Inspiring Older Readers
Here at The Letterpress Project we spend an inordinate amount of our free time trawling every unlikely place we can think of for books. Any book hunter knows that travelling optimistically is the only way to go and that disappointment is a more natural conclusion than elation and success. When the good finds come along, the taste is so much sweeter.
It helps that we look for all kinds of books – adult and children’s – and with the latter in particular you usually end up on your knees going through bins or baskets in charity shops, sifting out the good stuff that was given as a present and discarded without being read from the books that a child has coloured and then decided to eat.
What soon begins to happen is that you realise certain books seem to be drawn to second hand, charity and junk shops as if by a magnet. Sometimes it’s even possible to imagine that, if you sell second hand books, having certain titles on your shelves is actually a requirement of shop leases across the land. You do, though, eventually start to develop a sort of protective blindness when it comes to seeing them and most of the time I struggle to even remember what these ubiquitous titles are – until once again, there’s another one, an unwanted outcast from a birthday/Christmas/anniversary.
Sometimes though, one book just comes to symbolise the tedium and ordinariness of most limp book displays that are looking for a new home before the shop owner or manager decides the space is needed for something else and they get consigned to recycling. For us, at the moment, that book is ‘Laura’s Star’ by Klaus Baumgart.
Damn me, it’s everywhere!
In what universe did everyone go out and buy this perfectly ordinary picture book and then decide to give it to a charity shop or dispose of it to general household junk shops? We’ve even taken to keeping unofficial score of which of us is the first to spot it. Depressingly, I lead.
I have no reason to dislike the book other than this mysterious omnipresence and I don’t wish it ill – I just wish it gone.
In adult book world, Folio Society editions of any Trollope title you wish to mention are beginning to take on a very similar set of characteristics. It’s as if everyone who ever liked Trollope in the first place has died simultaneously and their grieving relatives have cleared the bookshelves and thought they were doing something selfless and altruistic by donating them to charity. It’s odd how such a decent gesture can turn out to be a blight on someone else’s life – mine.
But my recent reading of John Baxter’s A Pound of Paper and David Meyer’s Memoirs of a Book Snake has served to remind me that I should be more cautious and that what is seemingly ubiquitous and unwanted today may well become desirable and sort-after tomorrow. Books that seem to have no audience and find themselves piled up en masse in the remainder shops of the country can actually go on to have a glittering out-of-print career as a lost diamond.
In fact, thinking about it, it’s actually amazing how often the book you get so tired of seeing becomes, as time goes by, the book you never see and how, because of that, it takes on a rather mysterious or nostalgic allure.
You know what? I can’t quite imagine it but maybe two or three years down the line I will be in a bookshop and I’ll give a little squeak of delight at finding a copy of Laura’s Star or the Folio Society edition of Barchester Towers and I’ll say ‘Oh, look, I haven’t seen a copy of this for ages!’.
You never know, maybe I’ll even buy it.