Monday, September 7, 2009


The blog turns one this week but it was this time two years ago that I acquired the book whose artwork inspired me to come up with the title, and that I adapted into the banner that I'm retiring today. Here's one last, wistful look:

Mnemonic flash cards from an illustration by Bert Warter on p. 74 of Bruno Furst’s Stop Forgetting (1949).
Stop Forgetting is a book that you would be unlikely to find at a regular second-hand bookshop, in that it's old but not quite enough to be an antique, outdated but not quite enough to be quaint or downright kitsch. Libraries too, where shelving space may be large but isn't limitless, get rid of this kind of book all time. So if you're interested in volumes of that particular variety and vintage, but don't have a particular title in mind, you're best to find yourself a storehouse. Like this one:

Image by Timothy Greig, licensed under CC 2.0
The Downtown Community Ministry book fair in Wellington is my favourite worldwide event that doesn't involve seditious chanting or semi-competitive eating and drinking, and it's on every year in early September. Being your typically egotistic blogger, I'm secretly convinced it's been scheduled to coincide with my blog anniversary on purpose, for it's the perfect gift to mark the occasion and I could quite happily base a year's worth of posts on what I take home from a single one of these expeditions.

Now don't get me wrong: the fair has plenty of titles of both general and specialist interest that are still in print, so it's great if you just plan to save yourself a lot of money - which I most certainly have, over the past four years. But what I really look for is what I couldn't otherwise find, and that more often than not I didn't even know existed, except in general terms as part of a certain category such as vintage self-help books (especially in the area of memory improvement), or home help hints, or old instructional books for the young, or texts of national promotion and propaganda. When it comes to these kinds of books, I can go a bit crazy. Not Haňt'a-crazy, but not far off either. I want to take them all, save them all. So I set myself all sorts of odious arbitrary limits, have second and third thoughts, cogitate and meditate and ruminate on whether Bible Stories Make Me Happy is worth saving on account of its title alone, or whether the jingoism of The Whole Earth is the Tomb of English People might make me want to hurl it in random directions, thus endangering the children. (I settled on no and yes, respectively.)

It comes down, as always, to a question of space and time. Whether I’ll find enough of the former to store these books, and enough of the latter to read them. And then there’s the time spent browsing, which is also finite - this year, believe it or not, I skipped general fiction entirely. From the intersection of these (desirable, necessary) structural constraints and the relative randomness of the titles on offer comes the list of books I get to take home. Thirty-three in total, this year. Some standouts: three, count ‘em, three titles from the publisher that is always at the top of my list, Novosti Press. Whenever I see one of these I figure there's an old commie in Wellington who either died or moved into a rest home. Your books are safe with me, comrade.

Then there are a few snapshots from a time where the debate concerning political economy presented options other than the choice between neoliberalism and ultra-neoliberalism.

Sometimes it just takes one particular person’s decision to clear off their shelves earlier in the year to give a certain flavour to my experience at the fair. Thus 2009 will be remembered as the year of feminist science fiction, with a bag of books originally purchased by the donor at the Kate Sheppard Women’s Bookshop in Christchurch. Besides my beloved Joanna Russ

A good book to have in the house
I bagged Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Suzette Haden Elgin’s The Native Tongue and The Judas Rose. If there ever comes again in my life the opportunity to get funded to do some research, it might well be on future languages in science fiction, from Orwell’s newspeak to Elgin’s native tongue. Were you all a bunch of universities, wouldn’t you just fall over yourselves to finance such an endeavour?

As always, I was on the lookout for English translations of Guareschi - not to keep, you understand, but to give away. This time I came across two editions with lovely drawings by the author on the respective covers. Lyndon nabbed another, thus pre-empting my giving it to him, for he was a prime candidate for recipientship.

Soon to become a prize in the blog’s running competition. Philip is currently ahead of the pack with five points.
Firmly in the ‘other’ category, a couple of absolute gems. This wonderful book on the human body, whose contents look just as promising as the cover.

And a lovely little specimen on the art of garbage collecting.

You better believe I’m going to blog about this one.
On the teaching-kids-about-the-world-and-about-themselves front, expect to read in the coming months about Cole’s Family Amuser and Instructor (‘to delight the children and make the home happier’) as well as these two little numbers.

