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.


Anonymous said...

Happy anniversary! I'm reading this in the transit lounge of Singapore Airport, a bewildering, PKD-ish 'smooth space' rendered intelligible (and interesting) to me from posts here, so it's a nice feeling.


francesca said...

Thank you very much, Giovanni, for making time not only for you, but also for us (it's my turn to be moved now). If writing makes time, then translating shifts time (il décale le temps, I'd say in French). At least unconsciously, I did it exactly for that purpose, not only in the conscious attempt of paying a concrete homage to your creation of time. Thanks again and happy anniversary.

Matthew R. X. Dentith said...

Hurrah for another anniversary (and let's see if you have a tablet by next year: I know do half my reading on a tablet and the other half on my still growing collection of paperbacks and hardbacks - it turns out that going digital is quite hard when a lot of the stuff you want to read isn't available as mere bits and bytes).

Query: How well does the guidebook to Venice work now? (and if I go to Venice again at some point, can I have a look over it beforehand? I'd love to see what has and hasn't changed). I have a set of travel diaries that belonged to my great-aunt and her travelling companion that, should I ever become either rich or famous, I'm going to use as the basis of a trip around the world, comparing what they saw then with what I can still see of it today.

B'art Homme said...

Hippy Bathday bat bean beam... (SP intentional) Thank you for your insight, hard work and tenacity to continue - may you do so for at least another 4 years... Barry Thomas

Giovanni Tiso said...

Matthew: you're more than welcome to borrow the Venice guide if you end up going there. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about Venice based on a photography book produced in 1973, speculating that very little would have appeared different nearly 40 years later (basically, just fashions and aerials.) The few photos in the 1938 guide could all have been taken this year except for a vista of Piazza San Marco featuring a colossal flag of the House of Savoy.

As for the Kindle thing, I am quite positive that I will never make a full conversion - if only because most of the books I'm interested in are not current. But I will get one, probably quite soon, as I'm starting to get frustrated with reading PDFs on my computer. (I mean take Philip's books for instance. I want to be able to treat like book and not like homework.)

Matthew R. X. Dentith said...

I agree about not wanting to read PDFs on a computer: I like to read in bed or on the couch, and I toss and turn a lot when reading (I think it represents my mind engaging with the ideas) and it's just hard to do that with a laptop but easy with a tablet.

Also, I don't know about everyone else, but I'm finding harder and harder to prove I'm not a robot. Three goes until I could find a captcha I could parse.

Raymond A Francis said...

Love you writting and really like the changing banners
I use a Sony ereader, apparently I could borrow books from the library
but haven't got round to that yet as I am presently reading the out of copyright classics
It is great for travel

Stephen said...

Uh oh, another Bat Bean Beam anniversary means another anniversary of me coming up soon.

The new banner is my favourite so far, although I like them all.

(I always read the 3rd as: Bat Beam Bean.)

Matthew, you're not the only one. On my 1st attempt, I'm about to type ervcygNa but it could be avcygNa or eivcygNa.

Stephen said...

Right first time - definitely not a robot. Maybe just a replicant.

Giovanni Tiso said...

My theory is that soon only robots will be able to decipher captchas and that's how we'll catch them.

Unknown said...

I read this so happy that you continue to write. I see old bookstores where I am and they are like little caves of civilisation. I turn over books with no regard for price, they are little angels I send out to the universe, the more the better for the sky cannot be filled.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Put me down for fifty.

Philip said...

Happy new header, and many thanks for the plug.

Word Verification: stctsna, the patron saint of auto-correct tempters.

Ben Wilson said...

Happy Anniversary! So glad you've kept up the output against all pecuniary adversity. You're welcome to root around in my books if you're ever able to drop in - I keep them in boxes in my shed, mostly. The closest I've come to digitizing them is to take a photo of the open boxes, so that I can browse the photos like a bookshelf. Has proved handy occasionally, saves having to open every box.

As for tablets, I have to say that having a smartphone has dropped the urgency of such a device. It's not quite as nice for reading as a tablet, but it's way more portable, and can be held in one hand. Good on buses, and anywhere else a random wait is sprung on me.

Rob said...

Happy birthday BBB!
I too love books, and wonder about what to do with them. The acquiring is so sweet, but there comes a time when you feel acquiring more can only happen if a/ you move to a bigger house b/ you somehow dispose of some of the books over-flowing the shelves or c/ you get divorced, and your partners side of the bed can be turned into a bookshelf :)
At the moment we have a lot of books to worry about. That's not even close to as joyful as reading!

marco said...

Happy Birthday!
And thanks to you and Francesca both. I really appreciate your posts on Italy's "past that does not pass" (was going to say enjoy, but that's definitely not the right word).

For about 10 years I did co-organize a monthly charity used books sale - which meant first dibs on thousands of books at prices ranging from 0.1 to 2 €. Needless to say, I was my own best customer :)

As for the Kindle thing, I am quite positive that I will never make a full conversion - if only because most of the books I'm interested in are not current.

I have yet to buy a reader myself - on the one hand it feels like a luxury because reading onscreen doesn't bother me at all, on the other a laptop is indeed a bit unwieldy in bed. But how can you dismiss the treasure trove of free texts just a click away - from Project Gutenberg, Gutenberg.De, Biblioteca Cervantes, Internet Archive, Liber Liber etc...

George D said...

Congratulations on another great year, thanks for everything. Tuesdays are always a pleasure...

