Keith Gascoigne


In praise of

Scarthin Books


quick sketch of Scarthin Bookshop c. 2004More and more bookshops are closing and for a variety of reasons: the rise in cheap ebooks, the rise of corporate chains which undercut independent book sellers in their fight for more and more customers (who seem to want more and more trivial garbage to read1). This is not only a shame but in many ways a crime against knowledge and learning in our increasingly downwardly-dumbed society.

My mother called me ‘bookworm’ when I was around eight years of age and borrowing countless books every week from the local library (I lied about my age). I knew then that the State school wasn’t helping me to learn how to learn and neither was the State-controlled Grammar school later; I was even told by one of the so-called ‘masters’ there, ‘You are not here to think.’ My thoughts were something like, ‘Oh, pardon my misunderstanding; I thought that thinking was what education was all about?’ I left school as soon as I reached fifteen years of age and educated myself in the local libraries and small book shops while doing menial jobs to survive.

In my 30s, I, like many others, was working increasingly madly to earn a living. I was sick and tired of it but the main thing which kept me going through all this politically-engineered control, relying on our ignorance and stupidity, was books and reading them.

Soon after moving to Matlock Bath I discovered the Cromford version of ‘Aladdin’s cave’ called ‘Scarthin Books’ and for me it was paradise lost and regained and almost on my doorstep. There were shelves of books outside in the doorway and an honesty box if the shop was closed. How refreshing that was.

All the spare money I had (not much) I spent on books there, mainly on Buddhism, philosophy, right living, ‘spirituality’, ecology and local history by authors such as Thich Nhat Hahn, HH The Dalai Lama, Andrew Harvey, E F Schumacher et al. Worn down from working, I read and read until one year, 1983 (it is pencilled inside the cover and engraved on my mind) I bought the book which changed my life:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Robert M Pirsig

‘What on earth was he talking about?’ was my immediate reaction although deep down in my inner core I knew that this book was talking to me. I simply didn’t have the skills to understand it. I read it through three times until I started to get a glimmer of what Pirsig was discussing; I had, after all, a basic grasp of Buddhist principles and philosophy from my previous reading.

I realized that I needed a higher level of education than the one I had then so I took a certificate course in English Studies at Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University) and soaked it up like a sponge. It wasn’t easy working full-time and spending a day each week in Sheffield but that short session with other mature searchers became the focus of my life and any books that I needed were bought at Scarthin Books which, for a while, became my second home or, in a more important way, my first.

Eventually, I left to live near the university and continue my education there. The flame had been lit and I was well and truly burning. Every year I reread ZAMM until I not only understood everything that Pirsig was saying but I disagreed on a couple of points that he had made and could defend them. Now that was an education and it all started at Scarthin Books.

When I hear of small book shops closing and libraries too I feel both sad and angry. The first evil act that all tyrants do is to stop people educating themselves so that they can no longer see the true horror of what the tyrants are forcing on them. They ‘burn the books’ which inform and educate. All State ‘education’ is now training to fit into their corrupting State and, at the same time, producing the state that most people have allowed themselves to walk into, like the walking, unknowing and unseeing dead2. This is happening now in England and most other western countries in what used to be called ‘our’ world. Don’t just take my word for it - open your eyes and see.

Independent book stores like Scarthin Books are well worth protecting by the people who use them – even more than the churches which are really churches of unreason, peddling an outdated and dangerous belief system for the mindless consumption of the masses. Book shops are churches of real education: reason, considered thought, intelligence, right-living, excellence (in the true meaning of the word) and are essential for a sane, free and healthy society, which, as the poet said, ‘We have not got’.


1 Read The Spirit of Prague by Ivan Klima for comments on this.
2 Read Charles Tart about the ‘walking dead’. (I’ve forgotten which book it is in. Read them all).
Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as well and understand it. It is important that more people do - and live it.