Friday, 6 February 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey - February 2015

People Passing... January marked the passing of two famous book people, loyal customers of Abbeys.

I am sure many of our readers will have memories of Jim Thorburn who began Pocket Bookshop in 1958, first in Angel Place, Penfold Place, Hosking Place but most importantly at 137a King Street. And Thorburn's Technical Bookshop in Castlereagh Street was the first technical shop in Sydney. Jim's shop was a meeting place for many thinkers, he was Ron Abbey's first friend in Sydney, and when he retired in 1979 he became a customer here whenever he came to town. Jim's contribution to W.E.A., University of the Third Age and the State Library was only part of the role he played in the intellectual life of our city. Glasgow-born Jim was almost 91.

Painter Tom Carment and author of our Christmas bestseller, Seven Walks, tells me he remembers buying a book by Krishnamurti from Jim who allowed himself to indulge in a Marxist rave on how books like that were not going to change the world! Famous Australian poet Robert Gray says Jim told him Bertrand Russell was a gadfly! Others will remember Jim with his head on one side so as to read the titles on all the spine-out books on the shelves. Or speaking in the Domain for the Socialist Party of Australia. Have you read Robert's autobiography? It is called The Land I Came Through Last.

Jim's Pocket Bookshop played an important role in the increasing acceptance of paperbacks. At first they were regarded as cheap and nasty, (like pulp fiction, which has, ironically, now become a fashionable word). Gradually the big publishers began issuing fiction and non-fiction in the good paperbacks which we now take as usual. When we first opened Abbey's in Pitt Street in 1968 we sold only paperbacks except for hardback remainders, i.e. those books left over after sales of the first printings taper off. This was regarded as rather bad form, as authors do not receive royalties on remainder sales but remainder sales brought people into the shop and we all love a bargain don't we?

And also in January marvellous Colleen McCullough died peacefully at her home in Norfolk Island. We all remember the excitement when her second novel, The Thorn Birds, became such an international best-seller. It was the first Australian work to achieve such sales, seemingly now over thirty million, and which still continues to sell. She wrote many novels including her seven-novel Masters of Rome series. Before her literary fame she was a neurophysiological researcher and worked at Yale University, where the success that a colleague achieved with his book tempted her to begin writing. Who was it? Erich Segal, author of Love Story!

Even when Colleen was in her wheelchair she always came into Abbey's on her trips to Sydney to check out the books. Many of the books in her famous private library on Ancient Rome came from here. We send Ric Robinson our consolations. And Norfolk Island Library is a good customer too.

And more exciting news! Sydney writer Elizabeth Harrower has really been taken up by The New YorkerIt is very hard to get a short story into that famous magazine but the February 2nd edition contains one of Elizabeth's short stories (rescued from the National Library by Text Publishing) It is called Alice. A sad and memorable story. If you get the New Yorker on-line you can hear Elizabeth reading it herself! I hear Text plan to publish a collection of her short stories. That will be a treat! I remember when Amy Witting had a short story in the New Yorker... how long ago was that? Maybe 1990? Soon after Penguin published I for Isobel but now Text publish this Australian classic and soon it will be followed by Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop. Amy Witting died in 2001.

Even more exciting news just to hand via Sian McNabney, one of Abbey's appreciated booksellers. There is to be a sequel to Harper Lee's amazingly famous To Kill a Mockingbird. It will be issued in July 2015 and is called Go Set a Watchman. In it Scout is a grown woman, returning to her home town to visit her father, Atticus Finch. It all seems genuine. It is claimed this was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and not accepted for publication so Lee began again with Scout as a child.

Talking of remainders... in our Bargains section we have an excellent paperback called 1215: The Year of Magna Carta for only $10. This is by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham and is a treasure house of detail about medieval domestic life which also puts the Charter beside other events happening at that time, such as Genghis Khan entering Beijing. It was published in 2003 so they were a bit ahead of the due date! It is this year, 2015, which is the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta. It is interesting that the Americans revere the Charter so much. There is a special rotunda at Runnymede erected by the American Bar Association as a "tribute to Magna Carta, a symbol of Freedom Under Law".

I've been re-reading Andrew McGahan's The White Earth, which won the Miles Franklin in 2005, the first year I was on the judging panel. It is the story of a boy living on a far-from successful farm on the Darling Downs who goes to live with his great-uncle on a large station nearby. It is the 1990s when Native Title Act was coming in and rumblings of One Nation began. I was inspired to re-read this because those grand Bunya Bunya trees and their role in Aboriginal corroborees are important characters in the story and I have found four Bunya Bunya trees in a small back street in Manly! These ancient trees are way south of their usual habitat - they must have been there before the street was there! Fortunately they are protected now and the council today was busy gathering the big nuts before they fall on the parked cars!

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers