Psychobibliophilia – where’s your book been?

written in a café, distracted by a precarious stool.

Psychobibliography is not the word I am looking for, but it will do for now.
Age has seen me become increasingly intrigued in psychogeography.
Being halfway or more through life, I am beginning to get hold of the scale of time on a humdrum human civilisation level. Buidlings and avenues can more readily imagined to have psychomatic imprints of the past.
When I was lucky enough to be standing in the middle of the Lovell telescope, I experienced a sense of psychoastronomy. I imagined a sensation created by all the radio waves monitored and translated to give us images and understanding of pulsars and quasars and galaxy activity.

“YES, ALL MY LIFE, I HAVE BEEN LOOKED UPON AS A FREAK! FORCED TO JOIN THE CIRCUS BECAUSE I WAS BORN WITH FOUR ARMS! BUT IN THE CIRCUS I STUDIED HYPNOTISM…AND NOW I’M GOING TO USE MY HYPNOTIC POWERS TO MAKE ME THE MASTER OF THE TWO ARMED FOOLS!”

I was sat in a bath in Laugharne, reading a Sinister Tales comic. It was a creased and torn copy. I can’t be sure of the year, but it was one shilling, so I reckon on 1967. Still going in the seventies, I would excitedly purchase these reprints of stories of mystery and imagination and “approved comic” horror from the newsagent in Chorleywood. I had bought a small pile from the Dylan’s Mobile Bookshop parked on Laugharne high street. As I read of “NoMan’s Greatest Challenge” on Scorpion Island, I wondered who had held this copy before me. What was its journey from rip roaring pulp trash, frowned upon by unimaginative parents and coveted by kids, to a collectable in a secondhand bookshop. What had gone through the first reader’s mind when she/he held it pristine and new. What effect did these adventure towards the stars and inside nightmares had on the readers that came before me? Had it ignited thoughts of adventure or inspired them to aim to be a comic book writer? Did they mock the strips or were they engrossed, pages turned rapidly, the corners damp from licked fingers?
And where has it been for the last 50 years?
In a garage? In an attic? Was it death that led to a box of them finding their way to the secondhand world?
Was Sinister Tales passed around? a playground swapsy?
Would it become an inspiration or a forgotten piece of childhood?

“Consider the dreamers: all of the dreamers: the glorious and the corrupt….” (Harlan Ellison, Blood/Thoughts)

A back cover blurb that invites the reader into an anthology of fictional nightmares and nightmare makers, broken up by fragments of psychology and unnamed photographs of classic and less classic horror flicks; this is Nighttouch: Journeying into the Realms of Nightmare.
Published in one of the boom times for the horror book. The excerpts include the work of Robert Graves (Nobody), CS Lewis (Perelandra) and Robert Bloch (Mannikins of Horror). The photos include the original Cabinet of Dr Caligari, The Reptile and a variety of fanged images of Christopher Lee. Knowing its potential market for teen boys, there are two topless shots. One of naked woman being sacrificed, the other of Valeie Van Ost (I think it is her) being staked, with one nipple prominently out. I think this was a widely used publicity shot, her nipple having remained for the filmed staking. Was this a present for a strange boy? Did he only look at the pictures, the nail marks in the face of Barbara Steele or Frederic March tucking into a dove? Would he steal the ideas when he had to write a story for English class? Did any image go on to populate his nightmares? Did his parents confiscate the book after finding a female nipple count of three?
Did he worry his horror fascination may mean he would wonder kill, just like the bully boys told him?

“His voice was completely out of control. He screamed,’you stupid bastard, I need a fix. Do you understand now?’”

I was lured to Wenzell Brown’s Monkey on My Back by its sensationalism and the gloomily painted outsider youths, exhausted from their addiction, adorned on the cover. Two shillings and six pence, this edition published in 1958. It is the supposedly non-fiction tales of young junkies seeking their angry fix. Was it plucked off a revolving paperback carousel on a train platform newsagent. Was the traveller seeking a thrill, or did they hope to learn a little of the minds of the addicted?
Was the book finished as the train pulled into Newcastle, or did it remain unfinished and set aside. Am I only the second to scan my eyes across this edition, or has it been read by many? Each separate generation of readers believing they were in for something else, some read facetiously, some ironically, others gripped by the possible horrors waiting for them on the streets where the young people loitered?

None of these books offered further clues, save for the number of creases and an occasionally folded page. My copy of JG Ballard’s High-Rise has some tantalising hints of its history. A 1993 edition that I picked up in the early 21st century, it has an inscription on the back of the front cover.

“Dear ***, Don’t let the testoteronesersings-ness……get you down”

on the inside of the back cover. “*Project Green *Chromium. High speed. slow heal. there in an instant city to city”

What is the story and was Ballard the cure?

Who has been looking in your books?

Psychobibliophilia? No, that’s still now quite it.

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is back soon. Our first 13 episodes – from Chris Hadfield to Sara Pascoe via Mark Gatiss and Charlotte Church – are HERE

I am doing a few gigs, from Leicester Space Centre to Newcastle Life Centre, with Sheffield and Oxford amongst a few others. Information HERE

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2 Responses to Psychobibliophilia – where’s your book been?

  1. James Cragg says:

    Bibliopsychometry is the word you’re after, I think

  2. Nick says:

    I have a copy of Immanuel Wallerstein’s The Modern World System Vol. I which is stamped as being ‘from the personal library of Imari Obadele’. Turns out he was an American black nationalist and ‘President in exile’ of the Republic of New Afrika (a movement for the creation of an independent black homeland consisting of Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina). He was arrested in 1971 after a shootout between the group and the FBI where an agent was killed. Obadele was not present at the time but ended up getting locked up for conspiracy. He eventually got out, got a PhD in political science and went on to write several books on the black power movement. Bear in mind I’m from Barnsley (though I did buy the book somewhere on Long Island).

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