An original take on the joys of second-hand books – The Irish Times

Fifty Forgotten Books

Author: RB Russell

ISBN-13: 978-1913505509

Editor: And other stories

Guide price: £12.99

Cultural theorists like the late Mark Fisher have argued that loss itself is what we have lost in the digital age. I suspect this partly explains our fascination with lost works of art and literature, as evidenced by the work of Henri Lefebvre The missing pieces (2004), by Stuart Kelly The book of lost books (2005), by Christopher Fowler Invisible ink: how 100 great authors disappeared (2012) or Giorgio van Straten In search of lost books (2016).

RB Russell Fifty Forgotten Books is a welcome addition to this list. The author displays a similar passion for unearthing literary curiosities, but approaches it from a different angle, that of the compulsive collector. He gives us a summary of each title but also, and above all perhaps, the background of the exact copy he owns: in which store he found it, who recommended it, its price, its condition and its smell, etc. His first edition of Thomas Tryon’s book The other, for example, which he stumbled upon at an auction in Sussex, was from a county library in Zetland. He cherishes the stamps of the Blaenavon Workmen’s Institute which disfigure those of David Lindsay The haunted woman because “they are like ghosts from the past life of the book”.

Throughout this bibliomémoire, which opens in 1981 at the age of 14, Russell haunts — as he insists on saying — booksellers looking for volumes that are themselves already haunted and which will haunt him in turn. . Significantly, he describes Walter de la Mare’s “supernatural tale set in a bookshop” as “perfect for a reader like [him]”.

The presiding influence on Russell’s book life is Arthur Machen (leading him to the work of his niece, Sylvia Townsend Warner), and some of the company’s drug-fueled antics dedicated to the Welsh author are told here with hilarious details.

The text is interspersed with black and white photos of book covers and stylish shots of Russell and Rosalie Parker, his partner, with whom he created Tartarus Press. These images belong to an analog culture that has almost disappeared, just like the “wonderful world of booksellers” celebrated here. I hope this little gem will be discovered on dusty shelves by future generations of bibliophiles.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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