Bibliomaniac – An Obsessive’s Tour of the Bookshops of Britain by Robin Ince – a fantastic book of books, booksellers, bookshops, and the joys of travelling between them

Bibliomaniac – An Obsessive’s Tour of the Bookshops of Britain by Robin Ince

Many of us can claim to be obsessed by books, even though it’s true, in my opinion, that you can never have too many books. While at the beginning of this book Ince does admit that he has had to get rid of a number before domestic chaos ensues, this is a book that vividly reveals the extent of one person’s passion for books, a formidable ability to travel with bags of books on public transport, and an impressive memory for what he already owns. This is the story of one person’s odyssey through many bookshops of Britain, well over a hundred, giving talks, signing books and being mistaken for a bookseller to his great joy. He reveals the large impressive destination bookshops, the tiny establishments that possibly fall beneath the arbitrary minimum size for a bookshop, the passion projects, the specialist places. He describes the welcome he receives from staff, from audiences, the faithful friends and those who are bewildered as to what is going on. In doing so he also comments on the charity shops that he investigates, the accommodation he enjoys and endures, and his essential impressions of places that may not be seen to advantage. This is an engaging read which reveals a real passion for books and his relationship with them, but also something of the people who also love them, some sufficiently passionate to realise their dreams in opening a place to encourage others to discover the joy of reading.  

This is a personal account of Ince’s tour of Britain which was an attempt to replace a stadium tour with Brian Cox which would have attracted thousands of people, cancelled because of covid. Ince’s relationship with books is so strong because he has a real need of them “I don’t retreat into books, I advance out of them…Books define me…My life is summed up by the Japanese word Tsundoku – allowing your home to become overrun by unread books” So as he sums it up “This book is the story of an addiction and a romance – and of an occasional points failure, just outside Oxenholme Lake District station.” Anyone picking up this book for a orderly progress around Britain dispensing notes on every shop ( though they are carefully indexed at the back so it is possible to find favourites) will be confused by the tangential nature of this book, with observations on the quality of cakes offered next to digressions on obscure books and the frequent journeys in the vestibules of trains for luggage reasons. The books mentioned, also indexed at the back of the book, are often lesser known volumes on horror films, cinema greats and very diverse topics, along with very recognisable titles and special editions of old favourites. Ince also relates the book collector’s fear of missing or neglecting to acquire the special book, and the regrets that ensue when he later realises that he rejected a real gem. He recounts how some books are especially valuable despite first appearances, and reveals that he really knows his books. Not that he neglects to describe his surroundings, even when he talks in the corner of a market when the book selling area is not so well defined. The weather, including a memorable northern storm also features, especially when he walks around the towns and cities in which he finds himself.

This is a book which appealed to me on many levels. The books themselves, even though I cannot say I had much knowledge of the horror film genre, woke memories of happy reading discoveries. The bookshops were sometimes familiar as I search for the ideal accessible bookshop for my blog, notably the Forum, the Bound, and the small but beautifully formed Book Corner, Saltburn. The nature of the booksellers also shone through, eager to welcome someone who could attract others to the delights of books. The whole atmosphere of this book made it a great read for me; I enjoyed the geographical confusion, the tangents in the text, the digressions and the sometime self-denigrating observations. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves the lure of bookshops and the delights that may lurk within, the charity shops and shelves, the sheer fascination of books which can reveal so much from their pages.



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