Daniel Macklin illustration - Frances Wood, Slightly Foxed Issue 20

Saying It with Books

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One of my favourite books is Wolfgang Kohler’s The Mentality of Apes. I haven’t actually read more than a couple of paragraphs at a time because the contents are of less significance to me than the cover. It is an old paperback with the characteristic turquoise cover that all Pelican books had, and the simplicity of the cover design allows the title to stand out clearly. I take it with me to meetings that I don’t want to go to and place it, obtrusively, on the table, title up.

Another favourite is Krupskaya on Soviet Librarianship which I carry around the library, clasping it to my chest, title outwards, when I’m feeling particularly aggrieved. A useful alternative to The Mentality of Apes but for meetings which threaten to be boring rather than irritating, is The History of Wallpaper, which I like to think is the literary equivalent of watching paint dry.

I realize that this use of books might be seen as reflecting the corny lists that are published every year, usually around the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair, of books with titles so dull or peculiar that it is assumed only extreme nerds would wish to buy them: Extraordinary Rendition: Some Do’s and Don’ts; Oxyacetylene and Its Derivatives; and so on. I don’t find these lists particularly amusing as I cannot see anything much wrong with narrow specialization or expertise, though I know that in the new dawn of inclusiveness they are somewhat unfashionable approaches to life. I suppose I am taking the concept slightly further by trying to locate the right book for the right moment, a title that I can flourish and which will make a statement. And it involves actually acquiring the volumes.

Sadly, the best source of statement books has vanished. The British Library used to run a system called Booknet through which works discarded from public libraries were listed for sale in monthly bulletins. Before the closure of B

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About the contributor

Frances Wood works in the British Library. She has written several books but purchased many thousands for a variety of reasons, not all of them particularly rational.

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