a sixth day

Should I buy a Lonely Planet?

I finally have a trip coming up. Leaving the house; airports and other countries. Some old, some new. A trip we’d hoped to take in 2020 is shaping to happen this year at last.

I found myself in a bookshop on the weekend and sure enough there was a large display of Lonely Planet titles. Lonely Planet has always provided my travel bible, regardless of destination; they seem to have books for all places…and then some. Weirdly the display had Europe but not Western Europe though that may simply be a stock issue.

travel books

I have a fine collection myself including titles from other publishers but Lonely Planet stands out. When I used to travel long ago, I’d happily stay in hostel dorms. I have since realised that when folk complained about the loud snorer in the room, they meant me. I never noticed of course and always slept straight through. I even slept through when folk tried to wake me in a hut on the Kepler Track in NZ though my poor partner bore the brunt of that attempt. These days when I travel, I go for the solo rooms…admittedly, I’m bit over over dorms as well. Not sure how I feel about the airbnb approach these days and may even be circling round to the idea of hotels.

Accommodation aside, the humble travel guide was good for finding hidden gems and I seem to recall they used to cover cheaper accommodation beyond hostels too. Interesting places to visit and dine, as well as the popular stuff. My partner will be travelling too but working, or rather researching so that provides the framework of where we go though I’m looking at side trips here and there. I have long had a desire to visit Portmeirion in Northern Wales and I may finally make it this year. Speaking of Wales, I found an interesting version of an early edition of the OED many years ago in a bookshop in Hay-On-Wye but did not buy as it was around 400 quid and would have cost at least that much in postage. I have had regular regrets and wonder if it is still there.

biggles makes a list

One of my childhood collections that I have kept is Biggles. Some collections have been, shall we say, weeded. I no longer have my collections of

  • Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators
  • The Hardy Boys
  • Nancy Drew

…but Biggles I have kept. I have various editions including paperback, hardcover, first Australian editions, first editions, and so on, of varying quality.

We bought a house at the end of 2021 and in August 2022, I had carpenters onsite building builtin bookcases…a life goal of sorts. Must blog on that one of these days. Anyways all my books, mostly, are in one room and on full display; this means I can start to think about gaps and missing bits. I’ve done that a little already and picked up replacement copies for lesser editions.

So Biggles. I finally did a proper assessment and review last week…though still to write the relevant briefing paper. Oh wait, this is personal not professional. Some years ago, I picked up a printed bibliography (3rd edition), compiled by Ross Burnet for Australian Book Collector. Using that as a guide, I ordered my books, identified duplicates, and importantly worked out which titles I was missing.

The bibliography listed 98 titles of which I had 75…not a bad effort I must say…though there were 9 duplicates. Somewhat nerdishly, I have created a spreadsheet of the 23 titles I am missing. That has been loaded to my phone so I can check when happening across titles in the wild.

Speaking of, I recently popped into a local second-hand dealer and took photos of their visible stock. Comparing those photos to my list of wants, I can see that there are two I don’t have. I hadn’t loaded the titles on to my phone at that point alas but I shall return later in the week and pick up those two.

A challenge of collecting is the thrill of the chase vs the acquirement of key titles. Now that I know what I am missing, I daresay I could plug the titles into a search on abebooks or such. In fact, I used that approach to complete my collection of Penguin wine guides. At the same time, it’s nice to have a list handy whenever I pop into a bookshop here and there..a reason to explore…

more stuff I read

A year ago, I decided to take stock of everything I’d read the previous year and added a space to keep track of books as I’ve always been bad at tracking stuff. So far so good. In 2021, I managed around 51 books included a few novellas a a short story. In 2022, that has dropped to 22 24 titles including novellas and maybe a short story.

I tend to find reading challenging in years in which major life changes occur; things like deaths, change of job, moving house and so forth. Just prior to Christmas 2021, we exchanged contracts on a house in the Highlands and moved in at the end of February 2022. I settled in quicker than usual, surprisingly so. I was at least familiar with the area having visited many times. Plus it was so nice not to be Sydney anymore, away from the city. Lush trees and gardens as far as the eye can see and a lovely sense of space.

