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The Bookseller's Tale

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This is the story of our love affair with books, whether we arrange them on our shelves, inhale their smell, scrawl in their margins or just curl up with them in bed. Taking us on a journey through comfort reads, street book stalls, mythical libraries, itinerant pedlars, radical pamphleteers, extraordinary bookshop customers and fanatical collectors, Canterbury bookseller Martin Latham uncovers the curious history of our book obsession - and his own.

Part cultural history, part literary love letter and part reluctant memoir, this is the tale of one bookseller and many, many books.

349 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2020

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Martin Latham

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 168 reviews
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,299 reviews450 followers
January 31, 2021
A book about booksellers, bookstores, collectors, readers, writers, anything book related, past and present. Full of esoterica, anecdotes, facts and myths. It was fascinating to read, but best read a little at a time instead of straight through. Written with humor and research by the man who has been the manager of the Canterbury Waterstones for 35 years. If I were still a bookseller, I'd have a lot of information to share with my favorite customers.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,695 reviews594 followers
August 18, 2020
As an obsessive reader, I found much to enjoy in this book, which is a wonderful collection of reminiscences, stories and thoughts on readers intimate relationships with books, by a bookseller. Of course, as he owns a bookshop, he is rhapsodic about the way we interact with books, as compared to digital devices. Although I am a female reader, unlike many of Mr Latham’s customers, I have never hugged, kissed, or indeed, had the desire to smell books. I do buy books, but I will also admit – especially as I age – that the lightness, ease of carrying so many books with me, and an increased font, has made me as much in love with my kindle as I am with books. Not so romantic, perhaps, but I do appreciate his thoughts and I have always brought my own children books, as opposed to digital versions, as I do agree there is a difference.

Books are more tactile, and I enjoyed the sections here on marginalia, much loved and well read books and book collectors. Like the little girl crying in the queue, as she did not want her book ‘spoilt,’ by a signature, I have never written in books and never even turned over the corner of a page. I do love bookmarks, as does my daughter (she was the only child in her class who actually owned one, which I find a troubling statistic, even if it is only based on a small group of children).

The author continues to look at all things bookish; from readers feeling they should plough ‘glumly’ through the Booker longlist, while craving comfort books; libraries and librarians, and booksellers in Paris, New York and elsewhere. An interesting collection of anecdotes, which will have great appeal for book lovers everywhere. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

Profile Image for Joseph.
477 reviews125 followers
September 9, 2020
Martin Latham runs Waterstones in Canterbury and has been a bookseller for thirty-five years, making him the longest-serving Waterstones manager. The Bookseller’s Tale is an idiosyncratic memoir which draws upon Latham’s experiences amongst books, authors, book buyers and book lovers.

The blurb describes this book as “part cultural history, part literary love letter and part reluctant memoir”. It is, in fact, a work which is hard to pin down. It contains a lot of historical details on such bookish subjects as itinerant sellers and book pedlars, libraries through the ages, marginalia, female authors and readers and even booklice species. Yet, it does not feel like an academic book, and more like the author’s own whimsical romp through book history. While not exactly an autobiography (we learn much more about Latham the “bookseller” rather than Latham “the man”), the book is enriched with juicy personal anecdotes including the occasional gossipy name-dropping.

What shines throughout the book is a love for reading and – unsurprisingly for a “bookseller’s tale” – a love for physical books, as opposed to electronic books. I am not, personally, a purist in this regard, believing that it is ultimately the content of the book, rather than the medium, is more important. Not that you’d notice that, as I’m still an obsessive buyer of physical books and share the compulsion felt by some of the author’s customers to hug and smell a new book. I loved in particular Latham’s ode to comfort books. His observation that the most critically acclaimed “literary” books are not necessarily the ones that mean most to the general reader is an eye-opening one and a warning against adopting a patronising approach towards literary tastes.

The Bookseller's Tale feels like a night at the pub with your favourite book buddy and is just as enjoyable.

