i’ll have that one please

Book collecting is an addictive space. I think I continue to tread carefully but occasionally disappear down rabbit holes. Depending on my mood I have, on occasion, bought unknown books in special editions, because I like reading special editions. This is a dangerous, and expensive, path. But it reflects somewhat the challenges of the special editions market.

I recall reading years ago, some advice about buying art as investments. The advice was simply “buy what you like.” The thinking being that if it gains in value then it’s worthwhile but if it doesn’t gain in value, then you still have something you like.

Some new books

With books, I am an addict for owning and collecting. For me, the investment value is irrelevant; I like to read pretty books and I like to have pretty books on my shelves. At times the investment value can be bewildering. I have stock standard, albeit limited/special editions, that I’ve paid $50 or so for, which are now worth close to $1,000. This was not intentional and the vagaries of the market scare me a little.

Science fiction and fantasy are my faves and it’s a curious market. Lots of folk on good incomes working in computer stuff who also like scifi and fantasy tends to be a large group. I’ve noticed increasingly over the last decade or so, a rise in interest in special books and figurines and so forth. The internet of course has vastly improved findability: if it’s not online, it cannot be purchased.

A print run of 500, nicely bound, editions of a book used to be sufficient. These days, such runs tend to sell out quickly. The audience are no longer local but global. COVID-19 lockdowns seems to have accelerated that process.

This means that if a nice edition of a book is announced and I’ve not read it, nor the author, I may well buy that special edition. Because if I do get round to reading it, often as an ebook, and love it, then the special edition will likely have sold out. I have been caught out a few times and it’s not always possible to recover, or at least attain the title somewhat affordably. Thus, on occasion, I have been buying books on spec, in nice editions, just in case. This does not sit right with me. Yet they are nice and I have no regrets. So far.

a lack of progress

My reading has not been fab in recent months. I like working from home but I don’t think the restriction of lockdown is working well for me. It’s sort of curious that I can work from home easily when I know I can go anywhere at the drop of a hat – “have passport, will travel” was my catchphrase. Working from home when I can’t go anywhere far is a little challenging. I feel my world closing down to a few routines. Stepping outside those routines is increasingly uncomfortable.

I live in a city where new covid cases are in single figures per day. Realistically, life should be approaching normal.

My reading has dropped off completely. I struggle to read anything of substance. I have several books underway, some even predate lockdown. I lie in bed at night and play wordish games on my phone but struggle to pick up a book, print or digital. I switch off the light and go straight into a sound sleep.

I sleep well. Snore well. Snore too well for the rest of the house I suspect.

I seem to work well though my work day is changing. Up in time to start work at 10, an hour’s commute replaced by an extra, luxurious hour in bed. I’ve always had lunch closer to 2 than 1…but now it’s usually post 2. Of late, I’m finding around 4-5, my attention slows and disappears. I spend an hour or so on the playstation and my focus returns and I do a chunk more work. Playing a game seems to invigorate mentally in a way that watching a movie or tv does not.

My entire job can be done from home. I have been here before, when I was working vendor-side. It’s different now. I am amused by the idea, once again, of being able to do my job from wherever I am, independent of the building I work for. I work for the State. I support the State.

When I re-read that bit about the “State”, I need to say I am referring to the State of New South Wales, and not a state of mind and not the “state” as some sort of governmental control. I work for the benefit of NSW and to support the information needs of NSW folk. It’s not a creepy thing. No echoes of 1984…yet.

As is not uncommon, I have digressed somewhat from the post I started to write. This was supposed to be simply, a list of books I have on the go, so here is that list:

  • Use of Weapons by Ian M Banks – this is a Subterranean Press edition that arrived prior to lockdown and was underway, yet I haven’t quite got back to it
  • Embassytown by China Miéville – another Subterranean Press edition underway pre lockdown
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage – a poet describes his experiences walking the Pennine Way going in the opposite direction to everybody else. I want to walk the Pennine Way one day. This book is fab and I am halfway through, my partner loaned me the physical book though I later bought the e version so I could turn off the bedside light. I’m about halfway through.
  • The Sandman Book II by Neil Gaiman – I am re-reading my beautiful deluxe compendium editions of the Sandman chronicles.
  • Masters of Science Fiction: Kate Wilhelm – a double volume collection from Centipede Press of short stories by Kate Wilhelm. I am buying all in this series.
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – this is the second book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series. The ideas are good, character development not so fab, Chinese perspective is outside my usual experience. Also a Subterranean Press edition.
  • R is for Rocket/S is for Science by Ray Bradbury – a master of the short story. Possibly one of my favourite short story writers, though that I think may require another post.

