reading is an odd sort of thing

Something loved by introverts and extroverts. Fast readers and slow. Big picture and detail. All the things. None of the things.

A mood.

Some weeks I am hammering through several books at once. Some weeks I struggle with one. I used to think it was related to what I was reading but now I tend to think it is the mood I’m in.

I have so many books waiting to be read yet I am barely reading one.

Last week I finished a couple of books.

There are books I am keen to reread yet pausing as the mood is not quite right for that book. There are books I am keen to read right now yet don’t have the edition I want to read them in. Form matters…for some books…sometimes.

I have all ten of the fancy editions of the main Malazan series and planned to read them again when I had all ten. Not in a Malazan mood right now. Was a few months ago and read Assail. There’s a few more non-main books I need to read too, with another on the way [Bantam Press is the first edition, accept none else. Order via Munro and you can ask Erikson to sign it for you].

I am reading Foundation and Empire by Asimov which is book two of the main trilogy, having recently picked up Folio’s recent reprinting. Folio is the edition I want for this book. Thoughts for another post on editions and limitations and bindings – my opinions have changed in this area…or not.

This evening, as the family dinner conversation ebbed and flowed, I remembered I had acquired an interesting edition of Jekyll and Hyde for 69 euro. Not cheap, not exorbitant. White text on black background. An interesting approach that I want to read.

I have been keen to reread Dune by Frank Herbert for some years. The right edition will be the Centipede Press edition but it is not yet released. I have read an old hardcover which contained the first three books in one. I have read the Easton Press edition which is pretty and nice in the hand. Centipede announced some years ago that they were doing an edition and it would be spectacular and it will be as Centipede do amazing things. I put my name down for it around 2018-19 and I think that I might finally be able to buy in the next few weeks…touch wood. The challenge is that there is now a lot of interest. I am nervous week to week. If I get it, that will be the version I read.

Centipede are also producing the Ender series by Card and I love them, though not fond of Card himself, the old art vs artist debate is ever troublesome here. I will continue to buy and love the books. So many authors are challenging in this space…so many SF authors who I thought were forward thinking have been less so.

Thankfully there are new authors who write cool stuff who are not in those spaces. Glories such as Jemisin and Sparks and Chambers, and McGuire and so many others.

stops and starts

Weirdly, suddenly I stopped blogging mid #blogjune, the last post about was on the 18th. I don’t know why I stopped as I had plenty of ideas and for the first time in a while there was a good vibe and interaction with other folk, nice chats here and there. Somehow my mojo disappeared. That may have been around the time of the current Sydney getting underway, though why that would affect this sort of thing I dunno. The new playstation didn’t arrive till 10 days later so that wasn’t it either. Things were exhausting for a while but June often is.

New playstation has been fun, impressively fast loading of games and whisper quiet – well my hearing ain’t fab so it’s quiet to me. On the other hand, the previous playstation was noisy and loud to deaf old me.

Books, lots of books. Though less arriving than usual. Perhaps my ordering splurge has died off and sanity returned. Perhaps. I am aware that a few boxes are on their way. Folio Society have reprinted their editions of Asimov’s initial Foundation trilogy. I missed out first time round and the prices on the secondhand market have been significantly higher than I’d be willing to pay. While the reprint is a little ecky, it works out at high double figures per book which is bearable. I’m looking forward to re-reading them as I first read then in dodgy secondhand paperbacks 30 years ago.

Managed to finish a bunch of books in recent weeks:

  • In Darkness Visible by Tony Jones – the second book from the former host of Q&A, also good, a political thriller.
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – I liked it but didn’t love it which probably puts me at odds with everyone I know. A pleasant read nonetheless.
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Zafon – third book (of four-ish) in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Each book seems interconnected though there is a sense they could be read in any order, or at least the first three as I have not yet read the fourth which is generally regarded as the best. Sadly the author died last year.
  • Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont – the “final” of Esslemont’s main Malazan series, though there is another trilogy later still to read (and some more Erikson). Assail was a good solid read that flowed along. Every so often I hit a point where I need to another Malazan and this filled the hole nicely.
  • The Gold-Jade Dragon by Janeen Webb – tales of dragons and human forms, playing with politics and business. An easy read that flowed along, quickly and enjoyably finished. There was a previous novella, The Dragon’s Child, that should be read first.
  • The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville – a novella that reminded me of the things I love about Mieville and how inventive he can be. A surrealist story about surrealist thinking, told surreally, with a political undercurrent.
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin – loved it though it took a while to get into as it was telling a story through different times with changing narrators of sorts. Needless to say I’m looking forward to continuing the trilogy.

