Category Archives: secondhand book dealers

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

The hideously male second-hand book trade

Dalrymple’s experience of the second-hand and antiquarian book trade is that

it is almost as exclusively male a preserve as the membership of the Garrick.

He explains that

it is when the man dies, never the woman, that booksellers are called in to clear houses of accumulated books.

As for customers,

they are overwhelmingly male.

Garrick Club

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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Postcards from Southsea

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 08.54.08Once a haven

of petty-bourgeois respectability, it is now seedy, its Victorian and Edwardian terraces divided into flats and bedsits for students, recipients of social security, and transients. I loved it.

There are

scores of little shops, with no chain shops in sight; and you could park for free for two hours.

Opposite the United Reformed Church (1911; converted into seedy flats), Dalrymple (probably without his wife, also a doctor, who takes the view that there may be enough books in the Maison Dalrymple already) visits Adelphi Books. Specialising in pre-war crime novels, it is

presided over by a pre-internet owner who did not spend his time poring over a computer comparing prices.

Southsea

seemed delightfully unregulated; it was like going back several decades.

Dr and Dr Dalrymple meet up again and go to

an excellent and cheap Japanese restaurant – £17 [$25] for two with a beer included. The manager apologised for the slight delay in the arrival of the food (it was very slight). ‘We’re suddenly very busy,’ he said. ‘I expect it’s the rain. When the weather’s good, people have better things to do than come here.

Dalrymple’s reaction to this remark:

I think I could be happy in Southsea.

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The proprietor at Adelphi does not waste his time poring over a computer comparing prices

Where Conan Doyle was a general practitioner

Where Conan Doyle was a general practitioner

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The Southsea Dalrymple knew as a young man

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Excellent and cheap

Excellent and cheap

Conan Doyle's home and consulting-room

Conan Doyle’s home and consulting-room

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.

Books in general

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 07.23.45In a second-hand bookshop in Shrewsbury, Dalrymple snaps up works by Augustine Birrell, Solomon Eagle (J.C. Squire), Walter Bagehot and Leslie Stephen. People ought to read these authors, writes Dalrymple,

both for their content and style.

None of these men, Dalrymple points out, was an academic, and

all would have disdained to write a sentence which it was necessary to read a dozen times to perceive a faint glimmer of meaning, as so many literary academics now habitually do with pride in their own obscurity.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 07.27.11Eagle, Bagehot, Stephen, Birrell and their like

had the knack of extracting the significance from the lives and works of the authors whom they read, and conveying it with elegance and precision. They were also very funny.

Dalrymple formerly harboured a prejudice about Bagehot.

I had rather supposed that he was dour, dry and dull, as befits the founder of the Economist.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 07.40.46Far from it, Dalrymple found when he read Bagehot’s literary criticism.

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Dalrymple’s Disease

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The disease, also known as Dalrymple Syndrome, is included in the manual

This crushing book-buying illness

Dalrymple has long been a victim of a malady that few observers have spoken of (possibly out of embarrassment, though the patient himself is often unaware of, or indifferent to, the condition), one that is far less common than it was but which is still occasionally diagnosed in not wholly statistically insignificant numbers, namely book-purchasing disorder.

The layman is all too apt to dismiss the illness as merely nauseating and hateful to the onlooker, but it is important to recognise that members of the book-buying disorder community are suffering from a severe, apparently intractable, condition or affliction that requires to be understood and treated non-judgmentally.

Sadly exhibiting one of the characteristic symptoms, Dalrymple openly tells an interviewer that he

cannot walk by a bookstore without buying a book.

Bibliopsychosis

Dalrymple's bedroom

Dalrymple’s bedroom

Dalrymple Disorder is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, with the hoarding of second-hand or antiquarian books being recognised as a psychosis for which therapy is urgently needed. (Penetration disorder, impulse-control disorder, gambling disorder, racism, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, homophobia, occupational defiant disorder, mother-in-law relational disorder, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, Islamophobia, hyperactive sexual desire disorder, sexism, and alternating hypoactive-hyperactive sexual desire disorder, are also set out in the manual.)

Dalrymple is required to undergo lengthy treatment for his book-buying disorder and

must stay in therapy, so that the doctor keeps getting paid.

