Gerald Durrell

Remembering the last summer

On arrival in Bournemouth, I had made my way as rapidly as possible to my favourite bookshop, H. G. Cummin in Christ-church Road. Here, in a tall, narrow house, is housed a vast and fascinating collection of new and second-hand books. On the ground floor and in the basement all the new books glare at you somewhat balefully in their multicoloured dust-jackets, but climb the creaking, uneven staircase to the four floors above, and you are transported into a Dickensian landscape. Here, from floor to ceiling in every room are amassed arrays of old books. They line the walls of the narrow staircases, they surround you, envelop you, a wonderful, warm, scented womb. Pluck the books out; and each smells different. One smells not only of dust but of mushrooms; another, autumn woods or broom flowers in the hot sun, or roasting chestnuts; and some have the acrid, damp smell of coal burning; and others smell of honey. And then, as if smells alone were not enough, there is the feel of them in the heavy leather bindings, sleek as a seal, with the golden glitter of the type buried like a vein in the glossy spine. Books the dimensions of a tree trunk, books as slender as a wand, books printed on paper as thick and as soft as a foxglove leaf, paper as white and as crisp as ice, or as delicate and brittle as the frost layer on a spider s web. Then the colours of the bindings: sunsets and sunrises, autumn woods aflame, winter hills of heather; the multicoloured, marbled end-papers like some Martian cloud formation. And all this sensuous pleasure to drug and delight you before you have even examined the titles: (The Great Red Island Madagascar; Peking to Lhasa; Through the Brazilian Wilderness; Sierra Leone it s People, Products and Secret Societies), and come to the splendid moment when you open the book as you would a magic door. Immediately the shop around you disappears and you stand, smelling the rich smell of the Amazon with Wallace, you bargain for ivory with Mary Kingsley, you face a charging gorilla with du Challu, you make love to a thousand beautiful women in a thousand novels, you march to the guillotine with Sidney Carton, you laugh with Edwardian gentlemen in a boat, you travel to China with Marco Polo; all this you do standing on the uneven, uncarpeted floor, with a magic passport in your hands, without the expenditure of a penny. Or perhaps I should say one can do this without the expenditure of a penny, but I seem incapable of entering a bookshop empty-handed or of leaving it in the same condition. Always, my cheque book is slimmer, and I generally have to order a taxi to transport my purchases.

The Havoc of Havelock, in The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium, Gerald Durrell


5 thoughts on “Remembering the last summer

  1. That is certainly one of the most delicious piece of writing on bookish goodness I have come across in a long while! Thanks for sharing. :) I had only ever associated Durrell’s passion with animals and nature. Such a pleasant surprise to know he was a fellow book lover too.

  2. First I thought you had been book shopping in England without me but I will let you off as it is such a fine piece of writing, if there is one thing that makes the world a perfect place it is that bubble of bookshop goodness that makes us happy and grateful to Mr Gutenberg et al.

    1. Oh, I would have never done it.
      If I ever set out on a book shopping trip to England you would be properly informed. If you could join, it would be tremendous fun, if not it would still be tremendous fun because it’s a book shopping! in England! :)
      I agree about the goodness and gratefulness, and, if I might add, a good bookshop is a perfect world in itself.

      1. It would be epic, so many books read and discussed and then of course I would take you for a meal because I am nice like that. I could live in a bookshop although it may make other patrons awkward if I’m wandering around brushing my teeth but I can live with that lol.

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