When I was eighteen, during my gap year, I worked in a boutique bookshop in Hampstead, to earn money towards a six-month trip to Australia. I didn’t earn much (£46.33 a week after tax) and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I lasted six weeks – a record length of time for me at that age.My grandmother was staying with us at the time and she had said she would walk up the high street to visit me in the shop.‘She’ll never make it,’ said my mother. ‘The high street is too steep.’ Grandma was overweight and I had never seen her walk further than from the car to the house. So I didn’t expect her. But one afternoon she appeared at the shop door, leaning on her wooden walking stick, tartan-skirted, her short grey hair slightly darkened by exertion. She was out of breath, but pleased to be there and she smiled, almost shyly. It felt conspiratorial and, for the first time, I felt that she had a sense of pride, both in herself for having made it, and in me.
|The shop was, as usual, empty that afternoon and we started talking. She had found amongst the shelves New Grub Street by George Gissing, first published in 1891. I had never heard of it, or him, but Grandma held the book and spoke with such zeal about how she had loved this book and its author. In fact, she said, she had written her dissertation about him.|