More Than It Could Chew

First published in 1936, just three years before the outbreak of World War 2, “Eyeless in Gaza” is possibly Aldous Huxley’s most acclaimed work. His familiar themes of the tension between emotional and intellectual lives of his privileged hedonistic characters are explored in depth with his usual insightful knowledge of these self-centred human beings. He also deals with the conflict between warfare and pacifism in a far-sighted way which resonates uncannily with our modern conflict between self-seeking hate and generous love. Sexuality in this work is seldom generous, sometimes manipulative, and often short-lived.

The language and the dialogue is always fluent with much easy, poetic, description, and occasional adventurous episodes.

I finished reading my somewhat careworn first edition today.

The remnants of the green shield logo of Boots Book-lovers’ Library and what looks like a peel-resistant borrowers record inside the back one suggest that my copy began life as an item on those shelves.

Wikipedia tells us that:

Boots Book-Lovers’ Library was a circulating library run by Boots the Chemist, a chain of pharmacies in the United Kingdom. It began in 1898, at the instigation of Jesse Boot‘s wife Florence, and closed in 1966, following the passage of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which required councils to provide free public libraries.

The lending libraries were established within branches of Boots across the country, employing dedicated library staff whose training included examinations on both librarianship and literature.[2] Boots’ libraries displayed books for browsing on open shelves[3] at a time when many public libraries had closed access. A catalogue of the books available was first published in 1904.

Subscriptions were available in Classes A and B, the latter being restricted to borrowing books at least one year old, as well as a premium ‘On Demand’ subscription.[4]Boots Booklovers Library edition of The Saint in Europe

Books carried the ‘green shield’ logo on the front and an eyelet at the top of the spine.[5] Membership tokens were rectangles of ivorine[6]with a string similar to a Treasury tag; the string could be secured through the eyelet so that the token acted as a bookmark.[7]

Boots also briefly reprinted classic books at the start of the 20th century under the imprint ‘Pelham Library’,[8] named after the flagship Boots shop on Pelham Street in Nottingham,[9] and later sold books as ‘Boots the Booksellers’.’

My mother was regularly taking my brother and me to Wimbledon Public Library from the late 1940s, ( so the 1964 Act mentioned above obviously had no effect on our town.

Like dogs marking their territory, previous readers had left deposits throughout the pages. The burn marks on page 17 we assumed had been left by a pipe smoker – they singed through three pages; other small greasy spots, about which it was best not to speculate too much, filtered through an equal number of pages; I wondered whether any of the numerous finger prints of varying hues had been held on any national data bases.

Nick began to make headway on the coloured walls in the sitting room, whilst adding coats to the white and to the ceiling.

We left him to it this afternoon and shopped at Ferndene Farm Shop where there was no queue, then took a short drive into the vicinity of Burley.

I wandered among the woodland on the outskirts. The tree fungus sprouts from the fallen tree. Roughly in the bottom centre of the last picture can be discerned

a bouncing squirrel on its way to climb a small holly carrying a chestnut which looked rather more than it could chew.

The spreading oak tree on the way down the hill into the village now wears a golden cape. The Queen’s Head is Covid-closed.

The pool on Forest Road has completely filled up now, and was reflecting nicely in the late afternoon sun.

Autumn leaves rested beneath the water.

On Bisterne Close a young foal was undertaking an apprenticeship in hedge clipping.

We have become Elizabeth’s bubble; she joined us for dinner which consisted of Jackie’s cheese-topped shepherd’s pie; crunchy cauliflower and carrots; firm green beans; and meaty gravy. Cherry pie and cream was to follow. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden while Elizabeth and I drank more of the Faugeres, which involved opening another bottle.


  1. Ι think i read that book when I was at school—I loved it at the time, but can’t remember much about it. Worth re-reading? Also loved the squirrel photo!

  2. Great shot of the greedy squirrel, Derrick. Inspired by you, I have started reading “Eyeless in Gaza” last night, so I will refrain from comments until I finish it. The story of Boots libraries is very interesting, though.

  3. Rather intriguing pictures today, Derrick.
    Could you tell me what sort of cheese Jackie put on her Sheppard’s Pie? That’s an interesting idea.

  4. Literature, history, and nature all in this post! I like that squirrel photo, and I chuckled at your remark about the fingerprints. Many of my cookbooks have stains on the pages. I once had a library book that smelled so strongly of cigarette smoke that I returned it unread.
    It’s nice that Elizabeth is part of your bubble.

