World Book Day 2023

Robin Ince's Bibliomaniac Tour Diary

It is World Book Day, yet today is that day I have managed not to have any gigs to do in bookshops or libraries.

I made up for it with the first three days of the week including two libraries, three independent bookshops, a charity shop, and open gathering of Plymouth humanists.

Monday began in Exeter’s central library. Librarian Jez Winship (author of a fabulous book all about George A Romero’s Martin) had gathered together three beautiful shelves of books from the archives that were written about in Bibliomaniac or connected to it. Here was my holy grail book, the one that I seek everywhere I go, Ernest Thesiger’s autobiography, Practically True. There was a lovely edition of the television classic Penda’s Fen, some Ivor Cutler and Jean Rhys and some fantastically furious Class War publications containing a photograph of the Queen Mother – “she’s still got all her teeth…for now” and Charles and Diana holding baby William – “another royal parasite”. There would be at least two members of the audience who were going to come to all three of today’s gigs, so I was determined to do a different 60 to 70 minutes each time. 

With so much to choose from, I could bounce from stories of Anne Sexton to Neil Innes and then around the bound and spiny houses to Rachel Whiteread and Eduardo Paolozzi. 

Afterwards, I spoke to Hugh, who sees himself as something of a hermit, but the books that surround him are his friends and he had just read Madame Bovary in French. The library was filled with vitality and curiosity. I would be returning the next day to view a few of its archives, so spun on my heels to the public library in St Thomas, pausing only for a hasty browse in Book-Cycle where I nearly trip over someone who had been in attendance at the talk and is now deep in the science fiction and fantasy section. I hope they found some Ursula K Le Guin. 

I arrived in St Thomas just as the health and safety talk was beginning and so went straight from automatic door to declamations. Seeing Lee and Jez in the audience, I veered away from any anecdotes that might still be echoing in the central library or they might discover I was a fraud. The diagnosis of ADHD and the small amount of medication has managed to crush my critical voice and so nowadays I just flow and follow every connection that comes to me – I have someday potential paths, every talk tis a choose your own adventure book. 

Afterwards, I talk to someone who tells me that they saw me at the Northcott Theatre and I had an utter potty mouth – I never thought I swore that much, but clearly I was going through the foul mouth phase that can occur as we travel through the birth canal that takes us to middle age.

I am clean now…most of the time. 

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The final trip of the day is Oxfam Books and Music who lured me there last time with their boasts of a fine lectern,. As the chairs are set out and cake is eaten, I scout the shelves for books to recommend. They include Leonard and Hungry Paul and The Complete Essays of George Orwell, a mere £4.99. I am relived to see that this time there is nothing tempting me in the glass cabinet, though those Oxfam hucksters try to push mew into the £400 copy of Wuthering Heights.

The first book for me is The Folklore and Witchcraft of Dartmoor, the Oxfam hucksters smile, they priced it for me just this morning.

I stay signing and chatting and then, high on adrenaline, syrupy sponge and a little wine, I keep browsing and buy books on the ether of the Universe, 1950s film annuals and The Symbol of Man by G Wilson Knight, in which a man in a very very skimpy thong poses as the essence of Richard the Second and Othello.

I end the day on my budget hotel bed reading 1952 perditions of where we would be in space thirty years ago – here the hyprodponic pods are growing vast Moon vegetables and space tractors are starting to etch cities in the rock. I also enjoy John Wisdom’s Other Minds which lured me in with a sentence involving a Leprechaun theory of consciousness.

This day was filmed and by Trent and Alice from the Shambles crew and will become an episode that forms part of the Bibliomaniac documentary series very soon.

Get a signed copy of Bibliomaniac now from the Shambles shop right here.

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.

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