Category Archives: booksellers

The unsung heroes of our culture

A dying trade

Precarious lives of Britain’s few remaining sellers of second-hand books

Dalrymple writes:

I remain firm in my admiration of those who do not work exclusively or even principally for money; and among the latter must surely be English provincial sellers of second-hand books.

Theirs is

a dying trade, and entering their shops – now, alas, fewer and fewer – one cannot help but wonder whether it ever truly lived. As long as I can remember, which is now quite a long time, they have been cold with a kind of irredeemable cold, an absence of warmth upon which no paraffin heater, no pre-war single bar electric heater (of the kind favoured by booksellers), no clement weather, can make the slightest impression.

When you take a book from a shelf of one of these bookshops,

you get a puff of cold air in the face, as well as of dust, as if you had opened a mediæval tomb complete with a curse against grave-robbers. One associates dust with dry heat, but this, at least where English provincial second-hand bookshops is concerned, is a mistake. They contrive to be cold, dusty and damp at the same time.

Dalrymple finds it remarkable that

in so materialistic an age as our own people can be found who not only spend, but want to spend, and cannot conceive of not spending, their working lives in such conditions, and all for little monetary reward.

True,

they are more or less protected by their avocation from the seamier and more violent side of modern society; burglars and armed robbers in even the worst areas for crime do not think to break into second-hand bookshops; and the comings and going of governments do not trouble them. Not for them, either, the shadow-boxing of modern party politics, in which one political mountebank sets himself up as the last bastion against the depredations of another, in truth not very dissimilar, mountebank.

Rather,

they concern themselves with the eternal verities of light foxing, cocking, small tears to dust jackets, and the like. The worst that can happen to them is a gentle slide into insolvency as rents rise (all such shops are now found in the unlikeliest places because they can survive only where rents are low) and readers decline – both in number and in discrimination. For my money (of which, incidentally, they have taken a lot down the ages) they are the unsung heroes of our culture.

Happier times

What a way to go

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.59.08Burying himself in The Bibliomania, or Book-Madness, Containing Some Account of the History, Symptoms and Cure of this Fatal Disease, by the Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Dalrymple enjoys the description of a man who,

on his deathbed, excitedly sent out for books from the catalogue of a bookseller, his obsession keeping him happy until the very moment of his death.

His library of 50,000 books was sold posthumously for a third of what it cost him,

but if the really important business of life is to die well, then no better death could be imagined.

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A Hoxha votary amid the dust and mould

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 05.48.33A second-hand bookseller Dalrymple knows is

a fervent believer in Enver Hoxha’s Albanian paradise.

The bookseller

thinks all forms of modern communication are instruments of monopoly capitalism, designed to exploit the common man, who consequently has not a clue about the value (or should I say the price?) of a first edition of Liza of Lambeth.

He

is furious that his black customers, old women mainly, are more interested in concordances to the Bible than in Hoxha’s vituperations against the Titoites.

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Utility of Arnold Schönberg

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The old second-hand booksellers — the real pros now wiped out, of course, by the state-subsidised fake-charity shops — used to regard their customers, Dalrymple points out,

largely with contempt.

You knew you were in an ice-cream butcher’s if the seller was in any degree courteous. If he was curt, supercilious and rude, you knew the place was the real thing.

The owner of one bookshop Dalrymple used to visit

so hated his customers that he would sometimes play Schönberg very loudly to clear the shop of them. It was a very effective technique.

Save the Aid Workers

State-funded Save the Children's grandiloquent new headquarters in the heart of London:

State-funded Save the Children’s grandiloquent new headquarters in the heart of London: salaries can reach nearly £140,000

A bogus charity

The Save the Children Fund, Dalrymple points out, is

not a charity at all, as many similar charities are not. It is a department of state, or at least of the politico-bureaucratic class.

Last year, Dalrymple notes, Save the Children

received nearly two-thirds of its income from governmental or quasi-governmental sources. The British government and the European Union were by far its largest donors. Without such funding it would cease to exist.

Creature of the British State

There are more than 880 employees at Save the Children’s headquarters. The wages bill last year of those employed plus the costs of raising voluntary (privately donated) funds was equal to just over 84 percent of those latter funds; raising the funds alone cost just short of 29 percent of the funds raised.

By the standards of commercial companies, the wage structure was not particularly regressive: the average salary was £27,000, while the two most highly paid received just less than £140,000.

