February 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Among Booksellers

Among Booksellers.jpgSome booksellers' memoirs are more enjoyable to read than others -- London bookseller David Batterham offers his as a series of amusing letters written between 1970 and 2006, posted from Barcelona, Brussels, Istanbul, Lisbon, Venice, New York, and various towns and cities in France. Among Booksellers (Stone Trough Books, $17.50) is a splendid read, offering a glimpse into the itinerant bookseller's world of the late twentieth century. The book itself is pleasing, too: a slim and elegant paperback, with good paper and beautiful cover art by British painter and printer, Howard Hodgkin, the man to whom these letters are addressed.

Batterham, who learned the trade in Hay-on-Wye from Richard Booth in the mid-sixties, became the type of bookseller who travels widely, buying primarily from other booksellers. As he wrote from the South of France in 1984, he was "building up a dossier of obscure bookshops against some future visit." Obscure and disappearing, as he would note only six years later from Paris, the only city left where "there still seem to be hundreds of bookshops and the supply of books is volcanic."

His primary interest was illustrated journals, trade catalogues, and vintage fashion magazines. His letters discuss fruitful house calls and accommodating book dealers, as well as pleasant hotels and unpleasant meals (and vice versa). Batterham worries about buying too much or too little, about the German bookseller who preceded him in Copenhagen, about whether the Duke of Edinburgh would be interested in a Russian book about horses purchased in Helsinki. These are stories like the ones a friend in the trade might tell another over a pint -- funny, eccentric, sometimes barbed, but always interesting.