The Nature Creation, and Fall of Man; His Natural and Supernatural Gifts; The Magical Power Inherent in the Soul & c. ; The Composition and Construction of All Sorts of Magic Seals, Images, Rings, Glasses & c. ; The Virtue and Efficacy of Numbers, Characters and Figures, of Good and Evil Spirits. Magnetism and Cabalistical or Ceremonial Magic; In which The Secret Mysteries of The Cabala are explained; The Operations of Good and Evil Spirits; All Kinds of Cabalistic Figures, Tables, Seals and Names with their use & c. The Times, Bonds, Offices and Conjuration of Spirits. To Which Is Added Biographia Antiqua , or the Lives of the most eminent Philosphers, Magi & c. The Whole illustrated with a great Variety of Curious Engravings, Magical and Cabalistical Figure & c.”

His intention, as evinced by an advertisement printed inside the first (and only for 70 odd years) edition of the book, was to form a magical school with no more than 20 students  where he would teach the theories and practices defined in The Magus. Barrett seems to have been one of those people who hovered on the misty border between penury and discovery. His work (and hobbies come to think of it) displays a fascination with systems of thought, the building of cross disciplinary equations and the embracing of technology. Like a kind of occult Rochester he seems to have been resourceful, frequently brilliant and totally unable to settle. Remarkably little is known about him, either his early life or his subsequent adventures after 1802 until his death at some time in (presumably)  the 1820’s. Even his two primary biographers; the deliciously erudite and eccentric Timothy d’Arch Smith and later Mr. Francis King have very little light to shed upon what actually happened to Barrett before or after his abortive foray into the upper atmosphere. It is speculated he was a surgeon’s mate in the Royal Navy, it’s known that in 1800 he married sixteen year old Grace Hodge and a year later had a son.

His occult school seems to have been relatively successful (if Montague Summers can be relied upon, and he can’t, not normally), being based at least for a while at 99 Norton Street in London. The careers of a couple of his pupils can be tracked into the mid nineteenth century. Of Barrett himself there are few traces. Personally I would be inclined to favour the idea that he finally finished his masterpiece of an airship and attained his ambition “To be abandoned to a new element.”


But No Matter, The Road Is Life…


The June book fairs are mostly in May this year. The Antiquarian Bookdealers Association: Scheduling perversity a speciality since 1906.

Olympia International Antiquarian Book Fair (for which I am feverishly preparing, ie: shaving, because I have to speak to humans) begins on the 24th of May and ends upon the 26th. Full schedules, locations, lists of lectures etc. can be found here: Olympia Book Fair

Steadman meets Sendak (in a transparent attempt to make the point that not everything at the fair is 200 years old…)

Now, book fairs have a purpose. Well they have more than one, but as far as you are concerned there’s one major one. Hands up any of you who have actually laid hands on a Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii?

Well it looks like this, and it’s an amazing piece of renaissance printing, and it’s full of secret codes (!) and sex, and it’s way more complicated and mysterious than Lost, only without the utterly banal ending.

It roughly translates as the “Struggle for Love in a Dream”, although if you look it up on wikipedia, they refer to it as The Strife of Love In a Dream. It was published in 1499 in Venice by a man who was to publishing what Joss Whedon is to triumphant comebacks.

I mean, really, look at this thing.

I want one of these like Dante wanted Beatrice, like astronauts want to go back into space, like browncoats want a second season of Firefly, like this book is gravity and I am a little tiny falling thing…You get the idea. It’s a thing I really like.

I saw my first copy a few years ago at the Olympia International Book Fair; Heather O’Donnell of Honey and Wax showed it to me and, like Legolas seeing the sea, I was done. My heart made a little ringing sound and hasn’t let me entirely rest since. I mean, I even read the damned thing.

Then there’s this sort of thing:

You’d sell your soul to the Devil to produce something this beautiful, and he’d get the irony.

And this:

This is from Martayan Lan (not a Star Trek character) and will be at the fair next week.

That’s without considering the Sherlock Holmes first editions, the Harry Potter collections, the giant books full of intricate and wondrous engravings of long disappeared mathematical and navigational instruments, the multi-volumed histories of lands that have been engulfed  by tides both literal and metaphorical, the first editions of Dracula and Pride and Prejudice and Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Hunger Games and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Then there’s Samuel Pepys, and Lord Rochester, and Oliver Cromwell (never liked the man myself) and Jules Verne and Charles Dickens and some utterly bizarre paintings of sea monsters by a man whose relationship with sanity was clearly more of an acquaintance. As a very last resort you can laugh at bookdealers, just supposing any of them are doing anything funny.

“Then he said: But that’s average size for an Octavo!”

Book fairs are an invaluable opportunity to lay hands on and lose hearts to a vast array of art forms and artefacts that otherwise you’re only going to see on Tumblr with some rather pointless fact about boyfriends photo-shopped over the top of them.

I understand your reluctance.

At their worst book fairs oscillate wildly between a car boot sale taking place in the parking lot of a Little Chef on the Fifth Circle of Hell, and an intensely aggravating exercise in pointless elitism from a group of people who a) actually believe that clothes maketh the man or woman and b) cannot rid themselves of the erroneous belief that selling something wonderful, important and clever somehow makes them wonderful, important and clever. They also occasionally believe that saying “I don’t think you can afford it.” counts as customer service.

I have experienced both of these extremes, in all fairness this could be because I’m scruffy, poor and have a low boredom threshold. I have however not experienced them at Olympia (or Chelsea or any of the fairs I actually go back to endlessly, because they’re good, and they have good books and good book dealers).

The Olympia International Antiquarian Book Fair is one of the best and brightest in the world, dealers and customers travel from all over the planet to exhibit, buy and drool over some of the most stunning books you’ll ever see.

So basically, you must come to the fair. You will be most welcome. I can supply you with as many free tickets as you want. If you desire a tour of the fair, feel free to ask, there are lectures, demonstrations and all sorts of other bits and bobs. These are the droids you’re looking for.

“I’ve got a good feeling about this book fair, just never tell me the odds of finding a first issue of Polidori’s The Vampyre!”


Reading Around my Area – Arthur Conan Doyle, Hindhead and Undershaw


Reading Around my Area – Arthur Conan Doyle, Hindhead and Undershaw.


Thank You Katie West


“Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. Those who do not do it, think of it as a cousin of stamp collecting, a sister of the trophy cabinet, bastard of a sound bank account and a weak mind.”

— Jeanette Winterson


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