Which Book Means the Most To You?

If you had to pick one book from your shelf that you'd never give up, even if that particular copy was worth thousands, which would you pick? It's not necessarily your favourite book, but it's one you wouldn't part with or replace, even if it is getting a bit dog-eared.

For me, it's Richard Adams' The Plague Dogs. Watership Down was my favourite novel in primary school and remains one of my favourites today (I think we always nurture a special place in our hearts for those books that pushed us into the rabbit-hole -- no pun intended), and in the back were blurbs for Adams' two other books, Shardik (which I still haven't got my hands on) and The Plague Dogs, which was particularly intriguing to me: I was a vegetarian by the age of five and interested in animal rights even if I hadn't conceptualised it, and I also had a morbid fascination with death, the more tragic the better.

All this was before eBay. We went to independent and chain bookshops, including a second-hand bookshop in Middlesbrough that I think is no longer there, and on a visit to Waterstone's we were told that the book was out of print. I was advised to resign myself to never finding this book -- and if it was out of print, I consoled myself, then it probably wasn't as good as Watership Down anyway.

Then, years later, we'd gone on a family trip to Whitby. While the rest of the family had wandered off somewhere else, my father took me down a side-street, which led away from the main cobbled streets that hosted shops selling Goth clothing, traditional sweets, and Whitby jet and veered towards a car park and the end of tourist Whitby. There was a dingy second-hand bookshop down there -- not too dissimilar from the one in Middlesbrough -- and in there my father found a 1978 copy of The Plague Dogs.

I was fourteen or fifteen, and underwhelmed when I first read it. I didn't understand whether the dogs really were carriers of bubonic plague, who the human characters were, and what a tod was. It felt like the narrative was too drawn-out compared to Watership Down, and I put it away for a few years and went back to it when I was eighteen -- and, although I didn't fall in love with it in the same head-over-heels way as Watership Down, it touched me profoundly with its unflinching recounting of animal experiments and the desperate dangers the dogs find themselves in.

It's closed down now, that bookshop. If I ever pass it with my family when we're in Whitby, my father will point out the shop, whatever it is currently selling, and ask, "Wasn't that the bookshop where we found that book that was out of print?" Stupidly I'd signed my name on the first page (and, incredibly embarrassingly, added a swirly, embellised 2k5) and now it looks tacky, but if you get past the first page the paper is that thin, floppy, browned kind you can only get from the dingiest of second-hand bookshops and there are some beautiful illustrations that reminded me of The Lord of the Rings' map of Middle-earth.

Buying a new copy couldn't replicate the pride in finally finding an original, and sourcing another from eBay wouldn't compare to the joy of discovering it tucked away in Whitby. Do you have anything comparable? Drop a comment or better yet share a photo on Instagram or Twitter of your one-of-a-kind and tag me (@lolo.maria on Instagram and @laura_maria_g on Twitter).


© 2019 Laura Maria Grierson

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