A bookworm's bait

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
The Shop below my office has been empty for several months, and this week my wife suggested: "Why don't we turn it into a second-hand bookshop?" I couldn't have been more surprised if she had said: "Why don't you take the rest of the year off and go fishing?"

Behind this seemingly altruistic offer lurks a cunning plan. Two rooms of our house are overflowing with books. Although my workroom has shelves from floor to ceiling, there are books piled high on the floor and even under the pinball table (though that's another story). There are boxes of books in both lofts, and several more in the garage. We don't get mice in the garage any more because there's no room for them to squeeze in.

Riva's idea is that with a bookshop, we could free all this space and put sensible things in like sewing machines, tables and cupboards. But she's getting suspicious because of my wholehearted enthusiasm for the scheme.

The more I think about the idea, the more I like it. At our local weekly auctions, boxes of books go for piddling amounts, like pounds 2 for 40 or 50 titles. I mean, for that you've just got to buy the box, haven't you? On one occasion, I found a first edition of Bleak House among some Mills & Boon; on another, two James Bond first editions with the dust jackets still intact.

The ones that were so appalling that you wondered: "How did they get that published?" got chucked in the bin. The really good ones went on the bookshelves. But the majority,which I read and thought: "Well, it was all right but I wouldn't want to read it again," I left on a train when I travelled to and from London. This gave other people the opportunity to read the book. With my own bookshop, all of those "train" books could actually make me a profit. Not much of one, it's true, but the real money would come from the fishing books.

The pride of my bookshelves is a rich array of angling titles. They now occupy two walls in a fairly large room, and are gradually spreading into the west wing. I'm aware that this is happening, but powerless to stop it. A bookshop could save the day.

When I started collecting fishing books, I bought anything related to the sport - and I read them, too. I've ploughed through some real oddballs, such as Eel Culture, Blind White Fish in Persia and The Chronicles of the Stickleback Club. Sadly, many do not live up to their alluring titles, but they have made me a wow at dinner parties.

I've since become a bit more selective. I have learnt the authors whose works are always readable such as John Gierach, Chris Yates, Ed Zern, Zane Grey, Nick Lyons and Philip Wylie, as distinct from those I ought to read. I have built up a useful library of reference books, so that if you ask me for the third largest salmon ever caught from the Wye or the best bait for pumpkinseeds or the correct dressing for a white-winged goura fly, it would take me just seconds to reply. The fact that nobody has yet come on to me with such arcane queries is incidental. I've got the answers.

The trouble is, when you scour antiquarian catalogues (not just here but in Australia and the US too), fishing books seem to breed and the space available for them becomes less and less. I can't display to advantage all the ones I want to. But with "Elliott's Old Books", I could specialise in angling titles, weeding out those that I don't really like or ones I've duplicated, and selling them through the shop.

I fear my wife has not thought through the ramifications of giving me my own bookshop. When she realises it means acquiring more books rather than fewer, I fear her eagerness may wane somewhat. And even if it does go through, I'll bet that in a year's time, these rooms will once again be just as full of books.

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