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.

zafón has departed

I had a quick trawl through twitter between watching a filmfest film and doing the washing up. Ian Holm died, though at 88 was well lived. I’m more familiar with Holm’s work but was I think, a little sadder to hear of the passing of Carlos Ruiz Zafón at the age of 55. He died not of covid-19 but after two years of suffering with colon cancer. He is only four years older than me.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I have read a few of his books, loving the Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. He aimed to write a four book series, the third being The Prisoner of Heaven, while the fourth, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, was published in English two years ago. All is well, the series was completed. I have read the first twice and the second once but haven’t got round to reading the other two. When I got the third I meant to re-read from the start and the fourth came out in the Subterranean Press edition last year so I now have them all in SubPress editions. I am long overdue to return to this world and these books and the mind of Zafón. Somewhere along the way, I picked up another special edition of The Angel’s Game…I think I saw it in Waterstones in London some years ago. I probably should pass it on as I feel duplication is unnecessary.

a few short stories

Another day, another delivery, this time the 2 volume short story collection by Kate Wilhelm. I think I’ve read a story or two by her and I’m aware of her name as she had a long history as a writer including SF, picking up various Hugo and Nebula awards. An author perhaps I should read more of. And now I can.

Kate Wilhelm SF stories

It was pointed out to me that I don’t seem to read a lot of short stories these days and there is truth to that comment. Yet I continue to buy short story collections and compilations. I remember growing up in my teens and 20s, devouring one short story collection after another, that was my introduction to the world of science fiction’s golden age. Favourite authors from that era include Asimov and Bester, Simak and Sturgeon, Clarke and Dick, and of course the mighty Ray Bradbury.

I loved a tightly written short story. That sense of a piece of writing being the right length for the story, minimal padding, no expectation nor requirement of a novel length work. You’d read one, then another, then another, some bite size, some longer, always in a single sitting. Ideas abounded, varying perspectives, as you jumped from one to another. Playing with ideas and creations, sometimes beasts of the id, sometimes far flung worlds, different places, different races.

Dick SF short stories

In recent years, perhaps decade, I have acquired special editions of short stories by Philip K Dick (5 volumes from Subterranean Press), the occasional collection of Greg Egan (also Subterranean), Australian authors (from PS Publishing), and Ray Bradbury (PS Publishing, Subterranean Press). A few years ago, Centipede Press started publishing their series, Masters of Science Fiction, of which the Kate Wilhelm books were the latest. Previous releases in the series included works by James Patrick Kelly, Fritz Leiber, and Richard Wilson.

The nice thing about these books, which makes them easy to buy is that they’re relatively cheap, typically $40-50 per volume for a nicely bound collection. The Kate Wilhelm set was $95 in total for two volumes, filling 1,500 pages of stories. I haven’t read many of the stories in this series but I want to. They’re there on the shelf. Waiting for me.

an old wishlist

I have had an amazon account for many years dating all the way back to 2007. My early days perhaps of online ordering. I remember being amazed at how cheap books were compared to book prices in Australia. It reminded me a little of my overseas trips in 1999 and 2000 from each of which I came home with lots of books. Indeed I have old recollections of book reviewers noting in their articles of trips to the UK being a chance to buy lots of books, some of which were never available here, and all much cheaper there than here.

For a long time the Australian book market was something of a closed shop with high prices charged which you only realised if you were lucky enough to be afford a trip overseas. The opening of online sites for purchasing books overseas changed things and I think ultimately has meant book prices here have dropped significantly. Scary times for a while with local bookshops closing.

Trawling back through my blog to that year of 2007, I found an account of my desire to purchase the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. At the time, given a favourable exchange rate (about 86 cents to the AUD) I was able to purchase the leatherbound edition from Amazon for about AUD$270 altogether. It was selling locally for $1,000. I don’t say this to single out oxford as many publishers seemed to be doing the same thing. I think the Shorter did drop to around $3-400 locally some years later.

I don’t buy much from Amazon these days, and while I like to check booko for comparison pricing, both new and secondhand, for new stuff at least, I tend to buy locally from Booktopia. Pre-lockdown I would also buy books in person from the likes of Better Read Than Dead and Abbey’s.

My wishlist on Amazon remains, and has around 170 or so entries, dating all the way back to 2007. Entries have disappeared as I’ve purchased them either from Amazon or elsewhere. One thing I liked about Amazon’s system is that it would remind me if I had already purchased a book – this was important as I didn’t always remember and there was a period of some years when most of my books were in boxes and I couldn’t easily tell if I had a title or not. If I purchased a book elsewhere I would eventually get round to manually removing it from Amazon.

Shelf 15 - a little mad

I don’t intend to list every book I listed as I suspect that would be a little dull so I will try and do something of a potted selection. Onward to 2007 when Library 2.0 was in full swing and the oldest book in my list was:

  • Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online by Meredith Farkas – I think I have this now though it might be on desk at work.
  • Teaching Web Search Skills: Techniques And Strategies Of Top Trainers – Greg Notess – I vaguely recall reading posts of his but never got round to getting the book
  • Information Trapping: Real-Time Research on the Web by Tara Calishain
  • The Origins of Modern Science by Herbert Butterfield – I have a secondhand copy of his work “The Whig Interpretation of History” which I read when I was studying for my HPS major. When I did my library Master’s, I created an index for it.
  • Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts by Latour and Woolgar – more HPS stuff
  • A History of Natural Philosophy: From The Ancient World To The Nineteenth Century – Edward Grant – a strong writer in the field
  • On Tycho’s Island: Tycho Brahe, Science, and Culture in the Sixteenth Century by John Robert Christianson – never did get round to buying this though I studied quite a bit on Brahe.
  • Cellarius Atlas (Harmonia Macrocosmica of 1660) by Robert van Gent – I had a bit of a fixation with atlases at the time, also listed for 2007 is the Atlas Maior
  • A Guide to the Oxford English Dictionary by Donna Lee Berg – that entry was added to the list a couple of weeks after I purchased the Shorter Oxford

The wishlist for 2007 was a mix of my interests at my time: Library 2.0, History & Philosophy of Science, and dictionaries, 23 books listed in all.