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This review is taken from PN Review 268, Volume 49 Number 2, November - December 2022.

Cover of A Factotum in the Book Trade
Alberto ManguelMarius Kociejowski, A Factotum in the Book Trade (Biblioasis: Windsor, Ontario) £13.99
Making the World Bearable

For about three years, during my adolescence, I worked as a bookseller in an English-German bookshop in Buenos Aires. I don’t think I could do it again. Especially not in an antiquarian bookshop where books come with what my grandmother called, when speaking about certain doubtful characters, ‘a history’. Now, once I have a book in my hands, especially one with ‘a history’, I am loath to give it up. I’m less of a book collector than a book hoarder and my motto is that of Polonius: ‘Neither borrower nor lender be’.

So it is with admiration and respect that I started to read this memoir by the legendary Marius Kociejowski. He’s a year younger than I am, but oh, so much more knowledgeable and wiser. Apparently, he has done everything: journeyed into the wilds of the Near East, and written about those journeys; composed volumes of very decent poetry and read entire libraries of the stuff; become familiar with most of the bookselling gang in Canada and England; chinwagged with the Mafia in Naples; studied for fun and profit the writings of Wittgenstein, Tycho Brahe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Zoroaster and Nietzsche, to name but a few. He also bought and sold antiquarian books.

This last sentence, today, can seemingly only be spoken in the past tense. Though many antiquarian booksellers continue to exercise their arduous trade in spite of contrary winds, sometimes hitching their craft onto virtual ocean liners, sometimes sailing through cyberspace singlehandedly, their task has become increasingly difficult. Knowlegeable customers (we are told) ...

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