Friday, 30 May 2014

Book Review: Murder In Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie.....

This week I've finished another in my very recent conversion to Agatha Christie novels, featuring my TV favourite, Hercule Poirot, Murder In Mesopotamia

Set on the site of an archaeological dig in Iraq, Christie drew on her own personal experiences for this particular tale. It was on a visit to Ur in Iraq that she met her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1928. A keen semi-amateur archaeologist herself, she passionately supported her husband's career throughout her life.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What's On Your Reading Pile?....

If there is one thing that is common to all Book Lovers (Melbourne or anywhere else in the world) it is how our reading piles and want-to-read lists keep growing. There's that immense sense of achievement one week from acquiring and finishing one that has been on the wishlist for ages, then you walk into the next bookstore and add 10 to the list! The pain of Book Lovers, eh?

Well, to narrow down my pain somewhat I thought it would be a good idea to list the top 10 of my current pile. Note that I have not finished reading any of these, so they are not in order yet. Just that I'd like to complete these 10 before I move on to others. So here you go:

1. Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software by Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra intrigues me as a writer. I cannot pin him down to any genre based on his previous books, he calls programming his obsession (and writing his vocation) and he has even screen-written some of the most popular movies in Bollywood. So his first non-fiction work simply HAD to be on my list. More so when it aims to explore whether computer programming and novel writing are creative efforts of the same stamp! I have been a computer programmer for over 5 years after all. And it simply could not be kept off the list when Vikram decided to visit Melbourne and I had a chance to go to his talk at the Wheeler Centre.

Progress: Procurement done (Melbourne City Library), 1 chapter down and a few more to go.

Monday, 26 May 2014

What's In Your Dunny, John, Restroom, Loo, Or Toilet?.......

There is a certain type of book out there that, without any doubt in my mind belongs in the toilet.... 

It's the miscellany, the entertaining book of lists, that little gem with snippets of bite sized bits of information and knowledge that is absolutely perfect for a few minutes when one's mind is basically unoccupied, whilst other functions are taking precedence. 

I have had four particular titles in my 'loo' for a while now, great little titles that deliver a paragraph or two of interesting stuff, without the commitment to a full, cover to cover read.

So, without further ado, here they are!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Changes To UK School Reading Syllabus....

"New English literature GCSE ditches American classics for pre-20th century British authors such as Dickens and Austen"

An interesting one this. I can't help thinking a more British syllabus might be more appropriate for British pupils, particularly when there is such a limited number of books that there is time to study in any real depth within the scope of the pupil's educational years. But this does close the door on some remarkable works of literature. 

I had the pleasure of studying Harper Lee's, To Kill A Mocking Bird for English Literature 
O' Level, (showing my age there...) It does seem a shame that many kids won't get the chance to do the same.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Book Review: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists By Robert Tressell....

Fairly recently I was browsing through my union membership magazine and it had a regular section that introduced the reader to their local union reps, with various questions about favourite TV shows, cars, food, political influences etc etc, standard trade magazine fare. 

As you can imagine, being a CFMEU publication (Australia's construction industry union), lots of the answers revolved around AFL teams, Holden utes and left-wing historical political figures, but there was one entry that stood out for me.  One of the reps had ignored the 'TV programme' question and listed his favourite book instead, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. 

As if by the intervention of some sort of left-wing non-religious-based 'supreme being', I happened across a tatty copy from the 1950's at Clunes Booktown a couple of weeks ago, so of course, I simply had to have it! Widely regarded as a classic of working class literature, the piece is a novel released in 1914, three years after the authors death in 1911. Tressell (a play on the work bench used by painters and decorators) was a pen name, used to avoid a political backlash by Robert Noonan, a Dublin born house painter. Actually benefiting from a reasonably good education himself, Noonan had spent much of his life in South Africa before relocating back to the UK in the early twentieth century. 

The story revolves around a group of characters from the fictional town of Mugsborough, based on Noonan's home of Hastings. The workers at Rushton's painting and decorating company are the great downtrodden masses, the bullying foremen, and the simpering toadies who suck up to the bosses, with the exception of Owen, a socialist who tries to explain the system under which they all live to his less educated workmates, to very little positive end. 

Written at the time when trade union and labour movements were just beginning to gain a little ground in the political landscape of Britain, it is an eye-opening tale of the social inequality of the time. Interestingly I read much of this during my own lunch breaks at work on a building site and many of the themes and attitudes of the working class group scenes has changed remarkable little, in spite of the vastly improved conditions such workers now enjoy. 

If you are interested in social history, political history, the class divide, working class politics both left and right, this sometimes naively written novel is well worth a look. 

B.L.M. Stevie

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Lost Booksellers Of New York....

A great article stolen recklessly and unashamedly from the NYTimes website in which Larry McMurtry reminisces about New York's glorious past as a booklovers city. I've visited the Big Apple a handful of times but, sadly, prior to my book-buying hobby really took off, somewhere I'd really love to spend a few days book-fossicking. Enjoy.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Listings News...More Great Bookstores....

