I suppose I could call myself an amateur book fossicker: I love trawling through book fairs and op shops, searching through row after row of books for anything which might take my fancy. Before reading Anthony Marshall’s Fossicking for Old Books, I didn’t think there was anything more to it than showing up at a book fair, having a look, and hoping to bag some good finds, but no. Apparently, it’s a much, much more brutal game than a casual leisurely peruse.
Anthony Marshall’s light-hearted book makes it clear that fossicking for old books should definitely be a sport, at least amongst book dealers. These are the people who show up an hour early to a book fair, to try and get a head start, to find the best deals for their bookshops. They take bags and boxes to throw their loot into, and aren’t afraid to elbow someone out of the way of a really good find. Marshall himself admitted to one day finding an edition of a book in an op shop, which was priced at five dollars, when all the other paperbacks were priced at two dollars. He decided this was a great injustice, and replaced the five dollar sticker with a two dollar sticker. He felt guilty as soon as he left the shop, having ripped a charity off three dollars, and has been trying to rid himself of his guilt ever since.
This book is a quirky insight into the world of second-hand book dealing. I didn’t read it cover to cover, rather, I picked out different chapters and read them out of order, delving into the book as and when I wished, but the book is so enticing that it was impossible to stop myself at one chapter at a time.
I don’t think I’ll change my game plan and join the ranks of the professional book dealers any time soon. I’m more than happy to quietly browse through the books, collecting those that mean something to me, and leaving the rest for the book dealers to fight over. But nevertheless, Fossicking for Old Books is a fascinating read, which isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, the industry or the business. Because after all, deep down, it’s not about finding the best loot. It’s about an unquenchable love of books.
Bread Street Press, 2004