Flush with taxpayers' cash, helping to put second-hand bookshops out of business

Flush with taxpayers’ cash, helping to put second-hand bookshops out of business

Without state funding, Save the Children

would have had just £17m over and above its wage and fund-raising costs. Its brochure says that it raised £370m last year, without mentioning that £228m came from government sources.

In short, says Dalrymple, employees of this fake charity are

publicly funded bureaucrats.

Save the Children has, it should be added, played a leading role in attacking the livelihoods of British second-hand bookshop owners and staff. Among the victims of Save the Children and other disingenuous ‘charities’ are those who used to run second-hand bookshops in, for instance, small towns (as distinct from exclusively ‘antiquarian’ operators serving collectors, or those dealing solely on the internet).

Indeed, many have given up their shops and have shifted to dealing solely on the internet, because the state-funded counterfeit-charity shops like Save the Children with their free book donations make it impossible to compete.

Thus is a worthy trade sabotaged.

Delirious joy of rioting and looting

Panama City

Panama City

A day out that combines the pleasures of destruction with those of moral indignation

Dalrymple recounts that while working as a journalist, he once reported on a riot in Panama City

in which I saw middle-class people throwing bricks through windows and making bonfires in the street. I recognised one of the rioters dining in an expensive restaurant that same night.

Baltimore

Baltimore

Rioters, writes Dalrymple, are

a self-selected group, who are fully aware of what rioters are likely to do.

He points out that in the London riots of 2011, rioters

smashed and looted every store in a street except the bookstore, the only one to remain with its windows and stock entirely intact. The rioters had no use or desire for books.

London

London

And when eventually the police,

who took a long time to intervene, arrested some of the rioters engaged in the gravest actions, it turned out that the majority had serious criminal records.

During the Parisian riots of 2005, the rioters

burned thousands of cars belonging to people very similar to themselves, and who lived in the same area as they.

Paris

Paris

This, Dalrymple points out, was hardly

the manifestation of an acute sense of injustice. If anything, it was a manifestation of wounded amour propre, for the rioters would never have rioted against the kind of injustices that people such as they committed every day.

The rioters

expect from the authorities a completely different standard of behaviour from that they exhibit themselves: they are children, the authorities parents.

 

 

Living with book-purchasing disorder

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 22.35.58Dalrymple, himself afflicted from a very young age with BPD — which is a serious condition, in isolated cases fatal — explains (from 45:01) the criteria for the disease.

He who suffers from book-purchasing disorder experiences at least three of the following:

  • He buys more books than 99 per cent of the population
  • Book purchases amount to a significant proportion of his discretionary income
  • He experiences difficulty in passing a bookstore without entering it
  • Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 22.31.53There are frequent episodes of BPD-associated raised tension, which can be alleviated only by purchasing another book
  • He buys more books than he can possibly read
  • He has quarrelled with his wife about the number of books in the house
  • His wife has suggested a ‘one in, one out’ policy to help him — and her — come to terms with BPD and tackle it together
  • His wife has banned the presence of books from a number of the rooms in the house

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Postcards from North Wales

Madoc Books, Llandudno. The Welsh Buchmendel 'deals mainly in books of Welsh interest and in the Welsh language. Sometimes he has very rare books, of which only one or two other copies may exist in the world. He tries to interest Welsh universities and public libraries in them, but they always reply that the books are too obscure for anyone ever to want to look at them. The books, it turns out, end up on the shelves of American institutions'

Madoc Books, Llandudno. The Welsh Buchmendel ‘deals mainly in books of Welsh interest and in the Welsh language. Sometimes he has very rare books, of which only one or two other copies may exist in the world. He tries to interest Welsh universities and public libraries in them, but they always reply that the books are too obscure for anyone ever to want to look at them. The books, it turns out, end up on the shelves of American institutions’

'Elegant Victorian seaside resort'

‘Elegant Victorian seaside resort’

'Beautiful little town on the Menai Straits'

‘Beautiful little town on the Menai Straits’

'The chapels—Sinai, Bethel, Zion, and so on—are closing, converted into luxury homes or garden centers or even restaurants (I can recall when restaurants remained almost unknown in North Wales)'

‘The chapels—Sinai, Bethel, Zion, and so on—are closing, converted into luxury homes or garden centres or even restaurants (I can recall when restaurants remained almost unknown in North Wales)’

'It’s all too easy in the heartachingly beautiful landscapes of North Wales, and in the human warmth of its villages, to descend to dithy-rambs about the simple life. But the genuinely simple life here, before the advent of modernity and such amenities as hot water, was harsh and difficult. No doubt narrow-mindedness and bigotry abounded, too'

