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would be unlikely to find at a regular second-hand bookshop, in that it's old but not quite enough to be an antique, outdated but not quite enough to be quaint or downright kitsch.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.