And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 14. januar 2012

City of Books, part I - York National Bookfair

 Stand still, fear not, I'll show you but this book.
- The Honourable Historie of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Robert Greene

Goe little booke: thy selfe present,
As child whose parent in vnkent
- The Shepheardes Calender, Edmund Spenser

Like all the men of the Library, in my younger days I traveled; I have journeyed in quest of a book, pehaps the catalog of catalogs.
- The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges (translated by Andrew Hurley)

There are many reasons to be amazed and enthralled by the City of York, and as a self-confessed and committed bibliophile I found its well-cultivated preoccupation with books one of its most charming features. Throughout the city and its adjacent territory there are numerous venues where one may borrow, buy or browse through books, either with the purpose of acquiring reading material or for the sheer pleasure of being surrounded by volumes upon volumes of books. Accordingly I spent quite a lot of time exploring these various venues during my days in York, both in the search for studying material and leisure reading, and at the end of my time there I became very thankful that it is relatively cheap to ship printed paper from Britain to Norway by mail.

Since books constitute such an important aspect of York's cultural and historical personality I have compiled material for a two-partite blogpost, chronicling my experiences with books and their acquisition so that others may be directed towards the venues in question. First off is a report from my visit at York National Bookfair this September.

York National Bookfair is an annual exhibition wherein booksellers from all over Britain may participate. Nowadays it is held by the racecourse at Knavesmire just outside the city walls, formerly the place of public hangings. Visitors may take a free shuttle bus from the Railway Station and free tickets can be picked up at various booksellers in York. The venue itself comprises several floors, all packed with books, and it is a bibliophile's dream. I went there one morning in company of three friends and we spent two hours rummaging around the first floor, exploring, searching, looking, observing and - at least in my case - switching between blind admiration of the many wonderful items displayed and sadness over not being able to buy the things I saw due to monetary and practical issues. 

 The book fair is held, as the above picture shows, in a spacious, multi-storeyed building and to carefully scrutinise the stalls in their entireties would require far more time than I had. I was consequently confined to walk about and see which stalls displayed books most suiting to my tastes, leaving the rest to be perhaps noticed but not perused. Naturally it took quite a while to perfect this technique and I spent quite a lot of time perusing books that were of tertiary interest to me before I buckled up and became more selective.

Aside from the books and the variety of other printed materials exhibited there was also a very friendly atmosphere and for the most part the booksellers were happy to exchange a few words about their books, even though it was probably evident to them I was not a potential customer. At one point, after I had inquired about a volume of polemical tracts by Milton, the aged and bespectacled bookseller demanded in a jovial manner why I didn't buy them. Since the tracts in question were gathered in a volume from 1651 and as such were beyond my financial reach I explained I was a student, an excuse he found rather feeble, but which - I added - was my only one. He conceded the point and, when I had assured him I would return once I was well enough off, he remarked that people like me was what made these exhibitions worthwhile, or at least something along those lines.

A wonderful selection including household books like The Family Dictionary, Young Woman's Guide and The Lady's Assistant, and the two tracts by Milton mentioned above.

Bibles, like miracles, come in all shapes and sizes.

Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden
- Paradise Lost, John Milton

One of the most delightful aspects of the bookfair is the immense variety of books, both in terms of subject and age. The stalls included items ranging from the modern paperbacks and as far back as the incunables. In terms of subject, too, the scope was pleasantly broad, encompassing early modern herbals, topographies, local histories, childrens' books, meditations, poetry and so on, a scope illustrated by this minor array of titles:

De Civitate Dei, Augustine (Basel, 1479)

A Natural History of Uncommon Birds [Gleanings of Natural History], George Edwards (1743-44)

Shropshire Folk-lore, Charlotte Burne (ed.) (1883)

The Works of Joseph Hall, Doctor in Divinity and Dean of Worcester (1625)

The Orchid-Grower's Manual, Williams (1893, 7th edition)

The Fairy-land of Science, Arabella Buckley (London, 1909)

In other words there was quite a span. To visually enhance the point made by these titles I will  include a selection of pictures, presented with no particular eye on systematic distribution in order to better illustrate the rather chaotic exercise it was to navigate the various vendor stalls of the fair.

Langhorne's Plutarch

Spenser's poetical works

An interesting juxtaposition: John Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Notes on Artillery.

By this art you may contemplate the variations of the 23 letters
- The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (the above volume is a 6th edition from 1652)

French 15th century manuscript leaves and an English caryatid book carving from the 17th century.

I have a soft spot for alchemical illustrations

 Herbal by Dioscorides, the first illustrated edition, 1543

Scrofula, a disease made famous by King Edward the Confessor, who, according to his hagiographers, included touching for scrofula in his thaumaturgical repertoire.

 Algernon Swinburne's poetical works

After the first self-allotted two hours of discovery we regrouped, but since I was staying but a short while in York I decided to direct my attention back to the city. Subsequently I took leave of the party and went for a walk on the city walls. I left Knavesmire one book and many impressions richer, and if I ever become rich I will make the York Bookfair an annual feature of my calendar. After all, I did make a promise, albeit a rather vague one.

 My spoil from the excursion...

...and the bag it came in

2 kommentarer:

  1. Å! Jeg blir så misunnelig. Når jeg en gang begynner å tjene penger, skal jeg dit.

    Nå har jeg fått internett igjen, så jeg har fulgt oppfordringen din om å blogge:

  2. Det positive med denne bokmessa er at eit opphald i York ikkje er allverda dyrt og det er difor lett å kome seg dit, samt at den er i september og dermed utanfor turisthøgsesongen. Det negative er sjølvsagt at prisane ligg på eit so avskyeleg høgt nivå.

    Elles er eg svært glad for oppdateringa. Det var vel verdt å vente på.