Sunday, September 29, 2013

Piracy: The Complete History by Angus Konstam.

Piracy: The Complete History by Angus Konstam.  Hardcover book published by Osprey 2008, 336 pages with black and white illustrations as well as a few colour illustrations and photographs.

Recently the world celebrated another Talk Like A Pirate Day… Maybe not the entire world, but enough of it to associate the word “international” somehow with the words “Talk Like A Pirate Day”.  Sitting here is the calm after the storm, I’m wondering if any real Pirates spoke like Pirates on the day.  Did the party shops in Somalia have a rush of sales on eye patches and fake cutlasses?  Somehow I think they probably didn’t and that any real pirates in Somalia and elsewhere, didn’t give two hoots about the idea.  I didn’t meet anyone talking like a pirate on the day…or any other day.  Regardless of the lack of enthusiasm here and in Somalia, I do like the idea as there is an absurdity about the concept that sort of goes beyond the whole pirate thing.

This book doesn’t contain any information about Talk Like A Pirate Day and there are only a few references to Johnny Depp.  It does have lots of information about blood curdling, cutlass waving, freebooting Pirates, who were sort of like the Osama Bin Ladens of their day but with less religion.  Pirate history is a popular subject and whenever I find good, and by ‘good’ I mean authoritive non fiction like this volume, I tend to pick it up.  It’s been more than once that a customer has walked into the shop and asked for books about Pirates and I am always happy to oblige.  Interestingly I’ve had no one buy this book so close to Talk Like A Pirate Day.  It is possible that people that talk like Pirates aren’t really that interested in Pirates and are just happy to be absurd for that briefest period of time.  I’m not that worried though, as I know that a Swashbuckling Pirate fan is not far from landfall and hopefully not that far from here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stunned Mullets & Two-Pot Screamers: A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms by G. A. Wilkes.

Stunned Mullets & Two-Pot Screamers: A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (fifth edition) by G. A. Wilkes.  Paperback book published by Oxford University Press 2008, 412 pages.


“Good day - The all purpose greeting that can be used in lieu of ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’, etc.”

Here in Australia we have many unique and interesting ways of using the Australian language.  There isn’t really a formal form of the language as such, and those that do vary their English, can vary it to various degrees.  I personally tend to use Australian Colloquialisms differently in different situations… and thinking about it, I think most other people do the same.  I do say ‘G’day’ but I’m just as likely to say ‘Hello’ when greeting someone.  This is all done in a subconscious manner, that now that I have thought about it, will probably become something that I will pay more attention to from now on.

As an Australian, there is one thing that I never do and that is write the word(s) ‘G’day’.  I don’t know anyone here that does.  It’s more of a spoken thing and not a written thing.  I am of course not an expert on Australian language usage, but I do speak to people and I do have written contact with people and ‘G’day’ (or ‘Good day’) is not something that I or my fellow Australians ever write.   

Your probably wondering why I’m waffling on about ‘G’day’ and there is a reason.  As an on line bookseller I deal with people from all over the world and of course there is a small amount of correspondence between buyers and myself.  More than once I’ve had inquiries from distant shores that begin with the words ‘G’day mate’.  I guess the person at the other end of the interwebs figures that I’m Crocodile Dundee living in the desert watching the Kangaroos hop past my house avoiding man eating crocodiles.  The truth is that I’m not Crocodile Dundee and the Kangaroos have only hopped past a few times*.  The first time this happened I was a bit annoyed (at the ‘G’day’, not at the Kangaroos).  It was the whole Aussie stereotype thing that at times some of us find a bit cringeworthy and annoying even though we often do use these words ourselves.  The reality is that I’m not here to criticise others in their usage of colloquial Australianisms and over time I’ve come to appreciate that the person at the other end is just trying to be friendly and I shouldn’t really be annoyed at anyone about to do business with me. So ‘G’day mate’ is a bonzer phrase that isn’t worth chucking a tanty over.  If anyone out there wants to use it to buy a book from me, go ahead, I don’t mind.

In this book ‘Good day’ is listed and ‘G’day’ isn’t, although under ‘Good day’ there are some examples of the use of ‘G’day’:

“Qantas has issued firm directives to its cabin crews that ‘G’day’ and ‘Mate’ were not to be used when welcoming passengers aboard.”

