I Am Happy to Say That My Father Enjoyed BibliomaniacThe new Bibliomaniac foreword from Robin Ince
Between the publication of the hardback and the paperback of Bibliomaniac, my father died. This is the foreword I wrote for the new edition. You can watch a video version of it below that was put up a little while ago too.
I am happy to say that my father really enjoyed Bibliomaniac.
It was his favourite of the books I have written.
This book is about him because it was his passion for books that put a spell on me and led to my love of books too.
It was a vital connection between us.
Sadly, he will not read my next book. He died a few months after Bibliomaniac was published.
The last time he left his house was to see me talking at the Chorleywood Bookshop . He sat in a comfy chair in the front row. When the owner introduced me and told that audience that I had recently been awarded the Author of the Year by the Bookseller’s Association, he loudly replied, “I don’t know why!”
A typical move by him.
He was proud of his children, but public displays made him embarrassed.
As my father became less mobile in his last few years, I became his surrogate browser of the outside world. On tour, I would always be seeking out books that I thought would delight him – an excuse for a phone call.
The last book I delivered to him was a biography of the actor Robert Donat. We watched his films together many times, in particular The 39 Steps and Goodbye Mr Chips.
Returning from The Laugharne festival, another weekend of authors and book browsing with my friend Jeff, I went to stay over with my dad.
The next morning, I was woken up by him calling for help. Entering his bedroom, I think he was worried he was having a heart attack. Actually, the pain in his chest was pneumonia, but we didn’t know that then.
I rubbed some cooling gel on his back and, when my sister returned,
I popped into London for a book launch event at John Sandoe. I am not very good at social events, but this was for Sarah Bakewell, an author I admire greatly and my dad always enjoyed stories of these literary events he could no longer take part in.
Rather than return to his home after the wine and cheese straws, I went straight to Stoke Mandeville where he lay in a corridor.
In between my father’s bout of wakefulness, I read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep with a particular vivid cover of a corpse in the orchids. By dawn, my dad’s hypnogogic dreams and the stretcher bed reality became confused. He told me, “it was roast pheasant last night and I think it will be again today.”
I suggested it was more likely to be an egg and cress sandwich and yoghurt.
Over the first three days, the prognosis was neither good nor bad, but he was 92 and a body at war in its 10th decade is often short of supplies. I popped down to Devon for a few days with my wife’s family, but within 12 hours of arriving, I was summoned back.
or the last 24 hours, his consciousness had faded and so we sat around his hospital bed and read from his favourite book, Tarka The Otter. It was 1st April and we hoped that he might make it to the 2nd as fool’s day as the day of death wouldn’t suit him. He made it past midnight and on to lunchtime and then the him-ness of him was gone.
The reading of books, of Tarka, and The Hobbit, and the mid 1940s novelisation of a favourite film, A Matter of Life and Death, created a sense of ritual over this last few hours, the togetherness of group reading.
His birthday present arrived too late to be read, another 1940s novelisation of another Powell and Pressburger film, I Know Where I’m Going.
In his last two years, he kept telling me that he had decided that he would stop ordering new books as he knew there just wasn’t the time to read the many he was surrounded by, but he was bibliomaniac too. At least twice a week when I went to check the post, there would be a brown paper parcel with a new treat inside. His last purchase was 103 Not Out from the lovely little independent publisher Fleece Press, a book about the 103 Royal Mail stamps designed by David Gentleman, with an unfranked copy of every one of those stamps within its pages.
I am writing this while taking a break from sorting dad’s books. It is taking time because every one must be scrutinised for things that may lie within. I pulled out a copy of hefty historical romance in the Angelique series. I believe they were very popular in the 1950s and generally involved the young blonde woman ending up entangled with untrustworthy dukes. She was reaching higher this time, it was Angelique and The King. I thought it would make the charity donations pile, but when I opened it, handwritten on the first page, “Pam, for the best 365 days of my life so far, Nigel”. This was his first wedding anniversary, the paper anniversary, gift to my mum, and so it stays. Within two days, I had already collected 74 bookmarks and there will be many more to find, some leather ones with fading cathedrals embossed on them, occasional ones with tassels, and many cardboard page reminders from the charities he supported. There is a story in the bookmarks before we even start scanning our eyes across the books.
The rituals of his death and the memories of his life are often bound, some paperback, some hardback.
When I was at Westwood Books, we talked of the things that fall from books. Once, they discovered that a long forgotten bookmark inside a volume of botany was a cheque from Charles Darwin. They also received many books that had once been owned by Nicole, a young woman who died far too soon. In every book, she wrote where she bought it from, then on chapter one she wrote where she was when she began the story and on the final page where she was when it was finished, and sometimes a little precis of her experience between the pages too. How delightful that she left some of herself behind. Leave some of yourself in this book too. When you pass it on, I hope there is a bus ticket or four leafed cover within. My bookseller friend Jeff told of how sometimes, when asked to sort through the books of avid collectors who have died, he is friends with them them by the end of the process, even though he never knew them in life.
Between the lines of Bibliomaniac is the story of how my father made me.
Signed copies of the new paperback edition of Bibliomaniac are available from the Shambles Shop.
Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster. As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Prof Brian Cox. For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest books are The Importance of Being Interested and Bibliomaniac.