Friday, 29 June 2012

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ July 2012

I enjoyed reading Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Shaped the Modern World - and How their Invention Could Make or Break the Planet by Jane Gleeson-White ($24.99 Pb 294pp incl index). Guess who features in the first part? None other than my favourite The Merchant of Prato: Francesco di Marco Datini: Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City by Iris Origo ($28 Pb 400pp), who appears under his proper name of Datini. I remember those rules of bookkeeping (‘debit what comes in, credit what goes out’) and can see the good sense. Did you know that the printing of mathematics was delayed for some years after Gutenberg because they hadn’t worked out how to handle the numbers? Environmentalists will approve of the final proposition.

Even more fun was had when I read John Irving’s latest In One Person ($32.95 Pb 425pp). Irving is the comic genius who wrote The World According to Garp ($19.95 Pb 608pp) way back there in 1980. This is his thirteenth book, but he is always remembered for Garp. In his latest book, he offers a cavalcade of eccentric characters - in Vermont, naturally - most of whom are, in some way, sexually ambivalent. High school drama classes and Community Players give space for some interesting literary discussions. Never a dull moment, although I thought the final scene was not a success. Not an easy book to recommend - because some may be offended - but grasp it with both hands with your tolerance to the fore.

His other novels include Until I Find You ($22.95 Pb), Last Night in Twisted River ($19.95 Pb 672pp) and The Cider House Rules ($19.95 Pb). He usually writes in the first person, so the situations ring very true, very involving and, as you can see by the number of pages, good value! And there is usually some wrestling as well.

Now here’s an unusual and fascinating book – who will it appeal to? Historical Fiction readers or Egyptology buffs? It is Egyptian Fakes: Masterpieces that Duped the Art World and the Experts Who Uncovered Them by Jeana-Jacques Fiechter ($65 Hb 251pp incl index). I don’t really think it will be a useful aid to a would-be faker in Balmain. The big trick is to find a willing buyer! I see the author also writes history and detective fiction. Quite exciting. Lots of illustrations. I think archaeologists would also be interested.

A good way to get some local colour is to read detective stories from other places, authors such as Donna Leon for Italy, or Peter Corris for Australia. I’ve just discovered an interesting writer from Malaysia. Her name is Shamini Flint and she is an author of crime books and young adult stories. She is also a lawyer and environmental activist. Her first book is Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder. You can guess the issues here, such as logging in protected forests and corrupt officials. Her detective is not especially attractive, being fat and untidy, but he has his heart in the right place. The titles in the series, all $19.99 and all beginning with “Inspector Singh Investigates”, are A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (#2), The Singapore School of Villainy (#3), A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree (#4) and A Curious Indian Cadaver (#5).

If you’re just beginning to be interested in Medieval History, I recommend Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror by Tracy Borman ($59.95 Hb 297pp incl index). There is very little archival material from this time (the conqueror being William the Conqueror, hero of 1066), so the story of Matilda serves as a background to the times, with many extracts from Anglo Saxon Chronicles and other slightly later writings. Matilda was the first crowned Queen of England and it is claimed all later Queens of England descended from her, right up to the present day. She makes a good role model - pious, independent and diplomatic. A good starting point would be The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture edited by Andrew Galloway ($38.95 Pb 321pp incl index). This nicely produced volume is full of information presented in a very readable way.

Don’t forget to show your Abbey’s Card at the till to get 10% discount on the spot. Valid in Abbey’s, Language Book Centre and Galaxy. If you don’t already have one, just ask. It’s free.

Keep well, Eve.

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ June 2012

Publishers are also responding to the demand for cheaper books and there are an increasing number of announcements about new ranges such as the Penguin Black Classics and Popular Penguins ($9.95), the Vintage Classics ($12.95) and the latest collection to appear, Text Classics for Australian authors ($12.95).

Abbey’s stock ALL of these titles all the time. Stocking the backlist titles is one of Abbey’s virtues. If one is temporarily out of stock, we’ll do a special order for you. And publishers are responding to the cry for cheaper books. Many are now reissuing good titles in new formats at much lower prices. There would be more than a hundred good books in these new series which you can enjoy for less than $20.

