Books about books

It’s turning out to be a bit of a week, but I have read (a) Thomas Piketty’s new book, A Brief History of Equality – out next month, am reviewing it for the FT. All I’ll say for now is that he presumably got the title idea from my GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History….; and (b) The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham and No-one Round Here Reads Tolstoy: Memoirs of a Working Class Reader by Mark Hodkinson. These were comfort reading, and I enjoyed them both in different ways. The former is a bookseller’s reflections with some personal history threaded through. The latter is a personal history by a reader/writer/publisher with some thoughts about books and literature threaded through.

This meant that although I liked The Bookseller’s Tale I *loved* No-one Round Here Reads Tolstoy because it is so much about my life with books. Hodkinson grew up one town over from me in Lancashire (Rochdale rather than Ramsbottom) at almost the same time (1970s), in a house with one book in it (we had one shelf of books) on a council estate (we were on the first street outside the estate). A key difference between us is that I got selected to the local grammar school by the 11-plus exam, that narrow but effective ladder up the social scale available to bright kids until the introduction of comprehensive schooling.

The memoir absolutely captures the flavour of time and place, and the sense of alien abduction that affected a voracious working class reader. All the details down to the trade-in market stall where my dad bought his westerns for 10p and sold them back for 5p, while I scoured the boxes for Penguins. Highly recommended (along with my all-time favourite on this theme, Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes.)

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