Profile Image for erigibbi.
866 reviews670 followers
June 14, 2022
Se siete lettori e se amate follemente i libri, I racconti del libraio fa decisamente al caso vostro.
Parla di libri di consolazione (di cui a volte – ahimè – ci vergogniamo); di come la lettura sia stata portata avanti anche nelle situazioni storiche-sociali più complicate e difficili; parla dei venditori ambulanti, dei collezionisti, dei marginalia (le note a margine manoscritte), dei commonplace books: album composti di citazioni ritagliate (ripeto: album composti da citazioni ritagliate) e dei chapbooks, gli antenati dei nostri libri tascabili, bistrattati da alcuni perché ritenuti prodotti dozzinali, ma amatissimi da altri come Dickens, Shakespeare, Stevenson… e poi, potevano forse mancare le librerie?
È un libro denso di curiosità, aneddoti, fatti storici, personaggi illustri, persone sconosciute che si meriterebbero la fama (o perlomeno essere ricordate), esperienze con clienti lettori che fanno un giro in libreria. Insomma, è uno zibaldone di argomenti a tema libri e lettura.
Non è sempre scorrevole, non tiene sempre incollati alle pagine, ma per la maggior parte del tempo è davvero molto interessante. Negli ultimi anni ho sviluppato il desiderio di lavorare in una libreria, ma mi sono anche chiesta se fosse davvero il lavoro giusto per me. Non ho una visione romanticizzata della cosa, ma un conto è immaginare, un conto è la realtà.
Questo libro mi ha davvero convinta, non so bene nemmeno io come e perché. Fatto sta che finché leggevo mi sentivo avvolta da un calore dorato, da felicità, da appagamento, da emozioni. Il tutto rovinato dal fatto che al momento per me non sembrano proprio esserci possibilità per realizzare questo desiderio lavorativo. Ma almeno mi è servito per capire che sì, è quello il mio posto nel mondo.
Fun fact: negli ultimi anni mi do come obiettivo di lettura (per una sfida e un divertimento puramente personale) 52 libri, un libro a settimana. Be’, questo è stato il mio cinquantaduesimo libro, mi piace vederlo come un segno del destino.
Profile Image for Kristīne.
578 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2023
Viena no labākajām lasīšanas vēstures eseju grāmatām!
Autors mani pārsteidza ne tikai ar mazāk zināmiem faktiem un perspektīvām, bet absolūti apbūra arī ar savu rakstības stilu - poētiski erudītu, ar gaumīgu humoru, un kas svarīgi - izpalika tā familiārā izteiksme, ka viss, kas ar viņu reiz noticis, ir notiekti jāpārstāsta grāmatā, jo tas ir nenormāli svarīgi.
Kā jau laba grāmata, šī mani mudināja lasīt tālāk, un dažas jau esmu iegādājusies, atliek tikai izbīdīt laiku, kad. Ha ha ha.
Profile Image for Alanna Jenkins.
263 reviews7 followers
August 17, 2020
The blurb describes this book as "part cultural history, part literary love letter and part reluctant memoir".

The first part of the sentence seems to make up the bulk of the content - there is a lot of cultural history included in the book; I particularly liked the sections on libraries throughout history, street booksellers and the bookstore customers. The book contains a collection of anecdotes from the history of books that allowed me to see a different side to bibliography. At one point it was mentioned that this book was a 10-year project; I can well believe it, the subject matter throughout (all parts of it) are very clearly researched.

The literary love letter part felt a little lacking for me; while it is clear that the author has a lot of passion for books and has dedicated a large portion of his life to bibliography, the writing felt a cold at times. There were moments of humour (I found myself chuckling at certain one-liners or fun facts that were included) but at times I found myself feeling like I was reading a textbook. It was a decent read, but there were parts dotted throughout where I struggled to stay engaged.

On to the part reluctant memoir - reluctant is certainly the right word. I don't feel like I got to know much of anything substantial about the author until the very end of the book (the last 30 pages or so). This is a man who appears to have a fascinating personal story that is woven into the bookstore that he has headed for so many years (and the ones he worked at before), I would have loved to have seen more of it. The book had room for an increased feeling of personality and space for more stories from 30 years of running a well-known bookstore - I think I would have connected with it more if they had been a bigger feature.

I've come away from this read knowing a lot more about the world of bibliography than I did before, but it didn't leave the lasting impression on me that I hoped it would.
Profile Image for josé almeida.
226 reviews10 followers
November 13, 2022
ora aí está um daqueles livros que não quis ler de seguida, apesar de me sentir a ele preso. tecendo uma trama que mescla factos com lendas, verdades sérias com anedotas irónicas, memórias e projecções, o autor consegue dar vida a uma espécie de história dos livros enquanto mais do que folhas escritas, interligando escritores, livreiros, leitores, bibliotecas e coleccionadores. e muito mais do que um relato sobre a nossa incurável bibliofilia, é uma homenagem a este - sempre novo - velho objecto sem o qual não conseguimos viver.
Profile Image for Lynn B.
681 reviews18 followers
September 4, 2020
I'm not sure I am going to be able to do this book justice in my review, because it is just absolutely brilliant. Straightaway the book led me to other books I haven't heard of and now need to read. As well it provided me with an education in book history I was clearly lacking.

I detest folded corners in books and cannot bring myself to write in them either, despite being encouraged to do so by my past tutors. I now learn that folding corners used to be seen as a feminine device and that marginalia used to be a very big thing. It even used to be that people cut their favourite passages out of books and pasted them into commonplace books with their own thoughts. I also learnt (amongst so many other things) that In ancient times libraries were attached to bath houses - and the free browsing of libraries is akin to mindfulness.

