Invited to be ‘in conversation’ with Tony White at Site Gallery, for an event that is part of Strong Language, curated by Tim Etchells, which in turn is part of the Off the Shelf festival, I decide to travel in the direction of Sheffield by train and alight at Dore & Totley, on the outskirts of the city, and walk in, visiting two second hand bookshops on the way. It’s a good plan but I execute it poorly by starting my journey at Stockport instead of Manchester Piccadilly. The stopping train, which I need, goes from Piccadilly and doesn’t go through Stockport. So, arriving at Sheffield on the Norwich train, I leave the station and walk south, gently uphill, and then west, past the Sheffield United football ground, and then past two gentlemen enjoying a drink in the street who shout some abuse after me that sounds as if it might have something to do with the fact that I’m reading a book. Had they known it was a French book – Hélène Lenoir’s fascinating 2005 short story collection L’Entracte (Les Editions de Minuit) – they might have had even more to say.
Porter Book Shop (see below) is one of a good handful of businesses on Sharrow Vale Road that reference the nearby Porter Brook. It is one of those dream-like second hand bookshops that has about three times more books crammed into it than there is room for. Every bit of space is used up. That gap between the top shelf and the ceiling? Get some Penguin Classics in there. The hard-to-get-at wall behind the till? Fill it with shelves of art books. That tiny bit of non-space by the door? Bung in a little set of shelves doubled up with green Penguins and Hardy Boys books. In the fiction section I find not one, not two, but three Nabokov titles: The Enchanter, a white-spined Picador I know is not already part of my extensive Picador collection (now numbering about 850), and two from that exquisite Penguin Nabokov series that uses details from paintings by Richard Lindner, Transparent Things and Glory. Of Nabokov I have read only Pnin and The Eye. I think Transparent Things, which is barely 100 pages, could be next in line. I do love a short novel.
Out of curiosity and because I collect Paladin paperbacks, I also buy Contre-Jour, a 1986 novel by Gabriel Josipovici in a 1988 edition. Earlier this year I read the same author’s latest novel, The Cemetery in Barnes, which has been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize, and found it beautifully written, if slightly puzzling, and I wasn't sure how much I got out of the passages in ancient French and Italian. Philistine, moi?
Dave Bartholomew, who runs Next Chapter, also stocks new books from Longbarrow Press and Atlas Press and CDs from Martin Archer’s avant garde Discus Music label. To these, after I bend his ear about Confingo Publishing, he may well soon be adding their titles.
I climb another, steeper steeper hill to reach the Botanical Gardens and then amble down the other side to reach the Oxfam Bookshop on Glossop Road, where I fall for an edition of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London in the same series as Nineteen Eighty-Four with another detail from another William Roberts painting, Bank Holiday in the Park. Later, I will discover I already have this, but what kind of person resents buying duplicates from Oxfam?
The event with Tony White, focusing on his novel The Fountain in the Forest, which I also read earlier this year, while walking around an area of London in which it is partly set, is a success, in spite of my participation. I am very pleasantly surprised that my Manchester Writing School colleague Rachel Genn has turned up unexpectedly and I find a way to mention my story in We Were Strangers: Stories Inspired by Unknown Pleasures, the lastest release from Confingo Publishing, that doesn’t feel too self-serving. If you’re ever in the vicinity of Site Gallery, their pumpkin and sage soup is fantastic. So is their cake for that matter. Just as well there’s no hill to climb between the gallery and the railway station. On the train home I’m already coming up with excuses to go back so I can get some of those Hardy Boys books (I collect them but didn’t have a list or photo) and at least one of those Martin Archer CDs. And next time I’ll get the right train so I can walk in from Dore & Totley and climb a few more hills before I get to Site Gallery and that cake.