The Bookseller's Tale by Martin Latham

Book Review Aug 17, 2020

My review

3/5 stars

The blurb describes this book as "part cultural history, part literary love letter and part reluctant memoir".

The first part of the sentence seems to make up the bulk of the content - there is a lot of cultural history included in the book; I particularly liked the sections on libraries throughout history, street booksellers and the bookstore customers. The book contains a collection of anecdotes from the history of books that allowed me to see a different side to bibliography. At one point it was mentioned that this book was a 10-year project; I can well believe it, the subject matter throughout (all parts of it) are very clearly researched.

The literary love letter part felt a little lacking for me; while it is clear that the author has a lot of passion for books and has dedicated a large portion of his life to bibliography, the writing felt a cold at times. There were moments of humour (I found myself chuckling at certain one-liners or fun facts that were included) but at times I found myself feeling like I was reading a textbook. It was a decent read, but there were parts dotted throughout where I struggled to stay engaged.

On to the part reluctant memoir - reluctant is certainly the right word. I don't feel like I got to know much of anything substantial about the author until the very end of the book (the last 30 pages or so). This is a man who appears to have a fascinating personal story that is woven into the bookstore that he has headed for so many years (and the ones he worked at before), I would have loved to have seen more of it. The book had room for an increased feeling of personality and space for more stories from 30 years of running a well-known bookstore. What was included was engaging, so I think I would have connected with it more if they had been a bigger feature.

I've come away from this read knowing a lot more about the world of bibliography than I did before, but it didn't leave the lasting impression on me that I hoped it would.

*I received an electronic advanced copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book blurb

This is the story of our love affair with books, whether we arrange them on our shelves, inhale their smell, scrawl in their margins or just curl up with them in bed. Taking us on a journey through comfort reads, street book stalls, mythical libraries, itinerant pedlars, radical pamphleteers, extraordinary bookshop customers and fanatical collectors, Canterbury bookseller Martin Latham uncovers the curious history of our book obsession - and his own.

Part cultural history, part literary love letter and part reluctant memoir, this is the tale of one bookseller and many, many books.


You can buy the book here from 3 September 2020. It's being published by Particular Books.

If you want to know more about the author, you can head over to his Goodreads page.