At lunchtime yesterday I went into the Amnesty International Bookshop on Mill Road, Cambridge. Normally I try to resist the temptation, although it is a mere three minute walk from my office. I could probably buy up half the shop if I went in there every day.
Once I get in there, a feeling of intense excitement comes over me, similar to that which I feel on entering a large library.
All the books are beautifully categorised and each category is alphabetically ordered, so that it is easy to find a book one wishes to buy.
The till lady recognised me, and remembered that two years ago I asked to be notified when any book by Barbara Pym came into stock.
She pointed to a pile of Barbara Pym books which had just been donated, and were still sitting in a pile waiting to be shelved. Since I made the request, I have bought almost all of her books, from various sources, but there was still one left I had not read, so of course I had to have it. Next she showed me a biography of Barbara unknown to me, so I bought that as well, although it was a rather poor quality paper back.
We tried to remember the title of an edition of Barbara Pym's letters and diaries, both of us failed. We chatted about our reading habits, the relative pleasures of second-hand versus new books, and what might be the merits of the Kindle. We agreed that, although all books look the same in the Kindle, and there is no pleasure in holding and looking at it, yet it has advantages. Notably the free down-load of many classics and other out-of-copyright books. I mentioned that a friend had downloaded some Dickens material which is unavailable outside academic libraries.
Via our use of libraries, we got on to the subject of HG Wells. (I am currently reading David Lodge's recent and partly imaginary biography, on loan from my local library). "The man was obsessed with sex," was my verdict. We were unanimous in our disparagement of HG. She summed him up as "an unpleasant old goat!" which I thought completely apt. Leading on from this train of thought, I spotted what is probably the only novel by Rebecca West which I have not read, so naturally that was also added to my purchases.
About to leave the shop, highly pleased with my haul, I suddenly remembered what I had come in for. Ordnance Survey maps for my holidays this year. Needless to say, there were none suitable for my planned journeys. But I went out of the shop with a pile of books and a feeling of warmth, well-being, and the pleasure of having communed with a fellow book-addict.