I love the smell of old books. I have said these seven words out loud more than once after stepping into a used and/or rare bookstore. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.
In his new memoir on indigestion, “A Factotum in the Book Trade”, Marius Kochigovsky, who worked for some of London’s best archaeologists LibrariesHe turns me into a kebab when he writes:
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“There’s a strain of Homo sapiens walking around inside, taking a deep breath, and saying, ‘Mmmm, I just like the smell of old books. “They must be disposed of as quickly as possible, with whatever violence it requires. I have heard the line a thousand times and have never sold a book to any of these people.”
Barely recovering from this hole, I ran headlong into the next Kociejowski’s skewer:
“One must also be harsh with those who ask, ‘What is more precious?’ the book Do you have it here? Often the male of the gender tries to impress the female.”
I flinched, after I asked this question. Now that I was doubly impaled, I stopped to check up on my surgeon and collect my wits.
I buy second-hand books, have long been married, so I have decided to absolve myself of these accusations on technical grounds, to fend off journalist Heywood Bron’s remark that “artistic objection is the bastard’s first resort.”
However, I was grateful that I easily passed Kociejowski’s third test for library pioneers:
“There is a more objectionable subgenre who likes it with their cellphones take photo They hold each other an open book although their eyes are rarely fixed on the page. The punishment for them cannot be so severe.”
To the gallows with those monsters.
Many good memoirs were written by old booksellers. The best of these recently is William S. Reese’s “Book Collectors, Booksellers, and Libraries: Essays on Americans and the Rare Book Market” (2018), a restless book under the title Sleepy.
(Reese died the same year; his holdings are still scattered. Herman Melville Collection, ready auction In September at Christie’s, it has the best book I can imagine owning: Melville’s highly annotated version of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”)
“Factotum in the Book Trade” is memorable because a) it is well written, and (b) it is in close contact with books. Kociejowski, now in his early 70s, never owned his own shop. Struggle financially while raising the family on employee earnings. He loved the work simply because he wrote: “The book trade is a floating world of people of intelligence unsuitable for anything else.”
The bonus is that it’s funny. When he told a young woman, a former bookseller, that he was working on these memoirs, she told him, “Go on, young men love reading about old white men selling books.” That kind of comment, right there, is what is known as urine taking.
Used book dealers, in my experience, tend to be bleakly witty. Scotsman Shaun Bythell wrote, in his memoir The Bookseller’s Diaries (2018), “I piece together a mental jigsaw of what the Hobbit looks like, based on a composite of each customer I’ve sold a copy to before.”
Kociejowski has published books on travel writings, essays and poems, yet he is a “chronic laughter at Poetry readings, and indeed, not so long ago, in an attempt to suppress my joy, I blew a blood vessel in my nose.”
A few other things about him: He grew up in rural Ontario; He never owned a comb or a mobile phone, though he did have a typeface; Chess broke his heart. The English poet Geoffrey Hill, an old friend, gifted a book to him. He once won a woman’s heart by “imitating a chicken house at night.”
He’s right about what a good library should feel like. “I want dust; I want chaos. I want, above all, mystery.” “I want to be able to enter somewhere and have the feeling that I will find a book, still unknown to me, which will change somewhat life. “
I know this kind of shop – it’s the kind you want, where you’re browsing, you’ve had a miner’s lamp strapped to your forehead.
These kinds of libraries are quickly disappearing, Kojigovsky laments, the victims of the Internet and now COVID-19. He hates these “new quick bookstores masquerading as art galleries with cute little walnut tables”.
He talks a little about the famous clients he served, including Patti Smith, who shares his fondness for Robert Louis Stevenson articles. Philip Larkin will come in search of the first editions of his books. He sold a copy of “Finnegans Wake” to Johnny Depp, who was “trying incredibly hard not to be recognized and with anticipation.” cartoons Results.”
He notes that librarians seem to hate books, eager to perforate and seal them. A bookseller taught him how to polish books: “Use your fingers, it’s the softest leather you can ever find.”
I’m not a collector, not really, because I can’t stand it, but also because I write in my books and bend their thorns. I’m with Rachel Cusk, who wrote, “I treat my books as I treat my shoes: the more I love them, the lousy they get.”
Kociejowski points out that most book collectors are men, and they can emit unpleasant odors. “They should mostly be avoided or kept at a protective distance; they tend to lack social graces and have worrisome diets; they Clothes Oddly designed.” They tend to be unhappy. Once he takes advantage of their latest find, he moves on to the next discovery.
It is remembered by several important collectors, including Wendy Rintoul and Valerie Elliott (second wife of the poet T.S. Eliot), and booksellers, notably Margaret Cohn and Veronica Watts. He points out that college women are rare because the words on the page tend to be more important to women than “covers that keep the page in place.”
Like the kinds of libraries that Kociejowski admires, his book has a lot of nooks and crannies. Transform operations are rotated into sub-transformations. With a looped gut, this isn’t a book for everyone.
But it is an account of a well-lived, happy and turbulent life. He writes, “I am not the least bit proud, in declaring that my instincts have served me well.”
A Truth in the Book Trade: A Memoir
By Marius Kojikowski
349 pages. Bibliosis.
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
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