It appears books have been treated very shodily at times through the ages. One of the worst I was shocked to read about was in 1535, when the Parlement de Paris banned printing and burned twenty-three people associated with the book trade, not before earlier having order books to be burnt. A real life Farenheit 451.

"The Decameron" is not a book I had heard of, but when I read that in the past it was laid down that it was "not to be lent to women" I thought I needed to know more. It's this kind of snippet that has led me down a rabbit hole looking for books that reference other books and then when I get to the end of the book, I find several pages of sources - more book hunting.

There is so much knowledge in this book and I was reading it until my eyes hurt, I did not want to put it down. Surely this needs to be made into a TV documentary, it would be fascinating. I'm struggling to remember it all, luckily it's in this book and I will be referring to it in the future and re-reading. My favourite part of the book is the section on Bookshops in New York and a quote from my favourite film "You've Got Mail", it doesn't get much better than this.

The author ran the Canterbury Waterstone's bookshop and underneath it was discovered a Roman mosaic. An image that will stay with me is of the author reclining in a hammock suspended over the mosaic floor and then overhearing a customer's query, answering them through the wall. Thus providing the customer with what must have seemed like an outerworld experience, although apparently one customer did think there was a portal to another world within the bookshop anyway. So many anecdotes that were truly entertaining.

This is an eloquently written book with more than a taste of humour that was a pleasure to read. I want to talk to everyone about it now and share all that I've learnt.
Profile Image for Eddie Clarke.
225 reviews49 followers
January 26, 2022
This is a bit of a wild ride - the author enthuses about bookshop serendipity and the ‘shamanic’ calling of the successful bookseller and he definitely embodies these qualities in this entertaining jaunt through the underbelly of all things bookish. Passionate, eccentric, unclassifiable - I learned a lot. Sometimes the flow of anecdotes feels a little relentless.

Among his many industry shout-outs is one to a fellow Waterstone��s Canterbury alumnus, David Mitchell. I met Mitchell at an event for Cloud Atlas and fully agree with Latham’s warm praise for his charmingly empathetic conversational skills. He certainly made my copy feel like a very personal dedication.
Profile Image for Nostalgiaplatz.
152 reviews38 followers
July 26, 2022
Un libro che poteva essere divertente e interessante e che si è rivelato un'accozzaglia di informazioni un po' alla rinfusa, aneddoti libreschi, biografie ed esperienze personali, senza mai un guizzo (a parte qualche tentativo di umorismo poco efficace) e con il risultato di riuscire confusionario e noioso. Sì, qualcosa di interessante c'è, per esempio i capitoli sui bouquinistes o su Venezia, ma si perde in tutto il resto e alla fine quasi niente rimane impresso.
A parte gli errori, che fastidio.
Scusate, mi devo sfogare.

A un certo punto, parlando di libri che compaiono nei dipinti rinascimentali, troviamo

L'arcangelo Gabriele si reca da Maria per dirle che suo figlio è il frutto di un'immacolata concezione

Ma no, l'immacolata concezione è Maria stessa, e Gabriele comunque non pronuncia mai quelle parole.

A un certo punto abbiamo un

Molte donne ammogliate

a dimostrare quant'erano progressisti già nel '600 (anche se qui si tratta probabilmente di una cantonata del traduttore, che comunque non sarebbe dovuta sfuggire)

Parlando dell'antica biblioteca greca di Pergamo, dice che era dominata da una colossale statua di Atena

il plinto sui cui poggiava, che è sopravvissuto, misura quasi tre metri quadri

Quasi tre metri quadri! Una statua colossale con la base grande quanto uno sgabuzzino! Ho controllato online ma non ho trovato la misura esatta di questo plinto, ma pare che la statua fosse alta tre metri, direi poco per essere definita “colossale” (e tre metri quadri di base restano scarsi)

Abbiamo una parte su Antonio Magliabechi, bibliofilo e letterato seicentesco. Stando al libro, Magliabechi crebbe analfabeta e monello di strada, fino a quando i genitori non lo mandarono a fare il garzone da un fruttivendolo. Lì il bambino restò affascinato dai caratteri impressi sui fogli che il bottegaio usava per incartare la frutta. A fianco del fruttivendolo c'era un librario, che notando la sua fascinazione, gli insegnò a leggere.
Ma in realtà Magliabechi rimase orfano di padre in tenera età, e ricevette i primi rudimenti di latino già da bambino, per volere della madre. Venne sì mandato a bottega a sedici anni, ma da un pregiato orefice, parenti da parte di madre, e continuò comunque a studiare, si diede al greco e all'ebraico, e divenne tanto dotto e conosciuto da venire chiamato a svolgere funzione di bibliotecario dai Granduchi.
Queste sono informazioni reperibili con una googlata, non so dove Latham abbia tirato fuori la storia del monello analfabeta e del fruttivendolo.

