Monday, March 30, 2015

My Broken Love: Gunter Grass in India and Bangladesh

My Broken Love: Gunter Grass in India and Bangladesh, compiled and edited by Martin Kampchen. Hardcover book published by Viking / Penguin (India) 2001, 303 pages with a few black and white photographs and illustrations.

In 1975 when the German novelist Günter Grass, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1999, visited India for the first time, he singled out Calcutta as a city he would definitely return to. The abject poverty in which many in Calcutta lived, juxtaposed with the throbbing vitality of the city and the tremendous will of the people to strive against the odds, evoked in Grass a strange mixture of attraction and disgust, but also left him utterly fascinated. Grass did return to Calcutta eleven years later, this time with his wife Ute, to live there for a year as ordinary residents of the city. Even though the couple eventually spent only a few months there, the experience left a lasting impression on Grass, Ute and the people who came in contact with them. Calcutta affected Grass in some indefinable but significant way, just as he had touched the lives of many through the friendships he struck up, his support of social causes, and his efforts to promote the role of the creative artist in politics. The encounter also resulted in Zunge zeigen (Show Your Tongue), a diary published in 1989, in which Grass approached Indian reality through prose, verse and a series of black-and-white sketches. My Broken Love is a rich collection of all the material available on Günter Grass’ sojourn.”

If your thinking that you've never heard of this book and are wondering what the hell has Huc & Gabet stumbled upon, then you are thinking exactly what I was thinking when I found this gem. I've got a copy and have read “Show Your Tongue”, his Calcutta book, so the whole Gunter Grass in India thing was not a suprise. Having spent more time than I probably should have in Calcutta, I get why Gunter chose to spend his time in this most amazing of cities. It's hard to describe or explain what is so fascinating about the West Bengalis and their sprawling and at times incomprehensible metropolis. There are lots of contradictions and just when you think you have it all figured out you realise that as an outsider you really have no idea at all... which is sort of like the rest of India, except Calcutta is just that little bit more amazing. The last time I was there, I did notice that it was getting harder to walk along the streets as the footpaths were becoming more impenetrable with human mass, and physically bumping into everyone around you was an unavoidable event... Unfortunately I didn't bump into Mr Grass.

This book contains interviews and articles, some of which are by Gunter himself but most are by others and I guess the idea behind the book is to document this most important of writers visit to this city. The book was published in India and i've got a feeling it didn't hit the printing presses anywhere else. Due to the online scarcity and my complete ignorance as to this books existence despite being an avid consumer of Gunters work, i'd venture a guess that not many copies made it out of India.   

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Boys from the Rush Beds: The History of the Ballarat City Rowing Club 1870-2004: Incorporating the early development of Lake Wendouree 1860-1870 by Kathryn M. Elliott.

The Boys from the Rush Beds: The History of the Ballarat City Rowing Club 1870-2004: Incorporating the early development of Lake Wendouree 1860-1870 by Kathryn M. Elliott. Paperback book published by the author for the Ballarat City Rowing Club 2004 (Limited Edition of 250), 360 pages with black and white photographs and illustrations.

A history of Ballarat... any history of Ballarat, is something that this bookseller will always pick up due to local interest (...i'm not far away). Sure, the goldrush is a slightly more popular and sexy bit of Ballarat's broad history, but rowing in Ballarat is also on the worlds radar, with the lake being one of the venues used in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. When I first moved to the area in 2010 there was no lake and Rowing would have been more than a little difficult due to the prevailing drought conditions at the time. Since then the lake has filled and Rowing has once again become part of Ballarat.

For this blog entry I thought I would take a few photographs of the lake and some of the boat sheds, but failed to register exactly which one was the Ballarat City Rowing Club (I believe it's in the top photo on your left). I think you can get an idea of what the lake and boathouses look like regardless of my vague photographs. 

I was unable to find any other copies of this book for sale on the interwebs at the time of writing this, and it being a limited edition of 250, I figure that all those that have a copy will have hung on to it as a history like this does not come along very often. I like the idea of 249 people clinging to their own special copy with a knowledge that there ain't no more... except for this one... and I reckon there's at least one more person out there just itching to find this lost treasure.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Birds of the Ballarat Region: A handbook by Roger Thomas and Jack Wheeler.

Birds of the Ballarat Region: A handbook by Roger Thomas and Jack Wheeler. Paperback book published by Roger Thomas 1983, 112 pages with a few colour photographs and one black and white map.

The first readily-available bird guide of the Ballarat area, written by its most experienced bird observers. Useful for anywhere in south-eastern Australia, this guide to the birds of the Ballarat region gives details of distribution, habitat, status, numbers, arrival and departure dates of migrants, and the places to find the birds. The text is arranged in three parts, according to habitat—a change from the usual taxonomic groupings. A useful innovation is the inclusion of brief but concise identification keys, enabling all birds to be readily identified. All keys are cross-referenced to the text. lndispensible for all birdwatchers, bush-walkers and casual observers.”

Huc & Gabet headquarters are within the Ballarat Region and yes, there is a noticeable amount of bird life around here. Probably one of the most prolific and therefore noticeable birds in the area, is the Cockatoo, of which when I say there can be thousands circling the town, I really do mean thousands. Generally you become aware of them as the noise is fairly intrusive and it's as obvious as a good book is amidst a shelf full of rubbish, that something is going on. When I hear the Cockies circling overhead, I don't need to reach for a book in the hope of identifying what the noise is, I reach for earplugs*.

