Will there ever be a charity shop bookshelf that doesn’t have a copy of Fifty Shades on it again? At the weekend we went to Canterbury, and discovered that among the omnipresent E.L James, James Patterson and Mills & Boon, Canterbury stacks up pretty well.
Canterbury has arguably the richest literary history of any town in England. Toilet humour enthusiast Geoffrey Chaucer, Christopher Marlowe and Sir Thomas More all have strong ties to the place, the latter of whom’s severed head supposedly resides in St Dunstan’s Church.
The standout bookshop for me was the Catching Lives bookshop in The Crooked House. The Crooked House is worth a look alone. Its door is tilted almost 45 degrees, and the whole building gives you the feeling of being down the rabbit hole. Every room is completely stuffed with books, and you can feel good about buying up shelves of the stock as it all goes to the homeless charity Catching Lives. Read more about it here.
It isn’t quite payday for me, so I had to limit myself. For every book I bought I could’ve bought five more. Here’s what I got:
Auto da Fé – Elias Canetti
I’ve always heard great things about this book, and even when someone has been telling me it’s too strange or shocking, I’ve still been attracted to it. Seeing it in this ’60s Modern Classics edition it looked a lot less daunting than other editions I’ve seen – did they somehow manage to fit more pages in 50 years ago, or is it purely that the print is so much smaller? It tells the story of Herr Doktor Peter Kien, a 40-year-old recluse who has no interest in human interaction or sex, just his books. ‘Auto da fé’ translates as ‘act of faith’, but is also a reference to the burning of heretics by the Inquisition. It sounds completely mad, but I can’t wait to get into it.
Querelle of Brest – Jean Genet
I’m not as keen on the cover of this one, since my girlfriend pointed out to me that it is four hands masturbating an ejaculating penis. But it is what it is. To have this on the cover of a book I’ll read on my commute is a small price to pay to find another Jean Genet. Our Lady of the Flowers is one of my favourite books of all time, and I have never found anything else of his readily available. I discovered that Our Lady is now a print-on-demand title, which means it is on its way out. If you can get hold of it you really have to. This one seems to portray the young man Querelle as the object of desire of several older men and women. Genet had a way of writing about disgusting, gory reality in such a poetic way that sometimes you’d read a page before the image is fully formed in your mind, somehow both hideous and beautiful.
Try – Dennis Cooper
Dennis Cooper writes horrible books about sad people doing terrible things. I’ve read a few of his novels before. They refuse to let you be anything but present in the total derangement, sadness and brutality of their narratives. Like a Throbbing Gristle record etched into paper, his writing is incredible – occasionally stream-of-consciousness, always gripping. The story of the adopted teenage son of two sexually abusive fathers, this probably won’t have them rolling in the aisles, but it will be affecting.
Freaks: Cinema of the Bizarre
This is an A4 black-and-white encyclopedia of weird cinema, published in 1976. A large part of it is dedicated to the Tod Browning film of the same name, before it runs out of steam and turns to made-up creeps in Hammer Horror movies. I love everything about it, from the trashy presentation to the inflammatory chapter titles (‘The Age of the Human Freak’). A snapshot of its time and the beginning of the midnight movie phenomenon, Freaks: Cinema of the Bizarre cost me £1.50.