Feng Shui by Clear Englebert

Books About Books—My Favorite Subject

Books About Books—My Favorite Subject

Cover of "Once Upon a Tome" by Oliver Darkshire

Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire is a recent book and it’s terrific. The subtitle is The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller, and it and another book, A Factotum in the Book Trade by Marius Kociejowski, both concern working in used book stores in London. They’re both neat books, but Darkshire’s is the more entertaining, perhaps because he was working in a rather quirky store. There’s a photo of the author inside the back cover and he’s quite into punk style—wearing a Mohawk haircut and a large-link (!) chain necklace—not what you’d expect in a store that sold rare and expensive books. I could tell I was going to enjoy it when I read the Dedication page (see photo).

Dedication to "Once Upon a Tome" by Oliver Darkshire: for Zero, you married a writer so history will say you suffered and you married a man so history will say we were roommates and for my mother who I think we can finally admit loves me best of all her children

I’ve founded four bookstores and they all sold both new and used books, and the anecdotes in these two books really ring true. Kociejowski’s book has (perhaps) more substance than Darkshire’s, but it too is quite funny in places. Kociejowski is a practical joker, and it sometimes backfires on him. A woman came into the store he was working in and asked for The Women’s Room (by Marilyn French) and he directed her to the restroom. She wasn’t amused. I liked his take on how book collectors should arrange their books—by subject, not by alphabetical order. About alphabetical order, he says this: “This tissue of order is a disaster for the collector.” (“Tissue of order” is a great phrase.) And he adds: “All systems fail for lack of space.”

Cover of "A Factotum in the Book Trade" by Marius Kociejowski

On page 148, he has this great sentence: “The world is going faster and faster and our evolutionary development cannot keep pace, and with the imperative that we move faster still, what has happened is that there has been a shift form active knowledge, which demands of us that we aggressively pursue answers, to passive knowledge, whereby we are fed information.”

(I will say that, in my opinion, Darkshire’s subtitle is ungrammatical—the word bookseller should be two words in this instance, since “rare” is modifying the object “book” and not the person “seller”. This same error occurs on page 157 where he refers to York’s many bookstores, call them them “rare bookshops”, which give you the impression that the stores are few and far between. I’m surprised that the publisher, Norton, let this pass. The nice thing about our language is that it can (easily) be very accurate, and sacrificing accuracy for the sake of “modernity” is a mistake.)

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