Monday, September 6, 2010


(This was ready in advance of the earthquake in Christchurch, apropos of which I have nothing terribly relevant or important to say. That it was eerily similar in magnitude, depth and proximity to a large population centre to Haiti's, and a great deal stronger than L'Aquila's, underscores once again how man-made those catastrophes were, but we knew that. So I’ll direct your attention instead to this lovely post of Jolisa's and to Russell's analysis of the role of social media in making the facts on the ground known. I'll add more links throughout the week as they come to hand. EDIT: the thirteen things that Mike Dickison learnt from the quake, and Scott Hamilton's excellent political analysis of the response. EDIT 2: Emma time! EDIT 3: Harvest Bird on, amongst other things, having married McGiver. EDIT 4: Cheryl weighs in, and it's a wrap.)

So it's that time of the year again, when I celebrate another blog anniversary with a visit to the always wonderful DCM Book Fair. In another homage to tradition I'm also unveiling a new banner by Shirley Carran. It is time therefore to farewell Shirley's design for the twelve months just ended

Which had in turn replaced Bert Warter's artwork to which this blog owes its possibly perplexing and – if half-fumbled web searches are any indication – fittingly hard-to-remember title.

There's also a competition for a prize that few people would even want for those who stick around until the end of the post.


The big annual book fair down at the Queen's Wharf in Wellington is the only fundraising event for the Downtown Community Ministry, which does many good things for the city's poor, and this year it collected over 60,000 books and 2,000 CDs from city-wide donations over the course of several months.

We are fortunate to have a number of very good second-hand bookstores in Wellington, but charitable objectives aside you could in fact argue that the DCM Book Fair is a bad one: vast, indiscriminate, brimming ­alongside its many treasures with books, maps, brochures and assorted ephemera that no self-respecting shop owner would waste their shelf space and your browsing time for: objects not old enough to have become antiques, nor kitsch enough to appeal to hipsters, but filler, space-takers. Even the pricing ­­– two dollars per book on the Saturday, one dollar on the Sunday, with very few exceptions – is anathema to the craft of the vintage bookseller, which consists in the expert appraisal of the relative value of books. By levelling the worth of its holdings, the DCM Book Fair comes to bear an odd resemblance with giant online depositories such as Google Books, in which none of the entries are inherently more prominent or visible than the others. Except in this case there isn’t the sanctuary of a search function: just one very large room and the books laid out in broad thematic order on dozens of tables. It’s a place of too much knowledge, and sometimes I surprise myself thinking of how I navigate that space in terms of how I do the Web, and find metaphors that originated in print culture, like scanning and browsing, come back charged with their digital overlays of meaning.

I've discussed at length in last year's precursor to this post how the filler is in fact what I'm primarily interested in: the things that I couldn't possibly have been looking for, because I didn't know they existed except in very generic terms: chiefly, old self-help books and other containers of superseded knowledge.

On this front the pickings were possibly a little leaner than in years past, although I am delighted to have come across the 1000-page tome Science for the Citizen (1938), a brilliant companion to last year’s The Secret of Life.

I was already familiar with the next item, Alan Harrington’s The Immortalist, but I had to purchase the available copy on account of its wonderful cover, that it is instructive to compare with the last one the book was given before going out of print.

Vintage covers of books that are still in circulation are constant a source of delight, and number often amongst the most overtly hauntological finds (indeed I suspect that some of my friends at Found Objects would faint with pleasure at the Book Fair).

And in the old covers department, is the arc of any writer’s fortunes more splendidly captured than J.G. Ballard’s?

New frontiers in Ballardian criticism: using the cover of The Drought to test if your pen works.

There is always one book that is enough by itself to amply justify the time spent at the Fair. Two years ago, it was the 'Asian Edition'. Last year, it was About Dustmen. I think I’m going to remember this year’s expedition chiefly for this.

A lecture by chartered accountant Frederick S. Todman on the workings of the New York Stock Exchange, published in 1918 and revised in 1929, but still before the events of October 29. Wonderful.

It is on the front of my continuing and utterly un-systematic New Zealand education that this year’s Fair offered the greatest number of rewards, however. C.V. Smith’s 'humorous survey' of 1947.

From the chapter on the 40-hour week: ‘When it was first introduced, it came as a bombshell to bankers, lawyers and stockbrokers. Not understanding their position, they thought that their hours of work were being increased by ten hours a week.’

An American psychologist’s view, 1960.

W.B. Sutch’s always elusive Women with a Cause, that the Wellington City Library won’t lend and that the Auckland Teachers’ College kept for some time in the stacks and then opted to cull. (Their students’ loss was my gain.)

Other assorted feminist treasures that went straight to Justine’s shelf and finally nine, count ‘em, nine issues of New Zealand’s Heritage, the 1971 Paul Hamlyn encyclopaedia that reads like a magazine or even, dare I say it, a blog. I’m going to have a lot of fun with these.

