There's a fondly-remembered telly ad for the privatised British Telecom's business directory Yellow Pages. It was made in 1983 and featured the actor Norman Lumsden as an elderly chap scouring the second-hand bookshops of London (and Cecil Court in particular) in search of a copy of Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley. A copy cannot be found and the poor chap looks quite downcast. Then his daughter, more clued-up about such things, passes him a copy of 'good old Yellow Pages' and he starts to phone around. She soon finds a cop. The delighted old fellow gives his name: 'My name? Oh yes - it's J. R. Hartley', and he clasps the receiver to his chest, a beatific smile lighting up his old codger face. Heart-warming. You can, I'm sure, find it on YouTube.
Such was the success of the ad that some enterprising publisher actually brought out a copy of the book over his name, ghosted by Michael Russell. This and two sequels (on about golf) were all best-sellers.
Although I visit Cecll Court from time to time (there are still four or five dealers hanging on there) I'm a regular user of the excellent website abe.com, the book dealers' alternative to the predatory Amazon. Here one can rank books by highest of lowest price, by edition, by publisher etc. If you're looking for a fine first edition of Basil Bunting's Briggflatts here's the place to start.
One of the many features on offer is a list of the most searched-for titles of out-of-print books. The 2015 list, introduced by Richard Davies, can be found here.
What are they, the top twenty searches last year? It's a very odd list, but certain worth sharing as a snapshot of our fellow citizens' cultural priorities.
I;ve got a copy of Mailer's Marilyn Monroe biography (a rotten book, but the pictures are good); I've heard of Madonna (who hasn't?) and her book of soft porn selflies; the rest mean nothing at all to me, apart from one or two names - Stephen King, Carl Sagan ad er . . . that's it. I'm delighted that Richard Rutt's History of Hand Knitting is the 20th most sought-after book of they year, and unsurprised. What would we do without books?