Russell, R B - Past Lives Of Old Books
Generous collection of essays that spark memory, suggest new authors, recall explorations in dusty shelves.
Straight off, there is a piece on Baron Corvo. More specifically, the groundbreaking biography of Corvo by Symons. This biography has long beckoned to me, although Corvo’s works do not hold the same allure.
Narrow boat enthusiasts will appreciate the essay on Aickman and Rolt. There are documentaries on their efforts to save / restore the English canal system, but Aickman’s efforts are seldom credited.
Sylvia Townsend is referenced in three essays, one for her “Lolly Willowes.” I swiftly ordered a copy of that for my wife (so I could read it, as well).
Russell’s personal recollection and subsequent visits to what traces of Copsford lingered is evocative and blows aside some of the dust.
“Visiting Chydyck” should tempt fans of Machen, Townsend (again), and Powys. Both dwelling and turbulent inhabitants are given brief sketches.
“The Cocteau Twins” had me lift my hands, recalling old debates. The record shop had a small clique of Cocteau Twins fanatics. The largest contingent were Pixies adherents (a group I never understood). Then there was one soul (ahem) who waved the Dead Can Dance banner. Despite arguments about which group was “best”, the ensemble that received the steadiest in-store play, year after year, was This Mortal Coil. Classic 4AD albums evoke a time and place for me. Those under Ivo-Watts have a heady fin de siècle aesthete.
Some of my favorite essays were on book collecting and book dealers, most gone now. The breath of nostalgia hangs over these. A time when odd finds were easier to stumble across, a time of price variances - sometimes in your favor, sometimes not, a time before the Internet made collecting more homogenized. His recollections of bygone book dealers mirrored my own experiences. A few wonderful souls who were passionate about books, offset by dismal sorts who were contemptuous philistines.