Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ October 2012

I've rediscovered a famous book. What is it? None other than the 43rd edition of Yates Garden Guide, celebrating 124 years in Australia. And what a splendid edition it is! Over 500 pages including index. The usual information is supplemented by a pictorial history of the Yates company and a resume history of Australian gardening. Did you know Yates began in Manchester in 1826, but in 1879 one of the sons went to New Zealand for his health? Arthur began the first Yates store in Auckland in 1883. He appointed an agent in Australia in 1886, and by 1887 had leased premises in Sussex Street. Another brother later moved to New Zealand to take over, so Arthur moved to Sydney to continue their progress as one of the most well-known companies in the Pacific. This book would make a good Christmas present, even to someone who already has a copy. It would be fun to compare the changes over the years.

I have been a long-time fan of Irish writer John Banville, well before he won the Man Booker Prize for The Sea, but I was disappointed with his latest novel, Ancient Light. The opening line is: "Billy Gray was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother." I think this could be a contender for most memorable opening line, don't you? The blurb says "dazzling and funny", but I didn't appreciate the joke, well, not until the denouement. Yes, it was about a love affair between a fifteen-year-old boy and a mid-thirties woman in a small Irish town. The story is recollected in later years by the boy, who has since become a famous actor. Too many complications and sidetracks for me, although a number of other people at Abbey's enjoyed it and I admit it is lovely writing. See what you think.

Good news that Gabrielle Lord won the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award for her crime thrillers. She has a long series of thrillers for young adults under the title Conspiracy: followed by a month of the year. Look for her books in Australian crime and the children's section.

I was watching an Agatha Christie story on TV the other night and really felt it had departed from the original story quite a lot. Have you ever felt the same? Abbey's always has the complete range of Agatha Christie in stock so you can always compare if you feel so inclined.

I have read a biography of the famous Polish reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski (when I was working in the shop I always had to ask Lindy how to spell his name!) called Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life by Artur Domoslawski who, you can see, is yet another Polish reporter. This was not an entirely successful thing to do. At first it seemed the author didn't approve of Kapuscinski. He spent an awful lot of time showing that Kapuscinski had actually elaborated some of his stories. Heaven forbid! It wasn't until almost the end that he conceded that the material Kapuscinski produced was literature, rather than reportage. The best parts in the book are quotations from Kapuscinski. A lot of time is also spent on the ins and outs of Kapuscinski's membership of Communist committees. However, I guess this is relevant as, unless he was ‘in favour' with the government', he would not have been allowed to travel so often, and for so long, to Africa and South America and elsewhere.

It was not until The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat was published in America that Kapuscinski's international fame began. I read The Emperor as a fable about the fall of Haile Selassi of Ethiopia, whereas the biographer shows this to be a veiled critique of the Polish government. In his last book, Travels with Herodotus, Kapuscinski recollects his many voyages, when he always carried Herodotus with him. This time, Herodotus is definitely part of the action as Kapuscinski interprets the Herodotus stories for us and often quotes him in full. I like this quote from the cover: "Few have written more beautifully of unspeakable things. Few have his courage, almost none have his talent", which is from Tom Bissell of The Scotsman. I do think his translators deserve recognition for the gorgeous prose they deliver up.

Some of Kapuscinski's other books are The Soccer War, which is not only about soccer but about revolutions and the tiresome practicalities endured to get there; Shah of Shahs depicts the final years of the Shah of Iran and analyses the effects of revolution and fear in that country; Imperium is about Russia, Big Russia, until its breakdown after Perestroika; The Shadow of the Sun in Popular Penguins is a selection of his journalism between 1945 and 2000; Another Day of Life is about his travels in Angola just after independence when the whole country was collapsing into civil war. Students of journalism will be interested in Domoslawski's own comments on journalism.

Coincidentally, there is another book called The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus by Justin Marozzi. This is rather apt as the blurb calls Herodotus a mix of learned professor and tabloid journalist, which can just as easily be applied to the inimitable Kapuscinski... Another journalist whose work is something more than reportage is Australian reporter Alan Moorehead. We have three of his books in stock: The Blue Nile, The White Nile and The Villa Diana: Travels in post-war Italy. Recommended.

Remember that Abbey's stocks all the Penguin Black Classics, so you can buy your own copy of Herodotus: The Histories and maybe also Plautus, who has been quoted lately by Professor Mary Beard as she enthuses about ancient Rome on SBS TV. The Rope and Other Plays is in the Penguin Classics, while The Little Carthaginian, Pseudolos and The Rope is in the Loeb Classic Library dual-language edition.

For more information about any of the titles I’ve mentioned here, remember to just click on the title!

Keep well, Eve