Books, of the paper and ink variety, often have interesting lives once they leave the publisher and go out into the world. They have stories to tell far beyond the stories they tell, so to speak.
This was brought home to me recently when I took up a new study and ordered some second-hand books to begin my reading. I didn’t buy e-books because the subject – the history of plants and gardens – warrants a great deal of illustration, and I wanted to see it all properly.
When my books began to arrive, in various states of repair, I was reminded of the sheer delight of handling the physical book – the quality and weight of paper, the gloss of illustrations – and began to wonder what their previous lives might have been.
My copy of The Plant Hunters, by Toby Musgrave et al (published 1998) was pristine. An unloved Christmas gift, perhaps? The remains of a label suggested it had passed through a charity shop, still unloved, and elsewhere before it fell into my eager hands. I may well have been the first person to read it.
Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners (published 2008) had clearly had a career as a library book at the other end of the country in Newcastle. The bookplate inside shows it was last borrowed in 2015 before being withdrawn from the library and sold on.
My rather manky copy of Linnaeus: the Compleat Naturalist by Wilfred Blunt (first published way back in 1971, but this edition from 2004) smelt as if it had spent much of its life in a cellar. The damp waft of its pages is unmistakable – but it’s a well-thumbed volume, perhaps much enjoyed in its day. As a writer this book intrigues me: who owned and loved it, and how did it become so neglected? A very good place to begin a story, I think, and I shall keep it in mind.
I am now awaiting the arrival of a copy of Patrick O’Brian’s masterly biography of Sir Joseph Banks. I shall be as interested in the history of the book itself as in the history of Sir Joseph. I can’t wait, and I’m sure many more of these waifs and strays of the book world will be finding an appreciative home with me soon.
For those who like a ‘real’ book my new novel is available for pre-order now in paperback as well as e-book format…
A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, secrets and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.
To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018