Twelve Books for Christmas: Book Eleven: The Unknown Unknown, Mark Forsyth

Today’s book was originally going to be The Chimes by Charles Dickens. Then, reading more of his Christmas stories, I thought about A Christmas Dinner or A Christmas Tree as they aren’t so well known.  But perhaps one can have too much Dickens. Lauren St John’s The Snow Angel was the next possibility, as it has a recommendation by Katherine Rundell and includes Scottish mountains and a ‘sparkling fox’, but I’d like to read it at a civilised pace and this post goes up tomorrow morning. I had started A Light in the Dark, a Winter Journal but it was too much Horatio Clare and not enough winter. Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories looked enticing, well the jacket did, but again, I want to read them slowly. They were originally written for magazines and radio and this is the first time they have appeared in book form. Then a friend told me she had been to see A Box of Delights at Wilton’s Music Hall. She’d never read the original book by John Masefield, so I waxed lyrical about how good the story was and how it was the perfect book to read at Christmas. Unfortunately once I started it (for probably the umpteenth time) I remembered just how good it is and that meant I wanted to read it properly rather than just skim through to remind myself of the basics. So still no book.

In Hatchards we have little books displayed in front of every till. They are balanced precariously on plastic stands and get knocked off several times each day but we choose the ones we like and they are usually interesting and a bit quirky – things the potential customer might not have seen before and, ideally, will be tempted by. As I walked briskly through Fiction, in search of something entirely different, I nearly sent this little book flying. Automatically straightening its stand with one hand, barely breaking my stride, my attention was caught: interesting title, even more interesting subtitle, small (only 23 pages, so truly pocket-sized) and attractive. I scooped a copy up and carried on my way. 

The Unknown Unknown of the title refers to a book that you didn’t know you wanted until you chanced upon it in a bookshop. Exactly what happened to me. This was published in 2014 so for four years it has been a book I didn’t know I wanted. This chance discovery can only happen in a real bookshop; the internet either produces exactly what we want or something so different as to be totally useless. ‘If you like that……’ or ‘Other customers also bought………’ usually appear but these are not the same as discovering something for yourself (and they are usually way off the mark anyway). Twenty-three pages in praise of bookshops and chance discoveries; what more could one want?

Jane

As always we would like you to buy this book. Also, as always, we would like you to buy it from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.

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