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Meet the author: Martin Latham, the country’s leading bookseller

Waterstones' longest-serving manager shares his reading tips and recommendations.

Martin Latham in his bookshop
Martin Latham in his bookshop. Image: James Tucker

Martin Latham knows books. Waterstone's longest-serving manager not only boasts an enviable knowledge of reading recommendations, but has made our obsession with books his life's work. Now, those observations form a fascinating history of bookselling – and why people buy books – itself, in Latham's new book, The Bookseller's Tale.

Part-memoir, part-cultural history, part literary love letter, The Bookseller's Tale offers a fascinating dive into the sheer joy of reading, and the machinations that have enabled it around the world and from ancient history on.

As the events of the past year have proved, books, and those who sell them, are never more vital than in times of crisis. While Latham continues to be busy at his shop in Canterbury, he took some time out to tell us about his favourite reads – and reading practices. 

Which writer do you most admire and why?

Charles Dickens, because of his inclusivity, conscience and humour.

What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?

Bookselling, because you really never know what is going to happen next. You can go to work miserable and be inspired and invigorated or moved by 10am. Or meet a roofer or struggling new mum with strange tales.

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times.

Crash, by JG Ballard, for the beauty and surprising but truthful English, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

What the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

With regards to writing, from Brian Jacques: just write, make mistakes and know that everyone can write – just start with "Once Upon a Time". And, from Dan Snow, who has small kids: use 6am to 9am.

What makes you most happy?

Writing and time with my wife and children. Meditation. Running a good event and seeing others happy.

What’s your biggest regret?

Rushing.

What’s your ideal writing scenario?

Writing in a fairly full university library such as SOAS or the University of Kent, with coffee on hand, and nobody in the world knowing where I am.

...and your ideal reading one?

Reading in bed in the morning.

What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year?

The Recovering, Intoxication and its Aftermath by Lesley Jamison.

What inspired you to write your book?

Customer encounters, the refuge which bookshops are for me , and other bookselling characters, as well as the non-fiction writers such as Maggie Nelson, Olivia Laing, TE Lawrence, Anthony Bourdain, George Orwell and Viv Albertine who tell it close to the truth, rather than the glorified Wikipedia which a lot of non-fiction writing is.

The Bookseller's Tale by Martin Latham is available for pre-order now.

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