The Bookseller's Tale by Martin Latham



“This is the story of our love affair with books, whether we arrange them on our shelves, inhale their smell, scrawl in their margins or just curl up with them in bed.”


Canterbury bookseller Martin Latham has composed a work between cultural history and literary memoir. His Bookseller’s Tale is an enlightening and humorous history of our relationship with books which never feels too academic, but is instead filled with light-hearted, personal anecdotes. Over thirteen chapters, Latham explores the world and significance of comfort books, book pedlars, libraries, private collections, marginalia from England to Venice, Paris, New York and places even further away. This is the history of booksellers, bookstores, readers, writers, collectors, bookworms (quite literally: “Booklice have an answer to their opponents: they clear off if a book is used and handled, so they are entitled to point out that it is only our neglect of a book that allows them to become proprietary with it.”) and any book-related facts, myths, theories and dreams. During his 35 years of trying to unite perfect book with perfect customer, Latham has observed many of our quirks and habits regarding literature and physical books in particular (have people been known to kiss and fondle e-readers?) He uncovers readers craving the comforts of their childhood favourites while dutifully and laboriously making their way through the Booker longlist; discusses the magic and authority of libraries and librarians and offers snippets of insight about international particularities of the book-reader dynamics.


The Bookseller’s Tale is a charmingly whimsical history, as befits an enchanted bibliophile. I assume that many a reader can discover themselves somewhere on these pages – I particularly enjoyed the sections on well-loved or used books, especially as someone who finds herself in a constant inner battle over whether to annotate books or not (I now read with a pencil but detest dog-ears). The beginning really drew me in but at some point in the second half Latham failed to hold my attention. Maybe because there were at times too many similar examples of yet another book collector or the like when I was hoping for more humorous theories and entertaining anecdotes. Perhaps this is better to be read in smaller chunks, rather than all at once because his passion for the subject materialises in a very detailed account of individual phenomena. All in all, an excellent history for any booklover!


“There are books with an element of duty in the reading, and books you get up earlier in the morning for, and slow down near the end to delay departing from.”

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