Sunday, September 28, 2014

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. Hardcover book published by The Bodley Head 1987, 169 pages. FIRST EDITION.

A murderer is on the loose in Edinburgh and the city is horrified; murder is not part of the image of Scotland’s elegant capital. But beneath the surface of city life lurks a dark underworld of crime and twisted violence. The murderer’s victims are all young girls, and all have been strangled. The police are baffled, and none more so than Detective Sergeant John Rebus. Rebus is not the most popular man on the force, having been shuffled into the CID after leaving his crack SAS unit under very mysterious circumstances. He is also being plagued by anonymous letters, accompanied by pieces of knotted string and little crosses made from matchsticks. To cap it all, his wife has left him, taking their daughter with her.”

“Knots and Crosses” was the first Inspector Rebus novel written by Ian Rankin. It wasn't the last and the Inspector Rebus books have gone on to become a very successful series of novels closely followed by a television series, all of which (in my opinion) are worth reading and watching. Yes I have read and watched more than a few Rebus stories and those that I haven't read are in the pile next to my bed, waiting to be read. Like a lot of people I enjoy reading about the crims and crimes of Scotland. It's not that the Scots are particularly or exceptionally criminal in their criminality, it's the way that Rankin manages to spin his yarn within an increasingly familiar context. When you have read more than one Rebus book, the next one is like visiting a troubled friend who lives around the corner.  I think this is why these books have become so popular.

When Knots and Crosses was published in 1987 and Rebus was a complete unknown, Rankins publishers probably wouldn't have had the foresight to publish large quantities of this the first edition, due to the financial risk of the unknown and a publishers fear of the remainder. As with many other books or series of books this means that the first edition of the first book becomes a rarity due to the smaller print run*. Rankins later books were and are published in larger numbers as he is a best selling author.  This generally means that the later books in this (and other) series don't have the same rarity and $ value as the first edition of the first volume.  Finding this book was a bit of an eye opener as I hadn't previously considered or sought after any of Rankins work within the context of “rare and valuable”. This was obviously an error on my behalf.

*This is of course a theory, but it does explain why this book is worth big $$$ on the interwebs.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter.

Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter. Hardcover book published by Harper Collins 1997, 399 pages with some black and white photographs.

Over the years I have developed a taste for Stanley's films and many of his masterpieces have received multiple viewings by yours truely. I would even go so far as saying that I am a fan and I do pay attention to things Kubrickian (eg. trivia, documentaries, interviews etc). Kubrick is one of those directors that can continue to amaze, delight and shock me time and time again. I have a number of favourites and not so favourites, but I have also found that some of his films after multiple viewings have left me with a completely different opinion to the last time I saw them.

The first Kubrick film I ever saw was Barry Lyndon. I think I was 12 or 13 and I saw it at a cinema in Dandenong. 12 or 13 is not a great time to be seeing a lumbering period epic where it takes a long time for anything to happen. My mother (the person who had dragged me along) thought it was great, I thought it was ok. With further viewings over the years Barry Lyndon has become one of my favourite Kubrick films and i'm not alone.

At this years annual Clunes book festival I was fortunate to have a vintage hardcover copy of Thackeray's Barry Lyndon sitting on the shelf waiting for someone to eye it and bye it. It was not a first edition, but it was a lovely worn vintage copy circa 1890s... and reasonably priced. Anyway, a young man possibly 12 or 13 walks into the shop and starts carefully perusing my rare and vintage portion of the shop. Suddenly he gasps and asks if that is really a copy of Barry Lyndon. I affirm this and casually take the book off the shelf and pass it to him to consider. He started to very carefully flick through the book when I asked if he had ever seen the film by Kubrick. His answered with a resounding yes and then continued to tell me that it was one of his all time favourite films. I was gob smacked. This was not what I was expecting from a 13 year old. He purchased the book and then very quickly left the shop without another word. As I sat there contemplating what had just happened, a few of the customers still in the shop having overheard our brief conversation started to actively discuss amongst themselves what had just taken place. I was not alone in my disbelief and awe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Nazi Dreamtime: Australian Enthusiasts for Hitler's Germany by David Bird.

Nazi Dreamtime: Australian Enthusiasts for Hitler's Germany by David Bird. Paperback book published by Anthem Press 2014, 448 pages with a few black and white photographs and illustrations.

