Bookworms, Dog Ears & Squashy Big Armchair: A Book Lover’s Alphabet by Heather Reyes

Curl up by the fire and luxuriate in a book that dissects all the ways the written word enchants us.

Bookworms, Dog Ears & Squashy Big Armchair: a Book Lover’s Alphabet

(Oxygen Books, £8.99; ebook, £4.79)

In her introduction, Heather Reyes refers to Bookworms, Dog- Ears & Squashy Big Armchairs as a “little dip-in book”—and it’s true that her alphabetically-arranged individual entries are generally short and easily digestible. Yet, given how she ranges over the whole experience of reading, past and present, this description is surely far too modest.

Under the letter A, for example, we learn that Author Events didn’t start with Waterstones—or even with Charles Dickens’ tours of the US—but in Ancient Rome, where the authors in question included Virgil and Horace.

B brings us a surprisingly heartfelt entry on Bookmarks (Reyes is particularly dismissive of those leather ones with the little fringes that curl up), and a less surprisingly heartfelt one on Borrowing Books (basically, if you can’t treat them properly, then don’t borrow any).

And so the book goes on, mixing fascinating snippets of history with jargon-busting; straight facts with passages that are more opinionated, but always sensible. Reyes also makes plenty of reading suggestions. 

The result fulfils its promise to remind us of “the daily miracle of books”. At the same time, it not only celebrates the sense of community that book lovers already have, but— thanks to its kindly, welcoming tone —helps to further it. Here are four entries, almost at random:

"E-BOOKS/DOWNLOADS

Pros: Holiday clothes don’t get horribly creased from all the books they have to share a suitcase with. E-books save paper. They cost less. You can increase the type-size if your eyes are bad.

Cons: They’re not there, on the shelf, reminding you about themselves and the time you read them when you catch a glimpse of the title and author on the spine. They don’t have smell or texture. You don’t find pressed flowers or metro tickets between the pages years later. Without the physical mnemonic of the book on the shelf, it’s easy to forget what you’ve read.

Escapism: Believe it or not, there are people out there who regard reading novels— even those of the highest quality— as “mere escapism”. If challenged by such strange specimens of the human race, agree with them. Yes, it is. But point out that it’s not an escape from life, but an escape into life—into a richer and more complex life and range of experiences than most of us encounter in our fairly limited, dayto- day existences. Escape all you can.

REJECTION LETTERS

All authors are familiar with that nasty little letter (or email) that, after a long period of waiting (usually) comes back from the publisher. Struggling authors comfort themselves with stories of famous writers being rejected. Here are a few examples:

• F Scott Fitzgerald—“You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

• Rudyard Kipling—“I’m sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

• Sylvia Plath—“There isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”

• George Orwell had trouble finding a publisher for Animal Farm and one of the reasons given was “it’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA”.

• John le Carré, submitting The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, was told he hadn’t got any future in writing.

SECOND-HAND BOOKS…

…range from those dubiouslooking, battered little paperbacks (five for £1) in cardboard boxes on a pavement table in front of the shop to the most expensive collectors’ items from specialist dealers in antiquarian books. 

Between the two extremes are the vast majority of second-hand books, their previous owners often indicated by touching dedications from family or friends on birthdays, Christmases, as “thank yous” or in memory of a happy time spent together—and sometimes given as school or college prizes. These can be real tear-jerkers. All that love and thoughtfulness ending up in a second-hand bookshop, looking at you like those doe-eyed puppies in old-fashioned pet shops, just asking to be bought and loved again. 

But sometimes you have to harden your heart. Depending on how they’ve been stored, second-hand books can exude a distinct odour. Have too many and your home will begin to smell like that musty little second-hand bookshop you remember haunting in your youth during a wet holiday in a little seaside town …"