Più avanti, riguardo Marie Pellechet, una bibliofila ottocentesca esperta di incunaboli, dice

Marie era figlia unica

Due pagine dopo, parlando delle lettere scritte da Marie:

Sono una lettura infinitamente più gradevole delle retoriche “Lettere dall'Italia” del fratello, di cui lei stessa curò la pubblicazione.

Ma non era figlia unica?

Dal profondo della mia ignoranza mi sono accorta di questi errori, e mi domando quanti possa averne scovati una persona di cultura. Pagina dopo pagina ti ritrovi a chiederti “posso fidarmi o sto leggendo delle sciocchezze?”. I personaggi citati hanno davvero avuto la vita che viene loro attribuita, o sarebbe meglio ricercarli uno per uno, per togliersi il dubbio?

A un certo punto Latham racconta che, quando si accorge che un libro riporta qualche stupidaggine, gli viene voglia di lanciarlo contro il muro o dalla finestra.

“Scemenze”, non potei fare a meno di sibilare, mentre il libro atterrava con un tonfo al pianterreno.

Caro autore, il tuo libro non è volato solo perché l'ho letto su kindle, e sarà pure un kindle ormai vecchietto, ma finché funziona non lo lancio da nessuna parte. Come l'avessi fatto, però.
Profile Image for Sarah.
77 reviews2 followers
May 31, 2022
A heart warming account of everything to do with people and the books they read, collect, scribble in, sell and buy. Had a lovely time reading :)
Profile Image for Buchdoktor.
1,877 reviews133 followers
September 16, 2021
Martin Latham, als Leiter der Waterstones Filiale in Cambridge buchhändlerisches Urgestein, war nach einem wissenschaftlichen Studium im Buchhandel Quereinsteiger. Vermutlich aus der eigenen Biografie heraus zeigte er ein besonderes Händchen dafür, Kollegen mit herausragendem Spezialwissen einzustellen, die ihn selbst nach Jahrzehnten im Buchhandel immer noch verblüffen können. Wer hätte auch ahnen können, dass David Mitchell aus der Belletristik-Abteilung heute weltberühmter Autor sein würde … Latham legt seine Kulturgeschichte des Buches und der Bibliomanie weiter an, als ich von einem „Buchhändler-Buch“ erwartet hätte. Zunächst befasst er sich mit der Einzigartigkeit und der Trostfunktion von Büchern für einzelne Leser. In der Suchthaftigkeit des Lesens, oft seit früher Kindheit, wie auch in der Eichhörnchenhaftigkeit, von einem begonnenen Buch möglichst lange etwas haben zu wollen, werden sich leidenschaftliche Leser wiederfinden können. Zur Leserpersönlichkeit bietet Latham einen Rückblick auf lesende Frauen und Mäzeninnen von Bibliotheken wie Christine de Pizan, Margarete von Navarra und Lady Anne Clifford. Über Jahrhunderte hinweg galten Frauen als Leserinnen für ebenso gefährlich wie auf einem Hochrad oder in Hosen gekleidet, weil Bücher ihnen Zugang zu Wissen, geistiger Freiheit und ihrem eigenen Körper vermittelten und nicht selten ihre Forderung nach demokratischen Rechten befeuerten. Latham ist überzeugt davon, „chapbooks“, kurze oder gekürzte Romane des Ritter- und Prinzessinnengenres seien für breite Bevölkerungsschichten Einstiegsdroge ins Lesen gewesen und hätten langfristig zum gesellschaftlichen Wandel beigetragen.

Für den leidenschaftlichen Buchhändler Latham ist Buchhandel offenbar ein Marktplatz für die Ware Buch, aber auch für Geschichten, die durch erfahrene Buchhändler an passende Leser vermittelt werden. Lathams Blick als Kaufmann und als Lesesüchtiger führt uns zurück in die Geschichte des Buchdrucks, zu legendären Bibliotheken und zur Macht des katalogisierenden Bibliothekars, der brisante Themen in einer Bibliothekssystematik in den Vordergrund stellen oder in der Versenkung verschwinden lassen kann. Mit Blick auf Venedig, Paris, Lyon und New York als historische Zentren des Buchhandels demonstriert Latham, wie Flucht und Migration bereits im 19. Jahrhundert zu kultureller Vielfalt und blühendem Handel beitrugen.

