Every May my wife and I make our annual pilgrimage to the church of St Andrew’s and St George’s in George Street, here in Edinburgh. We are not alone. Hundreds of people join us, and like us, bow our heads in concentration as we silently and reverentially slowly file around the church, inside and out. We are examining the spines of many thousands of second-hand books, laid out, as usual, in sections as well defined as any library. My wife is looking to top up her reading pile for the next few weeks: she mostly stays outside, exploring the fiction.
I head for the body of the Kirk, for the small corner of the trestle table where there will be two or three cardboard cartons of books about Edinburgh. My wife is succesful: she fills a supermarket ‘for-life’ plastic bag. I’m successful too. Politely jostling fellow Edinburgh bookhphiles I pick out The Royal Mile by Robert T Skinner. It was published in 1928, and my copy is signed by the author, dated 1935. It’s dedicated to an Augustine Costa, a name I’d like to borrow. I will visit the graveyard where Augustine is buried and ask.
That’s the wonder of this annual book fair. It’s held every year to raise funds for Christian Aid. Last year’s raised over £100,000, and I have no doubt that this year’s will do just as well. And I’m not surprised. Book lovers come for the week long event (it’s on until 20th May 2011), and we all mill about looking through thousands of books. No subject is neglected: architecture, literature, poetry, sciences, history, music, art, philosophy, stamps, religion, sports – I also picked up Phoenix from the Ashes, by Mike Brearley. It’s an account of the England Ashes win in 1981. I was there.
The browsers – the people – are an exotic mix of Edinburghers. Mostly older, mostly middle class, I expect, a balance of men and women; we dance in and out with each other slowly in the narrow aisles, taking care not to encroach or hassle on someone reading a book they might just buy after all. Grey hair and beards, many pairs of glasses peered through to decipher the small print of the fiction spread out under the shade of the rustling maple tree. But there are plenty of youngsters – there’s a large area of children’s books set aside.
I wouldn’t miss it. After all, it is where I found out about Professor MacIntyre.
See you there (That’s not me, by the way: that’s another book hunter contemplating which section to visit).