Do you know where you put the window cleaner’s bill? Do you remember that you missed your last appointment at the dentist’s because you had mislaid her appointment card? When these things happen, do you put it down to just another senior moment or, perhaps, an indication of a worrying frequency of lapses in concentration, usually noted in older friends and relations? Might I suggest that you take a few moments to riffle through the last half-dozen books that you have read recently? You may be surprised at what you find.
As a subscriber to Slightly Foxed from Issue 1, I delight in the stories of the work that goes into the writing of books, but as a dealer in second-hand books I am more often surprised by what falls out of them.
Whenever I’m called in to clear a library, I try to form a mental picture of the late owner simply by looking at the book titles. These can indicate passions, sometimes even obsessions, but it is when the deal is done and I look at the books more closely that I begin to feel a very real connection with their previous owner.
I once bought a huge library of over 5,000 books, all of them in virtually mint condition. The daughter of the late owner, whose job it was to clear the house, said ‘Dad was a great reader. He was never without a book in his hand and he could never walk past a bookshop.’ The size of the collection and the fact that several books had been bought many times over – the record was five copies of Walking in the Munros – revealed that I was indeed in the company of an obsessive book-collector. However, his bookmarks told me that though he may have been an avid reader he was all too often distracted. I never found a bookmark that indicated he had got past p. 17 of any of his books. (I sometimes speculate as to why a bookmark has remained clamped in a particular place in a book. Was it an untimely visit by a ‘Person from Porlock’ or simply a milk pan boiling over?)
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