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Rolling Stones Stories

Keith Richards sparks rush for rare book after singing its praises on radio

Keith Richards sparks rush for rare book after singing its praises on radio

Abebooks reports a run on old editions of James Norman Hall’s out-of-print Doctor Dogbody’s Leg after Rolling Stones guitarist picks it as a Desert Island read.

Let it read ... Keith Richards

Let it read ... Keith Richards

An obscure collection of short stories that sees a one-legged sailor wax lyrical on the various ways in which he might have lost his limb has become the most searched-for title on books marketplace Abebooks, following a tip from Keith Richards.

The Rolling Stones guitarist, upon whom Johnny Depp loosely based his drunk pirate Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, picked James Norman Hall’s story collection Doctor Dogbody’s Leg as his book of choice when he appeared on Desert Island Discs. Published in 1940 and out of print, the book’s author is better known for the novel Mutiny on the Bounty, which he co-wrote with Charles Nordhoff.

Doctor Dogbody’s Leg is set in a Portsmouth tavern called the Cheerful Tortoise, where a Royal Navy surgeon tells a series of stories about how he lost his leg during the Napoleonic wars.

“I chose it basically because it’s a collection of stories about this guy. He’s a sailor, 18th century, Portsmouth harbour, but he’s got one leg. And every time he turns up at the table he has a different story about how he lost it. And they’re all plausible as well,” Richards told Kirsty Young on 25 October.

Abebooks spokesman Richard Davies said the site had been “steadily selling copies ever since”. “We’re down to the last 10 now,” he said, with the book the most searched-for title on AbeBooks.co.uk, and the most expensive copy to sell so far being a signed 1940 edition for £100.

“I would love to hear this collection of stories as an audiobook with Richards doing the narration. That would be fun. Perhaps the book could also be a Johnny Depp movie?” wrote Davies on Abebooks’s blog, where he praised the book and said that its author was a “remarkable person”.

A listener who wished to remain anonymous said she had attempted to buy a copy as a christmas present for her husband, a huge Keith Richards fan, minutes after the broadcast. “As I was searching for a copy online the price kept going up and up as so many other people were obviously doing the same thing,” she said. “I ended up paying £35 for it.”

Hall fought in the first world war, and went on to live on Tahiti where he wrote adventure stories with Nordhoff, as well as novels, autobiography and poetry on his own. In a 1978 article by Robert Roulston, he was described as “a rare and perhaps unparalleled phenomenon in American literature”, who was “one of the best-known writers in the English-speaking world” for the last two decades of his life. “No mere popular entertainer, he wrote in virtually every genre, was never less than a skilled craftsman, and often dealt with important subjects in an effective manner,” wrote Roulston.

Hall died in 1951 in Arue, Tahiti. His grave bears a line of verse he wrote in Iowa at the age of 11: “Look to the Northward stranger, just over the hillside there. Have you in your travels seen a land more passing fair?”

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