What most individuals know concerning the American librarian Melvil Dewey is his phenomenal classification method, the Dewey decimal system, which remains to be utilized in 135 nations. Much less well-known is how he favored to categorise folks, too. In a chapter entitled “Doubtful Dewey”, Martin Latham describes how the good librarian created teams from A to D, banning all within the D group – Jews, African-People, Cubans and the “new wealthy” – from his Lake Placid resort. He was additionally a prolific groper of ladies. Latham speculates that Dewey’s hypocrisy, and his “obsessively domineering persona”, had been what precipitated his lifelong constipation and piles.
This can be a ebook that’s down on banning, rigidity, abuse of energy and every kind of snobbery, bookish and in any other case. It celebrates tales, scribbling in margins and the gathering, cherishing and even kissing of books – one thing achieved with stunning frequency, apparently. Latham, a bookseller for 35 years, presently runs Waterstones Canterbury, the place he proudly filed the largest petty money declare within the chain’s historical past to pay for the excavation of a Roman bathtub home underneath its flooring. However this isn’t a kind of humorous “anecdotes from a bookshop” books which have not too long ago been widespread – although anecdotes there are aplenty. It’s relatively a historical past and celebration of all issues bookish, from Alexander the Nice’s uncommon behavior of studying silently in an age when all tales had been oral tales, by printing, chapbooks, ebook hawkers and past.
The Bookseller’s Story is a heady mixture of historical past, philosophy and amusing little fancy-thats. Wang Jei, the primary named printer recognized to historical past, rubs shoulders with Marie Pellechet, a collector of incunabula. Latham discusses his father’s ebook gathering, which he believes is “related to his personal father and mom abandoning him as a child”. There are passages on working class and girls’s studying, and on the abundance of monkeys’ bums in illuminated manuscripts of the center ages. We additionally be taught that cliche is “the sound a gaggle of often-combined phrases makes as its steel letters drop into place on the compositor’s tray”; that individuals in Orkney have eight phrases for wind; that George Orwell, Nancy Mitford and Alice Munro all labored in bookshops; and that the Queen performs on rocking horses.
Followers of the Dewey decimal system shall be appalled by this ebook, which haphazardly crams information into each nook. However those that take pleasure in shopping in paper-scented bookshops, run by eccentric previous storytellers with yarns to spare, will come away with one thing surprising, reassuring and probably value a kiss.
• The Bookseller’s Story is printed by Explicit (RRP £16.99). To order a replica go to guardianbookshop.com. Supply expenses might apply.