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.

A list of things to write

Some years for #blogjune, I maintain a list of notes and phrases, bits of writing semi formed, reminders, subjects, random ideas passing through my mind. Sometimes I remember to go through the list looking for things to flesh out, or ideas. One of the items is to simply blog about the list itself and in listing, perhaps add a little.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow – a book, perhaps an interesting quote. I have a quote in mind that in turn points to other thoughts
  • My amazon wishlist – I rarely buy from there these days, preferring booktopia and small presses. The wishlist remains a curious sort of bookmarking over time: why this book, why that one?
  • “official” hashtags – and perhaps typos for other conversations
  • Dad’s collection of books by Marx as a visual reminder of times with dad
  • plastic forks as a reminder of Mum
  • collectivitis and when it gets out of hand…too many books, whaddya mean?
  • how many boxes does an author take – notes on moving house
  • post modern earth – worlds like Shannara which are set against a backdrop of the modern earth being the ancient ruins amongst which folk roam. Other examples include The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, books by GR Kesteven (a childhood memory)
  • what I like about special editions: ribbons and leather, fonts and colour, slipcases, solidity. Perhaps even getting custom slipcases made…
  • …segue toward 17th century, or thereabouts, practices around book binding…where the books were sold with the expectation that the owner would have them bound according to their needs.
  • highlight nice books from my collection – seems pertinent in the age of lockdown when I can have but few friends over. To be honest, even in the old days, I tended not to show and tell, as friends are not about possessions.
  • “2 tarts on a couch” a sculpture – this one is challenging, emotive, full of history, and particularly of my dad. It’s an interesting sculpture, with a certain cheekiness that encouraged reaction and response; dad loved watching how people responded to it: being caught between instinct and shock, followed by a sense of “how I should respond” vs “how should I be seen to be responding”. It’s a work that is a little discomforting. It has been a cardboard box for many years and I am not the right person to display it.

shannara marches on

Somewhat timely that we finished watching season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles on netflix shortly after the limited edition of book 4 arrived in the mail. I remember finding the original trilogy in paperback a long time ago in a secondhand bookshop in Sydney’s CBD, possibly Ashwood’s. There used to be several clustered down near Goulburn St.

2020-06-07_05-10-00

I recall Ashwood’s had a bunch of SF on display down in the back righthand corner and piles on the shelves beneath. I would studiously go through each of those piles looking for interesting titles and so it was that I first read Shannara, a trilogy initially, then as more books were published I ended up with 12 in a mix of secondhand and new, mass paperback and trade. Trade paperbacks were about the same size as hardcovers and of better quality than the regular mass paperback.

I think I lost track at some point, or moved on, perhaps lost interest. Looking at wikipedia, I see there’s over 20 now. A specialist press, Grim Oak, has been publishing nicer editions with hardcover, slipcase, placeholder ribbon, not to mention signed matching numbers for around US$100 each. Pricier than a new release but not stupid money either. As each has arrived, I have been re-reading them. I enjoyed the first and second again though found the third a little slow going. The writing was ok and the story a little reminiscent of the third book of the Lord of the Rings, in that sense of “would you please hurry and get to the end”. That’s possibly an apt comparison as Shannara was often seen as bit of a ripoff of the Tolkien books though these days, many things are.

A thing I liked about the Shannara books was that they seemed to be set in a post apocalyptic earth. This world contained remnants of buildings and technology, odd science and tracings of 20th century life; a fantasy world modelled over an actual world, that sense of back to the farm and disconnected communities. That was one thing I did like about the TV series that it really brought that sense of overlapping worlds to the fore though I found the dialogue and story progression rather laboured and forced.

one after the other

So many things seem to be in series, sometimes things that should only be one are often more. It seems like everything in SF and fantasy is coming out in multi-book epics these days. Then I stop and think, this is not a new development.

I remember reading early Asimov stories and he had his robots series and his Foundation series, not to mention his attempts to unite them all, and of course Tolkien and Middle Earth.

shelf 1

Even one of my favourite books as a child, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ended up being a series. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett seemed to be a standalone, then he wrote some more and some more and suddenly it wasn’t for which I remain ever grateful – speaking of which, I don’t think I’ve read any since I first read them. One day, I must embark on a full Pratchett re-read; re-reading the entirety of Pratchett seems somewhat Odyssean.

