The cult books section is still the one nearest the door and I still feel ambivalent about the idea of a cult books section. Who decides what’s cult and what’s not? Doesn’t a book lose its cult status the moment it’s so labelled? At the same time, I like Charles Bukowski, particularly those Allison & Busby reissues from the 1980s, and if Book & Comic Exchange had any of those gorgeous JG Ballard A-format paperbacks in Panther, this is surely where they’d be. I wish I could remember who it was who borrowed my copy of The Atrocity Exhibition. I hope they’re enjoying it. I’ll show them atrocity, if I ever get it back.
I check out the poetry section because, although I don’t read poetry, because I’m not clever enough to understand it, or sophisticated enough to judge it, I do collect the Paladin Poetry volumes. There is none here. Next to poetry is 20th century classics, where there’s a handwritten sign: IF YOU WANT TO SNIFF THE BOOKS – PLEASE DO SO AT HOME. I think about buying an undistinguised edition of The Brothers Karamazov for its ‘inclusion’, a sex worker’s phone box card, but, without a doodle or handwritten name or phone number, it is not sufficiently desirable, even to me.
I pass into the back room, where fiction occupies the left-hand wall, crime dominates the far end and non-fiction is shelved on the right. In my memory this room is bigger, perhaps because there are so many books crammed into it. I fall for a Picador edition of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury that looks like a Picador Classic with its black spine but is in fact a regular Picador. It won’t go in my Picador collection, because of the black spine, but will join a very small sub-group of black-spined Picadors that are not Picador Classics, the only other book in this sub-group so far being Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth. I also buy two books it turns out later I have already acquired in recent months – Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train (Fontana with Tom Adams cover, naturally) and Norman Lewis’s A Goddess in the Stones – which makes me realise, later, that the system I have for avoiding duplicates – checking photos of my collection on my phone – only works if I shelve the new books that I take home, instead of allowing them to join a steadily growing pile of books awaiting shelving.
One other book attracts my attention. It’s a copy of the so-called mass-market edition of my fourth novel, The Director’s Cut. I pull it out to have a look, always hopeful of finding a choice inclusion or interesting inscription (usually it’s my signature and the name of a close friend). In this case, I am interested to read, on the title page, ‘Thank you*, Nicolas Roeg. * What on earth do I mean? This is a present to me!! NR. It’s BRILLIANT…’
Nicolas Roeg, for those who don’t know, is the greatest living British film director. He directed Don’t Look Now, the best film ever made. These are stone-cold facts. I referenced Roeg in the novel a number of times (and sent him copies of this and the first edition), hiding the titles of all of his films in the text. I suspect what’s going on here is some joker has read enough of the novel to pick up on that and has written what he or she thinks is a funny thing that Roeg might write. The signature doesn’t look like Roeg’s, I decide, despite the fact I have only seen Roeg’s signature once, in 1983, when he responded positively to my written request to interview him for my college newspaper. (I say once. I will have reread that letter a hundred times, but not once during the last two decades.) And whereas I did once buy a secondhand copy of one of my other novels simply for its inscription (‘Anne, a book about desolation is probably not what you need right now, but I bought it a couple of weeks ago. How was I to know? Happy birthday, lots of love, Steph xxx’), I am not made of money, or bookshelves, so I buy the Faulkner and the two books I don’t yet know I’ve already got and leave the shop, asking about the psych rock as I leave (it’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and I recommend them).
The following morning I tell this story to my friend Gareth Evans when we meet in Burley Fisher Books in Hackney to exchange book-shaped Christmas presents. He asks me if I have Googled Roeg’s signature. I say I have, because I have, in fact, without succeess, but when I am back on wifi I try again and this time I find it and – what do you know? – it’s the same as the one in the copy of The Director’s Cut. So, now I have to get back over to Notting Hill and hope that the book is still there.
I buy it.