how to save eight hundred and ninety-five pounds

You find yourself, on a weekend away from London, in the rather randomly chosen town of Lewes (but what a good choice it turns out to be), on the Saturday morning, after a superb breakfast of eggs Florentine in the swishy hotel you’ve indulgently booked – you find yourself at a book fair in Lewes Town Hall, which just happens to be taking place that particular Saturday you’re staying in Lewes. Initial flutters of panic – this is not just a couple of trestle tables of dusty, well-thumbed Danielle Steeles and Stephenie Meyers. These are serious bookdealers, their wooden bookshelves crammed with the obscure, the collectible, the nostalgic, as well as paperbacks of all conditions. And shuffling between the stalls, browsing the shelves, an eclectic mix of book buffs and bargain hunters. Do all these people live in Lewes? And not a Kindle in sight. You take a few deep breaths and join the anti-clockwise shuffle. Arthur Ransome, Alison Uttley, Enid Blyton (never a fan of hers); easy to resist the books on buses, the military, sports stars of the seventies; a couple of Patrick White hardbacks – but you’ve already got Riders in the Chariot, and The Twyborn Affair, though the dust jacket is torn. Books are for reading, not collecting; a shame about the dust jacket, but it doesn’t diminish the strong attachment you feel to The Twyborn Affair. Oh, but now – Virginia Woolf – she’s in your personal literary pantheon, right up there, along with Patrick White. And here, you are holding in your hands a first edition of The Waves, published by the Hogarth Press in 1931, and there’s a card tucked inside with the price. £895.00. A book is also an object. A thing to hold, to sniff, to imagine all the other hands that have turned its pages, the minds that have travelled their own unique journey through the novel. There’s a moment when you almost could. Eight hundred and ninety-five pounds. Resist. You resist.
Later, in a second-hand bookshop on the High Street (turns out Lewes does not want for second-hand bookshops), you come across a handsome hardback (not quite first) edition of Patrick White’s The Vivisector, complete with immaculate dust jacket, the book you’ve been looking for these last few weeks because you desperately want to read it, because, shamefully, you can’t remember if you’ve read it, and a friend recently spoke so enthusiastically about White and this novel in particular, firing you to seek out the book. Four quid. No hesitation. You buy it.
So, really, it’s only eight hundred and ninety-one pounds you’ve saved. And we won’t mention the hotel bill…

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