Bookshops

For an addict like myself, there is nothing more wonderful nor more terrible than a second-hand bookshop.

Recently I have made firm resolutions not to buy any more books that aren’t pretty directly connected with my research – and I still have a pile of unread treasures acquired during our visit to Hay-on-Wye in June.

But today my wife and I motored through the Cotswolds to Chipping Camden, with the primary purpose of visiting the Robert Welch stylish-cookware shop. Just round the corner from that, though, is a compact and quite excellent second-hand bookshop. It was there that a couple of years back I bought the first volume of Kipling’s History of the Irish Guards in the Great War. My good resolutions never really stood a chance.

For me, the test of a good bookshop is that I find something I’ve never seen before. This shop passed with ease. One book that I resisted buying, for example, was the autobiography of Leslie Ward – “Spy” of Vanity Fair. Caricaturists fascinate me, but I managed to put it back on the shelf (if only because I’d looked up Max Beerbohm in the index, and found that Ward didn’t have much to say about him). Another book I’d never seen before was Hag’s Haven by J.B.Morton. Morton’s The Barber of Putney is one of my favourite war books, and I can see it playing a central role in my thesis. This novel is much later, and seems to be closer to Morton’s comic “Beachcomber” style, but I couldn’t resist it.

Another book I couldn’t help buying was a first edition of J.R.Ackerley’s Hindoo Holiday – the only Ackerley I haven’t read, I think. Like the Morton, it’s decidedly post-war and unlikely to be relevant to my research – but Ackerley is such a good writer.

And it’s all background, I tell myself. After all, Ackerley wrote one of the most interesting of Great War texts in his play Prisoners of War, about captured officers kept in a relatively luxurious Swiss spa hotel, and on their honour not to escape. It’s a study of frustrations – of every sort. The homosexual feeling that is no more than a hinted subtext in Journey’s End here comes to the foreground – at least to the modern reader. Apparently the Lord Chamberlain of the twenties (who acted as censor, and scanned all plays for lewd or subversive content) seems to have thought that the chaps were just jolly good friends, and passed the play for thetrical performance. The play’s producer was reputedly amazed and shocked when, at a late stage in rehearsal, it was pointed out to her what the play was really about.

But Hindoo Holiday is not about the war at all. I’m just going to enjoy it.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 9, 2006 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Sure – it’s both wonderful and terrible. I agree. Another self-confessed book addict, I feel very stressed in large bookshops because there is just so much out there to read and I know I can’t possibly read all of it, or choose one book to start on. I buy large piles of books which sit around unread, while I go and buy other books… Libraries can help, but only to a point!


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