This morning I read with interest that today, 7th March 2013, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland. This is a quaintly Britannic bit of individualism at odds with the rest of the World, who will be found Celebrating The Tome on 23rd April – Shakespeare’s deathday and Cervantes’ birthday. Anyway, here’s a bookish piece in celebration.

Last week I had a day off, and spent some of the afternoon reacquainting myself with the booksellers of York. I was looking for some volumes (copies of Paradise Lost, War Music and All My Sons) to help with a teaching placement what I’m doing, but really it was just an excuse to go and run my fingers along the spines.

It’s pleasing to see bookshops still functioning as the economic climate continues to be wintry. I was pulled up short in mid-march by the now defunct Army and Navy Stores at the top end of Fossgate, standing in need of attention and likely to get it only from international coffee vendors or bookmakers… or it’ll become one of York’s many gift shops selling extraneous London tat to geographically-confused tourists, such as those littering the Shambles.

Fortunately, the book vendors in our city remain in rude health. At the first stop, I picked up this leaflet with a map showing the booksellers of York:

The other side has notes and contact details for each shop. The design was by Amy McKay in 2012. The watercolour cover illustration, by Ron Wilson, appears to be a view of the public toilets at Bootham Bar.

That first stop was Ken Spelman Books. Ken Spelman has a nicely creaking feel and polished old wood – and his shop is delightfully appointed as well, boom boom. Antiquarian and modern volumes jostle on the shelves. Lots of quality fine arts and ephemera. The leaflet claims they have four floors, which is intriguing: a vertiginous – and pram-thwarting – staircase to an upper floor and more books, and a slight ramp into the downstairs back section only gives them three, if I squint a bit, as far as I can see. I shall ask next time I’m in.

Ken Spelman was followed by Oxfam, on Micklegate. Oxfam, about which I have kvetched previously regarding its pricing, does still have a pretty good stock, including a bookcase of classic orange Penguins (“I am Klassic Oranj”) and a leafable discarded comic section. Well-stocked as they were, they were yet unable to furnish me with that which I sought, so, onwards.

universus-alex-woodsWaterstones came next. Miller and Milton were in evidence, but no Logue. I did, however, get The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, which had presented itself to me twice previously and would not be denied thrice. I know nothing of the author, but the bits I browsed tickled me Extencively. I shall provide a review when I have read the rest.

I ended up on Fossgate. Realising I was in a rush slightly, the clocks striking 17, I was going to hurry straight on up to Stone Trough Books on Walmgate, but I was stopped in mid-step by the clean lines and delicious looking volumes of Lucius Books, right next door to Fossgate Books. They are a new, to me, emporium, although they told me they have just moved down the road a few doors. The store looks spanky and clean and heartbreakingly chockful of delucius-looking books. Selling mostly modern first editions, many of them signed, it’s the sort of place one might easily spunk one’s family’s inheritance in an orgy of shame-faced indulgence. A slim, hard-to-get hardback volume of B.S. Johnson’s poetry for £250, that sort of thing. Inscribed James Bonds, Aldous Huxleys, delicious kids’ lit – see, the infants have not been forgotten. Resorting to my usual technique, I took a Get Out of Shop card from the proprietor, muttering something about coming back when I’d remortgaged the house, which, as it would mean first getting a mortgage, means 12th Never. Or 11th March, whichever’s nearest.

I stuck my head in the door and had a quick natter with the proprietor at Fossgate Books. We circled round a few titles, including a BS Johnson book, the title of which I failed to remember. He knew the one I meant, though, the one published in a box with no binding so the reader can put it together their own way, which I had seen in a shop in West London for £75 about five years ago. He said he had a cheaper copy in the stock room he could look out, which gave me an excuse to return after a quick trip up Walmgate.

Stone Trough Books has a front door with an traditional shoppe bell that clangs loudly just above ear level on entry, presumably to disorient potential thieves and alert the owner, who is to be found upstairs. It looks like a house that has over the years become a shop. The front room downstairs sets the scene. It is like walking into someone’s home moments after a massive box of books has exploded in the lounge. Ace. However, despite moving a series of piles of books to get at other piles of books, we were unable to find any of my literary requisites. Prop. was particularly miffed about the Logue not being in evidence, as he had worked on a bibliography for him at one point and ‘had a couple back at home…’ Fortunately, in the front room I had seen there was a copy of Areopagitica and other writings in a nice little hardback Everyman version. I was so taken by the fact that it used to belong to the Eastern Command Education Library, I was unable to prevent myself spending £2 on it.

Back up to Fossgate Books, then, where I peeked through a much-better-value-than-£75 (but-not-so-much-that-I-could-justify-buying-it) reprinted version of The Unfortunates – “THAT was it!” – and where I went for a copy of Paradise Lost, an illustrated one with Philip Pullman introductions. Virtually brand new too, although someone had got as far as starting to annotate the first 11 lines, writing OREB, SINAI, SION and SILOA in v e r y heavy lettering:

Seriously, though, that SILOA is on the next page! It looks like they were using a heated lance… but it was in otherwise pretty good (old) nick.

I got All My Sons at Waterstones on the way back through town. War Music remains to be ordered. It was a moderate success as a shopping expedition, then, and a soothing reminder of why I love yer actual texts-in-books. There’s something about the gravity or the waveform, or something, of books. It is a particular niche – tomes flogged by foxed but still slightly desirable vendors – yet it continues to be one in which I am happy to place pennies.

So, hurrah! for books. And hurrah for World Book Day, whenever you have it.