  5. What an interesting history about Boots Pharmacies and their library offerings in the 20th century. More of a one-stop-shop back then. I did cringe a bit when I started thinking about a grease stain through a number of pages, LOL. Maybe enjoying a read while eating a nice slice of homemade apple pie. Our libraries aren’t open right now due to covid. It’s such a shame since many with less means go there to use the computers or watch movies. I would suppose most people think libraries of no significance these days, what with a computer in most pockets. But not everyone can afford a smartphone and/or the monthly fees, which in Canada are double what most G7 countries pay. Say hello to your furry friend next time from Kelly in Canada, ha! He’s cute! xK

  6. Can you guess which photo I think would make a fun and beautiful puzzle, Derrick? The spreading oak tree with the golden cape! Jigsaw puzzles were hard to find during our Covid lockdown. Let me know if you need me to ship over a few. 🙂

  7. How come I didn’t know that Boots had a library? My dad was an avid reader and always had a stack of library books but I never gave it a moment’s thought!
    My kitchen is quite dark – it’s an L shaped room incorporating a kitchen/dining/living area.and it doesn’t get any sun until lunchtime. I foolishly chose Farrow and Ball Elephant’s breath as the paint! It’s a great colour but far too dark for the room. My plan once things return to a sort of normality is to paint most of it white.

  8. I really enjoyed reading about the Boots Book-lovers’ Library, as well as your commentary on evidence of prior readers left in your book.
    I particularly like the gray of the squirrel against the green holly leaves. I hope he doesn’t gag on that chestnut.

  9. I love the color of the wall. So calm. The pictures are, as usual, stunning. Have you ever thought about putting together a photo book? Just wondering. 🙂

  10. So many lovely photos! The reflections are amazingly clear, and I can barely tell the underwater leaves are underwater. Page 17 was interesting, including the marks left by previous readers.

  11. I had trouble getting the photos to load, but can see them now. They are a beautiful set, Derrick and Jackie! The library history is fascinating. My maternal grandmother was a librarian. I never met her, she died when my mother was 19.

  12. Trees, such beautiful arboreal photographs – including the submerged leaves. The closure of libraries (ours have not opened since March) and conditions which prevent our Book Club meetings have left me with a dearth of novels to read. I have turned to our superb collection of non-fiction and have learned a lot about topics ranging from the Lumber Jills and the role of the Women’s Institute during the Second World War to the problems relating to law and order in the United States. Secondhand books that come my way generally contain a trace of former readers – which I don’t mind as long as they have not been scribbled in.

  13. That is an interesting account of the Boots Book-Lovers’ Library. I am thankful to you for the brief introduction to “Eyeless in Gaza”. Those are beautiful photographs of the trees and their reflections. I loved the leaves under the water. They kind of symbolise humans under a pandemic.

  14. I love the photos Derrick. But, I want to comment one old library books. A pristine first edition of a classic is great. Might be worth a bit at a pinch. But the borrowers’ list at the back is gold. All you can say is, ‘I am not alone. You read it too. Did you like it? What etc etcetera et bloody cetera. You won’t buy one in a booksellers. You only find them in charity shops for one and tuppence ha’penny.

  15. Glad you have Elizabeth in your bubble!!! 🙂 She makes your already wonderful bubble more wonderful!
    That books looks well-loved/well-read. 🙂
    Such interesting history about the Boots Book-Lover’s Library. I think all libraries are wonderful no matter what their size. To have the privilege to borrow books and escape into them is such a joy!
    I’ve been in HUGE public or university libraries and in little ones that are in places like a hospital waiting room. 🙂
    HA! Love the squirrel! When he got home he probably announced his treasure by saying, “Urm…ma…urrm…agg…” And his Mum reprimanded, “Son! Don’t talk with your mouth full!” 😉 😀
    Love your autumn leaves, colours, reflections, trees!!! Gorgeous!!! 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  16. Important to have a social bubble! Also, funny to think of readers leaving their marks on books. Alas, I do, even thought I try not to. Wonderful job that Nick is doing!

  17. Now, I had no idea ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ was a book – so that’s what Kate Bush was singing about! I am now inspired to read it, anyway.
    I’ve also just learned about Boots offering a library service.

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