There’s lots of other wonderful words and phrases in this book that I don’t know of anyone using on a regular basis.  But it’s nice to flick through and realise that due to some sort of strange linguistic osmosis, I know these words and what they mean… and if someone did say something to me that I didn’t understand, then this is the book I would use to look it up in.

*Not true.  They were Wallabies.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Classic Lensman Series by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith.

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Classic Lensman Series by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith.  (7 volume Box Set: Triplanetary, First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, Grey Lensman, Second Stage Lensman, Children of the Lens and Masters of the Vortex.)  7 Paperback books (in box) published by Panther 1976, 1976, 1977, 1977, 1977, 1976 and 1976, various pagination.

A bit like the last book I wrote about, this set of books also has a slipcase… Maybe it’s not exactly the same sort of thing, but it is a slipcase and a slipcase is a slipcase.  In this instance it’s more about collecting a whole set of books in the one place to display what can end up being worn and ratty looking paperbacks and less about the “something special”… although I think these books are something special.

In my younger years I was a keen reader of Science Fiction.  Yes I was a geeky, pimply teenager, obsessed with the wonderful worlds of other worlds.  Unfortunately there was no access to the interwebs (which is another world) at that stage in the history of Springvale North (but we did have television) and the computer that we had at school was out of bounds to us mere mortal students.  So we could only dream of other worlds… that is until we discovered Science Fiction.  I became so obsessed with it that my parents and teachers became concerned that all I was reading was rubbish of no literary merit (true).  I remember discovering the Lensman books and reading the first three to then find that my school library didn’t have the other four.  I was horrified.  Fortunately we had a public library bus that was able to order in the remaining volumes for me.

The Lensman books were originally written between the 1930s and the 1960s, yet you wouldn’t have guessed this by looking at the covers of the books that I read… which were the same covers as are in this set.

I won’t write about the stories originally appearing in serial form in various magazines over many years (...even though i just did), but I will mention that these books did get voted as the second best Science Fiction series of all time*.  Foundation series got the top gong.  I would have voted for the Lensman as it truly is a fantastic, epic saga and Foundation I found to be a little cold and sterile.  I can’t believe I’m writing this.  I read these books 35 years ago and I still have a preference for the Lensman over others. They certainly left a strong impression in my mind… even if I can’t remember all the details.  I’ve mentioned Doc Smith to a number of friends who share my nostalgia for vintage Science Fiction and found out that they had also read and enjoyed the Lensman books.  Keeping this in mind, I didn’t hesitate in picking this set up as I figure if I have nostalgia and my friends have nostalgia, then surely there will be others out there who also want to relive the joys of this Space Opera in all it’s 7 volume box set glory.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Songs of the Garden by Kitagawa Utamaro.

Songs of the Garden by Kitagawa Utamaro, introduction, notes, and translations by Yasuko Betchaku and Joan B. Marviss. Hardcover book (no dust jacket) published by Metropolitan Museum of Art and Secker and Warburg 1984, unpaginated fold out book with colour and black and white illustrations throughout.

“Although far removed in subject matter from the elegant courtesans for which Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) is justly renowned, the "Book of Insects" (Ehon mushi erabi, literally translated as "Picture Book of Selected Insects") is not merely a footnote to the artist's lifework. Rather, it is a pivotal work, one that assured Utamaro's future artistic career and anticipated subsequent developments in Japanese art.  Although this book is now treasured for its illustrations, it was originally designed not simply as a picture book but as an anthology of specially commissioned poems on the subject of insects. In fact, the verses composed for each plate, new translations of which appear at the back of this volume, are appropriate poetic companions to Utamaro's unorthodox drawings.”

It’s hard to not be impressed by this book.  It is a real joy.  Every frame is so beautiful and the detail, even in reproduction, is amazing.  Japanese art is not an area that I’m particularly familiar with, but it’s not hard to see a book like this one and realize that it is something special.

I guess a slipcase is often an indicator (or pseudo indicator) that something special is contained inside.  In this case the slipcase is protecting the book from more possible damage than a slipcase normally does, as the covers of the book are not hinged together with a spine. This is to allow the book to be spread out and viewed as one continuous sequence, which is possibly how the book was originally published… but I’m not 100% sure about this.  If it wasn’t, well it’s a nice effect regardless and does give the book a special quality, I’d even say an exotic quality, that most other books don’t have.  Without the slipcase the two covers could cause damage to the pages and that’s something we don’t want to happen.

