Today’s haul of goodies

Well, unusually for me I had to venture outdoors into a leaden day that symbolically offered rain but provided a mere spattering – not enough to dent the drought, not by a long chalk (and where are those ‘long chalks’ when you need them, whatever they are?).

So, business done I sauntered back along my favourite route. At the first shop I bought three books for £2 each – a collection of Pauline Kael’s cinematic commentary; Villages of Northern Argyll and a Lesbian and Gay history of Brighton.

Buying is never (well, hardly ever) a wholly impulsive act. It is preceded by some moments of  deliberative browsing. What on earth do I want, for example, with a book on Argyll? Well, the back cover blurb wades straight into this kind of scepticism:  “Argyll’s historical importance goes back thousands of years. As the centre of the kingdom of Dalriada, the area was of seminal importance in terms of Gaelic culture…” (don’t you just love that ‘seminal’ , not to mention ‘ in terms of’ – why not just ‘to’ or ‘for’) -A quick browse took me past a discussion of the chemical virtues of seaweed and the story of a man hacked down on his way to church to marry his mistress – nevertheless the victim insisted the marriage be completed before he died – so legitimising his son, so establishing him as his legal heir – and so eliminating from the inheritance the man who had orchestrated the attack. Now, that’s history! I had to read more.

At the cash desk the shop owner – a man of independent intellect – laughed: “Ah yes, Pauline Kael, very good except on Orson Welles and his contributions or otherwise to the film Citizen Kane. She attributed most of its excellencies to those working around Welles – the editor, the cinematographer and so on. Welles, when told of this, apparently laughed and said: ‘At least she can’t say I didn’t act in it!'”

But this wasn’t the last of my purchases.  The 3 books for £2 offer at the next shop meant that Nigel Calder’s ‘Spaceships of the mind – the deserts of space are rich in energy and materials that could support life’ slipped sweetly into my possession – a BBC hardback published in 1978 and containing such nuggets as “Phobos [a captured asteroid orbiting Mars – once thought by the Russian astrophysicist Joseph Shklovsky to be an artificial satellite launched by an extinct race of Martians] looks not so much like an artificial satellite but a diseased potato,’ says Calder, who, you will all remember, was a former editor of New Scientist. Along with it went a rather ropey copy of Tobias Smollet’s Humphrey Clinker (guilt at never having read him) and The Tarot of the Bohemians by ‘Papus’ – this is worth it simply for the title alone. My excuse for this book is that I am planning – oh dear, oh dear, ‘planning’ is much too concrete a word – a novel in which such esoteric knowledge (or at least the style of it if not the content) may – I stress ‘may’ – be useful.

But the eye is promiscuous and in the window I spied Prologomena to the study of Greek Religion by Jane Harrison – first published in 1903 and completely scrambling contemporary attitudes to classical studies. What I held in my hand was a paperback reissue dated 1980. A book that is still worth keeping in print  77 years on is a book worth reading. Especially as I am potentially very interested in the ancient Greeks – I keep buying books about them and then I keep refraining from reading them. Still, I must have it (for £9.95!!!!).

“Only the best books here,” says the bookseller chuckling as he pockets my money. “I refuse to have thrillers or romance. Won’t have them in the shop.” A man of discriminating principle. I tell him the rain seems to be threatening his books laid out in plastic tubs on a shelf outside his shop. He shrugs.

So by 11 am I am back home having spent £18 on 7 books – averaging £2.57 (what the heck! Say £2.60) a book. As my uncle once pointed out you can go seriously broke saving money on cheap deals.

About Jonathan Chamberlain

I am a novelist and creative writer attacking all genres indiscriminately - Dreams of Gold (humour) - Alphabet of Vietnam (literary suspense) - Whitebait & Tofu (noir suspense) - Wordjazz for Stevie (memoir) - King Hui (biography) - Chinese Gods (cultural analysis) - The Cancer Survivor's Bible (self-help) My literary blog is In Praise of Older Books see My Fighting Cancer website is My cancer information archive is at
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Today’s haul of goodies

  1. marimann says:

    I like very much the phrase “slipped sweetly into my possession”- so many older books do that to me too. I’m a member of the Goodreads “Writers and Readers” group and will be attending your Q&A this weekend, so I wanted to start reading your words in preparation. I started with this blog because I love old books; will probably go on to your cancer books because my sister survived breast cancer. So far, what I have read of your words, I have liked. They have slipped sweetly into my consciousness. See you this weekend.

    • Hi Marimann, looking forward to the chat. But can’t see where it is yet.

      • marimann says:

        Jonathan~ The moderator of the group, A.F., usually puts up the “thread” for the chats on Friday morning and then sends a Goodreads message to everyone with a link to the chat.I did one of these Q&A’s with the group back in April for my book Parisian by Heart. There were a lot of good questions asked that I had to use my “little grey cells” to answer!

  2. OK. Thanks for that. Looking forward to the talk – tho worried that time difference issues will mean some delays in answering as I’m in UK.

    • marimann says:

      When I did my Q&A, I had written a “greeting” that I posted in the thread as soon as A.F. started it on Friday morning, in which I thanked the group and talked a little about myself and my book, etc…perhaps you could do something similar and just mention the time difference so that folks will be aware that there may be delays?

  3. I actually ponder the reason you labeled this blog post,
    “Todays haul of goodies | In Praise of Older
    Books”. No matter what I admired the article!Thanks
    for your effort-Meghan

  4. says:

    Just where did u actually get the ideas to create
    Roman Shade “Todays haul of goodies | In Praise of Older Books”?
    Many thanks ,Leoma

    • Roman shade? I’m afraid this reference has lost me – there is no mention of Roman shade in the article. As for the ideas, well, most of them come straight out of my head prompted only by whatever book I am discussing. To really understand where I’m coming from and where I am going you should start right at the beginning of this blog. It is a serendipitous journey, ting-a-ling! As the bell on the old style London buses used to sound as the conductor let the driver know he could move on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s