Books Magazine


By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Wonderland! No contest, as far as I'm concerned. It's bookshops and what you find within, which is books (obviously) and what you find within them, which in turn is entry into a limitless world of imagined experience.

I love books, have done since I was very young. I can still remember a time when I couldn't read (aged three plus). I have a vivid memory of looking at a book with pictures of tigers and rows of black symbols. I was intrigued by the latter, for they meant something to people who could decipher them. I also felt thwarted. It was fun to be read to, but how much more convenient to be able to do it for oneself without having to ensnare a grown-up or wait until bedtime! Being a determined little fellow, and with the help of the recently published series of Janet And John reading primers, soon I was reading for myself, taking the first steps on a lifelong adventure that is the love of literature. My favorite Christmas present, aged four, was  A.A. Milne's 'Winnie the Pooh '.My dad, bless him, used to take me to a bookshop every month (aged five onwards) and let me choose a book from the Puffin range (the children's imprint of Penguin books). Consequently, I love bookshops too and will rarely pass up the chance to enter one, have a browse, often make a purchase. Books expect it. They don't read themselves, after all. They are all hoping to go to a good home and be a source of delight to whoever adopts them.


wonderful - Livraria Lello (Porto)

Some bookshops are splendid and stunning affairs in their own right. I think of Hatchards on Piccadilly in London (founded 1797), Livraria Lello in Porto (founded 1869 and pictured above), even Shakespeare and Company, located on the Left Bank in Paris (founded 1951). They are worth a visit for the ambience and the architecture.Bookshops have been with us since the days of Ancient Greece. The founding of the first libraries in the 4th century BC was the catalyst for booksellers to spring up in Athens and other Greek cities. Rome and the key cities of the Roman Empire followed suit a few hundred years later. Possessing a personal library of books was quite the status symbol. Obviously in those times all books were hand-written, providing employment for skilled copyists and scribes. Moorish Spain saw the next wave of book-making and book-selling in the 10th century AD and this was followed by France, Germany, the Low Countries and England, and by this time (early 15th century) the invention of the printing press had revolutionised the production of books. The oldest extant bookshop in Europe was founded in Orleans in France in 1545. No doubt the Librairie Nouvelle d'Orléans has one eye on its 500th anniversary (if we're still here and books are still being sold in 2045).Quite a lot of the books in my own library (if that's not too grand a term for a collection that doesn't have a room of its own) were acquired second-hand because they were no longer in print when I wanted to read them. Many is the visit I made to the cluttered second-hand bookshops that used to line the Charing Cross Road, absolute Aladdin's caves or treasure troves (pictured below), and as wonderful in their ways as the stylish repositories of new books mentioned earlier.


equally wonderful - Charing Cross Books (London)

Nowadays online sellers of second-hand books have changed the landscape. They are useful for the sheer range of what is available via the portal of a computer, but I miss the browsing experience along row after row of higgledy shelves and the possibility of alighting upon a true gem.
I am happy to have passed on my love of books to my own children. Everybody who is dear to me will be receiving at least one book this Christmas. To conclude just about on theme, this latest (another narrative poem), is based on the recollection of a random surprise week-end visit I received early in the summer of 1972, because I happened to be in the right place at the time, owned  a copy of Stephen Stills' debut solo LP and was reading Herman Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game '.Serenity Between The CoversWith a lived in skin like Janis Joplin'sand a daddy in the diplomatic corpsor so she claimed, Poppy drifted through my door from Lebanonlooking for the guy who had my room before,was hoping maybe he'd score, give hersome cash, a bath and a floor to crash on.So young to be so seeming worldly wisewith her trippy clothes and hippy bag,she made herself at home, clearly knew the lie of the land, so had a bathand then brewed us mint tea to accompanya smoke or two. She looked all throughmy records and books, loved that I read Hesse,was thrilled to discover Stephen Stillsand put him on repeat play while she spunher life story (one version of it anyway)as we lay nailed to the carpet contemplatinghow I'd painted the ceiling rose to resemblea lotus flower which complementedthe Buddha in the grate. Spying my camera,she cajoled me into taking photographsas she lay smiling, posing and pouting. Eventually hunger struck and we madecheese on toast after cheese on toast with aubergine pickle she produced from her bag, then curled up cosily in bedstill listening to Love the one you're with.In the morning while she slept on, it being sunnyI sat out happily among the rank bright weedsin the ramshackle back garden and readThe Glass Bead Game as plaintive strains of the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses soundedsoftly from a neighbour's open window.I was lost for hours in the Magister Ludi's telling of the splendour of genuine serenity: the secret of beauty and the real substance of all art.It was past midday when I realised with a startthe hours I'd been sitting out, a neglectful host.But my room was empty, unruly bed neatly madeand Poppy gon,e along with my camera and Stephen Stills. She'd left a scribbled thankyouand a twist of stems and seeds. I could only smile.

As a bonus, here's a link to a blog from Boxing Day in 2015, containing a Lewis Carroll pastiche I wrote. Just click on the bold title to activate the link and take you down the hole: Alice's Adventures In SunderlandBless you, thanks for reading, Steve ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

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