Too many on the boil and another arrived today that I really want to read again. A book I read long ago. That will be a post for another day.

shelf arrangement

My partner once heard of someone with 35,000 books who needed to see their books in order to feel complete. I had my books in boxes for a decade and my mind felt their absence. A gap in who I am. I would occasionally rummage through the boxes in search of one, or in search of any. I have a need to see my books or at least know my books are seeable/accessible to feel at ease.

Living room

Every time I move house, I pack and unpack, play with arrangement, change. In my flat, the main cases, and others were in the large, expansive open plan living/lounge/dining space. In my previous place they were in a large bed/games/spare space. In our new place the main cases are in the lounge.

The main cases are a set of 4 built by my grandfather as a wedding present to my parents. I suspect that means they’re probably around 60 years old now. Deep shelves on the bottom to support shallower shelves on top. Dad used to have them side by side but I’ve been fond of interlocking.

The bookcases my grandfather built fit certain sizes of books. I have many books that are a little too tall or a lot too tall. So I have other shelves in other rooms. I occasionally wonder if I can add glass doors to the shelves to provide a little protection. Open shelves attract dust and I am not good at dusting, nor getting round to dusting.

The placement of books can be fluid at times. Some of my books are even in alphabetical order, though some are arranged by publisher or prettiness. Some things remain consistent, the bottom 3 shelves work well for the bulk of my science fiction including the entirety of the Pratchett oeuvre. I continue to be happy with the kids books on the left. I’ve weeded some in the last move but Trixie and Biggles remain. Travel is working off to the right, just at the edge of possible…as is the idea of travel.

Main bookcase in new home

This time I’ve got a chunk of fancy books front and centre. Previously the fancy were in the bedroom, some still are. In part due to shelf height though the Capt America omnibuses seem to have made themselves at home in the bedroom across multiple houses. The fancy books are pretty and I don’t like them hidden away. They should be seen and touched and read. Have wine and coffee spilt on them, crumbs caught in them…chocolate smears.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The main cases exist for access but also as a space for me to stand and stare and ponder. I seem to achieve a certain state of ease in the presence of my books, they free my mind a little. That’s as distinct from the mental simulation of reading them. Their presence matters. A foundation of sorts. Late at night, I sometimes stand in front of my books, pausing with one or two, othertimes the mass. Occasionally thinking on the books, occasionally thinking on other thoughts entirely.

a list of folios

The last post was supposed to be a list of books I wanted from The Folio Society. Instead it was a late night digression down other pathways of my mind. Here is a list of interesting things that I wouldn’t mind having. Of course, it would also be useful if I could win powerball or some such lottery. So far I have been unsuccessful in that direction. Someone suggested that my chances would improve if I actually bought a ticket but I fail to see the logic of that assertion.

Anyways, here is a list of books from The Folio Society that I wouldn’t mind getting:

  • Dune by Frank Herbert – my preference is for the Centipede Press edition but I am tempted by this one too
  • The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill – I’ve seen an old movie which was based on this and it’d be nice to read the book itself
  • The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill – I have read this and own it in paperback. I also love the movie that was based on it. It’s on sale at the moment so extra tempting.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I have a nice edition pre-ordered already so this is now less tempting but…
  • Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle – the book on which the movies were based, I think I read it long ago and may own a dodgy secondhand paperback
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin – possibly my favourite work by Le Guin. To my shame I am yet to read The Left Hand of Darkness but do have an Easton Press edition
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman – I have read and own a first edition of this but the Folio Edition is more colourful than their usual fare
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Ship/A Scanner Darkly by Philip k Dick – colourful and interesting approach to joining two books together. I have an ageing paperback of Androids that cries out for a nice edition. I loved it as a teenager and I loved it as a movie, Bladerunner. I keep hoping that someone produces a really fancy edition one day, Subterranean Press has published all his short stories
  • Small Gods by Pterry* Pratchett – possibly one of my favourite books by Pratchett. I own almost all his works in first edition hardcovers, with covers by the inimitable Josh Kirby. They are perfect. I am a little curious as to what folio has done with it and they have done Mort as well, possibly a couple of others. *the spelling of “Pterry” I vaguely recall as an old humour in alt.fan.pratchett
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – I haven’t read the book and it’s been adapted to movies a few times and I remember watching The Omega Man in my teens. Will Smith starred in a later version I also loved.
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn – dear Kuhn and his paradigmatic shifts in telling the story of the progression of science. I read it, studied it, own it in paperback. It is a key work in the historiography of science. I don’t really agree with his philosophical thrust and lean more toward a Feyerabendian approach.
  • On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin – a pivotal work that I have never read in its entirety. It would be fab to do so with a nice edition