Other books on the go or at the top of the reading queue

  • Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way by Simon Armitage – almost finished, doesn’t need to be read in one hit, I dip in and read a chapter occasionally, not looking forward to finishing it :)
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – a recommendation from a friend, finally bought the ebook last night.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – a new take on the Groundhog Day idea perhaps. Mentions of it popped in discussion of a new pretty edition of Replay by Suntup.
  • The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – this seemed an appropriate choice for my first letterpress book. I am unsure whether letterpress books are a thing I will seek out and the books I like are rarely published this way. I started it last night and so far so good.
  • Unfettered II: edited by Shawn Speakman – I bought the fancy edition of this because I like and respect the cause it’s raising money for. I also like Grim Oak Press generally and have several of their books. I’m about midway through anthology of fantasy and stories I’ve read here have read to me buying and reading other books.

a little bit forward, a little bit back

15 months into the new world and the end is still not in sight. There is not a clear, linear march of progress but then there never is…that’s a fictional rhetoric that fails to describe so many things. The onward march of science and humanity as we grow ever greater….not so much. A myth, a fiction. Life and people are always a little messy. Reality is very different to the rinse and repeat of video games.

The news this week is that the age for the AstroZeneca vaccine has been raised to 60. As an aside, I’m looking forward to 60 and bought a couple of magnums of wine upon release a few years ago in preparation. My 60th is still several years off but aged, mature wine is much, much cheaper if it is bought young :-) Assuming I am still drinking wine at 60. I’ve cut back on my wine consumption as I tend to find 2 glasses of red wine in the evening eg over dinner, is enough to disrupt my sleep and I sleep poorly…and thus too, my partner.

My partner has been experimenting with non alcoholic wines and liking them whereas I’m drinking one glass of alcoholic red on some nights and adding argon gas to the bottle which manages to preserve it quite well for some weeks. I’m sorta liking this approach as I can enjoy a single bottle over a week or two. I’m drinking less wine and buying less wine. So far so good. Thankfully whisky doesn’t affect my sleep…which is also curious.

Anyways, I am in my 50s, I won’t say exactly though that’s more to reduce the data I’m giving spammers than any concern about sharing my age with folk. I have no problems with oversharing in person :) When vaccines were first announced, I was looking at first injection around July/August then there were a few changes, more options, and the timetable was brought forward.

I had my first jab of the AstroZeneca 18 days ago with no side effects whatsoever. I timed it well, got a bus to the main Homebush hub and within 10 minutes of getting off the bus, I was through, injected, and sitting in the observation room. Early afternoon on a weekday seems like a quiet time to go, and indeed staff commented that the busiest time was probably late afternoon. I gather the key period for concern is between 4 days and 30 so I’m about halfway through but I’m not anticipating any drama but for some friends it’s an interesting time ahead. My second injection will be late August and I gather that has even less potential side affects.

With that said, I’m a middle aged white male who seems to have been lucky so far in terms of avoiding long term issues etc. so I’m not the most representative of samples.

a room with a chair

I sat down to type about books and saw Kathryn’s post about a chair and immediately changed direction. I have a favourite chair and it is just right for me. I came across it in a furniture shop long ago and had to have it. I bought it and paid for it and waited for it to be made.

The chair is colourful and comfy. The wings are not pronounced which is a plus as I can’t lean my head against them – leaning my head against people and objects is sometimes tricky due to the ever-present hearing aids in my ears.

I love sitting in my chair and a year or two later, the company produced a matching foot stool and I was in heaven. It’s a lovely spot to sit and read, with bookcases beside, or watch tv, or sip a whisky.

The view from the chair down the wall is of some of my favourite books….including Trixie Belden in the distance. On the opposite wall is a print of a Cezanne that dad picked up at an exhibition long, long ago. He used to have it stuck on the wall. After he died, I had it framed properly and I love staring into it, studying and dwelling in the unfinished village.

looking for nice things

My tolkien collection

I talk a bit about fancy editions and the pretty things I buy. They’re mostly from small presses, specialists in science fiction and fantasy. I’m on various mailing lists so I can find out about new releases and hopefully pre-order before they get to market. While there is a rabbit hole of small publishers to find and lose myself in, the big publishers also release nice editions. Somehow I rarely come across those nice editions and I don’t know if it’s because I go to the wrong book shops, or simply many of such things don’t make it to Oz at all.

I have some fancy editions from big publishers including my beautiful copy of Lord of the Rings from HarperCollins. That was possibly my first special edition in the late 80s, and was certainly the most expensive book I’d bought for over 20 years since, only to be beaten a decade ago by Malazan book 1, Gardens of the Moon.

