A lot of Guarded by Dragons involves being menaced by lawyers...Matthew Evans, for example, the chairman of Faber, suddenly decided letters sent by authors to their editors, even if in a private capacity to their home address, were the exclusive property of the publisher. Gekoski calls this 'dangerous, stupid, tyrannical'...When he first started, the rare book trade was 'stuffy, hidebound and unsophisticated', with phones mostly disconnected because of unpaid bills...The trade has lately been rendered redundant by the Internet...Dusty little secondhand bookshops have disappeared, replaced by AbeBooks and Amazon, with the most recondite volumes competitively priced, available immediately...Gekoski regrets this passionately, believing online sales have led to 'the gradual decline of connoisseurship'...Always excepting he doesn’t have to shove his arm up a cow’s bottom, Gekoski, a fine raconteur, does for bibliomania what James Herriot once did for pets and farm animals...As his previous books, such as Tolkien’s Gown, remind us he has a wealth of quirky and diverting stories, and you feel he could keep entertaining his readers forever.
Should you be one of those incapable of passing a second-hand bookshop without entering, and then, once inside, breathe in that unique perfume of musty old paper, tobacco, leather, tea and biscuit as if it were fine wine...then you will love Rick Gekoski's lively stories of adventures in the book trade...Not that Gekoski in interested in what's merely 'second-hand'...Far from it; he deals in rarities worth thousands and (you feel) can recognise the difference between a first edition signed by James Joyce in a good mood and one signed when he'd just had a quarrel with Nora...Only kidding, of course, but the man knows his stuff...This wonderfully gossipy, sharply written memoir is an antidote to any illusion that the world of books is rarefied and 'gentlemanly'...On the contrary, it's full of wheeler-dealers, thuggish business practices, naked greed, double-dealing and vainglorious delusion...Gekoski's swashbuckling stories reveal a trade that is certainly not for cissies. That's precisely what makes this book as engrossing as it is entertaining.
Guarded by Dragons can be read as a companion piece to Tolkien’s Gown or simply dipped into on its own as a series of sometimes excruciatingly funny chapters and vignettes about the often cloak-and dagger, highly litigious world of book dealing...The world of rare books is often overlooked in industry discourse, where six-figure publishing deals and bestseller leagues tend to dominate...It’s seen as a privileged, closed circle, but Gekoski — whose motto is always to 'have fun' — conveys the sensual glee of browsing with the prospect of money: a form of treasure hunt...The rare book-dealing world is historically heavily male-dominated with the presence of women in Gekoski’s account often as rare as the books...Gekoski describes driving four and half hours from London to Hughes’s home in Devon to return this book, which he had acquired, only to have it snatched off him at the door without so much as the offer of a glass of water. (It was later sheepishly returned.)...Gekoski relishes the company of writers and gossip. His description of Graham Greene in old age — 'little escaped the penetration of those dewy Wedgwood-blue eyes' — is memorably sharp...He rails against the deceptive nature of online bookselling — 'finding rare books was supposed to be hard, heroic even'— and reminisces about the good lunches and rural bookshop visits of old that could yield unforeseen treasures...'Rare books do not have a value but a range of possible values' is his yardstick, and Gekoski proves a genial companion in the thrill of the chase.