Once Upon a Tome
The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller
by Oliver Darkshire
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Pub Date 14 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 28 Feb 2023
An antiquarian bookseller divulges the secrets of the trade and the peculiarities of life in one of the world’s oldest bookstores.
One morning, Oliver Darkshire stepped into the hushed interior of Henry Sotheran Ltd. in London to interview for what he thought would be a year-long bookselling apprenticeship. Captivated by the smell of old books and the temptation of a management-approved afternoon nap, Darkshire was soon unteetering stacks of first editions and fending off overeager collectors while placating the store’s resident ghost (the late Mr. Sotheran, hit by a tram). By turns unhinged and earnest, Once Upon a Tome is a hilarious coming-of-age story that brings us into a strange and fascinating profession.
Darkshire describes Sotheran’s customs and customers and shares delicious trivia about ancient editions and the dark art of selling old things to the curious characters that covet them. A love letter to the benign, unruly world of antiquarian bookselling, Once Upon a Tome is the colorful story of working at a hallowed bookshop, where to be uncommon or strange is the best possible compliment.
About the Author:
Oliver Darkshire is an antiquarian bookseller at Henry Sotheran Ltd. He lives in Manchester, England, with his husband and his neglectfully curated collection of books.
"[A] mischievous account…. Darkshire’s whims and fantasies now take on solid form in… entertaining tales of bookshop ghosts, cursed volumes and unwelcome visitants such as 'cryptids' (those who pester but never purchase), the startled government official checking up on the apprentice scheme, and the doomed health and safety officer. Darkshire proffers plenty of backroom insights, such as the dark arts of 'furbishing' (restoration) and the mysteries of valuation.... Seeking a Christmas present for that bibliophilic relative who has seemingly read everything? It’s right here." - Suzi Feay, Financial Times
"Darkshire is an exciting new voice brimming with self-effacing charm. If you consider yourself a book aficionado, this is your Coachella." - Caitlin Doughty, best-selling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
"An enchanting billet-doux to an arcane and eccentric world. Every page is a pleasure." - Lindsey Fitzharris, best-selling author of The Facemaker
"Peculiarly hilarious and/or hilariously peculiar!" - William Gibson, award winning author of Neuromancer and Burning Chrome, winner of Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel
"Utterly charming." - Tom Holland, best-selling author of Rubicon and Dominion and cohost of The Rest is History
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
I really enjoyed reading this, it was a great concept for a biography, I love the idea of rare booksellers and I was sure that booksellers have some interesting stories. Oliver Darkshire has a great writing style and I loved hearing that their story as a seller. I was invested in what was going on and loved going on this journey with Oliver Darkshire. I really enjoyed reading this.
"A long moment passed as she looked me up and down, and her expression turned sour as she clearly was not seeing what she’d expected to see. People have strange ideas about how an antiquarian bookseller should look. I suppose most people never think about it at all, but if they do, then they seem to conceive of a late-middle-aged man in tweed with a twinkle in his eye and a penny farthing waiting to whisk him away to his next adventure."
Once Upon A Tome follows Oliver Darkshire, an apprentice book dealer, as he learns to navigate an arbitrary cataloging system while also dealing with cursed books, damp cellars, odd objects, and even odder customers. It is both a memoir and a tongue-in-cheek primer for any aspiring bookseller providing a glimpse into what many may incorrectly assume to be the realm of humorless old men constantly surrounded by a dusty scent.
The narration is so personable and charming that you are instantly engaged, and I found myself smiling and laughing throughout the entire book. The entertaining cast of characters range from quirky colleagues to oddball regulars, who Darkshire describes as bookstore cryptids. As a lifelong Bibliophile I reveled in spotting the literary Easter eggs snuck in throughout the story and was only disappointed when I turned the last page and knew the story was over. Well written, humorous, and highly entertaining, I would recommend this to anyone with a love of books, who dreams of dusty book shops, and has the fervent desire to spend the afterlife as a bookstores resident ghost.
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