But still, I struggled to read and find momentum. I have finally joined a book club for the first time in my life. This is in part to find encouragement to read more and beyond the stuff I usually read. Another part is to get to know folk locally ie engage with the place I now live. That has been fun and invigorating and looking forward to hanging out more in 2022.

I continued to buy of course though I don’t think I bought as much, at least in part because a key publisher moved their release time to 4am my time and books sold out by the time I woke up. That’s been an interesting effect of covid times: limited releases are selling out quickly. It used to be the case that I had days or weeks to make a decision. For many titles now, they seem to sell in under 30 minutes, or even 10. The price of titles on the secondary market have increased too with some of those titles doubling or tripling in cost within months of release. I decided I wasn’t going to pay those prices and so if I miss on first release then I miss altogether and that’s ok though there is the occasional sad tinge.

Regardless I have ended with some gorgeous editions and more books than I can ever read. And they all look good on the shelves – I must get round to blogging about my new bookcases and posting photos. I achieved a life dream of hiring carpenters to build built-in bookcases, with movable shelves, and they look fab.

I managed to squeeze in 22 24 titles in 2022, finishing the last one on the afternoon of the 31st, a beautiful edition of The Neverending Story from Folio Society. I then started the next book, Blitz by Daniel O’Malley, which is his third book in the Checquy series (starting with The Rook). That will likely be the first book finished on 2023.

  • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
  • Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
  • Sleepside Story by Greg Bear
  • Indomitable by Terry Brooks
  • This is Not the End of the Book by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière
  • The Scions of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • A Lifetime on Clouds by Gerard Murnane
  • The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford
  • Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen
  • The Properties of Rooftop Air by Tim Powers
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
  • The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman
  • The Undone Life of Jak Dreadth by Shawn Speakman
  • Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds
  • Cobalt Blue by Matthew Reilly
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Scholars of Night by John M. Ford
  • A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel
  • A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond Feist
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

five months…

books by greg bear

…since I last blogged. In that time much has happened: had bookcases made, unpacked books, got a new car, even trimmed some hedges. Posts for another day but figured today I try yet another take on five things as I came across an old post of stuff:

stuff i read in the last year…ish

I don’t usually keep track of what I’ve read when. I’ve tried apps such as goodreads etc but have been poor at updating. Possibly I don’t have a great desire to track such things. Other folk post annual posts of what they’ve read and they are often interesting things to read and even add to my enormous TBR (To Be Read) section – I say section because I reckon it’s bigger than the average bookcase.

I’m sorta conscious that in the last year or so, I have been more deliberate in ensuring that I read. I have I think 3 key interests that suck my time:

  • reading
  • playing (playstation etc)
  • watching

and I tend to feel that only two of those can be current at a time. At the moment, I’m playing Skyrim and reading; other times I am reading and watching stuff; it is generally rare that watching and playing are a double. I think.

My sense is that I have read more than usual in the last year so I thought I’d compile a list and see what it looked like. This proved challenging yet fun. I checked:

  • purchase dates for ebooks
  • purchase dates for print books
  • published dates
  • browsing through my shelves
  • repeatedly browsing through my shelves
  • 2021 blog posts
  • photos

Purchase dates are so easy in these times of internet and pandemic. There will be an email somewhere.

Some dates in my research lacked specificity. There is a total of 51 titles but one is a short story (a recently discovered story from Philip K Dick’s teenage years). There’s a few novellas in the list but I’m good with that. That means a total of 50 books read which is pretty close to one a week. I suspect this is one of my best years. Of course, the number I’m scared to count is how many books arrived in the last year. I suspect it’s higher. Much higher.

Here is a list of what I read in the last year-ish or thereabouts.

