Thursday 15 June 2017

The Secondhand Bookshops of the Isle of Wight, or, Wot I Did on My Summer Holidays

It's been a few years since I last did a 'secondhand bookshops wot I visited on holiday and the books wot I bought' post, for the simple reason that it's been a few years since I've been on a holiday where visiting secondhand bookshops and buying books was any kind of prospect. Happily, last week's week-long excursion to the Isle of Wight presented a number of opportunities for browsing in bookshops, and knowing how much my largely imaginary audience has enjoyed previous accounts of my ridiculous holidays, I decided I'd document the books-related bits of this one too. You're very welcome, my nonexistent readership.

Before we got the ferry over to the Isle of Wight I established (via Inprint's Bookshop Guide) that there are eight secondhand bookshops dotted about the island. Given that this was supposed to be a holiday and not merely a flimsy excuse for my seeking out secondhand bookshops, I thought it unlikely I'd get to visit more than a couple, but in the end, to my surprise, I managed to make it to half. (It would've been more but Babushka Books in Shanklin was inexplicably shut when I visited. Or maybe not so inexplicably, considering the vagaries of secondhand bookshop opening times.) However, by far the biggest haul of books came from a comic shop.

First port of call was the Mother Goose Bookshop on the village green in St. Helens, on the east side of the island. I only had a limited amount of time to investigate as we were on our way to the seaside town of Ryde, a little further up the coast, but it was a sizeable shop with an extensive stock of modern firsts (and plenty of non-fiction too). After a survey of the shelves I located in the crime and thriller section a first edition of The Double Agent (Gollancz, 1966), the first spy novel by ex-spy (and reportedly the inspiration for George Smiley) John Bingham – a book I've had on my list for quite some time.

That find paled in comparison to the riches Ryde itself offered up. I'd intended to head straight to the Ryde Bookshop, a fair way up the hilly high street, but on the way I noticed a comic shop, the splendidly named Fantastic Store, and decided to pop in. On first inspection it seemed to stock mostly back issues, graphic novels and collectables, as one would expect of a comic shop, but a further survey revealed a few shelves of hardback and paperback fiction. This turned out to be largely science fiction, a fair amount of it first editions (albeit ex-library in some cases – those keenly priced, mind, at two quid a pop) – just the sort of thing I was hoping to stumble upon given my recently reignited enthusiasm for SF. Accordingly, I went a little crazy. Besides the 1971 Science Fiction Book Club edition of Murray Leinster's The Listeners seen above, I also came away with nine other books, most of them space opera of one sort or another:

Top row left to right: a US first edition of Gregory Benford's Great Sky River (Bantam/Spectra 1987, jacket by Roger Bergendorf), the third novel in Benford's Galactic Centre Saga – the first being In the Ocean of the Night, which I bought online few weeks ago; a first edition of Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (Gollancz, 1990, jacket by John Brettoner); a first edition of The Brooch of Azure Midnight by Anne Gay (Orbit, 1991, jacket by Fred Gambino); and a first edition of Eternal Light by Paul J. McAuley (Gollancz, 1991, jacket by John Brettoner again), the third and final novel in McAuley's Four Hundred Billion Stars Series – the first being Four Hundred Billion Stars itself, which again I bought online a few weeks ago. Bottom row left to right: A. E. Van Vogt's Children of Tomorrow (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1972); James Blish's Midsummer Century (Faber, 1973); Clifford D. Simak's Cemetery World (Sidgwick, 1975); John Wyndham's Exiles on Asperus (Severn House, 1979), and Paul J. McAuley's short story collection The King of the Hill (Gollancz, 1991).

Phew. After all that excitement, Ryde Bookshop initially looked somewhat unpromising, its stock comprising remainder and newish books. However, an easily overlooked – not least because it was closed – door in the back room opened onto the secondhand bookshop proper. Slightly labyrinthine in nature and arranged over a few floors and staircases, it was overflowing with books, a lot of them either the kind of hardback fiction one sees littering charity shops, or not terribly interesting paperbacks. But there was a sizeable SF section, and some decent books secreted therein. I came away with these:

A first edition/printing of Alastair Reynolds' Terminal World (Gollancz, 2010); a first paperback edition of John Varley's debut novel The Ophiuchi Hotline (Orbit/Futura, 1978; I already had a Sidgwick & Jackson hardback first, but I couldn't resist that Chris Foss cover); a 1997 Vista paperback of Paul J. McAuley's Secret Harmonies (originally 1989, and the second in the Four Hundred Billion Stars Series), and a first paperback edition of Alastair Reynolds' Century Rain (Gollancz, 2005).

The next day I made it to one of the two secondhand bookshops situated in Freshwater, near the Needles on the west coast of the island. The charming and inviting Mrs. Middleton's Shop had a small selection of fiction but specialised more in local authors and books about the Isle of Wight (while I was there another customer asked after a particular Isle of Wight book and was immediately rewarded). Nevertheless, I came away with a 1969 New English Library paperback of A. E. van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher (cover by Bruce Pennington), plucked from the bijou shop's equally bijou shelf of science fiction paperbacks. When I asked Mrs. Middleton – I presume it was she – if the other Freshwater bookshop, Cameron House Books down near Freshwater Bay, had a bigger selection of modern firsts she confirmed that it did, but advised that the owner tended to close at four – earlier if custom was slow. This was at just after three, so I reckoned I was in with a shot. Alas, by the time we got there... was shut. Curses. Fortunately we were able to make a return visit the next day, and even more fortunately this time it was open!

Just as bijou as Mrs. Middleton's but boasting a much bigger selection of modern firsts, Cameron House Books is housed in Dimbola Lodge, once the home of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and now a gallery devoted to her work and that of other photographers (it's well worth a visit if you're ever in the area, if only for the excellent lemon drizzle cake served in the cafe). The bookshop comprises just two smallish rooms, but I must've spent a good half hour browsing its wares, at the end of which I'd ferreted out five science fiction first (and other) editions (again some ex-library – evidently the Isle of Wight County Library's loss was the local bookshops' gain – but again keenly priced):

Top row left to right: Dark Constellation by Alex Random (Robert Hale, 1975); The Omega Worm by Douglas R. Mason (Hale, 1976), and Another Eden by W. D. Pereira (Hale, 1976). Bottom row: Threads of Time (Millington, 1975), edited and introduced by Robert Silverberg and containing novellas by Gregory Benford (Threads of Time), Clifford D. Simak (The Marathon Photograph) and Norman Spinrad (Riding the Torch); and Yesteday's Children by David Gerrold (Readers Union, 1975).

Not a bad haul. And not a bad holiday either. (And the non-books bits weren't bad neither.)