Comrades in Arms

Speaking of childhoods, I read so many series: The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, Trixie Belden, Biggles, and many, many Enid Blyton books. In fact, speaking of Biggles, I have finally acquired Comrades in Arms by Capt W.E. Johns which includes stories from each of his main character sets: Biggles, Gimlet, and Worrals.

A couple of years ago I read a then newish SF writer, Becky Chambers and her first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which in turn has had a sequel, of sorts. At what point do sequels become series? Speaking of which I need to read more from her one of these days.

Oz author, Daniel O’Malley wrote The Rook – which was turned into a TV miniseries -and then a sequel, Stilleto. I am eagerly awaiting the 3rd book and have been for a long time. Though Book 1 came out in 2012, book 2 in 2016 so I have some hope that book 3 may appear in 2020. Some. 

picture books

Absolute Sandman Vol 1 by Neil Gaiman

When I was in Bowral last Christmas, I started re-reading Volume 1 of the Absolute Sandman as I was conscious that I never got round to reading the entire series. It was published as 4 volumes initially and later there was a 5th volume and a volume devoted to Death. I figured it was a good time to read them all through and made good ground initially. I took a break and read other things, recently finishing Volume 1 and anticipating continuing with Volume 2 in the near future. Dark stories well told; at times ethereal as they soak into my imagination.

A few weeks ago, or was it months, I managed to find a good edition, “as new” of the Omnibus edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I recall seeing the movie version many years ago and while not blown away, it retained a certain charm and I wished there had been a sequel with a little more depth. The movie felt more like an introduction, of sorts, rather a complete tale. The omnibus is occasionally available through secondhand retailers but tends to be a little pricy due to weight and consequently higher delivery costs. I recently found a nice edition, reasonably priced and bit the bullet. It too, I am enjoying, having finished part I and soon to embark on part II. I believe I should also but the Black Dossier for further tales.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Omnibus

Other enjoyable graphic novels in recent years include:

And The Umbrella Academy Vol 1 (deluxe edition) by Gerard Way. I’d been waiting a while for the deluxe edition to be published. I first came across this when the series appeared on netflix last year. The timing was sorta right and my partner and I binged it all. I loved it both for the creative story telling and outlandishness of sorts. One of the better things I’d seen in a long while. Needless to say I went hunting for the original graphic novels and while I did find them, they were a little pricy on the secondhand market so I thought I’d wait and see if some special editions appeared and sure enough they have. There’s 3 volumes with each releasing every few months so I pre-ordered them all with the first arriving just prior to lockdown.

things abound

I think I’m entering week 7 of lockdown, or thereabouts. I figured when the library shut it’d be months before we returned though the odd bod I suspect was hoping for a few weeks. I’m somewhat unusual compared to my colleagues, working from home is old news; I spent years working from home in a previous job. This time round, it’s still the case that my job is mostly online and the bits that weren’t, very quickly were.

Weirdly, or perhaps not, my workload increased initially and for a few weeks after. It seems to have settled down though the gov has said we’re only supposed to work 7 hours with no flex. I have struggled to keep down to 7. Then again, I am glad that I have work and sad that so many do not. I am a renter without a mortgage to worry about.

I am overjoyed that we are lucky enough to have the nbn though adsl would suffice as it has in the past. It drops out on rainy days which suggests we’ll need to get the wiring looked at. We moved house prior to Christmas, downsizing, but the bigger house would’ve been good now with 2 adults and 2 adult children co-sharing a 3 bedder rather than our previous 4. All of us with different online needs. As I’m working fulltime, my life has not changed a great deal. My commute is now 10 seconds rather than an hour, which means an hour extra sleep in the morning – that will be hard to give up.

I have revisited my LibraryThing account; there’s an app now with barcode scanning. I am tempted to try and scan all my books, at least those that have barcodes. Many alas, do not. In the move, I reluctantly weeded a few boxes of books. Some I miss already…I think I got rid of my Wizard of Id collection of which I had many volumes. I have kept my Biggles, Enid Blyton, and of course Trixie Belden. Got rid of chunk of history things that I had grabbed from Dad’s books when he passed. I have been buying nicer editions of some novels, and tossing the ageing, smelly paperbacks.

