Reading Matters, By Margaret Willes

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The Independent Culture

In her introduction to this delightful literary ramble, Willes winningly explains that it combines "two of my favourite activities, shopping and reading".

Each of its nine chapters concerns an individual or institution devoted to books. The relay of readers begins in the 16th century with Bess of Hardwick, whose tapestries indicate her fondness for Chaucer and the botanist Mattioli. Their works were sold at the Frankfurt book fair, which was going strong in 1564 and remains the major publishing wingding.

We learn that Pepys bought his books in Westminster Hall, where shoppers could peer at the exhumed body of Cromwell. Book reviewing began in the 1730s though publishers did not supply review copies. Willes ends with the 17,000 books in the library of Denis and Edna Healey. A picture reveals the Bodley Head edition of Ulysses behind Edna's shoulder.