Although possibly the pick of the fair was a history of Bayer AG with revisionism written all over it. My jaw dropped at least five times in the few moments I spent skimming it before I decided that it had to be rescued. Details as soon as my stomach allows it.


All in all, it was a very good catch and a cracking blog anniversary present. Another present comes today in the form of a new banner design that I commissioned to the very clever Shirley Carran, whose work can be seen at Swonderful, Craft 2.0 and Knack. In fact she came back to me with not one but four different designs, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep this going for four more years in order to complete the rotation. But at least you’ll know whom to blame.


One year. Forty-eight posts (including this one) that I've enjoyed writing almost as much as I've enjoyed reading the six hundred and fifty-five comments. Thank you all for bearing with me for a full calendar year, and thank you Harvest Bird (whose compendium has finally been updated) and the rest for writing quite wonderful things in return. There are few things I value as much as other people's time, and I'm grateful that some of you chose to spend some of yours here, whether in order to comment or just read.

Speaking of which, I'm working on the slightly corny and quite possibly baseless theory that writing doesn't take time, it makes time. It's an extension of what Daniel Pennac wrote once about reading, and I'm not sure I can say in all honesty that it always felt true over the course of the last twelve months, but now and then it did, and it was special. As I say, I'm still working on it.


Philip said...

I used to have a copy (and if those aren't the most poignant half-dozen words in the bibliophile vocabulary, I'd like to know what are) of the Penguin edition of The Little World of Don Camillo with that same neon-light style of drawing on the cover. The TV series with Mario Adorf was being shown on one of the only three channels we had at the time, and a teacher at Tadcaster Grammar School had been struck with the unwontedly inspired idea of reading out the first story in morning assembly.

Word Verification: flesses, the unwarranted lexemes of a maladjusted argot.

Robyn said...

Congratulations on your anniversary. Your writings are always good to read.

I admire your discipline. Maybe I need to set aside some writing time once a week and just do something.

Also a bonus congratulations to Ms Bird for her poems - they add a most welcome dimension.

Speaking of which, I'm working on the slightly corny and quite possibly baseless theory that writing doesn't take time, it makes time.

This feels true, and I want this to be true.

Lyndon said...

Happy birthday.

I can confirm the one I got is not part of that set: It's Don Camillo's Dilemma in hardback, yellow flyleaf with a couple of more catoons at more natural size.

... and a small backpack of other things, at least one of which was purchased for the Awesome Underwater Diving Suit art on the cover.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday.

That's a beautiful Russ cover.

I have a wonderful copy of "The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse" from the 2003 Ministry book fair. It's a withdrawn copy from the Wellington Prison Education Office and on the front page, in a cursive script more elegant than anything anyone my age could ever hope for, someone's written:

Stupid f**king poetry / That's for bloody sure!!

[the **s, though, are just for youse out there reading this on work computers - it is of course uc in the original]

So that's my Bookfair memory present to you Giovanni. The latest post here is something I look forward to each Monday.


Danielle said...

This post makes me sad that working in libraries for so long has made me sort of... 'over books', or at least over collecting them. Perhaps I'll get the joy back eventually.

(I did buy a photographic history of the early years of Van Halen in Rotorua recently, though.)

rob said...

Happy Birthday!
Great news you have 4 cool new banners- it means you'll have to make it to 5.

Paul said...

Working in libraries and reading this blog has re-kindled (yes, I know) my love of books as objects.
Happy anniversary. It has been a very good year.

Deborah said...

Happy birthday!

George said...

A good year indeed. Happy birthday!

Cheryl Bernstein said...

I'm very much looking forward to the post on 'About Dust-Men'. Cheers for another fine blogging year ahead.

daleaway said...

Many happy returns!

I was raised on Don Camillo. Lovely stuff. Glad he's not been forgotten.
And I still have both those annuals you feature - the boys' and the girls' - since new. How we loved getting our various annuals, with their alien tales of dorms and midnight feasts and snow. And I also kept the ubiquitous Coles Funny Picture Book, which is rather ugly and not funny at all.

You may find that fiction starts losing its pull as middle age draws on. Seems to work that way for some bookpeople.

Just donated a box of books to the Kapiti Lions book sale - that's huge and worth coming up the Coast for. It's miraculous to see a gap in our crowded bookshelves, though we are resigned to the thought that we will probably fill it with someone else's quirky rejects in a couple of months' time when the Lions fling wide their doors.