“Nazi Dreamtime is the story of extreme-right, ultra-nationalists in Australia before and during the Second World War. Some native-born Australians were attracted to the ideology of Nazism, believing it to be applicable to Australian political and cultural life. The ‘German revolution’ was a European experiment that Australians ought to learn from, and to an extent emulate. These Nazi enthusiasts and their fellow travellers were charitably described by one renegade amongst them as ‘well-meaning dreamers’.”

This isn't the first time i've written about Australian Nazis* and somehow I think it probably wont be the last. There's something about the combination of the words “Nazi” and “Australia” that seems a little out of place, yet here is a another book that not only has “Australia” and “Nazi” joined at the Kangaroo, but also the concept of “Dreamtime” blended in with the whole thing.

“Many thought that Aboriginal concepts of dreaming could be merged with national-socialism to form a ‘blood-and-soil’ white dreaming— a Nazi Dreamtime under the Southern Cross.”

This wasn't something that had all Australians trading in their red white and blue shirts for brown, but there was enough support that this stain on our history ( of the many) deserves a book to be written about it. Even Menzies commented that the ''modern abandonment by the Germans of individual liberty and of the easy and pleasant things of life has something rather magnificent about it.” He was wrong.

...But it wasn't just Menzies, there were other notables, some with a literary bent, who dabbled in, and on the fringes of National-socialism. The index of this book indicates that there is quite a bit in it about Miles Franklin, Xavier Herbert and Manning Clark to name but a few and not having read the book, I can't verify how involved they were in the whole Aussie Nazi thing, but from what I can gather, involved to various degrees they were. By 1945 most of them had fortunately dropped out of Goose step practice and realised their mistakes... at least I hope they had. This Australian enthusiasm for dodgy foreign politics is not something that ended in 1945. Even today we have people who believe and are participating in some extremely crazy stuff not only here, but in foreign lands as well. Not the same crazy stuff as before, but just as misguided.


Friday, September 12, 2014

A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism by Gareth Knight

A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism by Gareth Knight (Two Volumes in One Book. Vol 1 On the Spheres of the Tree of Life, Vol 2 On the Paths and the Tarot). Hardcover book published by Samuel Weiser 1993, various pagination (approx 571 pages) with a few black and white illustrations.

"The Qabalah is a system of relationships among mystical symbols which can be used, as was said by Paracelsus, to open up access to the hidden reaches of the mind—beyond the frontiers of reason. The Qabalah gives the means to penetrate behind symbolism. It is the mystical process in reverse. The Tree of Life is a comprehensive symbol encompassing other symbol systems, religious beliefs, mythologies, and provides a means of interpreting them based on abstract and universal principles.”

Some people spend half their lives in the pentagram ( know who you are). Me, i'm happiest when i'm outside the pentagram... well and truly outside. Despite my lack of interest in all things pentagram and its ilk, I do know a number of people who are involved in the esoteric metaphysical arts. I was even once asked if I was interested in joining a small group of believers. I politely declined explaining that as an atheist it's wasn't something I could reasonably be involved with, particularly since most of my time was being spent looking out for the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

Books on the occult or any other forms of mysticism associated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, are something that I rarely find any of. I did find a copy of Ordines Descendens a while ago and still have it sitting on the shelf waiting for someone to step out of the pentagram long enough to place an order. Unfortunately this hasn't happened as of yet and i'm hoping for a wrong alignment of the stars in the near future. When this happens, i'm sure there will be a smell of sulpher in my paypal account (?).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Fallen: Life in and Out of Britain's Most Insane Group by Dave Simpson.

The Fallen: Life in and Out of Britain's Most Insane Group by Dave Simpson. Paperback book published by Canongate Books 2009, 323 pages with some black and white photographs.

“Ever been held hostage in a dressing room with your parents? Ever been thrown off the bus in the middle of a Swedish forest or abandoned at a foreign airport? Ever been asked to play at one of the UK’s biggest music festivals with musicians you’ve just met who are covered in blood, or taken part in a ‘recording session’ in a speeding Transit? If so you’ve probably been in The Fall. Dave Simpson made it his mission to track down everyone who has ever played in Britain’s most berserk, brilliant group. He uncovers a changing Britain, tales of madness and genius, and wreaks havoc on his personal life.”