Amongst the many exhibitions at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra there is an excellent display from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It is called Travelling the Silk Road and is on until 29 July. This is about the legendary trading route from China to the Mediterranean, through desert lands and exotic places such as Tashkent and Samarkand. I once landed in an aeroplane at Samarkand. It was very disappointing – but then most airports are! The journey along this route enabled Chinese inventions such as paper, gunpowder and silk to become available in Europe. I looked at Journeys on the Silk Road by two Sydney journalists, Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters ($34.99 Pb 323pp incl. index), but this turned out to be rather specific – about the discovery in the Taklamakan Desert of a buried Buddhist library by Aurel Stein in 1901. More specifically it is about the discovery and journey of the oldest printed book – the Diamond Sutra – and its journey to England. A journey not yet finished I think. I also want to remind you about another book that talks about the early Chinese discoveries which came to the West, and that is Simon Winchester’s marvellous book Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham & the Great Secrets of China ($26.95 Pb).

I then looked at Inside Central Asia by Dilip Hiro ($32.99 Pb 480pp incl. index). This is subtitled A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Iran. It was published in 2009 and has an epilogue added in 2011. Dilip Hiro is the ultimate expert on this area (together with India and the Middle East). So although it is not quite the old Silk Road, it is your chance to make sense of all those strangely named places which are now becoming important to the West.

I’ve had a lovely time reading the latest Donna Leon which is called Beastly Things ($29.95 Pb). You can also get this on CD ($35). Commissario Brunetti now has his very own computer although Signorina Elletra is the one who works wonders. This time the setting is in the abattoirs outside Venice and I notice Donna Leon is becoming more ardent about vegetarianism – with Chiara her spokesperson. And Inspector Vianello is becoming more important. This is number 21 in the series and you can find the earlier ones in our Crime section.

I have (sort of) read and enjoyed Promise by Tony Cavanaugh ($29.99 Pb 327pp), a well-known scriptwriter. Graeme Blundell, whose opinion I respect, calls it “chilling and memorable: top-notch Aussie noir, definitely not for the faint-hearted”. This explains my “sort of” remark because I did indeed need to skip some parts. Nonetheless, braver readers than I will think this is terrific. A tense and thrilling story.

I must enthusiastically recommend Gillian Mears’ wonderfully well-written book Foal’s Bread ($32.99 Pb 376pp). It is not a good title, but this is a great book and I am hoping it will win the Miles Franklin. The story is set on the NSW North Coast where the son of a struggling dairy farming family is a champion show-jumper. He marries a very hard-working girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is also obsessed with show-jumping. The time is just before WWII and onwards. If you like horses even a little bit, you will love this. A memorable book.

I also read one of the new writers included on the Miles Franklin long list – which is what the long list is about, is it not? This is Blood by Tony Birch ($29.95 Pb 253pp). This is written in the voice of a boy who has taken on responsibility for his sister and himself because his mother is just not up to it. They are always on the move, mostly on the back roads, and there are plenty of other people scraping by to keep them company. A well told story.

Did you see a little snippet in the paper about parts of an important 'lost' papyrus found at the Queensland Museum by an expert who was visiting to open their big new exhibition of mummies? It seems it was a fragment from Amenhotep’s Book of the Dead, so I had a look in our Egyptology section and found The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead translated by R O Faulkner ($39.95 Pb 192pp incl. index), published by British Museum Press.

Here’s something for our special community of history buffs. Remember Colin McEvedy who wrote and compiled The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History ($19.95 Pb) and The New Penguin Atlas of Recent History: Europe Since 1815 ($24.95 Pb)? His friend, Douglas Stuart Oles, has edited Cities of the Classical World: An Atlas and Gazetteer of 120 Centres of Ancient Civilization ($39.95 Hb 432pp incl. index) in a very nicely produced format. He goes from Alexandria to York and there is a terrific list of sources at the back.

Thank you for all your support for Abbey’s, Language Book Centre and Galaxy. Without you we could not continue stocking such a wide and eclectic range of books.

Keep well, Eve