Anekdoten aus dem Alltag eines Buchhändlers finden sich bei Martin Latham auch, wenn er von Kunden, Kindern, Kollegen, Katzen und Spinnen berichtet, seine Stärke ist jedoch, Buchhandlungen als Treffpunkt exzentrischer Menschen und Brutstätte subversiver Ideen zu zeigen.

Profile Image for Shan.
634 reviews32 followers
November 6, 2021
An organized but random-feeling walk through the world of books. In the chapter on bookshops, new bookstore manager Latham is happy with his recent order of 35,000 books until Tim Waterstone visits the store and says it's not quite there: the store lacks that Aladdin's Cave feeling. This book has that feeling. The Guardian's review calls it "a heady mix of history, philosophy and amusing little fancy-thats," which is a perfect description. It has more depth and seriousness than Weird Things People Say In Bookstores but was more fun to read than A History of Reading.

I listened to it, but I really want to see it in print so I can flip around and reread bits I liked. It's not available as an ebook, apparently, and none of my libraries have it, so I'm ordering a hardback. It has the side advantage of making me feel a little better about my own chaotic bookcases, which I've been fruitlessly trying to bring under control. I'll find a good spot for this once I've read it again.

So much in here. Comfort books, cheap books, writing in books, collecting books, libraries, book burning. It's a friendly book, read in the audio by a friendly voice that surprised me by not being the author himself. (I just found this podcast with the author's own voice - he's got a great accent, to me he sounds like Michael Caine, but it's just as well he didn't narrate. I'd probably have missed a lot.) Maybe I'll come back and update this more coherently when I have the book in my hand. Meanwhile, I highly recommend it, however you manage to find it.

Latham's Uncertainty Principle: Upon entering a bookshop, you cannot know both who you are and who you might become.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
January 12, 2021
I feel like this book wasn't quite sure what it was. History of the book? History of access to books? History of what people think about books? Autobiography of Martin Latham? There's some genuinely interesting stuff sandwiched in between Latham making sure we know that he worked for Tim Waterstone and knew a bunch of famous people before you could Google them. Sometimes his anecdotes work to illustrate the narrative he's trying to spin... and sometimes he's telling us about weird dreams he had.

It was also full of this... reverence for the codex (not the contents) as a physical object, and being passionately in love with the physical form of a book. He's a fan of physical books you can fondle, annotate, spill things on, write your name in... And I can get it, to some extent, but you'd think people aren't real readers if they don't like to caress books or crease spines or whatever. He does bring across the sensual enjoyment of books, and what a delight that can be for some people, but, yeah, just not sure about this absolute lionising of the codex-form of books above all else, above even the contents (which he rarely discusses in detail).

I expected to love this, but found myself fairly nonplussed. Overall, I can't say I really enjoyed it -- something about Latham and me just didn't click, for a start.
8 reviews1 follower
January 9, 2022
A charmingly odd mishmash of book history, sociology, psychology, and the author's own experiences. This book has almost no direction, but that turns out to be one of its most endearing qualities. The Bookseller's Tale covers experiences of books as a hobby; the emergence of cheap Dime novels; individual interpretations of their use (both in reading and even as cooking materials, a topic which frustrates the author); the legal and illegal spread of books; several case studies and the author's own story (WE GET IT. YOU LIVE IN CANTERBURY AND MANAGE THE WATERSTONES THERE. HOW MANY TIMES MUST YOU REFERENCE IT.) It feels like the author really just wanted to explore a random assortment of literature-related stories, legends and history, and has a knack for the fun, obscure, interesting, and downright silly at times. We're laid into the arms of a tastemaker to guide us into what Latham finds peculiar within the book world, which turns out is really, really fun.

The Bookseller's Tale is, at its heart, a collection of short stories, anecdotes, and occasional historical account blended together. We're taken to the dusty bookshops of NYC, frequented by tbe bustling working-class of multi-national neighbourhoods, to the raining and miserable stalls of France, where booksellers see themselves less as merchants and more as Kurt Cobain-esque misunderstood artists carrying the word of God in their hands. It's particularly interesting hearing the detailed accounts of book smugglings across the French mountains, and the punishments handed out to those wielding contraband literature.

Coming from a historical background, I really loved the extensive attention given to historical manuscripts and marginalia. Latham is absolutely fascinated by the scrawls of generations gone by on contemporary literature. Whether it's medieval monks making their thoughts known about a particularly malevolent priest in their abbey, or bored university students telling others which sections to skip, Latham loves it all. I imagine he'd love to analyze the common "turn to make 91 for tits" on high school textbooks in a few decades time.

My main criticism revolves around some of the language. Near the start of the book, Latham laments and hopes that The Bookseller's Tale never becomes a pretentious book held by snobs, and he goes to great length to promote the enjoyment of books of all sorts - from cheap comics, to the most high brow medieval chronicle. This is great, but this is occasionally betrayed by some of the esoteric and academic language used. It's great to say that you want your book accessible to all, but then it's no good including sentences such as: "No Fruedian allegiance is required to ascribe his irascibility and fueding proclivity to his being brought up by his father."