I am an unashamed fan of The Fall. They aren't without fault and i'm not such a die hard fan that I can't say that there are some tracks on their 30 studio albums that are truly stinkers. I can say that a new fall album does get me excited and there is an expectation that whatever happens with the Fall, Mark and cohorts will always deliver something of interest.

The legend(s) that surrounds this band are truly bizarre. You couldn't make some of this stuff up. One of my favourites was the 1998 tour of the US:

“To quote one witness of a 1998 gig at Brownies in New York: “After much antagonising from Mark, Karl jumped out from behind his kit and nearly strangled Mark. He kept saying, ‘I’ll kill you, you bloody c**t!’ Tommy kicked Mark in the ass really hard about half a dozen times. Mark proclaimed to the audience that he had been ‘assaulted by a dumb-as-a-goat Scotsman’ and that we were all witnesses.” The festivities continued backstage, Smith got arrested and the group went home. Court-ordered anger management deepened Smith’s sense of betrayal but didn’t stop him rebuilding The Fall (repeatedly).”

The revolving door of band members has left everyone guessing how the hell Mark E. Smith manages to pull, and keep, the whole thing together year after year. It can't be easy, yet he does manage to do it and even manages to win accolades for doing it. John Peel once said, "The Fall, always different, always the same". I would like to think that this is a reference to both the 
lineup and the music.

So, with over 60 ex members of The Fall and with all them having a story to tell, Dave Simpson decided to track down as many as possible and interview them... and that is what this book is all about. For most music fans a book about how their hero is a difficult bastard, is not something that would necessarily be a seller. There are of course exceptions to this but none come to my mind at the moment. I don't know anyone who is a Fall fan who doesn't own and hasn't enjoyed this book. This is a complicated thing to explain in this brief blog entry, but I think it has to do with Mark's unrelenting focus and ability to deliver despite his foibles and lack of management skills... although some may argue that it is his management skills that have maintained a continuity that others can only dream of.

Recently, I was talking to a fellow bookseller (Paul Perry, Allsorts Books in Northcote) about recent acquisitions and he started raving about this book. Paul is a little older than myself and English Punk(?) bands are not usually on his radar for listening enjoyment. He had thoroughly enjoyed reading it and was amazed and entertained by the whole concept of Mark and the revolving door, despite never having heard the band. I then encouraged him to listen to a few tracks on youtube and after a brief listen he gave them the thumbs up.  Unlike Paul, Mark E. Smith doesn't like the book, which any Fall watcher will agree is not really that suprising.

“I just f***ing burned it!”  Mark E. Smith

Friday, September 5, 2014

Gallipoli Doctors: The Australian Doctors at War Series Volume 1 by LTCOL Robert Likeman.

Gallipoli Doctors: The Australian Doctors at War Series Volume 1 by LTCOL Robert Likeman. Hardcover book published by Slouch Hat Publications 2010, 223 pages with black and white photographs and a few black and white illustrations.

Here in Australia the whole Gallipoli thing is starting to head towards fever pitch. Yes, it's nearly (...nearly but not quite...) one hundred years since the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli and I can only imagine what the next months will be like as we head towards the next ANZAC day. I'm not complaining or anything, it just seems that there is a lot of hype surrounding a centenary that is still a little way off.

ABC TV has recently been screening a series entitled ANZAC Girls:

“Honouring the Centenary of the commencement of WW1, ANZAC Girls is a moving new six-part series based on the unique, and rarely told true stories of Australian and New Zealand nurses serving at Gallipoli and the Western Front.”

I haven't been watching this “moving new six part series” as i've... ummmm... been busy with... ahhhh... other stuff. I'm sure it's great and bound to get those partiotic juices flowing even for those less inclined to be patriotic. Yes, even this hardened bookseller gets a tear in his eye whilst watching the previews, so it must be good. The reason I mention this TV show is that this book (the one i'm writing about) whilst not dealing with nurses, does look at those working with the nurses, namely, the Doctors. This whole book is devoted to the medical maestros that battled along side those in battle, performing medical procedures in a stressful climate of war and mayhem. I guess it's was a bit like MASH but with a different sort of Martini on hand.

Gallipoli Doctors is part of a series of books looking at Australian Doctors at War. It is very specific and whilst only looking at a small proportion of those who went (the doctors), they were an important part of the team. The book is a collection of biographies that whilst brief, do have considerable detail. If your great grand father was a doctor at Gallipoli, he's bound to be here.