Giveaway time. My most intensely faithful readers might recall that I had promised to include two Guareschi novels from last year’s loot in a giveaway that never eventuated – those books ended up finding a good home by way of a permanent loan. This year however I found Comrade Don Camillo, one of my favourite books in the series, which in the 1966 Penguin edition sports Guareschi’s own brilliant cover design, and I’m offloading it right away so I don’t forget.

I’m going to send the book to the first person who solves this riddle (opens in a new page), along with another book that will depend on where the winner is from. To a non-New Zealander I’d send John Clarke’s wonderful The Thoughts of Chairman Fred, whereas a local winner would receive a mystery prize (in that I haven’t thought about it yet). If nobody comes close to answering the riddle or in fact to being remotely bothered to try, I’ll declare Philip the winner, for he accrued five points in semi-random fashion back when I thought I was going to do this kind of thing a lot.


This time last year I ventured to suggest that perhaps writing, as Daniel Pennac said of reading, doesn’t take time, it makes time. I am twelve months closer to believing that it might just be true.

Year two. 48 posts, 895 comments – that’s a lot of words, and not all of them mine. My thanks to you all as always for taking the time to read or contribute: I appreciate that most sincerely. Further thanks to this blog’s wonderful resident poet, who in spite of being inconsiderate enough to have a baby missed but a handful of deadlines, and now as a Cantabrian is dealing not just with the demands of maternity but also with the vagaries of geology. We’re thinking of you all down there, our Christchurch friends – kia kaha, and stay safe.


engrama said...

First of all, congratulations on year 2 of your blog. I'm glad I happened upon it a few months back. Also, I really like the new banner.

Thanks for sharing your finds. I love looking at the old covers -- you have given us a way to share your browsing while we browse. That Wall Street book is just...eerie.

I am resisting the Kindle as long as possible. Your post underscores why.

Here's to another year!

Philip said...

J F Horrabin is a wonderful name for a mad scientist, but Hogben & Horrabin strains at the bounds of credulity.

I once came across a copy of Ballard's Crash in which various bits of social commentary had been carefully underlined; notably a comment about the medical profession being a repository of those with a grudge against the huma race. Not just a biro-wielding barbarian, but a paranoid biro-wielding barbarian.

Word Verification: wasesses, the feminine plural of the past perfect tense of to be.

Philip said...

Regarding your new banner, I am not at all sure those numbers are accurate Scrabble scores.

merc said...

I owe you for all the brain food.
BTW, M = 56, it's a thing I have, among many.

antall, includes everything.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Ah, but the numbers are there for a reason - the clue's on this very page.

J F Horrabin is a wonderful name for a mad scientist, but Hogben & Horrabin strains at the bounds of credulity.

I'm still trying to get over 'Lancelot'. The book is simply magnificent, it's all I could do to stop myself from dropping to the floor and reading it on the spot at the fair.

Hogben, who was also the author of Mathematics for the Millions, a precursor to the book I found, attacked eugenics and created a universal language called interglossa as ‘a draft of an auxiliary for a democratic world order’. (thank you, Wikipedia.)

Stephen Parkes said...

Wait, you mean your blog's not called 'Boy, Bean, Beam' ?

Stephen Parkes said...

Ah, but the numbers are there for a reason - the clue's on this very page.

I like that the numbers are back in the banner. Shirley should incorporate those numbers into the new banners in future years.

Christopher Dempsey said...

So why would a Dempsey on the 14th August 1980 take out Sutch's book? Mystery. She/he was doing a B.A.

Keri H said...

"Mathematics For The Millions."
Dons safari hat & mosquito webbings, prepares to venture into the highest stacks & do battle with with the entrenched spiders - "It is there! I will return! I am just going out or a little while..."

Taramoc said...

Congrats on the two year mark! Your interest in The Immortalist gives me hope that this blog will go on forever.

Incidentally, I gotta get myself a copy of the Immortalist.

WV: dethsp: profundiiste or aciyut

Giovanni Tiso said...

I am due to review the Immortalist soon, but spoiler alert: he lives forever.

Interestingly, Mathematics for the Millions was being published as late as the 1980s, whereas Science for the Citizen still usrvives mostly in the 1938 edition, judging by booksellers' inventories, although it did get a couple of post-war reprints.

(One could also reflect on the use of the word "Citizen" in place of the contemporary "Dummies".)

So why would a Dempsey on the 14th August 1980 take out Sutch's book? Mystery.

Not a mystery at all: great book, and the Dempseys historically have good taste.

Douglas Kretzmann said...

"Mathematics for the Millions was being published as late as the 1980s, whereas Science for the Citizen still survives mostly in the 1938 edition."

that's because the mathematics book is still one of the better primers on the subject - my brother used it with his high-school kids, also credits it for his own breakthrough in first year university math. Science on the other hand has moved on.

I used to haunt a charity used-book shop in Cape Town, which received a lot of estate sale books from the elderly relicts of empire. It was full of treasures - "The Way of a Trout with the Fly and Some Further Studies in Minor Tactics" by GEM Skues, "Coming down the Wye" in the austerity edition of 1943.

word verification: obeli, a mark used in ancient texts to mark a word or passage as spurious, corrupt, or doubtful.