> Skip to content
  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9781529177121
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $24.99

Once Upon a Tome

The misadventures of a rare bookseller




Welcome to Sotheran's, the oldest, most bonkers bookshop in the country, with its bizarre clientele, suspicious cupboards, unlabelled keys, poisoned books, some things that aren't even books, and deeply eccentric staff. Think Diary of a Bookseller but with quite a lot more Bernard Black.

Some years ago, Oliver Darkshire stepped into the hushed interior of Henry Sotheran Ltd on Sackville Street (est. 1761) to interview for their bookselling apprenticeship, a decision which has bedevilled him ever since. He'd intended to stay for a year before launching into some less dusty, better remunerated career. Unfortunately for him, the alluring smell of old books and the temptation of a management-approved afternoon nap proved irresistible. Soon he was balancing teetering stacks of first editions, fending off nonagenarian widows with a ten-foot pole and trying not to upset the store's resident ghost (the late Mr Sotheran had unfinished business when he was hit by that tram).

For while Sotheran's might be a treasure trove of literary delights, it sings a siren song to eccentrics. There are not only colleagues whose tastes in rare items range from the inspired to the mildly dangerous, but also zealous collectors seeking knowledge, curios, or simply someone with whom to hold a four hour conversation about books bound in human skin. By turns unhinged and earnestly dog-eared, Once Upon a Tome is the rather colourful 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.

  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9781529177121
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $24.99

About the author

Oliver Darkshire

Oliver Darkshire is 28, and his life as a struggling bookseller and writer is exactly what his careers instructor warned him would happen if he didn't pay attention. He lives in Manchester with his husband and a house full of books he actively tried not to collect.

Praise for Once Upon a Tome

A wonderful, eccentric love letter to books and the people who love them... A must read for anyone who has ever lost a few hours in a second hand bookshop or been tutted at by a strangely dressed proprietor.

Fergus Butler-Gallie, bestselling author of <i>A Field Guide to the English Clergy</i>

Peculiarly hilarious and/or hilariously peculiar!

William Gibson

An enchanting billet-doux to an arcane and eccentric world. Every page is a pleasure.

Lindsey Fitzharris, bestselling author of <i>The Facemaker</i>

Utterly charming

Tom Holland, bestselling author of <i>Dominion</i>

Darkshire is an exciting new voice brimming with self-effacing charm. If you consider yourself a book aficionado, this is your Coachella.

Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Sirs, thank you for your extremely entertaining book, which I have enjoyed most heartily. The anecdotes about the bookselling profession were as enlightening as they were amusing. Unfortunately I have mislaid the book in question as there are honestly too many books here. I mean, they're everywhere. Teetering piles of the things. If ever I see it again I'll try and say something nice about it, but by then it will undoubtedly be too late. Yours apologetically,

Neil Gaiman

Beneath the bemusement and occasionally explosive irritation, there is a very kindly book here, about unlikely friendships and little epiphanies.

The Scotsman

Seeking a Christmas present for that bibliophilic relative who has seemingly read everything? It's right here.

Financial Times

I love bookseller memoirs, and this is a laugh-out-loud exemplar... A very entertaining journey into the dimly lit heart of rare bookselling.

Garth Nix, award-winning author of <i>The Left-Handed Booksellers of London</i>

He writes very engagingly and extremely honestly... His sardonic wit runs through the book in a similar fashion to Shaun Bythell... But here there's more of a mischievous Terry Pratchett tone... Uproariously funny

Fine Books Magazine

A book lover's delight

Irish Examiner

Once Upon A Tome is an utter treat for those of us who prefer books and reading to any other activity - the oddballs and obsessives who, like waggish Oliver Darkshire, never easily mixed with other children at school; who loathed compulsory games and sport; who have never 'texted' or 'tweeted'; and who require a lot of floor space, 'an indecent amount of square footage', to house our ever-expanding hoard.

Book of the Week, Daily Mail

With its mixture of exaggerated misanthropy and eloquent surrealism, Once Upon a Tome calls to mind the cult television sitcom Black Books, albeit with more emphasis on matters of genuine interest to bibliophiles.

Times Literary Supplement

Mr. Darkshire is a witty observer .... All of this-the craft and customs of an esoteric enterprise; the delights and irritations of buying and selling-is conveyed in charming short chapters with titles like "Kerfuffles," and in a prim tone perfectly suited to Mr. Darkshire's subject.

Wall Street Journal