Probably my favourite local bird (yes, I have a favourite bird) is the Wedge-tailed Eagle, which is one of our local feathered friends that you don't see here in downtown Clunes, but do see in the surrounding country side. A few weeks back I was at an Australia Day barbecue at a farm just out of town... and yes, it was a very Aussie celebration. It was my first visit to this farm and I was quite awed by it and it's impressive vista. It was mid afternoon and after mentioning my vista awe to some of the other guests, I was informed re the Eagle display that usually took place around dusk. I'm fairly sceptical about this sort of thing... you know, the whole nature will perform for us at this and this time... but I kept an open mind and wouldn't you know it, the Eagles delivered. It was an outstanding display of hovering and near stationary Eagles (there was more than one) in the wild, in full hunting mode. It was so great, that here I am a month and a bit later writing about it in this blog.

Both of the birds I have mentioned above don't really need looking up in “Birds of the Ballarat Region”. I can identify a Cockatoo and an Eagle with some confidence. There are plenty of other birds around here that i'm not so familiar with and a book such as this could be quite useful. I have one slight criticism of it and that is a lack of photographs or illustrations of the majority of the birds listed. There are a few photos, but a complete novice like myself would love some more pictures. Still, it's nice that there is a book like this with a local flavour.

* I don't actually own any earplugs... 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Oh My Goddess! by Kosuke Fujishima.

Oh My Goddess! by Kosuke Fujishima.  20 Paperback books published by Dark Horse Manga, unpaginated with black and white illustrations throughout (Manga).

Oh My Goddess! (Japanese: ああっ女神さまっ Hepburn: Aa! Megami-sama?), or Ah! My Goddess! in some releases, is a Japanese seinen manga series written and illustrated by Kōsuke Fujishima.”

Sometimes you gotta jump in the deep end... or at least paddle a little bit in the shallow end. Manga is not an area that I am particularly knowledgeable about but is something that I am well aware of as being a part of current popular culture. It may have originated in Japan but it is now a global phenomenon. I am also aware that Manga is a single word covering a very broad range of titles which all have their own audiences. Some of these are very popular here in Australia... don't ask me which ones, as I have absolutely no idea... which is what my paddling about in the shallow end is all about.

If you flick through Manga you get a very disjointed impression of cartoon characters, usually younger people (...yes I am old...) doing stuff that sort of seems a bit unusual, sometimes violent and sometimes sexual... and sometimes unusual, violent and sexual. Oh My Goddess! is described by the publisher as “a priceless shipment of action, romance, and comedy!” and from what I can gather it has less of the violence and sex that many other Manga books seem to have. I get the impression that Oh My Goddess! is written for younger teen girls, but I could be way off the mark on this...

Occasionally I get asked for Manga which is probably the main reason I was tempted into purchasing this rather daunting large set of books. 20 volumes of something i'm not really that familiar with is a bit of a risk, but something I figure is worth a try.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Unique, Endemic and Rare Flora of Sulawesi

The Unique, Endemic and Rare Flora of Sulawesi, edited by Yuzammi and Syamsul Hidayat. Hardcover book with pictorial boards (no dust jacket) published by Center for Plant Conservation, Bogor Botanic Gardens, Institute of Indonesian Sciences in collaboration with Yayasan Sosial Chevron dan Texaco Indonesia 2002, 220 pages with colour photographs and maps as well as black and white maps (some with red dots on them).

The richness of Indonesian biodiversity has been of great interest for a long time. In Indonesian it is commonly known as ‘zamrut khatulistiwa’ (the scattered emeralds along the equatic belt) ranging from Sabang (small island in north Aceh) to Merauke (Papua). In addition, Indonesia is also rich in oceanic flora and fauna. Therefore, it is referred to a Megadiversity Country. Unfortunately, it is changing from a Megadiversity Country to a Hotspot Country. The pride of being a country of the rich of biodiversity has tended to encourage the exploitation and neglect with little to unsustainable use of natural resources. As a result many plants and animals are now endangered in the wild while their value or potential are still unknown. Inventories of Indonesian flora have been conducted sporadically. Nevertheless, these do not equal with the richness of Indonesian Biodiversity nor the rate at with it is decreasing. Etc”

Yep, it is decreasing... not that i'm an expert on the matter, but I do read a bit and that's what i've read... and the telly says so as well... as does the internet... so it must be true. I find the exploitation and neglect that is rampant in this world (all of it, not just Indonesia) more than a little depressing. Big foreign multinational companies are often to blame... you know the ones... the big ones... like oil companies etc. The sort of company where the bottom $ is all that matters and a few plants blocking progress is really of little concern when profits are to be made.

This book has incredibly lush photography of some truly beautiful and amazing plants. Not all of them are threatened, which is a good thing, but there are enough plants here that are marked “Vulnerable”, “Data deficient” and “Near threatened” to cause some concern. I should point out that this book is not really coming from a hard line environmental doomsday scenario. It is more of a guide and appreciation of what Sulawesi has to offer in the Flora department.

I've never been to Sulawesi. But I would love to visit this part of the world for many reasons including the flora and fauna and a book like this makes me realise that the later I leave it the less I will probably see.

Finally, I think it's great that the publishers have included a purpose printed bookmark. It shows an attention to detail... or it could be a blatant form of advertising, just in case you hadn't realised who the warm and fuzzy companies were that had bankrolled the whole thing.