Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Chinese Kite Book

(Chinese Kite Book).  Hardcover book published in Hong Kong 1986, with colour photographs and illustrations as well as black and white photographs and illustrations.  PLEASE NOTE: All text is in Chinese… I am unable to translate…

Sometimes it’s hard to keep away from a difficult book that one knows is hard to sell.  This book which is filled with wonderful photographs and illustrations of kites, is such a book. Here are a few of the photographs that tempted this book seller to part with his cash:

See what I mean? Stunning.  A real eye opener, not only for the kite enthusiast but for anyone with an appreciation of art of any sort.  Now here’s the problem – all of the text is in Chinese.  This would not be a problem in any Chinese speaking (or reading) country.  Indeed, I would think that a book such as this would be eagerly embraced by anyone able to decipher the text.  Unfortunately here in Australia there are fewer Chinese speakers (or readers) than in China and those that are here are mostly not close to where I am now. This is a dilemma that I have encountered previously with other foreign language books and the truth is that a sale of these books is rare.

I’ve currently listed the book on ebay under the title “(Chinese Kite Book)”.  I feel that this is a bit of an understatement as the book whilst being a Chinese Kite Book has a bit more to offer than being a book about Kites.*  It’s possible that if this book were in the shop it would sell quicker, or maybe not.   So why did I buy this book… because it’s got nice pictures.

* No offence meant to Kite flying enthusiasts.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Queen's People, photographs by Izis Bidermanas, text by John Pudney.

The Queen's People, photographs by Izis Bidermanas, text by John Pudney. Hardcover book published by The Harvill Press 1953, 16 pages of text followed by unpaginated pages of black and white photographs.

IsraĆ«lis Bidermanas (1911 – 1980), who worked under the name of Izis, was a Lithuanian-Jewish photographer who worked in France and is best known for his photographs of French circuses and of Paris.

This truly wonderful little book has absolutely nothing to do with Paris or French circuses… well nearly nothing.  It has everything to do with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London… which is not that far from Paris and was a bit of a circus at the time.  The photographs mainly look at the celebrations and the hoopla that surrounded the celebrations with only a few snaps of Liz.  It is the Queen’s People that feature in this collection of photographs and for a non royalist like myself, there is a certain compelling sadness about the whole thing... or maybe it's an alien world that over time has grown so distant that i can't seem to fully understand other than as a sadness.

I’m not au fait with the work of Izis, but after seeing this book I wouldn’t hesitate in picking up anything else I should find with his name on it.  He did have an eye for great images and despite my having no interest in the coronation and only marginal interest in 1950s London (Izis possibly felt the same way), I find these images to be incredibly beautiful and definitely of interest.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tales From The Political Trenches by Maxine McKew

Tales From The Political Trenches by Maxine McKew.  Paperback book published by Melbourne University Press 2012, 250 pages with a few black and white photographs.

I read a lot of publishers blurbs.  If I don’t know what a book is about, it’s hard to know whether it will sell or not and a publishers blurb is one indicator as to the contents.  It is also a good thing to add to an on line book listing as it gives a prospective buyer an idea of what is between the covers of a book that is not in front of them.  My thinking is that the publisher, who one would assume is keen on selling books, has given an appropriate description of the contents in the book blurb.  How appropriate the description is, is open to debate, but it is a description and without reading the book, I figure it is as good a quick guide as you can get, particularly in a short period of time.

Reviews on the other hand are something that I try to avoid as much as possible.  I figure that they are always going to be positive as the same people that want their book to sell, are not going to print a negative review.  For some strange reason I did read this review of Maxine McKew’s book:

‘Otto von Bismark said the people should never see what goes into making sausages or the law, because they’d never eat another sausage or respect another law. I am not sure he would have enjoyed this book. But I certainly did—an amazingly frank insider account of an extraordinary time in Australian politics.’ PETER FITZSIMONS

I think this is great.  A review of a book about Australian politics that has the words “Otto von Bismark” and  “sausage” in it, is truly inspired.  Well done.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chinese Graves in The White Hills Cemetery, Bendigo, Victoria by Dr Kok Hu Jin (Chinese Cemeteries in Australia Volume 5).

Chinese Graves in The White Hills Cemetery, Bendigo, Victoria by Dr Kok Hu Jin (Chinese Cemeteries in Australia Volume 5).  Paperback book published by Golden Dragon Museum Bendigo (no date, year of the monkey), 191 pages with a few black and white maps, Chinese inscriptions (throughout) and one tipped in black and white photograph.


Bendigo was a gold rush boomtown.  A bit like Clunes, where I live, except a lot bigger.  As with most of the gold rush towns here in Australia and in many other places around the world, the population swelled to vast numbers of enthusiastic diggers seeking their fortune in the 1800s.  The Chinese formed a noticeable part of this group and were often treated quite badly by the Europeans who tended to openly and actively discriminate against their fellow miners.

“Gold brought great wealth but also new social tensions. Multiethnic migrants came to New South Wales in large numbers for the first time. Competition on the goldfields, particularly resentment among white miners towards the successes of Chinese miners, led to tensions between groups and eventually a series of significant protests and riots, including the Buckland Riot in 1857 and the Lambing Flat Riots between 1860 and 1861.”  Wikipedia

Even here in Clunes there was a riot of varying ferocity depending on who’s account you read.  There is currently little evidence that the Chinese were ever here with only one Chinese gravestone still present in the graveyard and very little emphasis on any Chinese presence within the town or the town museum*.

Bendigo on the other hand has a long and proud Chinese history, which is actively and enthusiastically celebrated in their Golden Dragon Museum.  At a guess the Chinese presence was probably greater in Bendigo than here in Clunes or Ballarat and maybe this book is a great example of that lasting presence in what must have once been a difficult place to be Chinese.

