Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter

Cormac McCarthy once told the New York Times that he could not relate to authors who did not deal with issues of life and death, citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples. This comes from a man who seems to spend a lot of his spare time wandering around deserts observing the lifelessness of the sparse south west and would, presumably, be more comfortable watching rattlesnakes then attending a gala event with champagne and cucumber sandwiches.

McCarthy's style is extremely straightforward, painting a brutal often nihilistic portrait, usually of men, travelling along the dark self reflective mortal coil that is life. I am hesitant to use the word bleak, as there are many uplifting moments in his work that seem to hint at relishing the goodness of life, while the chance is available. I found the prose in The Road wonderfully fitting to the stories grim apocalyptic mood. The story is of epic proportions it is incredibly thought provoking, prompting questions on humanity, environment, the failures of men and life itself. A philosophical maelstrom without feeling a need to involve psychological analysis and unbelievable twists, and refreshingly better for this. The concept is further explored in the clever dialogue between 'black' and 'white' in The Sunset Limited a Camus styled nattering of suicide vs redemption taking place in a small run down apartment between a reformed 'black' man and a suicidal 'white' man who has attempted to escape life via a train eponymic to the books title.

In 2009, after a five decade relationship, McCarthy decided to part with his Olivetti Lettera 32 auctioning  it off for funding to go to the Santa Fe Institute. The machine purchased in a pawn shop in 1963 had hammered out an estimated five million words for the author.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Buxton Book Fair

Another top PBFA book fair, this time Buxton in the Pavilion. Several treasures found, at bargain prices too. A signed copy of Alan Bennett's 'Writing Home'; A beautifully illustrated 1919 copy of Lewis Carroll's 1869 'Phantasmagoria and Other Poems'; A translated 1st ed. of Satre's The Reprieve (Le Sursis); A 1910 1st Ed. of E(dith) Nesbit's 'The Magic City', illustrated by H.R. Millar and a 1949 good condition 'Biggles Defies the Swastika', 1941.


The one that got away, a first edition of Bunting's Briggflatts, not a bad price. I was just niggardly at the purse strings.  Also some of the shelves on display, including, Marple Bridge's Talisman Books. Below is the second stanza from Bunting's text:

"A mason times his mallet 
to a lark’s twitter, 
listening while the marble rests, 
lays his rule 
at a letter’s edge, 
fingertips checking, 
till the stone spells a name 
naming none, 
a man abolished. 
Painful lark, labouring to rise! 
The solemn mallet says: 
In the grave’s slot 
he lies. We rot."

My Finds :

Above: H.R.Millar's illustrations from 'The Magic City'

Arthur B. Frost's illustration's from 'Phantasmagoria'.

Essential reading Capt. W.E.Johns with quintessentially English 'fly boy' Biggles fighting the Nazi Luftwaffe. Alan Bennett's thoughtful observations and silent sighs and meanderings from Satre's colourful repertoire. 

"...But what is it all about, what am I trying to do, is there a message? Nobody knows, and I certainly don't. If one could answer these questions in any other way than by writing what one has written, then there would be no point in writing at all." 

 - Alan Bennett, Writing Home, 1994.

The Splendour of Scrivener's five floors in Buxton

On a recent trip out in Buxton, I was pre informed of a bookshop on the upper high street that would take my fancy, nestled up amongst the beautiful buildings and numerous pubs I found her, Scriveners. A near perfect bookshop, a warm welcome, beautifully arranged chaos, antiquarian jumbled in with cheap paperbacks, maps, charts, sheet music and everything in between. Something that immediately grabbed me was the window proudly informing passers by of the 'five floors' of books. I gleefully blenched and my partner simultaneously groaned this was a minimum six hour job.

I digress, another lovely feature is the set out of the rooms, the basement with its original cast iron kitchen, a white organ upstairs, a toilet and cake and tea facilities, a children's corner. In essence a Waterstones in a utopic future world, where the seven books on offer weren't written by either Dan Brown or Steig Larsson.

"Scrivener's books and bookbinding's is the largest known second-hand bookshop in Derbyshire. We have over thirty thousand volumes, ranging from pulp to antiquarian, hundreds of children's fiction and many collectables and first editions. We also have a small cafe, which is waitress service on Saturdays and self-service every other day." 

"We offer an extensive range of second-hand books, and repairs, restorations and new creations of books to your specifications, all done in-house by the proprietor Alastair Scrivener (above), and Holly Serjeant. We can create new bindings of your work, such as thesis bindings. We also carry out work done by Vivien Lunniss, both bookbinding and calligraphy. Mahogany boxes, slip cases and show cases are made to order by Harold."

The fabulous Derbyshire views offered by the attic window upstairs. Revealing Buxton's status as the gateway to the Peak District.

If having scones and tea mid browse is not enough, or the availability of a toilet, there is always the organ to belt out some of the sheet music waiting to be dusted off.

Blyton, Ransome, Saville, Lewis, Tolkein...this is what childhood is made of, oh and of course, the seaside, adventure, cliffs, caves, trees, boxes, pirates and treasure.

Camden shuffles...

A Prince of the Captivity - John Buchan 1933

Buchan up to his old tricks, this time with Adam Melfort as protagonist. The great war, politics, good vs evil, man vs nature...iceland.

