For this reason I am in the village shortly after ten on a Saturday morning, only to see on the door of Mind that they've been open since nine. What chance have I got? He'll have done a clean sweep. There's nothing for me in Mind today, so I head over the road to Barnardo's, where there's a lovely Picador edition of Cyra McFadden's The Serial. Although I already have this, I consider buying a second copy – money to a good cause etc. I have a small but growing number of Picador 'swops', a sort of shadow collection. It makes me nervous to admit it, as it does seem to suggest an enthusiasm out of control. Luckily, Barnardo's affix little coloured stickers to the spines of their books – as do Oxfam in Dalston, east London, one of my favourite haunts – and they don't always come off without removing part of the top layer of the spine itself, so I leave it.
Shelter is next. Secreted behind some crime novels on a shelf so low down I have to crouch to move them is a battered copy of Morrissey's Autobiography. Well might they have hidden it behind a bunch of crime novels. It was to Penguin's eternal shame that they agreed to publish the narcissistic singer's memoir straight into Penguin Classics.
I bypass Oxfam, saving it up for later, and realise as soon as I enter Sue Ryder that not only have they moved things around, but they've also reduced the price of the books. Four for a pound. Never a good sign. Nevertheless, I see a Vintage edition of Laurent Binet's HHhH in good condition, which I've wanted to read since it came out, so I pick three other books – Helen Walsh's The Lemon Grove, Elizabeth Taylor's Blaming and the charming Louise Welsh's A Lovely Way to Burn – and hand over my pound. If I give these to manageress Wendy Elliott (née Royle, but no relation, as far as we know) in Oxfam she will sell them for a decent price.
Next door in Cancer Research UK, where they have only recently started selling books again (thereby hangs a tale and a subject for another post), I am tempted by Colm Tóibín's The Heather Blazing in Picador, Patrick Modiano's The Search Warrant (Harvill Secker) and – hell, why not? – John Dickson Carr's The Witch of the Low Tide in green Penguin. I've been curious about Modiano since he won the Nobel Prize and came to the attention of many, myself among them, who had not heard of him before. I will feel I should read him in French, since I am lucky enough to be able to do so, but given that I may never get around to reading him at all I might as well have him in translation as in the original. As for Dickson Carr, my Penguin Crime bookshelves are full – who am I kidding, all my bookshelves are full – but I read about him the other day. Someone recommended one of his novels as the perfect locked-room mystery. I can't remember who and I can't remember which one, but I don't think it was this one.
A crime may have taken place in Oxfam. Wendy is on her way out of the shop waving a fake £20 note. I hand over the three books that made up my purchase at Sue Ryder and before I've left (empty handed – I give this branch of Oxfam more books than I buy from them) they're on the shelf priced at £2.49 each.
A quick look in the RSPCA, which so often punches above its weight. It only has a small selection, but often has some very interesting books. Today is no exception. I wouldn't normally pick up a two-inch-thick hardback called anything like The Life of Vertebrates, but something about this volume seems to call out to me. Inside I find an inclusion, in fact two inclusions. There's an article from an unknown magazine dated 10 May 1984 entitled 'Why birds don't run out of breath' and, tucked in the back cover, a pressed flower.
When I get home, I find I already have Tóibín's The Heather Blazing. Maybe Adrian Slatcher would like a copy?