Bookshop Serendipity

A couple of years ago while rummaging in a secondhand bookshop, I got into conversation with the owner on the subject of vibrating books and he told me that in the trade there is a phenomena  known as bookshop serendipity. His bookshop is in the Herefordshire town of Ross-on- Wye, often confused with Hay-on-Wye, which is famous for the number of its bookshops. He gave me this account as an example of  bookshop serendipity. I know the man who told the tale and can vouch that this really happened

One quiet afternoon the door of his shop was flung open and a huge man stood framed in the doorway. He appeared out of breath and somewhat distraught and his first words were,”I’m in the wrong town!” When he had calmed down a little, he told the bookseller that he had flown into Heathrow that morning from Alaska, where he was working as a mining engineer, for the sole purpose of heading to Hay- on- Wye to search for a book called Nesbitt of that Ilk, which had been written by his late father. He had got off the plane and headed straight for the taxi rank and had been driven to Ross, paid the driver his£100 and watched him go on his way. Only when he wandered up the street and talked to people did he realise that he was IN THE WRONG TOWN. At this point he entered the only second-hand bookshop in sight in a somewhat dishevelled state.

As soon as the bookseller heard the title of his father’s book, a bell rang in his head for he realised that he had seen that very book only recently. It was nicely bound and cost £60. It had caught his eye because it was a rare book and only 50 of them were published.

 It was an incredible coincidence. He took the man to the shelf and when the book was taken down, a cluster of sepia photographs and cuttings fell out. The Alaskan engineer picked up a photograph and gasped in astonishment. It was the author’s copy and the photos were of his family!

The man,dazed with disbelief, paid the £60 and was last seen wandering up the high street, telling strangers what had just happened to him. He then apparently booked the town’s only taxi to take him back to the airport and no doubt caught the next plane back to Alaska.

The bookseller told me that the incident had had a profound effect on him. He had regretted ever since actually charging the man for the book. He felt that money should not have been involved in such a serendipitous event and secondly he said that it had left him with a horrid feeling that his whole life had been geared to lead up to that moment and he wondered now what he was still doing there. He said he felt like a fly that had been wrapped up by a fateful spider to be consumed at a later date.

I was much taken by this account for various reasons and I hope you are too.


2 responses to “Bookshop Serendipity

  1. Lovely story!

    The book seeker would not have a close relative of the author – as Nisbet of that Ilk was written by my great grandfather, Robert Chancellor Nesbitt, and we don’t have any close relatives in the USA. But there are many of the wider Nisbet/Nesbitt clan in North America.

    Only 250 copies of the book were printed, many of which were given away by my great-grandfather to friends and relatives. Thus I quite often hear from purchasers who have found personal memorabilia lodged within the pages.

    Although the book was reprinted in 1994, the original edition was handsomely made and is worth seeking out. It does indeed retail for £60-£80 these days.



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