Perambulatory Christmas Books, part 2
By J. C.
By now, you are familiar with our purpose: to pay tribute to the thriving secondhand book trade of London and environs (we have also written about shops in Edinburgh, Berkeley, Paris and other places), and to offer festive reading suggestions as alternatives to My Shit Life So Far.
We don't visit the same shops on each tour of duty. Last year, we skipped Fosters', on Chiswick High Road, because it seemed a bit pricey. Is it still there?
Last week, we strode out west and felt a pang of autumn pleasure on seeing the white-painted villagey bow window, above which the sign says "Books". Inside, there are tons of the things, ranged long, piled high. A few commoners foraged in the outdoor barrows, and knowing our place we joined them. We lighted on an oddity: Declaration, published by MacGibbon & Kee in 1957, in which John Osborne, John Wain, Kenneth Tynan and others "outline their roles in our society". The word "commitment" hung in the air, though it sounded better across the Channel. France had Existentialism and Juliette Gréco; Britain had the Angry Young Men and Alma Cogan. It was one year after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, which broke some people's faith, but not others':
"I am convinced that ... there is a new man about to be born, who has never been twisted by drudgery; a man whose pride as a man will not be measured by his capacity to shoulder work and responsibilities which he detests, which are too small for what he could be."
Doris Lessing – the words are hers – still believed that collectivism could abolish inequality and boring work. Colin Wilson, whose book The Outsider had been published in 1956, was at the opposite pole. Like Lessing, he abhorred drudgery. "We live in an age [when] workers clock-in and discuss the football results or last night's television programme."
For him, the medicine man was not Marx, but Nietzsche; not Lenin, Kierkegaard. "Heroism is individualism." The filmmaker Lindsay Anderson compared Britain to a nanny state – perhaps the first application of that concept. "Nanny lights the fire and sits herself down with yesterday's Daily Express; but she keeps half an eye on us too, as we bring out our trophies from abroad, the books we have managed to get past customs."
The editor of Declaration was the twentyfour-year-old Tom Maschler, who began by thumbing his nose at the TLS. A leader writer had taken a perplexed view of "complicatedly motivated aggressive hysteria ... the typical mood of many of our cleverest youngest writers".
Fifty-five years on, even Mr Maschler might see what the author was getting at. As for the "new man", he turns out to be more interested than ever in football and television. Even so, it is easier to be an Outsider today than it was then. No ideology is required; only the civil philosophy of live and let live. For this enjoyable curiosity, with a cover by Eduardo Paolozzi, we paid £2.