21 JUNE 1975, Page 22


Unspent money is the fascination of unbought books. Their prospect over the years should be more fun than orgies now. I have enough for enjoyment. The problem comes: if I see, say, Strawberry Hill books bound by Edwards of Halifax, do I buy? Aircraft boarding.

In Amsterdam next day I wanted a fifteenth-century manuscript with a memorable miniature of a nun praying, and set about justifying the wish in specious but serious doggerel:

Could I from her gentle look Never buy another book?

With early walking and excited waking I am the sound of gears, the petrol smells, The restless feet and eyes of cycle haste And elevators of the quick hotels, Not the long limes which stretch above canals Or the disease of quiet life and taste Only the keen and searching one who sells.

So now I wonder whether YU be taking The calmer work of a religious day From this October morning, far away Hoping for recognition from her face, His fingers which could delicately trace Such forms of old renunciation As bring an up-to-date temptation.

January 1970 I left Routledges, really without plans or income — and none of my books had been bought with a thought of sale or profit. That day another dummy begins:

Not such a great step, but it must be fun. We had talked so often, the only way seemed to decide and then think afterwards. At first, nothing; then it seemed we must be ambitious and try bookselling (for I know nothing else). There it rests, but perhaps not. We don't care if reduction to cottage poverty happens but the other thing may as well be tried first. This is not socialism because we would be living on inherited abilities to enjoy; but at least we would avoid employing people, having offices, and in general those sorts of misery. Culham Saturday teatime, the boys watching Oxford United.

And now the guilt is transferred from buying, to wondering what right one has to live so near his pleasures. I reject it by reflecting that we who sell books have as much honour as those others who write them; and that bookselling is not more useless to the nation than, say, literary criticism.

"How can you bear to part?" I am a faithless husbander of books, devoted to each new choice and ready to let it go when I have squeezed the life out. Living with my books in the country, not having a shop or a subject, interested in their unintelligent or physical presence, that population like the pound can float. My family becomes cynical about the arrival home of some new excitement, and "This I will never sell". "No," they say, "till somebody wants to buy it."

Routledges were predictably courteous about my departure: that boat did not rock, the sea showed no ripple. In publishing, decisions are of course corporate. As most committees are devices for filling executive days, without them I have time to look after geese and strawberries. Bookselling can be too peaceful. People do not come here 'to look round', and would not be welcome.

English booksellers form a classless and friendly society, from every sort of childhood background, educated often by their enthusiasm rather than the nonsense of school. We are all lucky to have found our theme, happy in each other's company and extremely boring or bored among most other forms of activity.