Overall if you have both a love of books and an equally wandering and distracted mind, this would be an excellent read. Welcome the odd anecdotes, silly historical accounts and strong author opinion as they come and don't take it too seriously. Books are for fun, after all.
Profile Image for Sophy H.
1,325 reviews67 followers
June 25, 2021
A book about all things bookish!! My kind of gig!

This book was just fabulous. Facts, snippets, tales, reminiscences and meandering yarns all expertly weaved together to produce an amazing body of work on the history of books, their creators, sellers and readers.

Martin Latham has a natural storytelling ability which shines through in this title.

I always like a book which makes me stop and google authors, painters, artists that I may not have heard of. It feels as I'm being led on a secret treasure hunt!

Some words that caught my eye amongst the reading were:-

"Nothing lasts. Our frail idea of self morphs and shape-shifts, then becomes a line on a death certificate and a few family anecdotes. This is both sobering and liberating.......

Let us DNA our books. One day they may be all we leave behind."

"If you think stories, not dates, two thousand years is just a vibration."

"Some 105 billion of us have lived since we started telling stories, but there are only 8 billion people alive. We are a fraction of ourselves, and we all have moments when that knowledge drenches us like a sudden shower of rain."

"Collectors know what they want and the collecting urge starts early, with toddlers' pockets full of pebbles and coloured things; we begin like jackdaws as we end, chattering apparent nonsense and valuing a few fond objects."

Words of wisdom.
Profile Image for Colin.
1,083 reviews18 followers
January 13, 2021
Martin Latham is a well-known figure in the book trade; manager of the Canterbury branch of Waterstones for over thirty years and a frequent contributor to The Bookseller. The Bookseller’s Tale is a labour of love, over ten years in the writing, and his passion for books, bookshops and the rich and eccentric mix of the people who work in them shines through on almost every page. It’s not a straightforward history of books, book selling, literacy or reading, but more of a personal journey through the aspects of all of them that particularly excite the author’s attention. So there are chapters on early book peddlers, book collecting and collectors, libraries and their classification schemes (more interesting, and more political, than you might think), medieval marginalia, the bookshops of New York and the long tradition of Parisian riverside booksellers - the ‘bouqinistes’, and more besides. The rich cast of characters that have always been and probably always will be associated with the book trade provide plentiful source material for juicy anecdotes and amusing asides making this the perfect book for booksellers, librarians, book lovers, bookshop haunters and committed readers everywhere.
Profile Image for Rita Rodrigues.
12 reviews
March 11, 2022
For me it's one that I think I'm gonna hold close to my heart. It's an amazing book about... books! It talks about little but important and warm details such as the signs of use on a book seen as way of critical thinking or deep conversation with the author on a subject that was brought up, the medieval marginalia with its sometimes not so pure drawings on bibles and adressing how there was a need to have both exposed to be aware that both do exist, facts on how the books are preserved all over the world, the impact of the chapbooks on rough times such as wars or the leaning in into the french revolution, the business of sellling books as pedlars, ancient librarys, comfort books and so much more. It's written in such a passionate, considerate and light-hearted way that amounts it to an easy and full of fresh air reading. The references were for all the tastes and you can tell that this book has a lot of love and research into it. To each and every chapter I fell in love a little more with it and almost makes me wanting my own bookshop.
Profile Image for Kerry.
185 reviews2 followers
August 8, 2021
Occasionally a little dry and academic - I admit to skimming parts - but some wonderfully interesting and amusing facts and anecdotes that more than made up for the denser bits. I particularly enjoyed the 17th century bookseller who had tiny stoves attached to his arms to make reading easy in the cold...and the fact that Ruskin used a saw to make all his books the same height. Written by someone for whom the physical book and the art of bookselling are clearly everything.
Profile Image for Bookwormthings.
436 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2020
Oh, this was so much better than I thought it was going to be. I had feared it was going to be another silly things people say in bookshops (amusing but shortlived) but this is a history of literacy, libraries, reading and culture. Idiosyncratic, but a really good read.
Profile Image for Ilaria Massariol.
172 reviews11 followers
February 18, 2023
Solamente al termine della lettura si comprende il senso del titolo: ci si aspettava l’appassionata testimonianza autobiografica dell’attività di un libraio, ma, fin dalle prime delle quattrocento pagine, si viene introdotti in un diverso argomento.
La storia analizza il nostro rapporto con i libri e mostra come questo legame abbia reso più profonda la percezione che abbiamo di noi stessi: una dichiarazione che mette curiosità e ci induce a proseguire con una nuova attenzione alla lettura.
Ha l'aspetto di un saggio che si pone con parole ricercate all'interno di una serie di capitoli che divino i diversi aspetti del rapporto che nasce tra essere umano e libri in diversi ambiti e caratteri.
Il linguaggio dell’autore rimane colloquiale, come fosse un racconto, e non si limita nell'utilizzo di esempi per ogni caso, citando diversi titoli di diverse epoche, da "Orgoglio e Pregiudizio", "Moby Dick", a "Circe' di Madeline Miller e "Harry Potter".
Latham descrive che l'importanza del libro svolge una funzione determinante nelle nostre vite, dandoci conforto nei momenti di bisogno. Individua inoltre l’attitudine anticonformista dei librai e delle loro librerie, sottolineando il sentimento di "serendipità" che si crea nel momento del contatto col libro.
Troviamo capitoli che trattano delle vicende storiche dei collezionisti di libri, troviamo aneddoti di società spaventate dalle donne che volevano imparare a leggere, parti dedicate alle librerie di New York, e parti molto toccanti in cui il libraio stesso protagonista parla ricordando le persone, i colleghi e personaggi celebri quali Anthony Hopkins, Umberto Eco, Bob Geldof, Lady D, J.K. Rowling, Dirk Bogarde, Brian Eno, Charlie Watts, Greta Garbo, Francis Bacon, fino a parlare dei semplici clienti della libreria che hanno accompagnato la sua carriera: questo libraio racconta tutti questi aneddoti, descrivendo ogni volta il desiderio e il modo di approcciarsi delle persone ai libri, quasi fosse diventato uno psicologo, un soldato pronto a tutto, un amico a cui puoi parlare senza problemi.
Le immagini inserite all'interno dei capitoli aiutano anche a farsi un'idea finale di ciò che si ha appena letto, come fosse un album di ricordi.

