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Books – Lucky Finds in Sales

August 19, 2012

"thoughts from the corner"

Prosessor Serendip returns from his expedition to Mow Cop with a gem; a mint condition Folio Society edition of the complete English Poems of John Donne. Donne is one of the poets that I, as a private English teacher, have taken into the homes of ‘A’ level student candidates. Not the easiest poet to ‘get your head around’ but certainly worth the effort. One of his most famous pieces is the following:

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee. 

How very true!

"private english teacher"


Excerpts from

Books that have been unnecessarily culled by libraries

Books that have been serendipitously encountered

Books that need to be saved for browsers


A.J.Smith (ed.) John Donne / The Complete English Poems (2005)

This sumptuous Folio Society volume has a minor history of its own. It was bought cheaply at the annual August Holiday book sale at Mow Cop. The sale takes place at this high village on the border of Staffordshire and Cheshire. Some 20,000 books are displayed for a week in a Methodist chapel to raise funds for a museum of Primative Methodism at Englesea Brook. Volunteers spend a year gathering books from all over the country. At a guess two-thirds of the volumes are religious while the rest are definitely secular. These range from cookery books to ancient books on railways and from art, topography, literature and natural history to anthologies and miscellanies.

Last year (remember each year has surprisingly different things) there were several volumes from the Folio Society in their sturdy card cases. One of these was the Donne: a very attractive book illustrated with intriguing engravings by Jane Lydbury. Those of us who gobbled up this bonanza of low-priced Folio Society volumes seem to have put them on shelves for complacent admiration. One cannot imagine sitting in the kitchen while waiting for a kettle to boil and propping up a Folio Society volume but these will only be those such as might be listed by a musing essayist. One wonders how many university libraries could afford to order a copy? Yet this publication is newly annotated and would enhance a student’s study of Donne.

Perhaps we might be allowed to imagine a small genial common room where the committee has ordained that its browsers’ shelving should accommodate no more than a thousand (or five hundred?) books. Would you include this Donne? Or would you urge the choosing of different books for our hypothetical browsing culture?

"private english tutoring"

Posh books, sitting unread, on shelves is common in many houses. Twenty years ago I purchase a signed and numbered edition of Ernest Warrilow’s ‘A Sociological History of Stoke-On-Trent’ in a hard cardboard cover, not unlike those in the Folio Society editions. It sits in pride of place on a bookshelf, unopened from one year to the next. Giving private English tutoring, I deal with dog-eared, grubby, spine-creased texts on a day-day basis – perhaps better that, than sitting on a shelf unopened!

The last Mow Cop book sale of this kind takes place on 25th and 27th August, 2012.

From → Books

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