Just Go Down to the Road: A Memoir of Trouble and Travel by James Campbell - review by Rosemary Goring

Rosemary Goring

Confessions of a Book Thief

Just Go Down to the Road: A Memoir of Trouble and Travel


Polygon 279pp £14.99

Readers come in all shapes; James Campbell took the form of a thief. As a recalcitrant Glasgow schoolboy in the 1960s, he and Bruce, a friend from the other side of the tracks (Toryglen), would skip classes and go shoplifting, filching from the bookshelves at Boots. One day they overreached themselves by making a stack of the books they intended to pinch. Bruce instructed Jim, ‘If you want it, put it on the pile.’ He has never forgotten that line, because it was later used as evidence in court.

While in police custody, Campbell showed the same chutzpah that has served him throughout his literary career. Giving a false name before his real identity was wrung out of him, he was aware of having made two plain-clothes detectives spend ‘six hours with a pair of zealous readers in a Glasgow famous for violent crime’.

So far, so unexceptional: shoplifting is a teenage rite of passage. What almost happened next, however, shows the depth of Campbell’s dissatisfaction with stifling middle-class life and an attraction to danger that might have blighted his prospects forever. Rather than buckling down to pass exams like his older

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