That seems a good spot to stop. Again unexpected as it was only supposed to be a list of books but ended up being something more. A list of books and the reasons for wanting the books and the value I place on them. It feeds a little into that imaginary list of things I collect and broadens its reach. Ultimately the books I buy represent some sense of things that have piqued my interest. Not necessarily representative of me as that is perhaps a broader topic, or I’d like to hope that I am more than my books.

a rumination on folio books

In my last post, I started to think about books I want nicer editions of and the sorts of things I want to collect…though as is usual for me…alas…I got distracted by the items and my thinking on bigger things was rather shallow. This post too is also shallow, and continues on by listing a bunch of interesting things from The Folio Society that I’d like to own. I oscillate between bad librarian and good librarian. I fail to borrow books from libraries yet at the same time I see value in cultivating collections that are of interest.

My work as a librarian is also associated with purchasing and acquiring collections. Luckily the work I do professionally does not intersect with the collecting I do personally. I have made it known at work that I do collect books and the areas in which I collect. At work, it is about ensuring that acquired material meets the information seeking needs of residents of NSW and aligns with the Library’s Collection Development Policy. However there is often a difference between what the Library collects and the sorts of questions that folk seek to explore. That describes a little, the tension between the Library as a collector of a history, and the Library as a reference service. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes not.

Hmmm I have digressed and perhaps this post is a little less shallow than is my wont. This was supposed to be a simple post, listing books I wanted to buy from The Folio Society. There are memories here too. What I like about folio society books is that they are usually nice printed and bound, with slipcase…I don’t recall whether they had a ribbon or not. They tend to be a little utilitarian, lacking colour and life in their physicality…I s’pose leaving that to the dreams and visions that the text inspires. They do look good on a shelf and I occasionally wonder what my books would look like if I ever attempted to arrange by publisher. Book arrangement…hmmm there’s a blog idea for another day.

On memories. My dad, late in life I think, took on a subscription to the Folio Society which required him to purchase 4 releases each year, usually at a discounted rate. He ended up with a bunch of nice books, many of which I have retained, and here and there, ensured that his friends ended up with a few too. They were too nice to box up and send to the Salvos. They needed to be assigned a home of folk that knew and loved dad.

Oddly, I never got round to taking out a membership myself, or buying them new. I have bought a bunch here and there, secondhand but in good nick. As special editions go, they’re not too expensive for the basic ones; at minimum, they are a well bound hardcover with a good printing aesthetic. They have regular sales where you can pick up nice books for reasonable prices, there is even a sale at the moment.

This post was supposed to be a simple post listing interesting titles from Folio that I might want. This post is no longer that post and adjustments have been made. Perhaps the next post will be that simple list….

future pretty books

I was pondering my post the other day about refraining from buying a pretty book (1984 by George Orwell) and that sense of things that would fit that list in my head. The list does not actually exist and if it did would be a in a state of constant flux, each book I come across, assessed and re-assessed. Some seem instant “must-haves”, others not.

I recently bought the Subterranean Press edition of Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks. While I like it and Banks generally, I don’t think I actually want to collect them in special editions. So I’ll stop at one. Honest :-) 1984 from Suntup Editions was very nice but I don’t want a special edition of it though I came close to ordering it.

The Martian Chronicles - in slipcase

I have ordered Suntap’s Artist edition of Fahrenheit 451 as it is Ray Bradbury and I think is a key work of the 20th century. More importantly it feels like it would fit my imaginary list. I already have a few nice editions of Bradbury’s work:

I usually prefer limited over lettered, in part because lettered are too expensive and also sell out really quickly. I am happy to have nice books and they don’t necessarily have to be the best or most expensive. Like 1984, there’s a couple of other classics I am umming and aahing over:

Both of these are classic texts done up in pretty ways. Jekyll and Hyde is somewhat affordable while Dracula not so much. Both editions look interesting through I am unsure about the “glow-in-the-dark” features of the latter. I have some liking for vampire novels but can’t quite commit to these either. Not yet. I alas missed out on Centipede’s release of The Delicate Dependency and am occasionally tempted to track it down on secondhand markets.

Dune. Frank Herbert. Mmmmm…I have an Easton Press edition of this that was felt nice to read as well. I am keen for a nicer edition and ideally, keen for a nice set of all 6. Folio Society has produced a nice slipcased edition which I’m tempted by and I read a rumour somewhere that they may be able to publish the all the Dune novels. Centipede Press also have a nice edition of Dune in the works though it will be significantly more expensive. However I love Centipede’s releases the most and will aim for it.

Ender’s Game. Orson Scott Card. Centipede Press released a gorgeous edition of the first book which I was able to acquire. According to their site, Speaker for the Dead, the next book in the series is forthcoming, hopefully I’ll get it and the third book further in the future.