Hi everyone, 

You'll be pleased to know that we've now added even more great bookstores to our Listings section, 

including a "Further Afield" category that brings us to a total of 44 great bookshops in Melbourne and the surrounding area you can check out. If you feel any information is erroneous or indeed want your own bookstore added to the growing list, don't hesitate to contact us!!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Review: England Made Me... Graham Greene...

Other than Brighton Rock, whilst at school, (in Brighton, coincidentally) I had never read any of Greene's work until I came across a handful of his novels for sale in Penguin format a few weeks ago.

First published in 1935,  England Made Me, also published as "The Shipwrecked", was one of Greene's earlier works. It revolves around the relationship between Anthony Farrant and his twin sister Kate. 

Anthony is a wastrel. A lost soul of middle-england drifting from job to job on the back of begged favours, none of which have been found to be suitable to him, or, from the perspective of the employers, for which he has had anything more than a superficial talent. Anthony is charming. He is an actor and the world is his stage. Inherently selfish, he sees the world and those in it as his scenery. Girls are his playthings, except, of course his sister, who, by that accident of nature, makes her a strange type of female, one that he is intensely fond of, but who is ultimately, not 'available'.  

For her part, Kate is is an adoring life partner who cannot bare the idea of a life without her twin. Her love for Anthony leads her to draw him into her work circle, where he is offered a job by her boss, and lover, Krogh, a Swedish financier of global standing. 

Anthony's innate sense of decency and fair play (beyond his own behaviour which is of course judged by an entirely different internal yardstick) leads him to fall out with his new boss. When combined with his new found friendship for a seedy, down at heel journalist, Minty, things begin to unravel. 

I love the characters in this work, mainly because there is plenty to dislike about every one of them! Each has his or her personality flaws laid bare, yet one is still able to sympathise with each of them at moments when they deserve it. Anthony has nobility, in spite of his lack of consideration for others. Krogh has a lost youth that one wishes he could recapture, in spite of his being cold and aloof. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to getting to know some more of Greene's work.

B.L.M. Stevie

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Booktown 2014!....

Hi everyone!
As some of you will already know, each May brings a special treat for book lovers in Victoria, when Clunes, a sleepy, picturesque little 'gold-rush era' town just north of Ballarat, plays host to Booktown, A two day festival dedicated to all things bookish! The weekend just past, 3rd and 4th of May was the scheduled event for this year, and as in the last few years, I for one was not disappointed.

The Booktown movement began in the UK in the 1990's when Hay-On-Wye became the first town to take the title following efforts by local bookstore owner and all-round eccentric, Richard Booth. Since then Booktowns have cropped up all over the world, with the aim of promoting local business and tourism, and, of course, promoting books and reading. The International Organisation of Booktowns recognises around twenty "official' Booktowns across the world, of which Clunes is the only member to be located in the southern hemisphere!

I've been a regular attendee to the Clunes event for the last three years and this weekend, in spite of some typically drizzly May weather at times through the day, I had another wonderful day of book fossicking, buying and browsing. With around fifty or so stallholders and booksellers, as well as eight permanent bookshops in the town, the thousands of visitors that flocked to country Victoria for the weekend had plenty to keep them occupied.

As well as the book selling activities, there were plenty of entertainments for kids, puppet shows, jugglers, stilt-walkers, chinese dragon shows, mazes, the list went on and on!
For those with an inclination to find out a bit more about reading, writing, authors and the like, Clunes Booktown also features a series of talks and lectures across the weekend, given by authors or specialists in particular literary fields.

This year I attended a particularly interesting talk hosted by Professor Stephen Knight and Dr Lucy Sussex, to re-launch an Australian literary classic from the past; Murder In The Telephone Exchange by June Wright. Written in 1943 and published in 1948, the novel has been re-published by an American publishing house that intends to follow up with other works from the author in the near future. To find out more about June Wright, her work, and where to get a copy visit the Australian Crime Writer's Association website. I'll be doing my own review of the book, which, of course, I simply had to purchase... as soon as I get around to it!

It was great to see some of Melbourne's bookstores from our Listings Page represented, notably the team from Book Grocer who always put on a great selection of titles and are always ready with a friendly chat for their customers. I also got to meet plenty more bookstore owners from across Victoria whose details I will be adding to the Listing as soon as possible.

I'll go into my personal purchases from the day at more length in my next post, before I sign off, I'd like to give a special mention to Rick Alabaster from Australia Fair, who always brings a happy note to the event and whose fine musical instrument, my wife has fallen in love with! (Cue, "organ jokes" from the cheap seats....) Please visit his website and have a listen.

That's all for today. B.L.M. Stevie

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Vikram Chandra at the Wheeler Centre

I am very excited today about having booked by first event at the Wheeler Centre with one of my favourite authors Vikram Chandra.

The Wheeler Centre is a literary and publishing centre that was founded to support Melbourne's bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature and is housed in the State Library (another one of my favourite haunts). This talk will focus on Vikram's latest book "Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software" which I have not read yet. The premise sounds very interesting to me, given I did spend a large part of the first 5 years of my career "coding software" like many many Indians of my generation.

16 days to go. Enough to get a copy of "Geek Sublime" and finish it? I think so :)

[Read my review of Geek Sublime here]