“Chinese Cemeteries in Australia” is a fairly obscure subject and the content of this book really does just look at the gravestones and then literally translate and explain what the translation of the text means.  …To be honest, it’s a little dull, unless of course your heritage is Bendigo Chinese or you are wanting to get some sort of idea re the Chinese population of Bendigo in years gone by.  But it is a title that is obscure enough for a bookseller like me to get excited about and rare enough for me to want to write about it here.

… and volumes 1 to 4?  I’ve never seen them.  

* Clunes Museum is about to reopen and this comment may be obsolete.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa's City of Gold by Frank T. Kryza.

The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa's City of Gold by Frank T. Kryza.  Hardcover book published by Ecco 2006, 322 pages with a few black and white illustrations and maps.

I haven’t been.   

I would like to though and it is somewhere I have always considered to be on my list of places that I would like to visit.  Recent events in Mali are a distinct deterrent for this traveler… and probably for most other travelers, as Timbuktu hasn’t managed to escape the political and religious fervour that has swept across that part of the world.  

This book looks at 19th century European ambitions re the conquering of the City of Gold and has nothing to do with this booksellers ambitions to visit out of the way places.  Timbuktu is a long from western society (and Clunes) and I can only imagine that in the 18th and 19th centuries it was even further away than it is now.  The romantic notion that Timbuktu was as far away from anything else as you can get is what entices people like me to dream… and to read a book like this one. 

… but I bet you can get mobile phone reception in downtown Timbuktu... and the intewebs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.  Hardcover book published by Scribe 2003, 936 pages.  SIGNED COPY.

“Shantaram is a novel based on the life of the author, Gregory David Roberts. In 1978 Roberts committed a series of robberies while addicted to heroin, and was sentenced to nineteen years’ imprisonment. In July 1980 he escaped over the front wall of Victoria’s maximum-security prison, in broad daylight, thereby becoming one of Australia’s most wanted men for what turned out to be the next ten years.  His journey took him to New Zealand, Asia, Africa, and Europe, but his home for most of those years was Bombay — where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for one of the most charismatic branches of the Bombay mafia. Shantaram deals with all this, and more.”

There was a time not that long ago when this book was worth serious money.  The ebay price was anywhere between $150 and $350 and even though I wasn’t able to source and sell a copy at the time, I do know people who did.  Buyers were going crazy for it… and then Johnny Depp lost interest in making a film about it and the price bottomed fairly dramatically in a very short period of time.  Apparently Depp is now back on board for a film version as producer and unless something has changed in the last few months, there will be a film of the book at some stage.*  All of this makes me wonder if the price will return to its previous heights once the book buying/film going, public realise that it’s on again. 

The only other signed copy I’ve ever seen was on someone elses shelf and it was priced at over $900.  I thought this was a little over enthusiastic, but I do know that that particular copy is no longer sitting on the shelf where it once sat.  I’m not sure if it sold or whether the owners realised the bubble had burst and reduced their once expensive volume to a more manageable price. 

Unsigned Shantarams do still sell off the shelf at a leisurely pace, which is why I picked up this volume for consideration.  I’m not sure why I checked to see if it was signed but I was pleasantly pleased when I saw that it was and didn’t hesitate in picking it up.  Due to the authors scribble, i now have it listed on ebay (now available through my on line store) and unfortunately it has had very little interest so far.  I figure this may be another volume for my Books & Collectibles stock where I’m sure that once the film has been made and Johnny Depp has done the rounds of promotional interviews, it will easily sell.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gough Whitlam: His Time by Jenny Hocking.

Gough Whitlam: His Time by Jenny Hocking.  Hardcover book published by The Miegunyah Press 2012, 596 pages with a few black and white photographs.

“Gough Whitlam, Australia’s twenty-first prime minister, swept to power in December 1972, ending twenty-three years of conservative rule. In barely three years Whitlam’s dramatic reform agenda would transform Australia. It was an ascendancy bitterly resented by some, never accepted by others, and ended with dismissal by the Governor-General just three years later—an outcome that polarised debate and left many believing the full story had not been told.”

Many people can remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated.  I’m not old enough to remember the tragic events that took place in Dallas, Texas, which is a long way from my home suburb of Springvale, Victoria.  I am old enough to remember where I was when I heard that Gough Whitlam, the Prime Minister of Australia, had been removed from office.

Some friends and I were riding our bikes around the community centre next to the oval not far from home, when one of my compadres announced that Gough Whitlam, the Prime Minister, had been sacked.  There was a noticeable silence amongst us, followed by tones of incredulity.  The man who had been voted into the top job here in Australia and by all accounts was the person in charge, had been sacked?  This was, and still is, hard to believe.  After some discussion, it was decided that bike riding activities would be suspended for the day, whilst we all went home to investigate/watch TV.

It was true.  Our beloved leader was now unemployed having been removed from the job by his boss.  Who would have suspected that the top guy had someone above him and even at the time it seemed a bit far fetched that the Australian representative of Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor General, had the power to remove the democratically elected Prime Minister of Australia.  Like Kennedy, there were and are many conspiracy theories about what happened.  Unlike the Kennedy assassination, no one died during this one, but like the Kennedy assassination there are theories about the involvement of the US government in the events that took place.  Both sides of Australian politics have since explained their actions and despite my lingering doubts about the whole thing, there is a case to be made by the then opposition regarding the Dismissal

After that we never really went back to our bike riding adventures around the community centre.  It was as if the world had changed and doing laps of a community building was a bit pointless. The truth was that things weren’t always as they appeared and the innocence of pointless riding around a tricky walkway had lost it’s appeal.  There are points in our lives where things change and the sacking of Gough Whitlam is one of the first times that I can remember where things dramatically changed.  I was 12.