Banned Books Week

Against Banned Books (Please Spread This Pic &...
CC image from florian.b at flickr

We’re getting towards the end of the US-centric Banned Books Week (it ends on the second of October) and deals with the often abused US system in which often local communities ban or lobby for the banning of books that are not necessarily restricted content but simply books that confront or contradict personal ideologies.  Mostly this involves sex – particularly homosexuality or non-standard sexuality – supernatural themes and drug use.

In Australia there’s certainly more noise to be heard regarding content restriction in the form of proposed internet filters, video games and film classifications, but we do ourselves have a record of banning and restricting access to books for various reasons, some less noble than others.  You can theoretically search the attorney general’s classification database to check out a history of classification decisions on books (including those refused classification/restricted content), but there’s no distinction between periodicals and other publications, which means search results end up invariably glutted with pornographical magazine listings.  You’re best off looking to Wikipedia and scanning the complete list of banned books to pick out those banned in Australia (trust me, there’s less books banned globally than issues of porn magazines cautioned and banned by the AUS government).  But there is also a nice and readable history of literary classification in the country to be found here.

In any case, the amusing note I wanted to make today was something I found through Bookseller and Publisher news by proxy (a.k.a Boomerang Books Blog) that this week Random House publishing has recalled a book called Evil in the Suburbs that details some past rape cases in Sydney.  It’s not exactly a banning, since it seems to be a voluntary recall.  I haven’t had much luck at Random House’s site itself; the search form seems to be returning errors every time I try it and there’s not a word in their news updates page.  But it’s close enough that I’m quite amused by it all.

When I think of banned books, I think predominantly of Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster, though I know that in reality there’s a lot of restrictions regarding sexuality (and sex crimes) and euthanasia in global and Australian recent history that the populace as a whole should be informing themselves about more.  I do feel very lucky that I am free to read the books currently in my reading piles without any type of restriction, though.  I don’t think I often realise how fortunate I was to be born into a country with few banned books and a high accessibility of print media.

Location, location

Where to read can be as important as what to read.  I have books that I wash my hands carefully before reading.  Books for buses and for sitting in corridors and waiting for doors to open.  Books for shopping trips and for protracted enforced ‘family time’.  Those are books for times and places, and I also have many places that affect my reading habits.  Here are some of my most favourite places to read.

  • Inside the Hancock Library Basement at the Australian National University.  In any of the stacks, really, though the Hancock Basement has a certain quality.  It is dark and quiet, and there is restricted airflow; warning signs recommended during my undergraduate years that no student spend longer than one or two hours at a time in there.  Reading there, there’s an intimacy.  Your breath, the dust and weight and solitude of all those old bound and rebound periodicals and documents.
  • One winter, in one of my various parents’ Defence Housing rentals, wrapped in a doona and pressed up against an old glass window in an afternoon rain and thunderstorm.  I feel it is almost impossible to wholly enjoy gothic fiction without recalling those afternoons.  My feet were warm and dry, and my forehead was stinging against the crispness of the glass.  I was surrounded by musty smells.  I am afraid that I will never be able to find such a good place to read in again.
  • During role-playing conventions, I enjoy the dimly lit and empty stairwells of the empty high schools that such events are held in.  These are places always so busy, that it feels clandestine and wonderful to just be there quietly and immovably for an hour or so.  It also helps one escape from the inevitable theatre sports that occur in the registration and tea areas.
  • Sitting on the driveway (if we’re living somewhere that has one just for our use) at night in summer.  There’s something about citronella candles and silence and bugs and the radiant heat of the concrete.  I barely survive summer at the best of times, and I tend to slump and die during the day.  At night I have recovered enough to read and think, and I just love driveways then.
  • In old abandoned trains.  In many country towns these have been turned into museums of gold mining or P.O.W camp local history, and there’s usually no attendants and minimal foot traffic.  I like to read the plaques and history, then find a good corner to settle down in.

I suppose a lot of my places are very isolated, or at least rely on being alone.  I do enjoy reading in cafés and with others around me, but I often enjoy the books more than the locations.  It’s these times when I’m alone that I don’t have to shut out my surroundings, and I can really appreciate both the books I’m reading and the sense of place that surrounds me.  I know that I have very few regular readers here, but if anyone has their own favourite places to read – or good memories of places – please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about them.

‘Recipes of Japanese Cooking’ by Yuko Fujita

Ebi Okonomiyaki + Modern (noodles) - Jugemu an...
Okonomiyaki: image by avlxyz via Flickr

This cookbook was abandoned into my arms; an old host teacher left it at my mother’s house, and I can’t believe how lucky I am that she’s decided I can now keep it forever.  It is one of the only cook books I have ever read and used and re-read and re-used; it is well indexed and searchable.  It has kanji and English directions and explanations, and breaks down all the processes involved in basic Japanese cooking.  It even lets you find dishes by seasonality and cooking method and ingredient.  I can’t give a much better review than to say that this book helped me learn to improvise okonomiyaki, tamagoyaki, nasu dengaku, sushi rice, yakisoba, udon and soba at a time when I had limited net access and even more limited funds.  With Australian unbranded supermarket ingredients.