What is book-hoarding disorder? US medical authorities have described it as follows.

Dalrymple's garage

Dalrymple’s garage

Book-hoarding disorder is characterized by the persistent difficulty in discarding or parting with books, regardless of the value others, such as spouses or other family members, may attribute to them.

The book-hoarding behaviours (focal sepsis may be present), collectively known loosely as Dalrymple’s Disease,

usually have harmful effects—emotional, neurophysiological, social, political, gastrointestinal, ethical, dental (halitosis is often severe), environmental, financial, theological, paranormal and legal—for the person suffering from the disorder and their spouse (or spouses, up to four, if the sufferer is a male Muslim) or other family members.

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Dalrymple’s WC

For people who hoard books,

the quantity of their collected volumes (the quality will not be discussed here) sets them apart from people with normal book-collecting behaviors.

They obsessively accumulate a large number of books

that often fill up or clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that the active living areas’ intended use (dining, laundry, defæcation, gardening, table-tennis, bathing, baseball, DIY, micturition, off-road parking, television viewing, copulation, social gatherings, food preparation, etc.) becomes supererogatory and is severely constrained or precluded, with adverse effects for spouses, other family members, friends, work colleagues, visiting representatives of city and federal authorities, etc.

Dalrymple's dining-room

Corner of Dalrymple’s dining-room

Distressing

Symptoms of the bibliomanic frenzy

cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, technological, eschatological, educational, sexual, vocational, ecclesiastical, uro-genital, occupational, horticultural, supernatural, teleological or other important areas of functioning including maintaining a minimally adequate living environment for self, spouse and/or others.

While some people who hoard books, such as Dalrymple, may not appear particularly distressed by their behaviours,

their behaviors can be deeply distressing to large numbers of other people, such as spouses, other family members, mailmen, district attorneys, electricians, infantrymen, landlords, Black Panthers, fire-fighters, mom-and-pop store owners, Klansmen, bellhops, veterinary surgeons, burglars, used-automobile salespersons, leaders of the LGBT community, lumberjacks, Vietnam vets, railroad employees, ISIS soldiers, narcotics officers, plumbers, persons of color, Jehovah’s Witnesses, cleaners, sheriffs or their deputies, satanists, electrical contractors, professional gamblers, gardeners, racists, neighbors, intimate-apparel vendors, double-glazing salespersons, and city and federal authorities.

Book-hoarding compulsion

A section of Dalrymple's kitchen

Section of Dalrymple’s kitchen

can often be quite severe and even threatening.

Beyond the highly negative mental impact of BPD,

the accumulation of old, flaking, dirty, dusty, greasy, moldy and often frankly disgusting volumes creates a public safety and health issue by overwhelming people’s homes and giving rise to serious and potentially deadly fall and fire hazards, especially in the fall or winter, when the compulsion is at its most acute.

Treatment

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-14-12-45Indicated treatment modalities where mild to moderate Dalrymple’s Disease is diagnosed include:

  • frontal leucotomy: nerve pathways in bibliobrain lobes are severed — with dispatch and some force — from those in other regions
  • Metrazol-induced convulsion therapy: sharp anti-bibliomanic shocks are administered, giving rise to uncontrollable convulsions
  • insulin coma therapy (Insulinschockbehandlung): the patient is turned hypoglycemic with repeated injected insulin, causing repeated vomiting and loss of control of the bowels, also unbearable cramps, so that book-hoarding becomes not just unpleasant but painful in the extreme

    Staircase in the Dalrymple house

    Staircase in the Dalrymple house

Dalrymple's drawing-room

Part of Dalrymple’s drawing-room

Stench of racism in the nation’s second-hand bookshops

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 08.10.46The Equality and Human Rights Commission is, writes Dalrymple, a provider of

non-manual employment for the semi-educated.

Whiff of racism

Foetor hepaticus: breath of great proved dead writers

The commission is

one of England’s busybodying, quasi-governmental organisations.

One of its goals is to sniff out white racist second-hand bookshops,

much as the Spanish Inquisition sniffed out judaising heresies among the conversos.

Visits are made to the second-hand bookshops to ensure that there is a section for black authors, and that all authors are classified by race.

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