Perambulatory Christmas Books, part 7
By J. C.
Our favourite second-hand bookshop in London is among the most central: Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road. Fifty yards north is Quinto; a few steps south is bibliophiles’ alley, Cecil Court. At Any Amount, they pile them high and sell them cheap. The staff are kind to the passing customer looking for “a book by someone whose name I can’t remember”, and generous with discounts. Outside, barrows offer books at £1 each – the very barrows in which we found The Face of England by Edmund Blunden, which began the Perambulatory series.
On Sunday, we walked along Whitehall in the wake of the Remembrance ceremonies, crossed Trafalgar Square and entered the bookshop. The Perambulatory Constitution, available for inspection in the basement labyrinth, states: “We seek a neglected book by an established author. We do not seek collectibles. All books are bought to be read”. With relief, among the amendments in tiny print, we read: “Exceptions may be made”.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner is not neglected. We have read it more than once. But in Any Amount we laid hands on an edition which, though perhaps not collectible, is none the less a curiosity and deserves not to be passed over. The novel was written in six weeks, while Faulkner worked at a power plant. The publisher in 1930 was Harrison Smith and Jonathan Cape. A “second state” was issued in the same year, and, in 1935, a second edition, by Smith and his new partner, Robert Haas. The copy before us is neither of those: it is a second printing, dated 1933. The curiosity value resides in the fact that the publisher is Smith and Haas, whereas the only Smith and Haas edition we can find reference to is the 1935 one. A Faulknerian friend of ours, an expert on As I Lay Dying, has never seen a copy of the edition now in our hands.
It is a beautiful book, no dust jacket, with the title and author’s name imprinted in oxblood on khaki cloth. A drop of wine has been spilled on page 153; otherwise, it is in splendid condition. The first printing tends to go for hundreds, if not thousands. We will read it again, muttering, “Eat your e-book heart out!” Any Amount charged us £6.
Perambulatory correction: The Unknown Sea by François Mauriac, discussed last week, was published in French in 1939 (Les Chemins de la mer), not 1947 as stated.