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
  • Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • The Magic of Recluce (Saga of Recluce Book 1) by L. E. Modesitt Jr
  • The Director Should Have Shot Me by Alan Dean Foster
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin
  • The One Impossible Labyrinth by Matthew Reilly
  • Umbrella Academy Vol. 3 by Gerard Way
  • Spellsinger at the Gate (first two books) by Alan Dean Foster
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage
  • In Darkness Visible by Tony Jones
  • Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  • Master of the 5th Magic by Lyndon Hardy
  • Secret of the 6th Magic by Lyndon Hardy
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Case of the Bleeding Wall by Joe Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale
  • A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  • Blue Octavo by John Blackburn
  • A Beastly Business by John Blackburn
  • The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
  • The City and the City by China Miéville
  • The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K Dick
  • The Slave Race (short story) by Philip K Dick
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Dispersion by Greg Egan
  • Daughter of the Empire by Raymond Feist
  • Heads by Greg Bear
  • Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
  • The Gold-Jade Dragon by Janeen Webb
  • Speculative Horizons: Edited by Patrick St-Denis
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • Hounded by Kevin Hearne
  • Hexed by Kevin Hearne
  • Hammered by Kevin Hearne
  • Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont
  • The Absolute Sandman Vol. 3 by Neil Gaiman
  • Slightly Foxed But Still Desirable by Ronald Searle
  • The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire by Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernandez
  • The Old Guard Book Two: Force Multiplied by Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernandez
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Subterranean Press Tales of Dark Fantasy 3: Edited by William Schafer

taking things slow

It’s hard to think of interesting things to say. A couple of years at home and most regular chatting is with family or work. Sydney has had it much easier than other places, especially Victoria, yet somehow I’ve been extra cautious anyway…spent bulk of year easing toward normality then all of a sudden lockdown 2. It seemed harder this time. Last time, I tried to imitate normality, even weekend brekkies in the car. This time I had brekky at home and left house a lot less. Also I lived in an LGA of concern which meant extra limits and a 5km radius.

Lockdown is over and while still cautious, I am moving a little quicker to get out more. Caught up with a few friends last week, some of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 2 years, and others a year ago. Yesterday, we made it down to Bowral to my partner’s mother’s place; we were last there in June pre lockdown. Every time I walk into the Bowral house, I relax and feel at ease. I have missed visiting. I don’t do phonecalls well though new hearing aids means I handle calls so much better – except everyone is used to me not handling phonecalls and old habits die hard :)

Last lockdown it was a few months before I returned to the office one day a week – that was too long and I don’t think the absence was healthy. This time round I’m returning within a few weeks and this week will be my first back in the office. I love working from home, when there are options for getting out; less fun when you’re stuck and every day is the same.

Sydney film festival has started and I am missing it this year. Last year we watched it virtually, this year it’s in person but I’m not making it at all. Too soon after lockdown. It’s a lot of people at once. I do not want to deal with whatever a filmfest people crush looks like in the time of covid. Because deafness, I need to ask people to remove masks so I can hear them…which ain’t fun for other people currently.

rusty taps

My focus for now is low key catch ups with people close.

My focus is also books. As always. Reading and buying.

Dune. Centipede Press have finally put up for sale their edition of Dune. As noted elsewhere, I was on the pre-order list for years. 2 weeks ago, it was released. There were 800 people on the pre-order list and around 570 copies up for grabs (500 numbered but first 100ish to subscribers, 421-500 for other distributors; 250 unsigned/unnumbered). I had no idea where I was in the queue and emails were sent out in batches of 200, starting from 2.30am Sunday morning Sydney time.

I am happy to report that I was in the first batch and my paypal receipt notes that my purchase was finalised at 2:31:48am :-) Turns out a couple of years is a long time on a mailing list, especially one that includes COVID-19. When I first went on the list I think pricing was anticipated around US$400, and the final price was US$625 and almost everyone on the list, or at least almost everyone on the list in the relevent facebook group, managed to get a copy.

Most expensive book I have ever bought but it’s worth it for Dune and Centipede is one of my favourite presses for producing amazing books with good paper and binding choices. The downside is that it is book 1 of 6 (by Frank Herbert) and I will be getting the other 5 (not sure what the schedule but one a year perhaps is realistic). Within 24 hours, someone had sold a copy for US$2,500 (4 times the cost) which doesn’t really surprise me.

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.

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.

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 :-)