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World Book Day

In celebration of World Book Day today, we have shared some extracts from the Bedside Companion for Book Lovers – a glorious anthology of thoughts and writing about the joy of books and reading. This beautiful book is an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, letters, diaries, essays and dedications from the greatest writers and book lovers throughout history.

From Virginia Woolf on the importance of finding space for writing to Charles Dickens on the smell of books, we have shared a few of our favourites for you to enjoy…


Serendipity in Hatchards Bookshop

Jane McMorland Hunter, author of Bedside Companion for Book Lovers


As well as editing and writing books, I work in Hatchards Bookshop

in Piccadilly, London. I started there as a Christmas temp in 1982

and misunderstood the word ‘temp’. I’m still there. Obviously I think

it’s a Good Bookshop, in fact I think it’s the best. And, I think, what

follows proves my point.

I usually work on the second floor (children’s and cookery) but

one busy day I had to go down to the first floor (fiction, poetry,

literary criticism, etc.) to find a book for a customer. I swept past the

desk and my elbow sent a display of little books flying. As I picked

them up, put them back and straightened the pile, I noticed the title:

The Unknown Unknown by Mark Forsyth. My curiosity was aroused

and, as well as the book for the customer, I took a copy of this little

book back up to the second floor. I read it and loved it, not least

because the way I had found it suited the book. I had had no idea

that it existed before chance, or serendipity, brought it into contact

with my elbow.

To quote Donald Rumsfeld in Mark Forsyth’s book:

‘There are things we know that we know. There are known

unknowns. That is to say there are things that we know we don’t

know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we

do not know we don’t know.’

As The Unknown Unknown shows, this statement, which might

appear perplexing but doesn’t, if you think about it, applies perfectly

to books.


Entry for February 2, page 49


Women and Fiction

From A Room of One’s Own, 1929 | Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)


The title women and fiction might mean, and you may have meant

it to mean, women and what they are like; or it might mean women

and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the

fiction that is written about them; or it might mean that somehow all

three are inextricably mixed together and you want me to consider

them in that light. But when I began to consider the subject in this

last way, which seemed the most interesting, I soon saw that it had

one fatal drawback. I should never be able to come to a conclusion.

I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the first duty

of a lecturer – to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure

truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on

the mantelpiece for ever. All I could do was to offer you an opinion

upon one minor point – a woman must have money and a room of

her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the

great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of

fiction unsolved. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion

upon these two questions – women and fiction remain, so far as I am

concerned, unsolved problems.


Entry for January 19, page 31



Reading at Mealtimes

From The Anatomy of Bibliomania, 1930 | George Holbrook Jackson (1874–1948)


Reading at mealtimes has innumerable precedents, and much may

be said in support of it, in spite of those who would hold fast to the

conviction that eating is an art in itself which tolerates no rival; or

those others, more medically disposed, who give out that any exigent

concern at table, by obtruding itself upon ingestion, which is the

main object, sets up a disaffection of the inward parts and ends up in

dyspepsias and other gastric derangements. But their arguments

are none too sound, and, if true, would rule out conversation and

music, and all those other amenities which add so much to the

pleasure of dining.


Entry for May 4, page 153



Ballade of the Bookman’s Paradise

Andrew Lang (1844–1912)


There is a Heaven, or here, or there

A Heaven there is, for me and you.

Where bargains meet for purses spare

Like ours, are not so far and few.

Thuanus’ bees go humming through

The learned groves, ’neath rainless skies.

O’er volumes old and volumes new.

Within that Bookman’s Paradise.

There, treasures bound for Longepierre

Keep brilliant their morocco blue.

There Hooke’s Amanda is not rare,

Nor early tracts upon Peru!

Racine is common as Rotrou,

No Shakespeare quarto search defies.

And Caxtons grow as blossoms grow,

Within that Bookman’s Paradise.

There’s Eve – not our first mother fair –

But Clovis Eve, a binder true;

Thither does Bauzonnet repair,

Derome, Le Gascon, Padeloup!

But never come the cropping crew

That dock a volume’s honest size,

Nor they that ‘letter’ backs askew,

Within that Bookman’s Paradise.


Friend, do not Heber and de Thou,

And Scott, and Southey, kind and wise,

La chasse au bouquin still pursue

Within that Bookman’s Paradise.


Entry for August 1, page 256-7


Caring for Books

From The Enemies of Books, 1880 | William Blades (1824–1890)


The surest way to preserve your books in health is to treat them as

you should your own children, who are sure to sicken if confined in

an atmosphere which is impure, too hot, too cold, too damp, or too

dry. It is just the same with the progeny of literature.


Entry for September 3, page 294


Happiness in a Bookshop

From Martin Chuzzlewit, 1842–1844 | Charles Dickens (1812–1870)


[The bookshops] whence a pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed

came issuing forth, awakening instant recollections of some new

grammar had at school, long time ago, with ‘Master Pinch, Grove

House Academy,’ inscribed in faultless writing on the fly-leaf! That

whiff of russia leather, too, and all those rows on rows of volumes

neatly ranged within – what happiness did they suggest! And in the

window were the spick-and-span new works from London, with the

title-pages, and sometimes even the first page of the first chapter, laid

wide open; tempting unwary men to begin to read the book, and

then, in the impossibility of turning over, to rush blindly in, and buy

it! Here too were the dainty frontispiece and trim vignette, pointing

like handposts on the outskirts of great cities, to the rich stock of

incident beyond; and store of books, with many a grave portrait and

time-honoured name, whose matter he knew well, and would have

given mines to have, in any form, upon the narrow shell beside his

bed at Mr Pecksniff’s. What a heart-breaking shop it was!


Entry for September 13, page 304