Page 12, 9th December 1994

9th December 1994
Page 12
Page 12, 9th December 1994 — ALICE THOMAS ELLIS

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Calming oasis in a wicked world

WHEN I WAS a child I wanted to be, above all things, a publishers' reader. We had no TV, the wireless was frequently though by no means invariably a touch boring, and books were as essential as food and drink.

I read anything and everything and, when I learned that there were people who did this for a living, my future was decided. I forgot about it for a while and went to art school where I found that I still preferred reading to painting, or indeed anything else, but I couldn't see that I had any excuse for rushing into what was known as the "world of books". I hadn't done a course in Eng. I .it. after all. Then, by happy chance, I married a man who became a publisher.

If I'd married a tailor, I'd have sewn on buttons but, as it was, I read manuscripts and started a fiction list. We had lot of children as well as a lot of books and then, for some reason, I started writing myself. For a few years I did less reading and editing and spent my time scribbling on the backs of envelopes in between mashing bananas and mincing liver and trotting back and forth to a number of schools.

When, in the course of time, I emerged from under all this I found that the world of books had changed in its many aspects. The secondhand bookshops I had frequented had mostly disappeared and the High Street bookshops were crammed with books that even I didn't want to read: huge glossy tomes about esoteric foodstuffs, improbable gardens, unlikely cats, etc etc. I had no use for the reproductions of the classics since I'd already bought most of them for pennies second-hand and I couldn't afford the repros anyway and there weren't many contemporary novelists who held the interest for long. I have given up going to bookshops and re-read my dusty, disintegrating old paperbacks.

Now, another happy chance. One of our friends has opened a bookshop in Golden Square

(one minute north of Piccadilly Circus how convenient) and because it is run by human beings, rather than accountant-driven computers, it contains books that you really want to read. I did a book signing there last week and did my Xmas shopping too.

In an idle moment a man told me about the origins for the word "life" and the Vedic meaning behind the story of Snow White; a few priests came in and discovered works of theology they had thought vanished from the face of the earth; a man who collected books about carpets went away happy; the atmosphere, helped along by a drop of wine, was relaxed and contented.

There is also a long, soothing row of Agatha Christie. Truly the shop is an oasis in a wicked old world and the angels are at last rallying on the side of the readers. The books are affordable too. You may think this a shameless bit of advertising and so it is. It is our duty to advertise the good news even if it is our friends who generate it. t

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