Tuesday, September 4, 2012


What are we to do with all these books?

At some point or other most people end up being faced with this problem. For me it was moving halfway across the planet. Cherished books became a burden. This is not uncommon. Books take up so much space. They lumber across time, quick to become yesterday’s knowledge yet at the same time ageing too slowly to appreciate as objects and acquire antiquarian status within one’s lifetime. This is much of the reason why we have second-hand bookshops: to receive and put back into circulation not what is of value, but what has ceased to be of value.

Taking your books to a second-hand shop is almost without fail a depressing experience. They offer you so little. But you used to love those books! What happened? It doesn’t matter. You need the space at home, or the books pose other logistical problems that are at this time insurmountable. So you either settle for a pittance or donate the books to somebody else. This is generally somewhat less depressing unless the other party tells you that they can’t be bothered to take your books either, not even for free. Maybe they’ll just pick a few. (Would you? That would help.)

Now it just so happens that when books become a problem for somebody else, they are much more likely to appeal to me. I have discussed my interest in these discarded objects many times before, as well as the fact that it’s the technology that sustains it. You will never hear anyone complain that they have all these e-books they would love to get rid of. I have also made the point that the fact that printed books can become a problem isn’t a bug, it’s a feature; one of the ways in which books mean things. So I’m not going to go into that again either.

This long preamble is just to say that this year most of my second-hand book acquisitions have come by way of my being offered to rummage through boxes, or handed things directly. Traditionally I largely devote this anniversary post – this week makes four years since I started – to detailing my loot from the Downtown Community Ministry Bookfair, but the event has been postponed until November, so the dramatically shortened list comprises mainly these other found or gifted books. From the old library of the Italian department at my university, this beautiful guidebook to Venice from 1938.

Or the thoroughly formidable collection of technocratic maps of the Atlas of the Fund for the South.

From an old lecturer and friend, a trove of Italian books on literature, film and politics headlined by Paolo Spriano’s eight-volume history of the Communist Party.

From a very kind reader, this gem, that had long been on my wishlist.

Progressive New Zealand

Finally when I was back home in April I made a detour to Bologna to catch up with Evan Calder Williams – the kind of thing that it would be worth giving up a year of blogging for – and picked up a couple of superb old magazines I then got to write about for Overland.

Cinema magazine from September 1940

'In Vietnam they killed the child Jesus'. La Domenica del Corriere of 26 December 1965.

That’s it for this part of the anniversary proceedings, except to mention that, speaking of Overland, I have found a kindred spirit in Stephen Wright, so read this beautiful post of his on second-hand bookshops.

(Oh, and I must also register I still don’t have a Kindle or tablet or equivalent device. I thought I would by now and said so last year, but no. Not yet.)


Another anniversary tradition is the changing of the banner, and this year I’m delighted to put up a new one from the wonderful Dylan Horrocks. It was all I could do not to upload it the moment he sent it to me. So to recap we started with this, from the 1945 edition of Bruno Furst's Stop Forgetting.

And then there were the three designs from Shirley Carran.

Now this latest one, which I’m really excited about – thank you so much Dylan.


And finally, a very quick look back at these last twelve months. I got to do a lot more serious writing, which I define as writing outside of this blog. The catalogue of Marian Maguire’s new show came out, and I was really proud to be a part of it. I wrote an essay on the European crisis for Overland, and was given the opportunity to blog for them in a regular slot. (The essay also got me on the telly, which by contrast appears highly unlikely to become a regular occurrence.) I wrote a piece on the internet as a technology of control for The New Inquiry. Three posts got included in as many issues of Brief. We launched Dougal’s book. Megan started contributing again. In short, it was a good year, in which writing made time. But if I had to pick a single highlight it would be the translation over at Buchi nella sabbia of my post on the stopped clock at the Bologna train station. Publishing is about presuming to ask people for their time and attention so it’s always humbling when a reader repays you in kind, and the skill that Francesca applied to the task is something quite special. I was moved by it.

I leave you with the last yearful of posts in clickable mosaic form.

 Forecasts of the Past  The Man on the Roof  The Lion and the Kiwi
 This Is Me, Looking at You  Old Films  Good Morning, Shooters
 The Good Earth  The Wedge  Hyper-Local
 Family Day  Un-Educated  An Essay on Criticism
 Airports (2): Changi International  Signs of Discomfort  Public/Private/Foreign
 The Airplane Film Review  25 April  The Absent Mother
 Posthumous  Garibaldi's Statue  The Empty Fortress
 Finlands of the Mind  Ten Twenty-Five  Being a Great Dad for Dummies
 The Social Network  The Whole Earth Is the Tomb of English People  The Premature Burial
 The Death of Cinema Redux: Martin Scorsese's Hugo  Little Angry Synthetic Men Learn About Love  Liveblogging the Apocalypse (8): The End of the Internet
 Flow My Tears, the Minister Said  Endings  Titokowaru's Dilemma
 You and Mark Aren't Friends  Memory Trade  Land Values
 Posterous  The Long Goodbye  How to Be a Retronaut
 The Meaning of John Key  'Reality is Broken': on the death of Steve Jobs  Occupy Wellington
 The Field of Miracles  After Work  The Well-Adjusted
 Animal Treatment  Three.