With online purchasing of those difficult to find out of print books, you can sometimes forget the pleasures of browsing in a secondhand shop. The reassuring homely comfort of seeing yet another copy of Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain, mixed with the excitement of finding a bargain, or stumbling across a treasure that you never even knew existed, can’t be beaten. And it can be exciting finding beautiful editions – a joy that online selling has yet to communicate. I’ve been doing a series of assaults on second hand bookshops recently, finding old Picador Beckett’s (with those wonderful half sci-fi, half prog covers), a supremely ugly Golden Notebook (like a 70s Erica Jong book) and a Wallace Stevens collection in one of those beautiful and colourful old Faber 50s covers.
Last week, on the way to the disappointing and slight exhibition of Roger Hiorns’ work in South London (a flat in an abandoned estate is transformed into a crystalline grotto – a piece so devoid of an awareness of its context that one person in the queue was able to speculate how the block could be transformed into "cool flats"), I stopped off at the Elephant and Castle and found that the wonderful Tlön Bookshop has been closed down. Reading between the lines of the notice on the door, it looks as if the rent hadn’t been paid. In amongst the decaying and the pointless, there were some great finds here (I’m still irritated with myself that I didn’t pick up that copy of the World of the Muggletonians); such a shame.
But with its demise another rises. The recently opened Book and Comic Exchange on Berwick Street in Soho (part of the chain of shops that originated in Notting Hill) is an untidy and confused mess with little attention paid by those doing the shelving to the subjects slapped on the shelves, but it has some unexpected treats. One gem I left there for some lucky hunter was a first English language edition of the Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs, with commentary by Gilles Deleuze.