Humour is a funny thing. Something which causes a seizure in one person will leave another inexplicably stony-faced. However, there is a small coterie for whom a certain type of humour resonates. Should you, in daylight, be passing Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, you will often find two 9-year-old boys outside, cunningly disguised as a grey haired, middle-aged woman in sensible shoes (the author of this piece) and a balding, bespectacled gentleman (her solicitor). These two often attract the attention of bemused tourists on the way to the British Museum, as they scream with laughter at the titles of the books in the left-hand window of said shop.
It may seem incongruous to have such books displayed by a shop specializing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature and history, but there is a reason. The owner, Brian Lake, is coauthor of Bizarre Books, a guide to the extraordinary titles he and other bibliophiles have discovered over the years. Much has been written about these, but little is known about the Crowden Archive, an eclectic collection begun in the early 1980s. I tend to stockpile, then offer selected volumes to Brian, together with a jar of my chutney. He has christened me Dame Smut. Quite a few titles from my library have now been exhibited in Jarndyce’s left-hand window. My bizarre books, like his, are not for sale. Neither is the chutney. Queer Doings at Quantham with its priapic dustcover has, however, received several enquiries, as has The Services of a Solicitor.
In the course of acquiring the books, I have discovered that fellow 9-year-old boys abound – one such, a luncheon guest, missed pudding and had to be revived with a tincture and a damp cloth after making a detour to the shelves en route to the bathroom. Another was outed by the Editors in the offices of Slightly Foxed.
The archive will be divided upon my demise, half
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