What a title! On a par with having your cake and not eating it. The idea is ridiculous and yet it was enough for me to request an arc on Netgalley. And this book is very, very readable, even though it contains many books that are not read.
The protagonist, Mitchell is a book scout, who spends his time searching through garage and estate sales for valuable books. Careful not to show too much interest in the titles of value, mixing them in books of lesser import, to drive the prices down, and his profits up. It’s a competitive business with other scouts marking out their territory and taking it badly when others encroach …. Cue disaster on the day that Mitchell moves into Helmet Head’s territory. Not just physically, but also acquisitions wise. That old copy of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, that Mitchell picked up to read to his young son, disappears from the back of his van. Cue a search that intensifies when Mitchell realises that it may have been a bona fide 1st edition!
As Mitchell relates his tale, he reveals his history. He is a man on his uppers, attempting to pick himself up. He once had money, wife and family. How he lost them lies at the core of his first person narrative. Is he telling the truth – warts and all – or is he hiding something? He feels honest to me. He is a flawed individual and overconfident in his own abilities (as shown in his book-dealing). Earlier though, he got involved in technology stocks, and we all know what happened there. That hindsight accounted for real stomach-clenching anxiety as I read of his experiences. But that was nothing compared to what was to come …. Utterly heart-breaking. Even now I have to remember that the story is told in retrospect. That Mitchell is still fighting to put his life back together.
An experienced screen-writer, Howard Marc Chesley was once told that he should be writing novels. Some Books Aren’t For Reading is his response to that challenge. As I said, it’s very readable and extremely moving in parts. Mitchell feels very real. His nemesis, Helmut Head, is an exaggerated contrast. A certain plot twist involving Helmut Head feels more like something for the screen, but is nevertheless full of entertainment value. Despite my anxieties, I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters relating to the technology bubble. (I was there in 1999 fixing COBOL issues.) I’ve never read The Old Man and The Sea, but now I might. I’m pretty sure its significance here isn’t limited to the loss of a potential first edition. Some books may not be for reading, but this one is made for re-reading once my encounter with Hemingway’s tale is complete.