Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 21 Feb 2016

Dog days for the book hunter

I don't know about you but I find the couple of months after Christmas very tiresome. Cold and grey with nothing too much on the horizon to look forward to - spring and summer are still too far off to think about sun and warmth - and there's way too much sport everywhere. The literary festival season is still a little way in the distance and there's not too much going on in publishing world in terms of new releases - having flogged their authors into near exhaustion to get something on the shelves for Christmas these same publishers find the cupboard pretty empty as their star names recuperate or fill their bank balances with bits and bobs they've had stuffed in their bottom drawers in preparation for the inevitable drought.

It's a melancholic time of the year and perhaps that mood creeps into the whole business of book hunting. Working all week in a full time job means that my weekends are precious times for me in terms of indulging my book buying passions. Most weekends see me selecting somewhere to visit that's within reasonable travelling time just to scour any book or charity shops in the vicinity.  This does, of course, require a strict observance of a key rule or two - the primary one being not to return too often to the same place without giving the shops time to replenish their stocks.

However, since Christmas it's been very difficult indeed to find anything - new or second hand - to make these journeys really stimulating. It may just be that I'm wearing my blue-tinted, post Christmas goggles these days but it seems to me so many bookshops have very little by way of what I might call interesting collectibles. All too often I find myself browsing stock that has remained virtually unchanged since my previous visits and much of that is still there because it's essentially average or is stuff that most collectors will already have on their shelves. I sometimes wonder whether book sellers these days are holding back their best stock to sell on the internet and, as a result, it isn't finding its way onto the shop-floor?

I don't know how true this is but a long-standing bookseller I once found myself in conversation with told me that interesting and collectible books from the early and mid-twentieth century would becoming increasingly scarce in the UK because so much of it was being bought-up by American and Japanese collectors investing in them for the future. Whether this turns out to be true or apocryphal isn't really the issue - what seems undeniable is that good quality fiction and non-fiction and especially the modern classics in the repertoires of the best literary names of the last century are becoming a real rarity.

Of course, all this gloomy prognosis could vanish in a blink. One day soon the sun will come out, a balmy breeze will blow and I'll enter a bookshop to find the most glorious cache of fabulous first editions - all in impeccable dust jackets and selling for a bargain price. Then the hacking around the rainy streets bracing against the cutting winds to return home with one or two so-so finds that I might just someday read will pale into insignificance and once again book hunting will become the noble pursuit that fills my heart and lifts my soul.

But until then all I can do is keep believing, make sure my overcoat is buttoned and wait for some wind in my sails.


Terry Potter

February 2016

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