‘It’s all too easy in the heartachingly beautiful landscapes of North Wales, and in the human warmth of its villages, to descend to dithyrambs about the simple life. But the genuinely simple life here, before the advent of modernity and such amenities as hot water, was harsh and difficult. No doubt narrow-mindedness and bigotry abounded, too’

Conservator of civilisation

Zweig in 1900

Zweig in 1900

The secondhand book dealer’s vital contribution

Dalrymple writes that in Buchmendel (1929), Stefan Zweig

indicates symbolically, and with great force, the destruction of cosmopolitan tolerance by the nationalist madness of the First World War in the fate of a single person.

Buchmendel

is a Jewish peddler of antiquarian books in Vienna. For many years before the outbreak of the war, he carried out his business in a Viennese café. Buchmendel lives for books; he has no other life. He is astonishingly learned, in the offbeat way of secondhand book dealers; every scholar in Vienna (the Vienna, recall, of Brahms, Freud, and Breuer, of Mahler and Klimt, of Schnitzler, Rilke, and Hofmannsthal) consults him on bibliographical matters.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 22.13.23Buchmendel is otherworldly.

His wants are few, his interest in money minimal. The café owner is happy to have as a customer a man consulted by so many eminent men, even though he consumes little and occupies a table all day. The café owner understands, as does everyone else, that Buchmendel is a contributor to, because he is a conservator of, civilisation, and being a civilised man himself, he is honored to welcome him.

But the war supervenes.

Buchmendel is arrested, because he has written to both London and Paris, asking why he has not received copies of bibliographical reviews. The military censors assume that this correspondence is a code for espionage: they can’t conceive that a man could concern himself with bibliography at such a time. The  authorities discover that Buchmendel, born in Russian Galicia, is not even an Austrian citizen. Interned in a camp for enemy aliens, he waits two years before the authorities realise that he is only what he seems, a book peddler.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 22.13.04On his release, Vienna has changed.

No longer the centre of an empire, it has become the impoverished capital of a monoglot rump state. Buchmendel’s café has changed hands; the new owner does not understand or welcome Buchmendel and ejects him. Buchmendel’s life has fallen apart, as has the civilisation to which he was a valuable contributor; now homeless, he soon dies of pneumonia.

Zweig makes it clear

that though Buchmendel was eccentric and his life one-dimensional, even stunted, he could offer his unique contribution to Viennese civilisation because no one cared about his nationality. His work and knowledge were vastly more important to his cosmopolitan customers than his membership in a collectivity.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 22.13.54No man was more sensitive than Zweig

to the destructive effects upon individual liberty of the demands of large or strident collectivities. He would have viewed with horror the cacophony of monomanias — sexual, racial, social, egalitarian — that marks the intellectual life of our societies, each monomaniac demanding legislative restriction on the freedom of others in the name of a supposed greater, collective good. His work was a prolonged (though muted and polite) protest at the balkanisation of our minds and sympathies.

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Browse while you can

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 00.02.04This is Dalrymple’s comment on the few remaining second-hand bookshops.

In one of the few SHBs that have not yet been killed off by High Street fake-charity shops (it should not be forgotten that the the fake-charity shops receive large subventions from the British state), Dalrymple discovers, and snaps up, a copy of J. Alexander’s The Truth About Egypt (1911), which he praises as

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 00.19.51a testimony to the vanity of power, or of supposed power.

A certain J. Alexander is the author of The Jews: Their Past, Present, and Future (1870),

being a succinct history of God’s ancient people in all ages, together with a brief account of the origin and formation of the Talmud based upon the most recent and approved authorities, to which is appended a tabulated statement of the numbers of Jews in all countries of the world.

I am not sure this is the same J. Alexander.

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Site of J. Alexander’s house

The J. Alexander who authored The Truth About Egypt signs off his preface ‘Cairo, April 5, 1911’ while the J. Alexander who authored The Jews signs off thus: ‘124, Stockwell Park Road, S.W. [which now appears to have been destroyed by bombing or to have been demolished], March 1, 1870’.

The J. Alexander of Stockwell Park Road writes:

The author being himself a descendant of Israel, has brought to bear on his subject all the love for the people from which he has sprung, combined with the sincerest attachment to the Christian Church, of which, by the grace of God, he has become a member.

The appendix is reproduced below. The statistics are poignant. 456,000 Jews in Germany in 1867; the figure for 1950 was 37,000.

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