I’ve often despaired in Japanese cooking of lacking custom ingredients or needing to spend vast amounts of money to find the right condiments, but this book often mentions European equivalents that can be tweaked (e.g. as a Vegetarian I often replace okonomiyaki sauce with kelp stock, Worcester sauce, tomato paste and cornflour heated in a saucepan).  Most importantly, it’s got an omelette rice recipe, and potato croquettes and dango; the things I used to get homesick for.

Out of curiosity, I looked around online to see how this cookbook of my heart was received and how much it might have cost me to replace if Mum had just dropped it in the charity bins.  What I found was quite interesting. Please keep in mind I’m not linking to these to suggest anyone buy the book, just to highlight the prices for the sake of personal interest alone. At Amazon, for instance, there appear today to be three used copies starting from $98.66 – I’m assuming it’s US dollars?  While at White Rabbit Press you can find it for $26.83US and quite new. abebooks also has it secondhand for about $24 US (with another fifteen for postage).  I’m sure you’d find comparable mid-$20US prices around other affordable sites and search engines, maybe even less at the Book Depository.

I’ve never really liked Amazon books.  Perhaps it’s because I have never owned a credit card, and rarely purchase anything online.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve heard odd and frustrating and heartbreaking stories about their treatment of writers and publishers and consumers.  But I’ve also heard that their used books are quite cheap and accessible, at the very least competitive with alternate secondhand sellers.  So having a used book price that’s not quite four times as expensive as a new copy is a bit alarming to me.  I hope it’s alarming to you, dear readers.  I suppose the lesson is one that most of us bibliophiles learn early in life:  look to more than one source for any book worth buying.  Though it only has me asking questions:  why hasn’t this ambitious seller noticed that the book is overpriced?  Why are all good sources for this book elided from or avoiding using Amazon? Online bookselling politics is something baffling to me.

About halfway down this review page, there’s a review for the book that links to this Amazon page in Japanese, where the book is going for ¥1449 (less than $18 US) if you’re adventurous with shipping rates and cross-lingual customer service you can get it for quite cheap.  The review itself is quite nice and informative (more than I have been, indeed).  It was hard to find other reviews, but I am glad that I had a bit of a search; I have a love-hate affair with Japanese cuisine and the near constant presence of fish oil in sauces and broths, and browsing reviews of Japanese cookbooks has made me eager to start experimenting again.

Lifeline Bookfair in Spotlight

All right, so instead of reading I’ve just been sitting around eyeing my piles of loot from the bookfair and smirking and feeling generally wealthy in a literal sense.  But I’ve at least been reading search results idly in the meantime.

What do others blog about going to the bookfair for?  There aren’t many posts so far, but there were some interesting things being said.

For reference books and sewing skills: The Shopping Sherpa

For papercraft, scuplture and other wonderful book loving agendas: Art & Etc

And, like me here, just for the bookish bookness of it: Melicious

I knew theoretically that people travelled far and wide to get to the bookfair, and that it was a prime source not only for reading material but for craft material, and other versatile affordable re-purposing of paper.  But to know in theory and to be reading about it is another thing entirely.  I suspect part of this comes from living in Canberra, and having a lot of federal political news overshadow local news and events in the media.  People love Lifeline, people love books, and I’ve got a warm feeling deep down in my cold India-rubber academic heart from it all.

Bibliomania strikes again!

So there’s this person, genetic relative, with a car.  She called me this morning to suggest that I fill some bags up with books again.  How could I resist the call of musty old paper?

So began the far more frantic and amusing Sunday afternoon at the Lifeline Bookfair.  Towards the end of the final day, it becomes a bit of a free-for-all.  People fill bags with books for discounted prices (and why is it that you need a $3 secondhand book discounted?  I mean, Bookfair prices have remained quite low compared to the increase in retail and secondhand book prices in the last ten years).

I was duped at least twice by hoarders’ piles looking like actual stock.  I’m not sure if these people are bibliomanic like me, or just the circling vultures of Ebay hobbyist booksellers, but they don’t usually bother me.  It’s all money for a good cause, after all.  I was bothered today.  I apologised and went to move on, but the hoarder actually engaged me in conversation.  As I heaved my grean bag along, he complained that some people had their entire piles taken away.  All that hard hoarding work undone!  I held my tongue and moved on to another table, but inside I was a little baffled.  Surely at a charity fair like this, if you came to get so many books you might bring an accomplice.  Or even – and this is done more often than you’d think – asking a volunteer staffer to help you box and secure your bulk purchase.  Perhaps he was only talking to me because he saw the fervour of the bookmad in my eyes?  If so, I must feel flattered that someone of my own species recognised me for what I am.

