Dining in Parnassus

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Second-hand booksellers often find the reading of their books not just an occupational hazard but a waste of their precious time. They would rather spend it on keeping up with auction prices, reading their competitors’ catalogues or, nowadays, coursing the net. Literary values are left on the margin. Earlier this year, I found myself looking for likely candidates in our catalogue selection of Anthologies and fell deep into the trap of reading beyond the title-page and becoming immersed in delightful contents.

The simple catalogue entry would have read: Jackson, Holbrook: Bookman’s Holiday: a recreation for booklovers, designed by H.J., Faber & Faber, 1945. Red cloth, gilt, in d/w. Very good. Then the price, based on its fine condition, despite wartime paper, the price we’d paid for it, the price of the last copy that went through our hands, and the likely price of any copy that might be available elsewhere if we had more than one order: £15 if I’m feeling pessimistic, £25 if I’m a little more cheerful.

I wouldn’t normally mention further details that might interest the customer: Holbrook Jackson’s reputation as a bookman, his authorship of The Eighteen-Nineties, The Anatomy of Bibliomania, All Manner of Folk and biographies of William Morris and George Bernard Shaw; or his choice of Faber as a publisher, when it was the leading literary imprint in London and had T. S. Eliot as a Director; or the advertisements on the back cover for four books by Walter de la Mare, among them Behold This Dreamer, which Hugh Walpole described as ‘one of the finest anthologies I know’, and his beautifully produced and illustrated Love, which Desmond MacCarthy called ‘a very rich book . . . on one of the deepest [themes] that can engage our minds’.

If it had been a more valuable first edition, I might easily have quoted the blurb. ‘Bookman’s Holiday shows what writers

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About the contributor

Bookman’s Holiday was a book that John Saumarez Smith wanted to keep, but he knew how little space there was on his shelves at home. When he came to put this copy among his anthologies and commonplace books, he was surprised to find that he had owned a copy, for which he paid £1.50, for at least 20 years. Bookmanship clearly doesn’t date.

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