È davvero un libro che ti lascia senta parole: non ti inganna ed è privo di forzature, perché ti parla in modo semplice e diretto di come un semplice oggetto possa entrare nella vita di tante persone sin dall'inizio dei tempi.

È un libro che consiglio tantissimo: un libro che parla di libri, un libro che racconta della passione che abbiamo per i libri, e non fai fati a rispecchiartici.
Profile Image for Luce.
142 reviews2 followers
December 11, 2021
This was a relaxing and often charming read, I particularly enjoyed the first section about "comfort reads". However, I feel that in this book Latham attempted to achieve both intimate memoir and grand history. Both ends fell slightly short of the mark for me. The more historical sections tended to brush over interesting ideas whilst trying to cram in as many names, examples, and anecdotes as the wordcount allowed. The descriptions of relationships and encounters which were much more personal for Latham were the most successful, for sure.

Perhaps I made a mistake in trying to read this in a few sittings rather than over a long period of time. But it felt at times to be a slog, reading more like a checklist of facts than a "tale".

This wasn't a bad book. I was drawn to it as I browsed in Topping's in Edinburgh, and if nothing else it is a reminder of my trip there. The cover art is stunning and it would make a lovely gift for any book-obsessive. It's certainly not groundbreaking, and I don't think it tried to be.
Profile Image for Arunaa (IG: rebelbooksta).
120 reviews15 followers
June 19, 2023
My 500th post in Bookstagram.

The Bookseller’s Tale.
The perfect book that celebrates books! Exceptional writing. This is a masterpiece! #TheBooksellersTale by #MartinLatham

A first class, magnum opus by Martin Latham , the longest serving manager at Waterstones Canterbury.

Martin Latham pens his incredible love and fascination for the written word. Absolute bibliophile.

Meticulously detailed, comprehensive analysis of all things books. Underrated book. Deserves way more recognition for the impeccable writing and thorough research. Genius work in fact. Brilliant writing by a sharp intellect.

This is indisputably the finest tribute ever written to books, booklets, texts, prints, magazines, pulp fiction, writers, readers, illustrators, collectors, publishers, booksellers, bookshops, libraries, private and public institutions, streetwise book peddlers, eccentric bookshop customers, obsessed book lovers, diehards, annotations, the entire craftsmanship of a book.

“I have seen this in thirty years of bookselling: customers stroking a book’s cover, peeking under the jacket, surreptitiously closing their eyes to smell the valley of pages - this sometimes accompanied by a quiet moan of pleasure- hugging it after purchase, and even giving it a little kiss.” - Martin Latham

Reading and writing are the actual magic and books are the pinnacle of human inventions.

So grateful to @netgalley for giving me a copy. I also found the e-book in Libby @publiclibrarysg .

The @audible narration by Roy McMillan for @penguinaudio is brilliant. The immersive read was a gratifying experience for me.