It’s a little disappointing that the slipcase has a number of marks and stains, but that’s the secondhand book business I guess.  You’ve got to take what you can get.  What I don’t understand is how the front cover got a small mark as well (bottom of the white bit).  The rest of the book is in near perfect condition and I guess it’s this “rest of the book”/the illustrations that matter the most when trying to sell a book like this one.  So far I’ve had no on line interest in this title, but I reckon once I point the book out to some of my many discerning bricks and mortar customers, I should be able to sell it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bright Paradise: Victorian Scientific Travellers by Peter Raby.

Bright Paradise: Victorian Scientific Travellers by Peter Raby.  Hardcover book published by Chatto & Windus 1996, 276 pages with some black and white illustrations, maps and photographs.

“This book traces the extraordinary journeys of discovery of some key Victorian scientific travellers. Inspired by Darwin and his voyage on the Beagle, a new generation of naturalists and scientists set out to explore the tropical forests and mountain ranges.”

In a past life, a friend of mine would refer to this sort of book as a “Robin book” and indeed it has many of the qualities that this particular Robin looks for in a history book.  Solo travel in adverse conditions to exotic locations with a dash of science, is something that is “my thing”, and I believe that’s what this book is all about.  So, yes, this is a “Robin book”, which is probably why I was tempted to picked it up and now have it for sale.

Quite awhile ago I wrote about Alfred Russel Wallace and my appreciation for his works.  I even mentioned a biography that I had previously read on the man and would you believe it, it was written by the same bloke who wrote this lovely collection of shorter biographies of similar minded folk, of the same mold as Wallace.  This one was written before the Wallace biog and I can only assume that after doing the research which includes Wallace, Peter decided an expanded biography could be worth a go.  There is a copy of the Wallace Biography sitting on the personal bookshelf (not the Huc & Gabet shelves), so I guess there are people out there who do buy by this type of book (me).  I bought my copy new as I didn’t want to wait to find it second hand and from memory it wasn’t cheap.  I get the feeling this book wasn’t cheap when it was new either.  It’s now secondhand.

Despite this being a “Robin book”, I haven’t read it… as of yet.  If it doesn’t sell on line I may be tempted to put it on the top of my to be read pile.  This really is my kind of book. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Philosophy of the Australian Liberal Party by D. M. White.

The Philosophy of the Australian Liberal Party by D. M. White.  Hardcover book published by Hutchinson 1978, 179 pages.


“A lucid and detailed analysis of the philosophical foundations of the Australian Liberal Party’s Federal Platforms presented under the headings of human nature, society, the functions of government, the best form of government, the role and rights of citizens, and the character of politics. In this pioneering study of Australian political thought, D. M. White offers a challenging and subtle view of the place of political philosophy in the life of a political party today. Appendices provide the texts of the Liberal Party Platform and Platform amendments from 1946-71.”

For those readers of this blog who are not aware of recent Australian politics, we have a new government.  The Australian Liberal Party won last weekends election by a narrow margin… whoops… sorry… by a considerable margin.  The informed voters of Australia have decided that they want a change… or is it that they want slower internet speeds than were on offer by the Labour Party… or it might have been that they wanted “the” media mogul and our mining magnates to make a few more $$$ than they already do.  But I’m not here to bemoan the state of our electoral outcome. Democracy has spoken.  I will accept what the people of Australia want.  Sure, gay marriage is something that I don’t have an issue with, but obviously a good proportion of Australians do have issues with it, and voted accordingly.

The Philosophy of the Australian Liberal Party is an interesting look at what Liberals here in Australia think.  It’s a perfect guide for those of us who did not vote for Prime Minister Budgie Smuggler or his cabal of fatuous ministers… (“But I’m not here to bemoan the state of our electoral outcome. Democracy has spoken.”)  Interestingly the only person still alive on the front of this dust jacket (Malcolm Fraser) very publicly declared that he was endorsing someone from another party (The Greens) for this election.  He has been a harsh critic of the current line up for a number of years and has few kind words to say about Tony and his mates.  Bob Menzies, pictured in the middle is never far from Liberal Party thoughts.  They all love him, and so they should.  Even Tony loves him.  Anyone who can cling on to the top job for 18 years is someone to be admired.  I don’t know that Tony will be around for 18 years… 18 years of Tony's slow internet, is not something that I want.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Woomera: The first fifty years: 1947-1997.