I think a part of my head would love a set of special editions for Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series though that could be rather eccy as there’s a lot of books in the series. I would also be keen on a set of Asimov’s Foundation novels though alas I vacillated too long on the folio release and missed out. There is an Easton Press edition but it looks a little chunky.

the value of possessions

For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity – all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [reviews: NYT, SMH, Canberra Times]

I came across this book last year and once started, consumed it eagerly. It had a light, deft touch playing with ideas, feeling at times a sort of philosophy-lite though that sells it short. It’s not for everyone but it resonated with me not so much for context but the interplay of ideas. It’s been but a year and I feel like I need to revisit it already.

On the next re-read, I want to keep track of more quotes. I liked the one above in that sense of the emotional value that can be rooted in objects. Though all who know me would agree that concepts of dusting and polishing don’t exist in my world.

I commented recently on things that reminded me of my parents and I sometimes find it odd the things I have and the recollections they evoke. Moving stuff gets harder each time, particularly the books. They have weight and arrangement yet are a visible part of who I am, my past, my history. Titles from different parts of my life: SF, history, childhood, philosophy, travel.

sometimes pretty is not enough

I had a moment, but moments ago. A book. A pretty book. A fancy book. With slipcase. An interesting book. A book I have read. A book I respect. A book that would not be out of place on my shelves. A temptation. A nice version exists.

I. Must. Have. It.

Must I?

Why?

Its existence is not a sufficient reason for ownership. It’s not a book that I have thought of wanting in a nice edition. It’s not a book that I have hunted down. It’s not a book I desire in a pretty format. Oddly perhaps.

A newsletter from a publisher and suddenly I am racing for the credit card. It’s added to my shopping cart. But wait, do I actually want it…is there a thought process involved?

I like my special books and I have some very pretty ones. I could even argue that this one sort of fits my personal collection development policy. If I had written such. There are clear areas in which I collect and yet I don’t want everything. Some things. Not all things.

If I had a list of things…some would be specific books, some specific authors. Sometimes I know what is on that list. Sometimes I do not. But that idea of a list is important. Does this title fit? Does this title sort of sit on the imaginary list in my head?

This time it did not.

I did not buy.

less hair, yeah yeah

Prior to lockdown, we purchased a head shaving kit just in case. I don’t have a lot of hair these days with a combo of bald spot (or expanse) and receding hairline. It’s how I look today. I miss having a full head of hair though I think miss having enough hair to colour. I miss purple hair and black hair and blue and orange. Someone commented that they remembered when I had green hair and I don’t even remember that one.

Before
Before

These days I have little hair and that’s not a problem; I am comfortable with how I look and the skin I inhabit. Due to the lack of hair I tend to get a head shave every 6-8 weeks, usually a No 4 though I did try a No 3, and only once – that was a bit too short. I discovered this week that the numbers refer to parts of an inch eg No 4 is 4/8 of an inch, No 3 is 3/8 of an inch. Which means I usually get a shave down to half an inch, or around 12-13mm.

This matters because yesterday I had a haircut. My first haircut since the start of lockdown and probably around 4 months since the last. I think this is the longest my hair has been in many years. It was getting a little challenging in odd ways and was affecting my hearing aids. I would brush hair off my ears and accidentally hit the volume control on my hearing aids – not fun. My family who really only know me with short hair were finding the new me increasingly “interesting”. Hair started to stick out sideways. The advantage of short hair is that you don’t need to comb it. My hair was needing more and more attention.

After
After

Yesterday, Ms19 offered to cut my hair. She read the manual and we discussed what the sizes meant and how to work out the correct blade. She watched a few youtube videos on cutting hair. At lunch we got down to business. We set up a chair in the kitchen and I wrapped a towel around my shoulders and off she went. I think we were both nervous initially but I certainly relaxed quite quickly.

Voila, in rather good time, I was back to my old self. Ms19 did a fab job. Admittedly I did stage the before shot but I am staggered at how different the two views are. I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a haircut. My head feels better oddly.

a day out

Today I left the house and associated with people. In the flesh. The idea of a flesh meeting sounds rather dangerous and subversive in these strange times. People not my family, not in the supermarket.

Sydney is slowly reopening, venues moving from takeaway to sittings to “please stay”. Last week I had brekky in a cafe and not in the car. Radical.

This week I went to a brewery. So many people in one place, relaxing. Oddly. Mobile details at the entry for tracking – weirdly it feels ok and not like the State is tracking my movements. To be fair I suspect the State could do that easily via other means. Right now, it seems an easy entry point for hanging in a bar with friends.

Beers with friends. A simple thing.