Book Reviews Roving Reader

Black Ivory, Black Settlers and the Phantom Book Rescuer

Image of a pair of glasses on a book

The Roving Reader Files

Books are like stray animals  –  they’re looking for a good home…

The shelves of the Centre bear evidence that someone out there agrees with me. The other day I came across two books, inscribed by the hand of a kind-hearted individual who, it seems, scoured public library book sales for any waifs or strays needing tender loving care and rehabilitation.

Well-written and researched popular histories, particularly on the subjects of race and slavery, rightly attract many readers, and public libraries have over the years tried to cater for their needs.

Black Ivory. A History of British Slavery first appeared in 1992. Written by James Walvin (now Emeritus Professor of History at York University), it was praised as an example of thorough scholarship that was at the same time excellent literary history – beautifully, sensitively, and creatively written. Readers in Bury obviously agreed, because by the time our ‘Phantom Book Rescuer’ found a paperback copy and lovingly inscribed the flyleaf –

Rescued from Bury Library Book Sale Feb 2003

– it had become well-thumbed and dog-eared, with a couple of photo pages falling out.

Inscription inside book

The Phantom Book Rescuer had struck before. Black Settlers in Britain 1555-1958 (by Nigel File and Chris Power) was designed for children and first appeared as a Heinemann Educational Book in 1981, but over the years it had deservedly won a wider readership amongst older people due to its clear style and generous illustrations. Longsight Library’s discarded copy found its way into the Centre inscribed-

Rescued from Book Sale Longsight Library 1997

Just pause for a moment. Isn’t it heart-warming to imagine such an individual, fired with zeal to save unwanted books from oblivion, gaining satisfaction from giving them a new lease of life? Our Phantom Book Rescuer might well have been the proud proprietor of what might be termed the first ‘Stray Books Home’…

If anyone has any idea who this book-loving Rescuer is or was, do let us know. And if we come across any more of his/her finds, we’ll certainly issue an update.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

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