Giovanni said...

You people are all so nice. And good-looking.

@Philip, Lyndon, Daleaway I'll be in the Little World in three weeks, that's where Dad is now. It will likely be a brief visit, with no time to pop into the Guareschi museum, but who knows...

@Robyn "Also a bonus congratulations to Ms Bird for her poems"

Hear, hear. Sometimes I wonder if I say it enough.

"I admire your discipline. Maybe I need to set aside some writing time once a week and just do something."

Without the rigid schedule, I would write perhaps six posts a year - in other words, for me it's not really an option.

@Dougal You wouldn't be the same Dougal who told me about the DCM book fair in the first place, would you? :-)

I remember you had found something outrageously impressive, a many-volumed thing like the complete works of Brecht in the original German perhaps? Whatever it was, I know I was immediately sold on the concept.

@Danielle "This post makes me sad that working in libraries for so long has made me sort of... 'over books', or at least over collecting them."

I was too for a good ten-year span, between the time leading up to leaving Italy and the time it took us to decide that we'd stay New Zealand for a future that could best be described as foreseeable. That's how long it took me to get over the trauma of dismantling my library back home and to feel that I could start to, er, love books again. That said, I think if we had to give this lot up it would take me a lot less to come to terms with the idea. The first time around it was all wrapped up in big hairy concepts like permanence and mortality.

Yvonne said...

Giovanni, when I win that lotto prize, which must be only a matter of time, I'll so give you a grant for your research project.

Regarding your trauma of dismantling your library. With a family that regularly moved countries and continents throughout my childhood and young adulthood, the one constant that made a new place 'home' was the unpacking of my books and arranging them back in their bookshelves. The first thing that was always checked with any new place was: were are the bookshelves going to fit? It's a bit of an ongoing joke with my family that The Books take priority over the lounge.

Taramoc said...

Happy Birthday!

I really rely on this blog to kick start my Mondays, so I wish it many years to come.

I'm so jealous about the book fair... just that is a reason to come visit you in Wellington (like I needed one more).

When I moved to Canada I went through the same sadness about having to choose a selected amount of my books to bring over. Fast forward ten years and I still think about having the stranded ones shipped over. And I now own probably ten times more already.

Writing makes time: absolutely! I find that an idea that needs to be written will stay in my head until I do, occupying precious thinking space (which is as much as a measure of time as any other I can think of).

merc said...

Stupid f**king poetry / That's for bloody sure!!
I so agree, I HATE the stuff, really, it's a dichotomy I have. I quit, like Rimbaud, am going to try arms dealing and meeting a Nubian. Oh God, it's not about me, it's about yo wondrous blog Gio.
Love you man.
Can I come to Italinini with you?

wordverf; chagan...that other painter.

Make Tea Not War said...

Lovely post! I'm also from a family who moved continents and I think that put me off book ownership to a great extent. There's something quite traumatizing about living without household goods for three months and then when the container arrives and you are desperately looking for plates just finding box after box of useless books (and also ashtrays)

But I do occasionally feel the urge to acquire old books. I'm especially drawn to books with inscriptions that seem to tell a story about the former owner.

keri h said...

My places (most of which are not houses) are book-holds..;
"The Little World of Don Camillo" (Hutchinson? Yellow-jacketed with reddish type?) was part of my childhood.
All best for the anniversary - ka mihi koa mo te ra-huri tau-
(cheese comeeen-)

harvestbird said...


When they saw her
manuscripts' disorder,
then they knew
her depression was mortal.


My affairs I conducted
between towers of paper;
one sweep of the arm
and all order was gone.


When first I set off
the alarm at the library
I imagined a Venetian
midget would stab me.


These poems are policies;
this verse, standing orders.
Don't look now;
I'm ticking the boxes.


At Kent Street
I slept in the study.
I read the titles
on the spines of the books.

Thirty years later
I remember that wall.
Their home was my home.
Those names, my backbone.

Giovanni said...

Supplementary thanks to the people who wrote after the first round of thanks. I'm really quite fond of all you.

@Make Tea Not War "I'm especially drawn to books with inscriptions that seem to tell a story about the former owner."

It's hard to beat Dougal's story of course, but some folks are doing a good job of trying here.

Fans of Harvest Bird (and let's face it, who isn't) might like to know that today she also contributed to last week's post.