The Book-Devouring Vulture of Jacob’s Maahket

3 Oct

There’s a flea market in Cardiff called Jacob’s. It’s one of those quintessentially Cardiff things, like Clark’s Pies (a thick-pastried minced beef pie) and Brain’s Dark (a bit like stout, but kind of chocolatey) that are not only precious to us Cardiff folk, but which sound hilarious when said in a Caaahdiff accent: “Claaahk’s Pie”, “Pint of Daahk”, “Jacob’s Maaahket”. Is this a coincidence? I think not.

Anyway. The point is, I can’t walk past Jacob’s without knowing that on the third floor there’s a tiny little bookcase full of old Penguin Classics, and that they sell for £1 a copy. That’s right… Just £1 for a whole book, with a gorgeous orange-and-white (or blue-and-white, or purple-and-white – depending on what type of book it is) cover. And if you’re extra lucky, the book’s first owner will have made their mark on the inside, eg: “Anne Richards – 1953”.

I mention Anne because she was the first owner of the editions of The Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales I picked up at Jacob’s a few months back. More recently I picked up Balzac’s Old Goriot, and wouldn’t you know it… Once again it was a book straight from the Anne Richards Collection. Which makes me a little sad, because if most of the Penguin Classics on that shelf are Anne’s, that probably means she’s no longer with us, and I’m benefiting from her demise, like some kind of book-devouring vulture circling around her the not-yet-tepid carcass of her book collection.

Actually… “Book devouring vulture” is a pretty good description for my whole approach to books. I bloody love books. I’ve loved owning books since I was a kid. We didn’t have much money (cue: violins and black-and-white footage of postwar deprivation… even though I was born in 1978), so books – along with hand-me-down Star Wars toys – were my default Christmas and birthday present. Such was my obsession with buying and owning books that I kind of forgot libraries were a thing until about 3 years ago, when I ran out of available space for books.

Since then I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the book-buying habit in check, only buying one (or asking for one as a gift) when I absolutely, positively couldn’t think of taking it out from the library, but lately… lately it’s been getting hard. Especially since I stumbled, quite by accident, upon the legacy of 1953’s very own Anne Richards.

Today, once again, I found myself on the third floor of Jacob’s Market, this time coming out with three titles: Roald Dahl’s Kiss, Kiss; Ivan Turgenev’s On The Eve, and Sophocles’ Theban plays, all for the princely sum of £3. Only problem was… Shelf space. For a couple of months now, our Ikea Billy bookcases (black ash effect, in case you were wondering) have been crammed. It’s hard enough to take a book out, let alone squeeze one in. A sacrifice (or, more likely, two or three sacrifices) would have to be made.

On getting home I scanned the shelves, feeling like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. Which of my babies would have to go?

In the end the decision was quite easy. There, up on the top shelf of Billy No. 2, sandwiched between John Pearson and Sylvia Plath, was DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little. I bought it not long after it scooped the Booker Prize in 2002, and even at the time, even in those heady Bush Presidency days, I found it thoroughly annoying. The whole thing was written in a kind of snide, sub-Salinger attempt at teenage American vernacular, but played to a gallery of European snobs. “Look at how dumb and violent American culture is! No wonder they have all these high school shootings!” (It’s a while since I actually read it, so that may or may not be an actual quote from the novel.)

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the whole thing offensively xenophobic. Not that there’s much wrong with xenophobia in fiction. It’s just that I don’t think it works if you’re an outsider posing as an insider. If you’re an author who isn’t from that country posing – via your narrator – as a person from that country, the whole thing just feels like a bad joke, not to mention grossly inauthentic. In short, it felt like DBC Pierre had gone around to somebody’s house, and spent the duration of his visit impersonating his guests and mocking their choice of decor.

Off to Cancer Research with him, I say.

Second to go – and this cleared a lot of space – was John Peel’s autobiography, Margrave of The Marshes. Now, I felt a bit guilty about this one. It was a gift (I hate giving gifts away), and I’d always had a bit of a soft spot for John Peel, but then I went and read this piece by Julie Burchill. Now, I don’t agree with a lot of Burchill’s writing, but I realised I probably wouldn’t be able to read an autobiography by the 15-year-old-marrying, 13-year-old-boning-by-his-own-admission Peel without feeling a teensy bit nauseous for some time.

So in the bag it went, next to DBC “I almost definitely wouldn’t have won if I’d been published two years earlier” Pierre.

Anyway. All this is a very long-winded and only vaguely entertaining way of saying that I successfully cleared some shelf space. Enough, in fact, to justify a return trip to Jacob’s Market, to see if Anne’s left me any more treasures.


2 Responses to “The Book-Devouring Vulture of Jacob’s Maahket”

  1. BenLikesMusic (@BenLikesMusic) October 8, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    The one thing about Jacob’s Maahket (nee Market) that disappoints me is that whenever I find something I want in there, the owner of the stall is generally absent and nobody else knows the price of anything. Actually, the Nazi memorabilia guy is a little disappointing too. As you know all too well David, I’m afraid I do not enjoy the written word as much as the strummed guitar and there is very little in the way of top or bottom quality music in Jacob’s so I generally find it a nice way to kill a couple of hours. I may also suggest the Pumping Station on Penarth Road – especially if you’re into 30 years worth of sewing pattern magazines.


  1. Five days with Iris | A Forest of Beasts - October 15, 2012

    […] a DVD/Blu-Ray release date for the UK yet, but I’ll be clearing some shelf space (and you know what I’m like about shelf space) when it does. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was […]

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