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No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy: Moving memoir on the value of books

Book review: Hodkinson draws attention to ignored talent from working classes

The title was a comment by a suspicious bookseller the young Hodkinson once visited
No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy
No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy
Author: Mark Hodkinson
ISBN-13: 978-1786899972
Publisher: Canongate
Guideline Price: £16.99

Mark Hodkinson is an accomplished writer, a former Times columnist and owner of Pomona Books publishing house. He seeks to draw wider attention to the north of England’s ignored talent, often from working-class backgrounds such as his own, all of which is beautifully illustrated in his moving new memoir.

The title No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy is taken from a comment by a suspicious bookseller the young Hodkinson once visited. Low expectations were also shown by teachers in a tired education system; he emerged with five CSEs, the poor relation of O-levels. A sceptical careers master directed his literary ambitions towards journalism; this book proves he learned a lot from it, though he notes that the regional papers where he learned his trade are disappearing into the web.

Sickbed reading nurtured his early interests but he got healthier and had good friends. These include the fragile Peter, who eventually took his own life (a continuing italicised counterpoint through this book recounts his grandfather’s mental disintegration). This might have been a book about success in many ways, but it is sad in more: in one vignette of the aspiring author on his way to a bookseller, he passes two glued-up schoolmates unable even to speak intelligibly.

Hodkinson pursued his own tastes, a search for authenticity he found reflected in punk; the characters Holden Caulfield and Billy Casper were so important to him that he’d publish a biography of JD Salinger and work by Barry Hines. Later, his reading of Camus’s The Outsider and DH Lawrence’s The Trespasser seem emblematic both of greater literary sophistication and his feelings about this world. But the thrust of this book is not so self-centred, its trajectory rather from an age when drive and talent gave people like Hodkinson a small chance in publishing, to now when such chances have shrunk much further.


Still, there remains reading: Hodkinson considers himself “one third of well-read”; a victim of BABLE (“Books Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy”), piles of them tower throughout his home. A therapist described his relationship to books as “a fantastic expression of hope”. We need people capable of that more than ever.

A work of triumphs and disasters, No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy ultimately confirms the value of books and reading away from the literature industry. I loved it.