Meet the Bookseller with Miles Allinson
We chat with bookseller Miles Allinson about the value of well-made objects and his desire to develop a rare skin disease (so he can find the time to read Proust, naturally).
Why do you work in books?
Basically, I’m unqualified to do much else. After studying for 25 years (or what feels like it), the only other thing I’m really qualified to do is throw leaves around and prank-call people. Also, I have a functional addiction to books. I like how they smell.
What’s something new you’ve observed in bookselling?
Records. And the corresponding fact that people still value the materiality of well-made objects. The world is full of junk, but beautiful things – the feel of beautiful books, for instance, or the experience of having to stand up and flip the record – redeem our relationship to the physical world just a little bit. The Kindle is the stupidest, ugliest invention in the universe.
What book would you happily spend a weekend indoors with?
I’m planning on developing some sort of rare skin disease so I can convalesce in a hospital for a while and finish In Search of Lost Time. I’m up to volume two. If only you could still smoke in hospitals. If only I still smoked.
Describe your own taste in books.
Name a book that has changed the way you think, in ways small or large.
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World changed the way I thought about my own half-thoughts, the ones that normally slip away completely, or that I often choose not to recognise. Handke was terribly depressed, I think, when he wrote it (it’s more like a series of notes or diary entries than anything else) and the book was his attempt to write himself back into the world again, to become more alive, though not necessarily happy. I don’t love everything Handke has written, but I always feel that there’s something at stake, that he’s doing something important, not just writing another book.
Your job entails recommending good reads: how do you balance personal taste with customer nous?
It’s very difficult. Sometimes it hurts to give people want they want. But I guess that’s good practice for fatherhood or something.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I finally read The Leopard the other day, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, 15 years after my mum gave it to me. It’s such a wonderful book, so coyly ironic and funny and sad. I’d also guess it’s where Gabriel García Márquez got the narrative tone for One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Who has the best book cover?
There’s a series of very small, beautiful books from Pushkin Press. Among them are two that probably stand out as being the equal-most-beautiful-book-in-the-world: Régis Debray’s Against Venice (the 2002 edition, not to be confused with the much uglier 2013 edition) and François Augiéras’ Journey of the Dead. I kiss them both most mornings.