In recent years, I have focused on finding nice editions but really most of my books, especially my science fiction, are paperbacks, many bought cheaply secondhand. And it shows. Lots have yellowed and deteriorated, some need to be handled carefully as I’ve had instances where the soft cover has detached with a mere touch.

torn paperback

I have a few nice Tolkien tomes from HarperCollins and the Quicksilver trilogy by Neal Stephenson from Morrow – actually Morrow is an interesting one as I think it was originally its own company but these days is an imprint of HarperCollins. Gollancz used to publish their new releases in hardcover with yellow dustjackets so they always stood out – was never interested in collecting those plus couldn’t afford hardcovers in those days. These days they look like an imprint of Hachette, along with Orbit and no doubt many others.

I’ve recently found out that Orson Scott Card’s Ender series had some titles published in pretty editions but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them locally and they’re a wee bit eccy to buy on the secondary market. It must be said, that I’ve recently discovered that there were books beyond the trilogy I had read. The trilogy is more a quintet, and there’s a further 14 novels and a bunch of short stories. While I won’t be seeking those other nice editions, Centipede is releasing nice versions of their own, signed, numbered and in a capped case. So far they’ve released Ender’s Game, Ender’s Way (a collection of almost all the short stories) and will soon be releasing Speaker for the Dead.

this ol’ town

Bankstown. Oh where oh where do I begin. I grew up in Bankstown. Mostly. Actually I grew in Concord West initially, up the road from Concord Hospital – dad had been the minister at the local Baptist church. Parents split up when I was young, 6ish I think, then lived with mum elsewhere in Concord West, before moving into mum’s old house in Bankstown when her mum (my granny) died. Mum’s parents had bought the then weatherboard house in the late 30s, converted to fibro around the 50s/60s.

We moved to Bankstown when I was 14 and had completed two years at Meadowbank Boys’ high (now a TAFE). I was very shy and hated the move. I had a love/hate relationship with Bankstown for a long time and my feelings are still occasionally mixed. Growing up, my tastes were very western, meat and veg for dinner and a roast on the weekend. I used to hang out at Bankstown Square (these days I think it’s Bankstown Central and was Bankstown Centro at some point) playing on the gaming consoles in DJs, skating at Rollarena Bankstown on the weekends.

Later on post uni (still somewhat shocked that I have a post-uni life) I became a librarian and joined the reference team at Bankstown Library, in what is now the old building. We walked past the new building today though as it’s a public holiday it was shut. I worked there for a few years before heading off to my first stint at the State Library.

Downtown Bankstown

My partner had mentioned visiting last year, pre lockdown I think and liking the little shops in the plaza. Today we went for a proper wander, down through the old town plaza and what is now Saigon Plaza though the entry statue didn’t exist in my day. Sadly the corner restaurant next to it is long gone though it used to be one of the best places to get phở in Sydney. Not that I had any growing up. I was too shy to ask and wasn’t game to try foods from other cultures…my loss really and thankfully I’m not like that now. The area seemed busier than I remember, greater vibrancy, a mix of ages and generations.

Today walking through the streets, it was one fascinating outlet after another, full of interesting foods, some I know, some I don’t know. Full of interesting corridors, nooks and crannies. At times I felt like a tourist, at times a local. We eventually stopped for lunch at a vietnamese place and the guy at the next table started chatting and suggesting food. At his suggestion, I tried what sounded like a tasty soup, Bún bò Huế, and asked for the spicy version. The spice was mild but just enough to integrate with the other flavours. It was a massive bowl and the vermicelli noodles were divine.

time zones

One of the challenges of seeking special editions is that they’re usually published in the northern hemisphere at a time that suits folk over there. Some publishers are more sought after than others and one of my favourites is Centipede Press. Like many small presses, it’s a family business, and the main guy, Jerad, seems to handle just about everything including liaising with authors, artists, rights holders, other publishers, printers, binders, distribution, members, subscribers, and customers. I sort of feel like I’m leaving stuff out too. Centipede, like some small presses, have a subscriber base which I think is around 80-100 people who get everything regardless. Typical print runs are usually 300 copies so that’s about a third accounted for, for each release.

Centipede publishes around 20-25 books a year, mostly horror, weird tales and some science fiction. They treat each individually and some of their best books are amazing such as The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers [Warwick Carter did a wonderful pictorial on librarything]. Even their basic volumes are special, printed on good paper stock, nice artwork, a sewn ribbon, and a good heft for reading. I currently own 17 titles with 2 on hold for group postage (individual postage out of the US is rather eccy post covid). The picture below is missing 3 that are too tall to fit on a regular shelf including the aforementioned Anubis Gates, Ender’s Game, and Ender’s Way. I’m hoping Speaker for the Dead will be released in the next month or two.