A little trip from the Heath down to Camden markets a couple of weekends ago lead me to a cosy little nook offering all kinds of goodies, namely penguin classics, a few dotted first editions and Buchan's Prince of the Captivity, which I had to bundle off with. Although generally having some constraint with unnecessary consumption of goods, I often think the purchase of a second hand book from a shop or stall is rather similar to taking a photograph of a landscape visited and sought to be remembered. 

A table outside the market stall, Camden.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Often, in times of (hmm) pococurantistic whimsical internet jaunts, I will aimlessly click around
websites I am visiting, one I frequent, abebooks, lists their top sales of rare books each month:(

[Last month’s most expensive sale, a rare Islamic book about the work and words of the prophet Muhammad, was our sixth most expensive sale in the history of AbeBooks and our biggest sale for five years. The $45,000 book is around 800 years old and details Hadith methodology. Hadith are collections of narrations dedicated to explaining the prophet’s actions and words. They are important tools in understanding the Qu'ran and Islamic law, and have existed for more than 1,200 years. They are a cornerstone of Islamic life. Muhammad died in 632 A.D and his traditions were passed on orally for several centuries before the Hadith were formally recorded. By the 9th century, there were many different versions of the Hadith and today the Shia and Sunni denominations have different ones.]

This led me to pondering what the most expensive manuscript floating about would be...I remember seeing a rare, good condition first ed. of The Hobbit, Tolkein had written a note inside the book to the woman who had been his assistant (?) and signed it, it had been described as the single most sought after edition of this most popular novel. But then what about Anne Frank's diary...the original manuscript, perhaps invaluable and surely not ever for sale? Or an ancient religious text...dead sea scrolls, book of Kells...

But then I found it. In 1994 an individual named Bill Gates dropped a record breaking $30.8 million on Leonardo da Vinci's scientific doodlings the Codex Leicester. Infact it was Gates who renamed the manuscript so, as it had since 1980 been called the Codex Hammer after the industrialist, Armand Hammer, the previous owner. The Codex provides a rare insight into the inquiring mind of the definitive Renaissance artist, scientist and thinker as well as an exceptional illustration of the link between art and science and the creativity of the scientific process. The manuscript does not take the form of a single linear script, but is rather a mixture of Da Vinci's observations and theories on astronomy; the properties of water, rocks, and fossils; air, and celestial light.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

ANZAAB: Melbourne Antiquarian Book fair Malvern Town hall

ANZAAB (...or the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers) had there 37th annual book fair this week, (Tues - Thurs) 23rd-25th November. Held in the beautiful Victorian two storey Malvern town hall, with its original vaulted ceiling and pendant lighting, the entrance to the fair was impressive, welcomed in by suave clad ushers and in the thick of it from the first step. Possibly being over thirty years younger then the average guest it is easy to get the feeling of an exposed knave at a masquerade   ball. However, part of the appeal of these events for me has always been the throb of the masses, the oscillations of the bookish introverts. Together we float around the great Malvern banquet hall, undulating throes of particular desire and whim. For him the 1875 Wisden, for her the personally signed Wodehouse first edition. We all have our vice and price. Not too many stalls down I bump into an old acquaintance, Stephen, a man of dry wit and solid advice he reminds me of the sentiment I entered the hall with as he tells me he is 'merely viewing with his hands buried deep in his pockets'. I sigh and agree, looking back to the cabinet with the $150,000 first ed. copy of Darwin's 'Origins of the Species', I remember how serious these events can be.

I amble along but there is a deep seeded knowledge that there will be certain bits and bobs on the forthcoming shelves that will appeal to me. Surely someone has brought along a collection of hardcover Blyton's Famous Five, and what about a lesser seen titled Verne, or UK first edition Tintins, surely someone has Eric Blair's signature...

These Famous Fives were presented by Hobart's Kookaburra Books (03) 62233251

The above map of the world was a 1936 (pre war) issue from a Japanese news company. It contains many interesting details from a blown up section detailing the ports at Hawaii and a precise number of Japanese in each country at the time of issue. It had been displayed by ACT booksellers Asia Bookroom.

 Allen Lane's ever popular and always familiar orange and white stripped Penguins.

...and Beatrix

Tintin, UK 1st Editions.

Tolkein and C.S.Lewis

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sewing Seeds...Farming at Eton College

Virgil - The Georgics

Amongst the pomp and ceremony at top English boys school, Eton College, one can be made to, for more serious offences, chalk out the Georgics (more than 500 hexameters) by their House Masters or the Head Master. The giving of a Georgic is now extremely rare, but still occasionally occurs. Also on the theme of farming, suspension was known as 'rustication', derived from the latin 'rus' or countryside as the boys would be sent home.

The Georgics is a poem in four books, likely published in 29 BC.[1] It is the second major work by the Latin poet Virgil, following his Eclogues and preceding the Aeneid. It is a poem that draws on many prior sources and influenced many later authors from antiquity to the present. Scholars have often been at odds over how to read the work as a whole, and puzzled over such phrases as labor omnia vincit / improbus (1.145-146), which is not simply the platitude, "work conquers all," but "shameful work conquers all." As its name suggests (Georgica, from the Greek word georgein, 'to farm') the subject of the poem is agriculture; but far from being an example of peaceful rural poetry, it is a work characterized by tensions in both theme and purpose.