Despite the decreasing stock, I picked up a lot.  I was mainly scavenging for two friends today, and I brought a good haul for them both.  But I also turned up some books and pamphlets on megaliths, Neolithic birth/death iconography, and some smutty and pulpy ‘archaeology’ and ‘forensic’ that I’ll be working through and reviewing here soon enough.

Highlights were the amount of children themselves hoarding clumsy armfuls of books, the announcer trying to discount encyclopedias to a price that would appeal to a society with ready access to wikipedia, and the very satisfied smiles on some vinyl enthusiasts faces.  There was a frenzy, but a bookish frenzy.  People rushed and apologised politely when their bags brushed up against each other.  Awkward smiles were exchanged as two shoppers reached for the same book.  Perhaps people who read books simply have more decorum than your average discount shoppers and bargain hunters.  Or perhaps in Canberra we just breed docile bibliophiles.

I am wholly exhausted now.  Tired and stretched out on our sofa, surrounded by piles of books that I really should get around to sorting and cleaning.  But I think first things first, I’m going to start reading.

Lifeline Spoils List

Canberra’s Lifeline Bookfair was busy and cacophonous and wonderful.  It’s been a few years since I’ve gone out on a Saturday (I usually show up early on the Friday and late on Sunday) and the foot traffic was a bit of a surprise. It made the Rare Books room all the more amusing to navigate.  I spent most of my time in there watching one poor volunteer retrieve a $250 copy of The Hobbit from its cabinet and displaying it to young pervy hobbit fancying girls far more often than could possibly have been healthy.  My companions – one friend, two acquaintances and a parent, were more interested in the art books than my people watching.

In the main room the SF&F tables were, as usual, absolutely swarmed by people.  I ducked in and around in my search for a few specific titles, and then escaped into the nearly empty but quite well-stocked Crime, Mystery and Thriller tables.  I spent a good fifteen minutes browsing the chunk of Kathy Reichs books, not wanting to spend too much on her stuff when I wasn’t sure I’d make my way through one, let alone two books.  My two decisions on that count made, I tripped over to Historical fiction.  No George MacDonald Fraser sadly, but I did luck out with Bernard Cornwell.

I dutifully scanned the multiple copies of From the Gracchi to Nero and Gods, Graves and Scholars in the Arch/History tables; the discussions of juvenile delinquency in Anth/sociology.  While here I was bemused by a young girl’s very disdainful comments regarding dedications and ‘please return to’ inscriptions on the flyleafs of books; she never bought books with those in them, she said, because, well… I never did hear her reasoning.  Her younger brother had lost interest, and headed off elsewhere.  I shall wonder for some time whether she preferred to collect books that appeared pristine, or if it was the implication of previous caring ownership and dedication that made the books feel less like her own.  It was a serendipitous insight into a mindset that I have never experienced.

I bypassed the medical section (big books equals elbows, and I’d already got a full enough bag to be getting on with) and lingered just long enough over the English Literature section to pick up some books that will bring me joy that I cannot find the adjectives to express sufficiently.

The Japanese section had very little of interest.  Since I am lax with refreshing my Kanji knowledge, that basically meant that all the good picture books were long gone.  I found a very useful book on human anatomy and drawing (manga how-to, but it will be used for many and varied applications) for quite cheap.

Having run around most of the place and being suddenly met by my companions who were all wearing by that point quite exhausted smiles, it was time to head to the tally rooms, pay up, and come home to get intimate with our purchases.

For better or for worse, here is my list, in chronological order of purchase.

(From the Rare Books Room) Bibliomania: A Tale by Gustave Flaubert, Arthur Wragg (Ills.)

The Gap Cycle (five novels) by Stephen Donaldson

The Deathgate Saga Vol. 1 (I didn’t read the title; I picked this up for my bearded half)

The Ragwitch by Garth Nix

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichs

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell

The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick

Misreadings by Umberto Eco

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

Biographia Literaria by Samuel Coleridge

How to draw bodies – How to Draw Manga Series

Now that I am done, I am quite glad that I made up a reading list before attending.  I am far too tempted to start reading quite a few of these, and as soon as I’ve cleaned the sebum of a hundred hungry browsers from their covers, they’re going straight into my bedside piles!

Currently Reading

In a pre-bookfair fit of reader’s guilt, I must confess to the books I intend to complete reading before I dive in to my new purchases.

1. Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell – finishing off this trilogy is going to be wonderful, but I’m a little scared to let go of the characters.

2. The Night Manager by John leCarre – I spent a bus trip nearly squirming in delight from the dialogue, and want to read this right now.

3. Clans of the Alphane Moon by Phillip K. Dick – because I think I’m in love with a Ganymedean slime mould called Lord Running Clam.  I am actually quite near the end of this, to be honest.

4. The Collected Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle – because I bought this a few lifelines ago and I’ve been introduced to the BBC remake miniseries recently.  It’s harcover, tactile and wonderful, and a facsimile with illustrations.  I think I’ll just lie around swooning over the binding and flyleaf and forget to get around to actually reading it.