Every second-hand book you have has a story. It has been owned by one or more people before you, and each of them has a life filled with love, loss, drama and conflict, sometimes on a grand international scale, other times intensely personal. Those are exactly what I found in the lives of the people who used to own my books – and they’re the stories I want to share with you.
As I studied Latin and Greek at university, I went through all my second-hand Classics books, examining the hand-written names and bookplates for clues. What I came up with, after I had tracked down eleven previous owners, was a set of astonishing personal and public stories from around the world, covering a century of triumphs, disasters and intimacies.
Tom Dunbabin was a Classics scholar who became a spy, leading the resistance against the Germans in Crete in the Second World War. Peter Levi was a poet and a priest who fell in love with a friend’s wife while at the same time subverting Greece’s military dictatorship. Belinda Dennis was a contrary Latin teacher and Emilie Vleminckx a contrary Latin student. And James Naylor was a boy I loved.
To bring the whole book together, each chapter starts with some memoir from my life: being a precocious kid in Jewish north-west London, a poor boy at a public school, a scholar at Oxford and a tutor in Hampstead. I’d like to say you’ll read all about my athletic prowess and perpetual popularity, but instead you’ll get the truth – however amusing or embarrassing. Sometimes, indeed, that truth connects unexpectedly with the lives I’m writing about, revealing a lot more than I first imagined.
So if you love reading about books or Classics or history or war or poetry or plays or Oxford or University Challenge or scandal or any of a dozen more things, there is something in Second-Hand Stories for you. And after reading Second-Hand Stories, I bet you’ll take a minute next time you pick up one of your own second-hand books to think about who has held it before you – and what stories they could tell.
If you’d like to read more about my book – or sponsor it – please visit Unbound.