Ms19 has bought a pair of roller skates which in turn has encouraged me to retrieve my old, old skates from the garage. I was unsteady initially but glad to report I still remember how, the confidence returns. We have been out twice to skate at a nearby basketball court which is sufficiently smooth and large for us to gain confidence and in my case, pick up speed as I skate the perimeter. However my upper body particularly is feeling the strain; feeling sore for a few days following each session.

As time goes on at home, I struggle to imagine what holidays look like. I had planned a 6-8 week trip in Europe to coincide with my partner’s Churchill Trust study trip. That will not happen this year and the Trust have postponed such trips to next year…I suspect at the earliest. I was saving my leave for a couple of years for this trip and now the idea of going on holidays saddens me. I am overdue a holiday and there is nowhere to go. I am keeping my fingers crossed that NZ will be a possibility later in the year.

And I am lucky, lucky that I have a job, lucky that I can still think of holidays.

a little weed

Books. I have some. Perhaps a lot. Not too many; I managed to weed a few boxes recently. Mostly I’m good with that, though there has been a couple of moments of wondering where a book was and realising sadly that it was gone. There was also a joyful discovery when I found one and realised I hadn’t found it as I thought it was by a different author.

Books weeded included a mix of fiction and non fiction, some I’d grabbed from my dad’s collection and some my own. For example dad had had many books by the historian Peter Gay, and I had one or two. A nice run but I’m not in that space now and it seemed a prudent spot to prune. Reduce. I kept a few Foucault but not all. I retain some Kant and Hobbes, Marx, Trixie Belden and Biggles, Capt America…all the Capt America.

Now that my books are sorted and shelved, I should do a count. Find the real number that I have. Because. It will not be a fixed number. I continue to acquire interesting things. Newly arrived is the Subterranean Press edition of Use of Weapons, by Ian M Banks in his Culture series. I think I read it long ago, and the books preceding; meant to continue but never got round to it. I am looking forward to reading it again.

i am not a number

Many years ago, prior even to my own existence, there was a British TV show starring Patrick McGoohan titled The Prisoner. Actually, McGoohan not only starred in it, he also created, wrote, produced, and directed it; clearly a passion project which contrasted individual needs with those of the group. It was rather surreal and ideas driven, with a certain eccentricity and a key logo being a penny farthing.

I had initially thought it was all filmed on a specially created set, but discovered later that the village where it was set was real. Portmeirion is a town in North Wales, on the River Dwyryd that was built during the mid 20th century. There is an extensive quote from Lewis Mumford in the wikipedia article noting:

an artful and playful little modern village, designed as a whole and all of a piece … a fantastic collection of architectural relics and impish modern fantasies

In the series and in the descriptions it looks deliciously quirky and eccentric. I don’t often visit places from TV or cinema but this one particularly appeals both as a reference to The Prisoner and interesting destination of its own.

Pathway beside canal in Oxford, OK.It looks like I may get to travel to Europe in 2020 as my partner will be undertaking a study trip supported by The Churchill Trust. Consequently I am putting together my own self-funded trip that will occasionally intersect with her’s as she’ll be working. The challenge is find places to visit that I’m happy to visit by myself, and the village of The Prisoner might just fit.

Location-wise, it’s not far from Dublin, possibly a few hours by bus and ferry, which is significant as it is the host city for IFLA in 2020 and I’m hoping to make the first few days of it. The last time I went to an IFLA conference was in Milan in 2009 and I think that was just after the IFLA Australia conference had been cancelled. I have good memories of the Milan conference, aside from the heat, and good friends and connections and would love to go again, hopefully Dublin will be a little cooler.

The challenge of visiting a town in Wales is to avoid another Welsh town, namely Hay-On-Wye, rumoured to have more bookshops per capita than anywhere else. I was last there in 2008, visiting many bookshops and bought more than a few books. Afterall, it’s the one place where buying books is its own form of souveniring :-)