Many thanks to Sam Jordison for mentioning this blog in his books feature for The Guardian - "The Precious Unprinted Contents of Books". Thanks to Sam, the cult of Derek has increased tenfold and I predict that by the middle of the century, he'll have more followers than the Church of the SubGenius.
In the Guardian blog article, Sam writes: "Marginalia and forgotten mementoes are often squirreled away inside conventional books. What will become of such treasures in the age of the ebook?"
In spite of my day job, I'm not completely against ebooks. I can see that they make sense if you're a student who needs several dozen weighty textbooks, or a Dan Brown fan who consumes a couple of paperback thrillers a week during the commute to work. Not all books are sacred. Disposable books are well-suited to an ephemeral medium.
However, the books that you care about - the ones you hope to read again and pass on to your loved ones (who will then give them to me), should be printed on paper. Bookworms, mildew and acid notwithstanding, books last - particularly the older ones. Kindles are vulnerable. They depend on an infrastructure that provides electricity and transmits and decodes digital information. Can we automatically assume that this infrastructure will continue to exist? Will our civilisation become the first one in human history to endure?
Just to be on the safe side, let's keep printing books on paper.
My work involves sifting though thousands of charity shop rejects in search of titles that are worth selling. In the last year I've found a 1590 Bible, a signed first edition of Siegfried Sassoon's "War Poems" and copy of "What Katy Did Next" signed, somewhat improbably, by Enid Blyton. It's amazing what people throw away.
However, even more than the books, I love the ephemera that I find in them: photographs, pressed flowers, letters, a 1930s London Underground ticket, a list of rules for borrowing library books aimed at the "labouring classes", a Wartime guide to growing your own vegetables, or an enigmatic message scrawled on a book's endpaper that says "Nothing you say will set the house ablaze".
Each item, however trivial, is a tantalising piece of evidence from a forgotten life. I'm fully aware of the irony of praising the virtues of the printed page on a blog, but the two mediums can be complementary and I love the fact that the internet allows me share things that would otherwise have been lost.
This is a novel from the 1970s, written by a man with the wonderful name of Percival Skedgell. You won't have heard of it because there is only one copy in existence. If the ebook is at one end of the spectrum, this unique, handwritten novel is about as far as you can go in the other direction.
I've no idea how good the novel is, as the handwriting is so small that I feel like Donald Pleasance in The Great Escape. However, it looks like a fantasy novel - not my favourite genre, but I am intrigued.
The book is a work of art, painstakingly written and bound (let's ignore the odd Tip-ex mark), with hundreds of pages of text. Amazingly, it was almost thrown away.
And who is, or was, Percival Skedgell? I have found one reference to him on the Coventry University alumni website:
"The second oldest in my class was Percival Skedgell at 25, from Dartmoor. He moved to Portsmouth to illustrate for the Navy."
Not much of an obituary, if he is actually dead. The only other reference that I've found to a Percival Skedgell is an obituary from 2008. Can there really be more than one Percival Skedgell?
I can't sell the book, so I'm hanging on to it in the hope that relative of Percival's will find this blog during a Google name search, If you're a Skedgling, the book is yours.
P.S: Dec 2011 -There is a happy ending to this story. After its close encounter with oblivion, Percival Skedgell's book has been reunited with a member of his family.