Latham, a bookseller for 35 years, currently runs Waterstones Canterbury, where he proudly filed the biggest petty cash claim in the chain’s history to pay for the excavation of a Roman bath house under its floor. But this is not one of those funny “anecdotes from a bookshop” books that have recently been popular – though anecdotes there are aplenty. It is rather a history and celebration of all things bookish, from Alexander the Great’s unusual habit of reading silently in an age when all stories were oral stories, through printing, chapbooks, book hawkers and beyond.
From the erudite Canterbury bookseller Martin Latham comes the uncensored tale of our love affair with the book. It’s a very physical passion but, he argues, its emotional power is hefty, and ever since printing made reading a private act, it is books that have helped shape our innermost selves. Roaming across topics from legendary libraries to humble book pedlars, as well as historically overlooked literary forms like chapbooks and comfort reads, its appeal is vivid enough that even the electronic edition seems to exude the tantalising aroma of a used bookstore.
Underpinning the whole narrative is that simple pleasure, the love of a good book. Latham writes about the noble tradition of slowing down at the end to delay having to finish (by the end of Keith Richards's autobiography I was rationing myself to individual paragraphs).
And he tells the story of the woman who had a heart attack in his shop. As she was wheeled out to the ambulance she held Latham's hand. 'I do love it here,' she said. 'It would have been a great place to go.'