When I grow up, I want to have my own bookshop. I have it picked out already, although its poor unsuspecting proprietor is perfectly happy, and no doubt planning a lengthy career. Little does she know.
My mother is not so sure about the whole thing (OK, I am already grown up, but even when you’re 43 or 44 – I can never remember which – your mother still knows you better than almost anyone). She is quite sure I’ll be utterly hopeless, because I’ll refuse to sell any books. I’ll want to keep them all.
She could be right. There are grounds for this fear. It’s many years since I’ve been able to let any of my books out of my possession, and I still remember those people who have never returned books they borrowed years ago (don’t worry, I won’t name you here, but you know who you are: or, at least, I do; you’ve probably forgotten).
And I don’t really know how it happens, but books just seem to attach themselves to me. I leave the house for a few stamps or a bottle of milk, and come back with a tatty compendium of The Forsyte Saga or my third copy of Treasure Island (well, it had such a nice blue cover).
I am not alone, of course. Here’s Jeanette Winterson on the matter:
What am I to do? When I see a second-hand bookshop anywhere in the world, I will change my plans, behave brutally to others just to spend an hour inside it. My nostrils flare, my breath quickens, my heart pounds, my wallet opens. I cannot rest until I am alone in the farthermost edge, wedge, ledge of the shop, great or small, lying along the skirting board, legs propped, reading. It has to be second hand shops, (though alas they no longer sell corsets) because these are the only places where the books, and therefore the book lover, is free … Above all, there are seldom any people. I do not like to do what I do in public, I like to be alone with my books, and I like them a little worn, a little knowing. I don’t mind someone else’s signature of ownership, though I am always careful to make a note of my own. I enjoy the past, compressed between the pages.
I’m going to keep an eye out for Jeanette Winterson in my bookshop. She’ll be the one curled up in the corner with a dusty Ruskin. I’ll be the one draped over the broken cash register with R.L. Stevenson.
To read her full confession, go here.