future pretty books

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

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

The Martian Chronicles - in slipcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

the value of possessions

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

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

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

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

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

sometimes pretty is not enough

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

I. Must. Have. It.

Must I?

Why?

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

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

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

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

This time it did not.

I did not buy.

less hair, yeah yeah

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

Before
Before

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

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

After
After

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

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

a day out

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

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

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

Beers with friends. A simple thing.

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.

beyond the stream

…or at least the mainstream. I read yet another article today about the decline of newspapers and particularly regional newspapers. Many regional newspapers are owned by larger groups and when the owner strikes problems and advertising revenue dries up, particularly at the moment, then papers get cut. This seems to lead to an increasing domination of the city papers which in turn results in a reduction in awareness of local issues and local connection ie the local newspaper is one part of the glue that connects folk together and gives them a shared space of sorts.

Libraries are another part of that glue, providing a welcoming space for all, free from commercial demands. It’s a place that’s not trying to move you on to make space for a paying customer, or sell stuff to you. Libraries are a mix of spaces: some quiet some noisy, places to meet, to relax, to read, to chat, to hang, even to snooze. They provide a community hub and remain one of the few free indoor spaces that people can gather and chat.

There are online hubs too, though predicated on the basis that the community has access to online material, the digital divide remains ever prevalent with some communities having better access than others. Once again, libraries may well be the only place that folk are able to use a computer, or access content online.

Over the years, there has been a rise in “pay it forward” groups on facebook for example in communities across Oz eg Port Macquarie, Inner West of Sydney, or Perth. These groups provide on one hand an opportunity for folk to clear out stuff, and on the other, an opportunity for folk to get things they need. A sharing space for advice and tips, increasing reuse and recycling.

I recall years ago, when a colleague and I ran a minecraft session as part of International Games Day, we didn’t get great numbers. A parent who turned up, commented that we should have promoted to some of the parenting groups on facebook. They’d only heard about the games day accidentally but were in a facebook group of several thousand parents in western Sydney. Sure enough, nationwide, there are millions of parents participating in such groups and finding folk to hang with.

In some respects, facebook groups remind me a little of usenet of old with a mix of general and specific. Some groups have strict rules for engagement and keeping on topic while others ebb and flow depending on where the commonality lies. The challenge with such groups is that facebook is a bit of a closed shop, you’ve got to be on it, with an account to see many of the groups, and participate. At the same time, it’s not quite like the AOL of old with that being the only platform, facebook groups tend toward a gated feel rather than closed though the latter exist too. They can be inclusive and exclusive.

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.

parental reminders

I commented the other day about objects that remind me of my parents. A couple of friends, Kathryn and Rachel, have picked on that and posted their memories.

Karl Marx

Now there’s a name. A significant name, a philosopher, author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, a leader. I read the manifesto a long time ago and other writings here and there. Dad read a lot of his stuff and had many of his books. In the 70s, my dad started out a baptist minister, became an atheist in the middle and joined the communist party and at some point moved from communism to socialism. He read a lot and talked a lot, discussing his ideas and thoughts.

Marx

From a young age, I can remember the colourful display of Marx books on the shelf together. I wouldn’t say it’s my earliest memory of him but it’s possibly a constant of sorts in my life of knowing dad. I could spot that little row of books and I knew I was in dad’s space. I have toyed with different ideas for displaying them though none carried out as yet. Many years back, I liked the idea of sticking them together as a block in a perspex box to hang on the wall. That idea of moving them from textual works to an art of sorts seems appropriate given the nature of my memory of their physicality. Taking that a step further, I have also considered sticking them together, slicing off the spines and framing them as a single, flat, colourful strip. For now they sit in a glass cabinet alongside the whisky.

For mum, memories are different. She was more of an introvert and a bit of a hoarder perhaps or more that sense of thrift of her parents passed down, the idea of not tossing things that could be useful. Her favourite takeaway was from the local red rooster: two pieces of chicken and chips. Even when she was in the nursing home, we would take that in for her on her birthday. These takeaway meals usually included cutlery and moist wipes. When cleaning out the old house, we found lots and lots of plastic forks and packets of wipes. Though I don’t think I have any in the drawer myself, plastic forks remain a visual reminder of my mother.

I continue to be fascinated by the sense of being the melting pot of my parents: a thing from her, a thing from him. This thing I am has all those things though not necessarily in the same measures.

iso lunches

Back in March, we started to get things ready in anticipation of going into lockdown and work from home at some point. At the encouragement of my partner, I bought a pair of comfy sneakers so I could get some regular exercise (sort of successful) and even a haircut kit (with shaving heads of various sizes) so that I could continue to have haircuts at home. I don’t have a lot of hair and usually visit a barber for a number 4 head shave every 6-8 weeks. 3 months into iso and I haven’t actually used that kit yet and now have about 4 months of growth. It doesn’t look good, it’s not comfortable, and worse, I have occasionally bumped the volume button of my hearing aids, when patting down my hair. I suspect there will be a haircut in the near future and I reckon that’s not a bad idea.

When lockdown was finally announced, I was able to pop into work on the first day and grab my computer and a few other things. I then remembered the one thing I couldn’t prepare for: what to do about lunch. I’m not a fab cook, or food prepper; I usually get lunch from one of the takeaway food halls near the office. That option disappeared with lockdown. A few months prior we had moved house too and no longer had easy access to a bunch of takeaway places.

Takeaway containers

There are two places around the corner, a few minutes walk away. One fancy and one basic, both Chinese. I love Chinese but a bit of variety would have been nice, some Indian perhaps, Thai, Japanese and so on. Oh well. So Monday to Friday, I pop into the basic Chinese place and grab a meal to take home. Over 3 months, I have worked through almost all of their lunch menu and have a bunch of favourites. I usually try and have at least one new dish a week. They are the main people I see apart from my family on a daily basis and if I ever return to the office I will miss them.

We occasionally get a takeaway meal from the fancy place too, usually to coincide with virtual trivia hosted by the guy who ran the pub trivia we used to go to. It’s been nice to have his face and voice beaming into our home. I miss the pub visits though and hanging out with friends. While the sound is better at home, I’d rather have physical company and not hear half the stuff; the warmth of people and incidental humour.