Forget Amazon, smell the history

The Times July 22, 2009. "Oxfam books: the tome raiders cometh: As Oxfam celebrates its role as Europe’s biggest retailer of second-hand books, we send four Times writers to see what used bargains they can find for £10."

How annoying. Had I popped into the Amorous Cat bookshop a day earlier, the proprietor tells me, I could have snapped up an original Elizabethan medical textbook advising on common ailments. One of its solutions for masturbation, incidentally, was suicide.

Oh well. This is the thing about second-hand bookshops. The gems come and go. But the Amorous Cat, which has been in Lark Lane, Liverpool, since 1981, is somewhere you’d be hard pushed to come away from empty-handed, so stacked is it with quality titles ranging from Dickens classics to celebrity autobiographies. It is a treasure trove and a Tardis, seeming from the outside to be tiny but once inside snakes into teeming backrooms, one specialising in children’s books, and up the creaking stairs into yet more. What you don’t get with amazon.co.uk is this palpable smell and texture of history. Perhaps thanks to the credit crunch, business continues to boom.

I considered some Oscar Wilde and some beautiful 1920s black-and-white photographs of the shipyards, which are often found inside old books during house clearances after old people have died. But I chose a pristine 1966 illustrated hardback copy of The Poems of John Keats (£4) and an original hardback of The Great Book for Girls edited by Mrs Herbert Strang and which had clearly been some young girl's cherished Christmas present ( £4). In fountain pen, written on the opening page, are the words “To Joan, with love. Christmas 1930”. Whoever Joan was, it looks as if she kept it all her life.
Carol Midgley

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