Monday 30 October 2023


‘Every square meter is filled with so much stuff. Fruit vendors, lottery booths, blind singers, tires, scrap metal, old motorbikes, buckets filled small nuts, bananas gone a little bad, live and dead chickens, heaps of indistinguishable merchandise …’ This is from Gianni Celati’s description of a street market in Bamako in Mali, which I was reading during (rare) quiet periods behind the CBe table at the Small Publishers Fair in the Conway Hall last Friday and Saturday. ‘Everywhere people are selling things and chatting with an admirable indolence. Everything moves in discontinuous fluxes, trailing-off busyness, frequent encounters, continual deviations off the path. Movements that are busy, yet meandering, in the space that is packed with human bodies and lively colors, and merchandise heaped into piles. Nothing gives the impression of being isolated … In this continual rubbing up against people who speak as soon as they see you, without barriers that protect against approaches, I am forgetting the funereal privacy with which I live in England …’

Celati talks with his friend, a film-maker, ‘about the fact that in Europe the passion of business seems like a means to an end, and the end is only profit … Here, instead, it seems that living and doing business are the same thing, the same stuff as the hours of the day, for which the goal of profit is not separated from the chatting and the cloud of dust, and rarely are the encounters reduced to an anonymous rendering of services …’

Still, Celati does wonder ‘What is the profit of the cigarette vendor in front of the hotel who sells perhaps ten packs a day? And the profit of the woman selling ten bananas total, on a little table in the street?’ For the record: CBe sold 87 books over the two days of the fair, for an average of £8.50 per book (which is less than the cover price of any one book, which varies between £8.99 and £14, because I was offering two for £16). A few more than ten bananas. And I gave away a few, and 30 free copies of Farthings. There were discontinuous fluxes and frequent encounters and deviations off the path. Enormous thanks to Helen Mitchell for enabling the fair to happen.

And now a new banana, perfectly ripe, freshly delivered: Lara Pawson’s Spent Light, which publishes in January 2024 but is available now for pre-orders from the website.

Plenty other bananas. They keep well. Selling not from a little table but from the website, where bulk orders, also known as Season Tickets – 6 titles of your own choice for £40, 12 for £75 – are available from the home page. Think of the website as a street market.

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