A quick pass through the campus “bookstore” where I purchased two hooded sweatshirts as Christmas presents, was, as always, dispiriting. The book department consists of six shelves of publications by faculty and staff. Some are heavily technical, and I’m not qualified to judge their worth. The one title I’ve actually read was written by a friend but I can recommend it without bias. (In conversation, the author has described the Fugitive poet Donald Davidson, who figures in her Vanderbilt chapter, as “a stone-cold racist.”) The rest, having bypassed remaindering, await pulping.
Just that morning I had read the excerpts from Bohemia in London posted by Mike Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti. I had never read Arthur Ransome but was intrigued enough to get the book from the library. It’s the first American edition, published in 1907 by Dodd, Mead & Company. I found the passage in “The Bookshops of Bohemia” where Mike left off, and resumed reading:
“There is something more real about this style of buying books than about the dull mercenary method of a new emporium. It is good, granted, to look about the shelves of a new bookshop, to see your successful friends and the authors you admire outglittering each other in smart, gold-lettered, brilliant-coloured bindings; to pick up pretty little editions of your favourite books—what pretty ones there are nowadays, but how sad it is to see a staid old folio author compelled to trip in a duodecimo--; all that is pleasant enough, but to spend money there is a sham and a fraud; it is like buying groceries instead of buying dreams.”
For book lovers and dedicated readers, Ransome’s chapter is a respite from the looming loss of literacy. With approval he quotes Lamb on reading. He describes Charing Cross Road as “the only street whose character is wholly bookish,” and writes:
“By these shops alone are there always a crowd of true bookmen. There are the clerks who bolt their lunches to be able to spend half an hour in glancing over books. There are reviewers selling newspaper copies. There are book-collectors watching for the one chance in ten thousand that brings a prize into the four-penny stall. There are book-lovers looking for the more frequent chance that brings them a good book at a little price, or lets them read it without buying it.”