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Welcome to Sotheran’s, one of the oldest bookshops in the world, with its weird and wonderful clientele, suspicious cupboards, unlabeled keys, poisoned books, and some things that aren’t even books, presided over by one deeply eccentric apprentice.
Some years ago, Oliver Darkshire stepped into the hushed interior of Henry Sotheran Ltd (est. 1761) to apply for a job. Allured by the smell of old books and the temptation of a management-approved afternoon nap, Darkshire was soon unteetering stacks of first editions and placating the store’s resident ghost (the late Mr. Sotheran, hit by a tram).
A novice in this ancient, potentially haunted establishment, Darkshire describes Sotheran’s brushes with history (Dickens, the Titanic), its joyous disorganization, and the unspoken rules of its gleefully old-fashioned staff, whose mere glance may cause the computer to burst into flames. As Darkshire gains confidence and experience, he shares trivia about ancient editions and explores the strange space that books occupy in our lives—where old books often have strong sentimental value, but rarely a commercial one.
By turns unhinged and earnest, Once Upon a Tome is the colorful story of life in one of the world’s oldest bookshops and a love letter to the benign, unruly world of antiquarian bookselling, where to be uncommon or strange is the best possible compliment.