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Posts Tagged ‘noel streatfeild’

The Trinity College Book Sale is not for the faint-hearted. For three frantic days every year, book lovers and book sellers descend on the college’s Exam Hall to snap up some of the thousands of second-hand books, from recent paperbacks to 1950s household manuals,  that fill the usually airy room.

If you ever see a copy of this, let me know. Seriously!

It always opens on a Thursday night, which is when the hardcore devotees and the serious book dealers get there to snap up the rarest and most valuable titles, rendering the event more like a rugby scrum than a sedate second-hand book sale. By Friday, things are generally slightly calmer, by which I mean you don’t have to be six-foot tall and built like Ronan O’Gara to shove your way through the crowds around each long table and catch a glimpse of some books.

Despite the crazed crowds, I love the Book Sale. I’ve been going every year since I was a student, and I’ve never left it without my arms full of incredibly cheap gems (seriously, most books cost about a euro at most). And every year I find myself looking out for certain titles and certain authors. There are a few writers whose names I look out for every single time I scan a shelf or pile of second-hand books, whether in a posh London bookshop or a jumble sale. They’re the authors I love whose books are out of print, and when I see one of their titles that I don’t already own I have been known to leap across a table to grab it. I can never pass a Biography section without hoping to find Noel Streatfeild’s Away from the Vicarage, the second volume of her autobiographical trilogy (I already have the first and the third installments), and when looking through fiction from the 1940s and ’50s I always look out for her now very hard-to-find adult novels. I always rush to the Children’s section hoping to find anything by Antonia Forest, whose complex children’s books, all but one of which have been out of print since the ’80s apart from a few limited edition reprints, go for vast sums online. I scour the Humour section hoping to find some volumes of Arthur Marshall’s hilarious literary criticism, or some of the few collections of Ronald Searle cartoons that I don’t already own. And for a very long time I was always on the look out for all three of Dodie Smith’s memoirs (like Streatfeild, she also wrote a three-part autobiography in the ’60s – there must have been something in the air), which I had got from the library and adored as a teenager, until my parents and sister very kindly got me two of them for Christmas last year.

Every book sale or second-hand stall raises my hopes of finding these treasures, and I always feel a tang of disappointment when I leave the exam hall yet again without a copy of Antonia Forest’s Peter’s Room or one of Streatfeild’s ’40s romances.  And yet I have to admit that the day I complete my Forest collection or finally have my own copy of every E. Nesbit book might feel, well, a little flat. Because without that hope of finding the treasures I’ve been seeking for so long, maybe the Trinity book sale will just be a musty-smelling, over-crowded room full of pointless paperbacks. Or maybe, just maybe, it could be the place where I randomly discover a new author who becomes my next obsession. Where there are books, there is always hope…

So what about you? What authors do you always look out for in second-hand shops?

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One of the many fantastic elements of the Mindfield section of the Electric Picnic was the presence of an excellent little second hand book tent. Fellow Anti-Room panelist Aoife Barry and I had an excellent browse, and I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems and a collection of de Maupassant short stories (I’ve never read him, and have been meaning to check out his stories for ages) with an incredibly dodgy blurb.

Lots of lovely books to browse through. Who knows what treasures lie within?

It was a reminder of how much I love second hand book shops. In an age where we can track down any title we want online (if we’ve got the money to pay for it), nothing beats the serendipitous joy of seeing a long-searched-for title amid the random paperbacks, of finding a long out-of-print book you’ve never heard of by a beloved author. I find it physically impossible to pass a second hand book-shop without sticking my head in for a second, and I still head to certain sections hoping to find certain titles – the F shelf of the children’s section hoping for a copy of Peter’s Room by Antonia Forest; the S shelf of the adult autobiography for the middle volume of Noel Streatfeild’s memoirs and the S shelf of the adult fiction in the hope of finding some of her long-lost adult titles. For years I also used to look out for Dodie Smith’s wonderful autobiographies, which I’d got out of the library as a teenager, until my parents and sister got  two of them for me for Christmas last year.

Because nothing beats that moment when you see the book you’ve been searching for, or the one you didn’t know you wanted until it was there in your hand in a dim corner of a rambling shop on Charing Cross Road. Over the last 20 years I’ve gasped in delight at the sight of everything from E. Nesbit’s The New Treasure Seekers to Mollie Panter Downes’s London War Notes 1939-1945, from 1940s knitting books to 1950s teenage girl annuals. And then there was the memorable time many years ago when I found my own copy of William Maxwell’s The Chateau, which had been stolen from my desk by a kleptomaniac colleague a week before.

So do you share my love of second hand rummaging? What are your favourite second hand shops (these days, there’s nowhere better in Dublin than Raven Books in Blackrock)? And what have been your best finds?

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