The Error World: A memoir of obsession and desire, By Simon Garfield

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The Independent Culture

Hobbies, like addictions, can be invincible mistresses. This fascinating and original memoir of how a hobby swallowed up a marriage and a life leaves the reader amused, baffled, and thoughtful. To be sure, it wasn't just the stamps – there was a human affair as well – but it is made clear from the first page that the stamps were the more durable threat.

Until the age of 20, Simon Garfield collected stamps. The peculiarity of his obsession, however, was that he became increasingly drawn to imperfection in them. They had to be marred in some way, or incomplete, or even of plain poor quality. There followed a hiatus of more than 20 years and then, in his early 40s, he returned to the hobby. He makes it clear that, while this was not a regression as such, it did stem in some measure from a desire to return to, as it were, old stamping grounds. The other affair had a curiously similar origin.

He doesn't in the end, conquer the fixation, but he goes someway towards re-directing it. Spouses of both sexes should read this book, if only to be reminded of a forgotten fact: that love of things can be just as potent as love of people, causes or gods.