Some centipedes

I’ve generally been lucky in getting Centipede books but particularly in covid times, it’s been harder. More folk stuck at home looking at books on the internet. I’d been waiting a year or so for the release of a 3 book set of Philip K Dick’s work (The Cosmic Puppets, Vulcan’s Hammer, Dr Futurity) and was in the advance email list for it. 300 copies were available and the email arrived around 7am (2pm for part of the US) this morning…I woke at 9. I think they were all gone in the first 30 minutes if that. They may well appear on the secondary market later but will be too much for me. I’m a little sad as I love his books and most of my copies are secondhand paperbacks. On the other hand, it’s not the end of the world :-)

…and on we go

Time for things is a needed thing. Me making the time or finding time to engage is important. Following my post the other day, I belatedly remembered there are a bunch of folk who continue to blog and engage and do stuff. That would be the new cardigan/ausglam crowd, full of many interesting people with whom I keep not getting round to engaging with much though I am loosely listed with them. Based in Victoria but not limited to Victoria.

They even blog regularly and unite around a monthly topic which seems like an easy way to ensure you blog at least monthly. June’s topic is Exuberance though I’m not feeling it at the moment; neither youthful nor exuberant. Might try and write something this month. I have found myself referenced in the monthly summary when my thoughts align with the topic of the day, most recently in February and April.

A day or two on and Ruth’s quote on the value of time still resonates much.

i am a dodgy librarian

I don’t read academic papers.

There I’ve said it. For work stuff, it’s more fun doing than reading. Yet with so many things, it is the reading that is the fun part. I go to conferences and listen to folk talk about their papers but rarely read the paper itself. When I hit a thing at work that needs more thought, I’ll check online, do a google, find key blogs or forums in that area.

I don’t even use google scholar.

I’m not active in academic circles. I’m not part of the conversation nor the production around academic papers. I sometimes skim a paper looking for something specific or a key outcome.

Perhaps I am not sufficiently reflective of the work I do. I have access to lots of academic papers via my library. I do engage here and there, usually more in a community of interest sort of way. Conference papers are almost like a calling card of finding people of interest or relevance. I am curious about their insights and the stuff around their papers and what they do.

Perhaps there is some sort of middle career lethargy going on. I’m conscious that I need to share more of what I’m doing but a blog post means I can get to the nitty gritty quicker, academic papers require more work, bigger hurdles. Hmmm…the same could be said of reading…blogs you can get straight into, but academic papers demand more, have more hurdles. Blogs can be conversational and papers formal.

Perhaps I find formal environments challenging, of which academic papers are but one part. I like piecemeal, adhoc, adlib, playing with bits and pieces. Formal papers seem like another sort of space.

While writing this, I read a comment of Ruth’s on another post:

“Perhaps the value is in the dedicated time to share one’s thoughts, rather than the medium.”

That is a sentiment that I like a lot.

not day 7 yet

I am ruminating on Con’s entry yesterday and not sure I quite have the words yet. A familiar space has gone and I’m not sure if it’s me or the space. I commented on an absence of conversational engagement but that’s not quite right and I want to say some sort of silo-ing but I am unclear where the silos are, or even if they’re generational of sorts.

10 years ago, 15 years ago, perhaps more, there was the fun of the new and a large bunch of folk all trying out new things together. It started out slow: 1 then a few, then a few more, then at some point or other it hit critical mass. It seemed to be cross generational and by generational perhaps I mean to say cohorts or tribes rather than age specific as groups picked up and came on board.

Newgrad stuff took off too. None of those original bunches are newgrad anymore: some are mid career, some top career, some retired, some moved on entirely. Twitter is sort of a bunch of familiar faces with occasional new folk but nothing revolutionary.

Perhaps the wave of social media excitement has crested and folk are tired. Then again, #blogjune seemed to start initially as a means to revitalisation. Recognition then, that we were falling off. The number of friends I have on facebook doesn’t change a lot whereas twitter is more public with chopping and changing. I keep trying instagram but it lacks traction for me. I initiate stuff on facebook but mostly respond on twitter. 2-3 forums seems to be about my limit.

Other folk do other things. Perhaps we now are the “old folk”, “old guard”, the folk we railed against and our approaches are less relevant. Perhaps we didn’t rail at all and that was a convenient ploy. An aspect of me and who I am is the struggle to easily establish new friends; friending people takes years. Perhaps that limits my ability to engage these days.

We are more careful these days, watching what we say, what we do. Comments in jest can be misconstrued, quoted out of context later. Everybody is in our spaces now, everything recorded. It’s tricky to find the right size space; a space sufficiently large for conversations by multiple players but not too large that conversations get drowned out and forgotten. Large enough to have a flow of people without being a quickly flowing river.

The fun has gone, but habits of community and communication remain. I have been here before. I had a decade or so swept up in the glories of usenet for online discussion across the late 80s and 90s. Then there was a pause for a while and then social media and public access took off. Different people for different times.

Perhaps pauses are natural as we stroll.