Gorgeous book cover art by @nealfoxx

#igreads #bookstagram #sgbookstagram #bookrecommendation #reviewersofinstagram #readersofinstagram #book #read #bookblogger #bookworm #bibliophile #booklover #bookphotography #booklover #bookstore #bookseller #waterstonescanterbury #waterstones #writer #writersofinstagram #author #penguinbooks #publiclibrarysg #audible #audiobook #ebook #library #bodelianlibrary
#waterstones #netgalley
803 reviews
November 16, 2021
A thoughtful book that isn't afraid to gossip or giggle or be a bit snobby about the thing we all know and love - the book. I wasn't really sure where this was going at first, if it was a bit to high brow for me but once you're in the rhythm with it its a very readable book about books, why we read and the power of the written word. I enjoyed it.
PS Have to querry ML's petty cash for achaeology at his Canterbury store. Check out the history of the Guildford branch??????? (sadly not on display - boo hiss Guildford Borough Council)
Profile Image for Miranda Alford.
123 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2022
A really interesting read filled with lots of facts and tales of bookshops and sellers. Latham is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject. It was a good combination of both fact and anecdote, with a smattering of history. Plus he lives in Canterbury and was the manager of Canterbury Waterstones; how exciting!! It was him who paid for the excavation of the Roman mosaic in Waterstones.

I will say though that the facts seemed to jump around a little, it was read like 'this happened, oh a fact, but did I tell you about this?'. Clearly the author has too much knowledge to cram into the book hence these jumps between places. It worked for me as I hoover up facts but for some it could come across a little irritating.
Profile Image for Sarah Skerman.
12 reviews1 follower
September 9, 2020
Just go ahead and buy this book!
It's a wonderful, insightful and extremely well researched read, the author has the knack of writing as if he is sitting with you, having a conversation.
I delighted in every chapter, finding something that resonated, points that made me think about books I've read, am reading and want to read next.
From when I sat as a child clutching my pocket money on the floor of the independent bookshop in my town, trying to decide which of the books I had in front of me was the 'one'. Then holding it lovingly, because it would be mine forever. To now and my collection of vintage cookery books with their cracked and faded covers, marks of use, but to me marks of love from having such a purpose in someone's life, that I now have in my hand, not an owner but a custodian of this magnificent piece of history. Books are a very important part of my life and this has been passed to my children.
No one here thinks it's odd to like the smell of a book! I had the privilege of being able to read The Booksellers Tale as a review copy, but as I read it, I thought, how much better this would be if I could feel the paper and smell that smell of 'book'. Something that I know the author would totally agree with.
Comfort books, what a lovely phrase and exactly what so many books are, the description of this in the book is just perfect. I do return to my comfort books when life throws a bad hand. I've read Brideshead so many times I know what the next words will be, and I adore it every time. Comfort books - everyone should have one.
Martin Latham has had an amazing life around books, reading how he came to sell books and his personal story as a thread through this book about books was a joy. What an interesting chap he must be, and still at Waterstones in Canterbury, if I'm ever passing he's a must to go and see.
A Bookseller's Tale, go on, buy it, and if you're passing Canterbury, the author may even sell you a copy himself.
Profile Image for Owen Townend.
Author 4 books5 followers
January 10, 2022
A desirable if dizzying book for bibliophiles. Having had an extensive and storied career in bookselling, Latham shows an international interest in bookshop eccentricity and a historian's sympathy for unsung literary heroes.

The Bookseller's Tale is a true Aladdin's Cave of bookish facts. The ones that most intrigued me include Melvil Dewey's disreputable and antisemitic views beyond the decimal system, Marie Pellechet's dedicated collection of incunabula (books produced in the early days of the print press) at a time when no-one cared for such things and tutted at the sight of an inquisitive woman, and Aldus Manutius's pioneering work with Venetian printing and italics (which he apparently invented).

I also enjoyed learning about book pedlars plying their wares outside Bedlam Hospital, the cheeky creativity of marginalia and Latham's Uncertainty Principle ('...upon entering a bookshop, you cannot know both who you are and who you might become, because you are both memory and instinct.').

That being said there were long historical extracts that failed to capture my interest no matter how enthusiastically Latham wrote about them. I put this down to personal taste: much as I love books, I don't thrill at them in the exact same way that the author does or indeed whoever might be reading this review. Then again, Latham's tendency to slip into anecdote during the more informative passages did grate on my nerves a bit. I did appreciate his wide-spanning film knowledge though.

I would say this nonfiction book requires some dedication to gather every detail that Latham shares. As such I may just have to re-read it at a later date. It will be a pleasure. In the meantime I recommend The Bookseller's Tale to fellow readers who love to read about reading habits and the beautiful chaos of browsing messy bookshelves.
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