Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The social history of books



There was that Kenneth Patchen 1957 Selected Poems I bought in a local Oxfam shop just before Christmas, signed on the flyleaf: ‘George Buchanan, 1959’ – the Irish-born poet, 1904-89, who published with Carcanet and whose daughter lives opposite me.

Last Saturday in another local Oxfam shop there was a treasure trove of late 1950s/early 1960s Penguins. I bought three. Inside a Moravia I found a forgotten bookmark in the form of a letter dated 7 February1961, thanking a Dr Helen Rubens for her job application and inviting her to attend a interview at a doctors’ surgery on the afternoon of the 10th – in other words, almost certainly this book was last read over a half a century ago, and perhaps the woman reading it had it with her on the day of the interview (the surgery opening times are handwritten on the back of the envelope). I googled the name and found her: her grandparents on both sides were Jewish immigrants and her parents met while working as market traders; she married a trades unionist at the age of 23, became a GP, mentored refugees studying medicine, was made a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1992, and died last year. For her Guardian obituary, written by her son, see here. I feel proud to have some of the books she once read.

1 comment:

billoo said...

Interesting post! I'm always fascinated by the journeys of second hand books and how they make it to this corner of the world. I once found a signed copy of Holub's 'Vanishing lung syndrome' in a dusty old bookshop in Lahore! Inside are written the words: With Czech and greek regards.

Thought you might like this:

'Books are, to me, the last link with the beautiful in England...the margins of the page are browned and there's room to read. The sober blank verse is widely spaced and...easy to the eye because it's so spaciously arranged on the page. The whole book is as delicately proportioned as a Greek temple.'
---Betjeman.