Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 10 Jul 2018

Meeting the celebrities down at the bookshop

The other day when I was searching a second hand book market site online looking for Luke Reinhart’s The Dice Man, a cult book from the early 1970’s that I used to sell in bucket-loads when I was working in the book trade at that time but which you now rarely see for sale on bookshop shelves. It does though, I’m led to believe, still have a sizeable underground following and the paperback sells well from internet sites.

As I scrolled through the small number of the hardback first editions that are available to buy I came across one which said that it was ‘from the library of Sid James’ and went on to note that this was one of a collection from the Carry On actor’s personal library of contemporary fiction, of which, apparently, he was a great collector.

There’s no particular reason why I might have known that the crumple-faced, gravel-voiced merchant of dodgy double-entrendres was a literary aficionado and book collector but somehow I was slightly affronted that he had been. You see, while I don’t know too much about him, I know that Sid James wasn’t, off screen, a particularly pleasant character and that he had an inexcusable penchant for too much drink and too much domestic violence. Could this man also be a book collector? In a rather snooty way, this just didn’t sit well with me.

But it did make me ponder which other high profile celebrities also used their money to indulge a book collecting habit. After all, if Sid James did it, who the hell else might have hoovered-up a significant collection.

Well, here are a few for you to ponder:

  • Sylvester Stallone  - yes, that Sylvester Stallone
  • Karl Lagerfeld – he’s got over 300,000 by all accounts
  • Charlie Watts and Keith Richard – it’s how they fill their time on tour
  • George Lucas -  in a bookshop far, far away….
  • Johnny Depp – so how the hell do you explain The Ninth Gate?
  • Whoopi Goldberg -  whoopi!
  • Kelsey Grammer – I don’t remember bookshelves in Frasier’s apartment though
  • Sarah Michelle Geller – all that time in the library playing Buffy clearly left its mark
  • Nigella Lawson -  maybe she can’t resist a good pot-boiler?
  • Emma Watson – she’s got her own feminist book club

And book clubs seem to be a thing for celebrities…including Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Roberts, Lena Dunham.

And there’s also the sadly departed – David Bowie and Michael Jackson who also had substantial personal libraries.

What’s quite hard to discover is what it is they collect(ed). A lot of the articles I’ve turned up say very little about what kind of books the celebs like to buy but pretty much all of them specify first editions and a disturbing number talk about ‘smart investments’. I’m really hoping they are buying them to read rather than just stacking them in elegant libraries or safe vaults.

I suspect collecting and accumulating must be a habit for a lot of celebrities who literally have more money than they can spend. The fact that a proportion of them will choose books as their object of desire shouldn’t be surprising I suppose but - I still find it quite hard to get to grips with.

As I suggested about my response to the Sid James collection, there’s a bit of knee-jerk snobbery in my assumption that people in the popular entertainment business are likely to be shallow and not the least interested in books. That’s to my shame. But there’s something else too. Jealousy. Just how fantastic would it be to have the kind of money that would allow you to swan around building your library – buying the best, having whatever you find and take a fancy for?

Actually, thinking about it, maybe it wouldn’t be such a great idea. Maybe it would drive me a little bit mad. The line between a bibliophile and a bibliomaniac is a fine one at times and I have a nagging suspicion that the only thing keeping me on the right side of the line is the lack of an income to indulge myself.

At least I don’t have to think of the books I buy as ‘investments’ – which would be unspeakably depressing. Books should be bought to read, to paw over and to admire and not calculated against their appreciation potential as compared to stock and shares or government bonds.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the celebrities who collect books came out in public and said that it’s their passion, as part of a wider campaign to promote book ownership? It’s something that seems to happen for all sorts of other causes – isn’t it time reading, literacy and the love of books had its time in the spotlight? When the most powerful politician in the world, the President of the USA, is a militant anti-reader, could there be a better time for the celebrity bibliophiles to come out of the closet?

Terry Potter

July 2018