Here’s something you won’t get with electronic books, and indeed don’t often get with secondhand books either – a previous owner’s inscription. Writing your name in your latest book used to be quite a regular thing. Indeed, some went further: my parents had elaborate gummed book plates, the purpose of which I think was as much decorative as a reminder to borrowers to return the volume, preferably in good shape.
In my recently acquired copy of Herbert Read’s Art and Society (2nd edition, 1945) is written the name Rex C. Russell, 1946, London. I suspect Mr Russell owned this book even perhaps until he died in 2015 at the age of 98. He had obituaries in the Guardian and the Market Rasen Mail, and it turns out he was an eminent local historian, educator, author, artist and for some years a lecturer at Hull University and with the WEA. He reportedly cycled to his village classes even in winter, arriving with icicles hanging from his beard. I recall a similar experience when I was a postie in the 1970s. Many of his books on rural life in Lincolnshire are still on sale on Amazon.
Does it not add something to the quality of a book that it passed through another reader’s hands, that it may have had some profound influence on somebody else’s life? Mr Russell had not long left the army in 1946 and was shortly to go to Durham University as a mature student. Read’s book surely had an influence on him. And judging by the fact that it still has its original dust jacket, he cared for it. I guess if he paid 15 shillings (about £22 today) for it in those difficult times, he would. I got it for £4. I’m not sure all of what Read says has stood the test of time though – he was very reliant on Sigmund Freud – psycho-analysis was quite fashionable in the 40s and 50s I believe. Still a bargain is a bargain.
I am actively considering cancelling my subscription to the Guardian. Its coverage of the so-called ‘Labour is anti-semitic’ story has largely been one sided, lacking in balanced analysis and clearly grounded in an agenda which seeks to return Labour to centrist ‘safe hands.’ An article by Gaby Hinsliff given prominence today I think merits the Melanie Phillips award for hysteria. Here’s a sample: “It’s perfectly possible to offer more social housing, renationalised railways and a welfare system in which people don’t starve without a side order of Mossad conspiracy theories. The idea that you can’t have one without another – that unless we all agree there’s nothing wrong with calling Jews Nazis, then left-wing economic beliefs will somehow die – is grotesque. And if Corbyn struggles to separate the two, then sooner or later the Labour Party must find someone who can.”
How the fuck did this garbage get past the boy pushing the Guardian tea-trolley, never mind a sub-editor? I might as well read the Daily Mail is what the Guardian seems to be saying.