Woomera: The first fifty years: 1947-1997, edited by Helen Buchanan and Katrina Edwards. Paperback booklet (large format) unknown publisher unknown date (possibly 1997), 41 pages with black and white and colour photographs.

“An oasis in the desert, a truly unique and friendly town situated on Commonwealth land located in the far north of South Australia, that’s Woomera. It’s a place that often leaves an indelible mark on your soul and for other “Woomerites”, some unforgettable life experiences.”

“Woomera Village was originally established as a restricted access Defence Establishment in 1947, and for the same reason it exists today - to support activities on the Range. During the Range's rocket-testing heyday, the entire complex was administered by the Long Range Weapons Establishment (LRWE) under the terms of the 'Anglo-Australian Joint Project'.” Wikipedia.

Yep, it’s a “friendly town”… where they once tested rockets, some of which were intended as weapons of mass destruction(?).  But let’s not dwell on the evil and let’s look at the good of Woomera.  It has been used in association with the space program… not our (Australian) space program, someone elses… on a number of occasions.  Today you can go and visit the empty sites where the American’s had large complexes of infrastructure (it was their space program) which was all dismantled and returned to the US when they had finished with it… except for the bowling alley.  There’s also an Immigration Detention Centre that is no longer an Immigration Detention Centre, as it was a little controversial to send people to the middle of nowhere next to a weapons testing range and in Australia the middle of nowhere really is the middle of nowhere.  The complex was handed back to the Defence Department…the Australian Defence Department, not the US… as they would probably have shipped it back home. 

I would love to go to Woomera.  Not just to see the no longer existent sights, but to see those sights that are still there including the park on the cover of this book, as well as the Woomera Heritage Centre which features a display on Len Beadell and I would visit the other interesting things like the museum and the other stuff.  Unfortunately I don’t think it’s possible to see this:

or this:

Having been to the outback a few rather brief times and many years ago, the idea of revisiting the large amount of nothingness and then finding a rocket range (with bowling alley) in the middle of it, is rather appealing.  It’s not just the rockets, it’s all of the nothing that I would like to visit.  Woomera could be just the launching place for my nothing experience.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Gardens of Persia by Penelope Hobhouse.

Gardens of Persia by Penelope Hobhouse, photography by Jerry Harpur.  Hardcover book published by Florilegium 2003, 192 pages with colour photographs and some colour and black and white illustrations.

“GARDENS OF PERSIA is the first book to explore the evolution of the Persian paradise garden from ancient beginnings to today’s modern Islamic designs.”

Some of you may remember my distinct lack of gardening mojo.  Whilst not being a green thumb, I am an admirer of the garden… but not my garden.  This book has some lovely examples of Persian gardens from the dawn of history (… this is a very old part of the world, so dawn is a long time ago), to some more recent designs.  Sure there’s nothing quite like Derek Jarman’s garden in this book, but still, there are a lot of beautiful examples of other sorts of gardens.

I’ve never been to Persia, they wouldn’t give me a Visa*, so I’ve not been able to appreciate their gardens up close and personal.  I have been to Kashmir (it was a while ago) and have seen the Mughal gardens there.  These beautiful spots are heavily influenced by Persian gardens and were built by the Mughal’s who were originally… surprise, surprise… from Persia.  So I find a book about the Gardens of Persia and I am immediately reminded of hot afternoons leisurely wandering around Kashmiri gardens.  I had fun.  I think I had ridden to the gardens on a bicycle and was staying on a houseboat at the time.  The food on the houseboat was awesome.  Breakfast and dinner were included in the price, and the accommodation was outstanding.

Sorry. Back to Persian Gardens and less of my Kashmiri adventures.

A friend was helping me a few years ago with my garden (remember, gardening and me don’t mix) and he came up with a wonderful design based on Persian gardens.  When I write based, it was loosely based, not a copy… actually it was probably more a vague influence, but I haven’t forgotten that some of the Persian principals of garden design were vaguely in my backyard at some stage.  This is probably the nicest garden I have ever been associated with.  Saying that, there’s nothing like that garden in this book.

I sort of figure that others may be interested in incorporating some Persian garden design into their backyard, so a book like this may be of some use to someone... somewhere.   I can recommend it.

*True. The Iranian embassy rejected my Visa application without really giving me a reason.  (They also kept my Visa fee.) It might have been my Australian passport.