Giovanni Tiso said...

You people are nice, do you know that?

bmk said...

Thanks for another year. I seldom comment but I enjoy reading.

Regarding the discarding of books. I started working at a library a few months ago and was both amused and slightly horrified that the term used for discarding old/damaged books is 'weeding' - as if these once-loved books are a noxious pest threatening the rest of the garden.

And I fully understand the logistical problems caused by books. We are currently going through all collections 'weeding'and as staff we are allowed first pick of these discarded books. However, I'm moving house in a few months, so one hand I want to take any of these books that interest me but on the other hand I'm already seeing all the extra work this will cause.

Giovanni Tiso said...

The other word in the trade is culling, though, isn't it? I kind of prefer weeding!

bmk said...

The other word in the trade is culling, though, isn't it? I kind of prefer weeding!

Yes and yes. Weeding is a far better term than culling. And it is of course necessary - though one of the criteria we have to use I find a bit questionable. Material that no longer reflects modern viewpoints - surely that is the very thing a library should preserve.

Giovanni Tiso said...

It depends on the type of library I suppose. I strongly agree when it comes to university libraries and
wrote a post about that.

bmk said...

It depends on the type of library I suppose.

Yes, very much so. I work at a polytechnic library rather than a large university. So both space and funds are limited. And since it is largely in the business of training rather than educating, I can understand that there is no space for items that no longer reflect modern practice.

But as you say university libraries have a duty, I think, to keep such older material and make it accessible. The idea of a world where everything that doesn't reflect modern viewpoints is 'culled', I find particularly scary. Especially because most of this older material will never be converted to electronic form.

Of course having read your post, you've said it all much better than I could.

Megan Clayton said...

What are we to do with all these books?

On honeymoon, they bought
two copies of the same new
novel, to read on the train.
They didn't want to share.

What are we to do with all these books?

When her grandparents moved from Invercargill
to Oamaru they threw nothing away. When,
years later, they moved to Christchurch,
the books filled up her mother's

hallway. When people came to the
front door, her mother had to shout
through the safety glass, "Please go
around the back. The hall is full of books.

Thank you for understanding."

What are we to do with all these books?

She bought art and history volumes in
every gallery she visited. The first
lot filled her suitcase from Hong Kong
to the Midlands. The second lot she

posted home not far from St Paul's.
It cost over a hundred pounds. She
paid by credit card at the post office, too
leery to convert the amount into her currency.

What are we to do with all these books?

They took the books out of the bedrooms
to paint the walls before the baby
was born. The books were still in
her parents' spare room by the time

the baby was walking. Every so often
she asked her mother, how are my books?
and her mother answered, They are fine.
Come and get them any time. Before

she did, there was another baby.

What are we to do with all these books?

They are putting a false floor in the roof
for the books. The books are in boxes that
stack to the roof of the garage. They are
buying flatpack cupboards in which to

put the books. The books fall through
the gaps in the bookshelves where they
cut holes to secure them after
the earthquakes. The books are

islands on the floor of the toddler's
room. She remembers a book her
mother had, Babies Need Books.
She moves and moves the furniture

again so that the books can't
fall on the baby. At night she lies
awake and contemplates her shelf, as a
mystic gazes at the meditative image.

What are we to do with all these books?

Those ones her mother found her,
those she bought on holiday, those
ones are from work when they had
to box up their offices after the

earthquakes. Those are the ones
her friend's daughter gave her
after her friend died; the old dog-books,
the old-dog books. Those she is

saving for the baby. Those are for
the toddler when she can read. Those
are the ones she borrowed from the work-
mates who later left; those ones

are from her old boss. What are
we to do, she only rarely asks,
what are we to do, what are we
to do with all these books?

Becs said...

Happy anniversary. Today I was looking at my bookshelves (not enough) & thinking of the boxes under the house (possibly being ruined). A move to another part of this island maybe in the offing. A weeding maybe required.

And HarvestBird's beautiful poem in response to your post brought to mind the bookshelves of my grandparents & parents which bound to make their way here too.

I just keep loving the books.

Stack said...

I'm a relatively new reader and now don't miss an entry if I can help it. Thanks for challenging and bending my mind.

My father got, before I was born I think, some heavy volumes of consolidated Punch magazine cartoons. For quite some time two were used to hold up one corner of my parents bed, where a leg had broken. I now use telephone books to get my computer screen to the right height. But your article has made me wonder if my mother still has the 'Punch Books' as we always called them.

Iguana Jo said...

Arrivo tardi, ma arrivo! :-)

Complimenti per questo quarto anno on-line, e un enorme grazie! per la ricchezza di temi e riflessioni con cui arricchisci il mio panorama virtuale.
Per me leggerti è sempre un piacere.

(Dopo tutto sto tempo c'è però una cosa che mi piacerebbe riuscire finalmente a capire, che son troppo zuccone per comprenderla in lingua. Mi spieghi perché il blog si chiama Bat, Bean, Beam? Grazie!)

Giovanni Tiso said...

Ma come, ma no, e di cosa mi ringrazi benedetto uomo? Anzi, grazie a te.

L'origine del nome del blog è in quel primo banner, scelto a suo tempo più o meno casualmente in un vecchio libro sulla memoria. Il libro comprendeva un sistema mnemonico basato su parole monosillabiche, da cui appunto bat bean e beam (nel mio sfondo di twitter ci dovrebbero essere tutte le immagini).