Tuesday 6 March 2007

A Shameless Plug

I was browsing in a bookshop this afternoon. Bookshops are among my favourite places, even glossy mundane ones like the Borders branch at Fulham Broadway, and I invariably end up buying something, even if I only go in to browse.

On this occasion, one of my purchases was Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot's satire Scriblerus, first published in 1741. This is one of Pope's lesser-known works, and was made available thanks to a relatively new publishing house, Hesperus Press. Although it has now begun publishing new works, Hesperus's original and still its primary purpose is the re-publishing of forgotten works by great authors. I first came across Hesperus at Christmas 2005, when someone bought me Mrs Lirriper, a pair of two works by a collective of authors, each writing one chapter, and headed up by Charles Dickens. Since then I have also read their editions of W.M. Thackeray's Rebecca and Rowena, and Henry Fielding's Jonathan Wild.

Of course, the works published by Hesperus are, generally, not as good as the more well-known works of these great authors. Mrs Lirriper cannot compare to Bleak House, Jonathan Wild is inferior to Tom Jones. But they are substantially better than most of the dross that flies from the bookshelves of shops like Borders. After all, even a lesser work by one of our greatest novelists is likely to be superior to 90% of what's on the bestseller list today - the work of authors whose books, unlike those of the authors mentioned above, are unlikely to outlive them. So, if anyone is looking for something to read, they could easily do worse than buying some of Hesperus's publications.

Postscipt: One thing that did annoy me when I was in Borders today was the display of books recommended by the staff. Not the books themselves, but the comments attached to them. Thus the famous socialist work The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, was eulogised to high Heaven, not so much for the quality of its prose as simply for being a socialist work. Another review attached to one book, the name of which I have forgotten, suggested that people who buy the Daily Express are "evil". Tongue-in-cheek it may be, but I can do without leftists ramming their views down my throat in this manner. Nonetheless, as anyone who has been through the British education system knows, many leftists will take any opportunity to promote their views, no matter how inappropriate. I may return to this.


youdontknowme said...

I was also at a bookshop today. Never read any of the books you mentioned. I bought President Gore, a political counterfactual book.

I don't think any of the leftists were promoting anything there.

Michaelcd said...

I must admit that I am partial to a bit of a browse around Borders, every now and again. Like you, however, I cannot stand those Borders 'Staff recommendations'. Frankly, I don't want to read some ill-informed eulogy to Karl Marx, simply because of their staff's political biases.

ba ba said...

Cor, thats an obscure book!