Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fish Who Answer the Telephone…

Little bookshops make my heart skip a beat, in a really good, romantic and goose-bumpy way.  The problem is there aren’t that many mom & pop bookshops around anymore.  Between the big box stores, internet mail order and eBooks, commerce and technology have done away with the dusty shelves and lovely scent of musty “vanilla-ish” paper in the air.  By the way, this distinct aged paper smell was actually analyzed by scientists and found to be the result of hundreds of “volatile organic compounds” (aka VOCs) sent into the air from the paper.  Knowing there is a scientific explanation takes away from some of the romance of it all, I realize, but it’s still pretty cool.


Last spring, I had the tremendous pleasure of popping into a book shop called Jarndyce Booksellers, located at No. 46 Great Russell Street, in London.  Already a bit swoon-y from the company I was keeping and the idea of the incredible gift I’d been given (passport and transport across the pond, for goodness sake), I opened the narrow door to this beautiful postcard-worthy, picture-perfect hunter green book shop and willingly filled my lungs with volatile organic compounds.  It was a magnificent collection, with books and pamphlets in every nook and cranny and just enough dusty spots to feel antiquated, but not dirty (an art I am still trying to perfect in my own home).  According to their website, the building was constructed in the 1730s and given a facelift by the Duke of Bedford in the 1850s. Randolph Caldecott, the 19th century illustrator, lived and worked on this very spot (if you didn’t know, the Caldecott Medal is the annual award given to the most distinguished American picture book for children).  The building is also reported to be haunted, but having just arrived from Los Angeles that very afternoon, I believe I was too tired to give a hoot and aboot, even if a vaporous Scotsman in a diaphanous kilt had been leaning over my shoulder.


With classics on every shelf and collectible books as far as the fatigued eye could see, I was overwhelmed and found it impossible to choose just one or two books. Instead I managed to find what was likely the single most bizarre book in the shop.  In fact, it said so right in the title: Fish Who Answer the Telephone and Other Bizarre Books.  Incapable of choosing one fabulous book I opted for weird.


The jacket of the book describes Fish Who Answer the Telephone… as “A collection of real titles with real authors with the serious intention of informing.”  The leading review paragraph, however, called it the “perfect lavatory book” which I did not see until long after I’d already paid my ₤9.99 (approximately $16 in U.S. bucks, give or take the fluctuating currency rates). No matter.  Even if I didn’t purchase the great aged novel or playbook to not declare in customs (you may judge me, but you don’t even know about the imported Italian Easter Cake I smuggled from London to Paris to Los Angeles yet), I was still happy to exit with my strange and wonderful book, with enough coins left over for the Tube.


It wasn’t until I got back to Sunny SoCal that I actually started to thumb through my truly odd treasure (which is when I found the comment about it being the perfect lavatory book.  But, NOT while in the lavatory, BTW).  The contents, which I had rifled through briefly in London, list chapters such as: Double Entendre, They Didn’t Really Mean It; Waste Products, Crime & The Law; and Death.  Sounds serious, right?  Reading the table of contents again, I felt slightly vindicated in my jet-lagged, addlepated and twitterpated (I did, after all, travel for love) state-of-mind choice.  But only slightly.  I mean seriously, the shop offered Dickens and the greatest literature of the 18th and 19th centuries and I chose a book called Fish Who Answer the Telephone


< Sigh. >




Still, I stand by my choice.  Partly because Fish Who Answer the Telephone… was compiled and published by one of the partners of Jarndyce Booksellers, Brian Lake, and by Mr. Russell Ash.  If it was good enough for these literary gentlemen to work on for a number of years during their careers in the business of writing and selling books, then it is good enough for little ol’ storyteller me to have purchased the darn thing to read.  And write about.


This year, Jarndyce is celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth (which was Feb. 7th 1812).  To celebrate they have published The Library of a Dickensian, what they are calling “the finest catalogue of Dickens material available in 2012.”  As for me, in my own personal version of the Best of Times and Worst of Times (simply another blog for another time) I shall brew a pot of tea, eat some shortbread cookies (in homage to the ghostly Scotsman of No. 46 Great Russell Street) and continue reading through the Fish Who Answer the Telephone… in celebration of the written word, whether allegory, salutary, or lavatory (still NOT reading in there, BTW) in tone or tome.


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way." – Charles Dickens


“Yes, Chuckie all these years later – not much has changed.  Your words perfectly describe my life.  Well, that and the 1932 book by W. Beran Wolfe titled How to Be Happy though Human – I am beginning to think I can carry that off.”  — xo – t.


For more info. on Jarndyce: visit

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