The Great Surry Hills Book Clearance of 2005
The Great Book Clearance: Part One
If you are a regular on my Lines from a Floating Life diary on Diary-X you will already know about the Great Book Clearance. It amazes me that during the past fifteen years I have accumulated so many books, given that when I first met M I was living in a very small room at PK’s place in Paddington, and a nice place it was too, with a small shelf in my room and my grandfather’s bureau on the landing outside. (Or was it downstairs?) Anyway, that was the sum total of my books. There had been an earlier mass clearance or two: one when I left Wollongong, another when I moved from my flat in Forsyth Street Glebe, and another when I left Buckland Street Chippendale in 1987. But after M and I moved in together the books started to multiply, often to his despair. He was right of course; it was an addiction. Now as twilight comes inevitably – and what a glorious sunset it was tonight in Sydney, you should have seen it, apt perhaps for the death of Popes – it is time to shed again.
So I set myself a target: one hundred books. I failed. It is two hundred, but that is OK; it fits the space occupied by my small library back in Paddington. This entry on Diary-X Floating Life tells you of some of them:
Books kept. Yes, I will leave world affairs alone for a while and tell you about some of those privileged 200 books. Mister Rabbit will know already (and he has expressed an interest) that two of them will be The Oxford Shakespeare and my quaint old edition of The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, a forty-years-old reprint of the third edition, with lots of very dated pics and a fine old Oxford Atlas included, where Zimbabwe is still Rhodesia. (The Oxford Universal Dictionary (Illustrated). Oxford University and Caxton Publishing Company, 1964.)…
Books: The great book sorting is, of course, a necessary prelude to retirement, which will come very soon after I have clarified my health situation. There is no great benefit in terms of superannuation in my continuing. I had an email yesterday from Delenio (in Hong Kong at the time) expressing interest in purchasing some items, and I have hopes The Rabbit will relieve me of some things which suit his current and probable future studies. That done, it is off to the knacker’s yard, the second-hand shop, or charity – 2MBS is a possibility – for the rest.
But what of the 200 kept? Well, in REFERENCE, as well as that Shorter Oxford mentioned yesterday, we have:
# The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition 2000) because it is so good and so elegant, even if it is also online.
# Even with Ask Oxford online, I keep also Sarah Tulloch’s Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus (1999?)
# I have also kept my Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, “the result of 15 years’ thorough analysis of written and spoken language, this book provides a clear and detailed picture of modern English.” Unrivalled for clarity of definition, especially for learners of English as a second language.
# Burchfield’s 2000 edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage.
# Nicholas Hudson, 1993, Modern Australian Usage. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
# Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage because it is far and away the most scholarly of all.
# Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms which is so much better than anything else in the field. Neither of the last two is the current edition, but who cares? They are still invaluable.
# The Oxford Companion to the English Language ed Tom McArthur (1992) “Wide coverage of topics — from Abbreviation to Zeugma, Shakespeare to split infinitive. Substantial entries on key subjects such as African English, etymology, imperialism, Pidgin, poetry, psycholinguistics, sexism, and slang.”…
Books: I am getting rid of almost all my fiction titles, keeping just a handful that I might dip into in future. Can you guess what they might be? Well, here are the saved ones:
# An omnibus edition of Jane Austen.
# A similar omnibus of three novels by Charles Dickens.
# The complete Sherlock Holmes.
# An omnibus Lewis Carroll.
# Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.
# Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
# The Lord of the Rings.
# An omnibus of James Joyce, containing everything except Finnegan’s Wake, which I have never read and never will read. Indeed, the only person I have ever known who has read it is now dead.
To which I have just added:
# Herman Melville, Moby Dick. That is after hearing actor John Bell talking about it, and recalling how the book so impressed me at 14, though I mustn’t have understood it, that it stayed with me for years. I almost even did a thesis on Melville, choosing King Lear instead in the end. I am sure John Bell would have approved. Better too than my other thought: English hymns of the eighteenth century. But I really must be careful: this sparing of books must not become a habit.
The picture is from an Alaskan dramatisation of the novel by Leon Ingulsrud, Perseverence Theatre, Juneau AK, May 18 – June 3 2001: “I claim Herman Melville’s MOBY-DICK as a fundamental myth of my culture. It is, for better or worse, the great American story. I don’t claim to understand it, but I smell the marrow of my own bones in its pages. It is as flawed as any soul on the planet and as perfect as any night sky. Like all great works of art, the mystery of the work is indistinguishable from the mystery of the universe.” He also did it in Japan November 29th – December 9th 2001: that production looks fascinating.
In future I will take one book, or a small set of books, and explain why I chose to keep it/them.
I wonder if that pic tells you something about why Moby Dick grew on me through adolescence: pun (shamefacedly) almost intended 😉
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Wednesday, 13 April 2005
The Great Book Clearance: Part Two
Here is another I am keeping: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche:
NEW FRONTIER: Now, more than in many years, there is a preoccupation with death. Death seems to predominate most of society’s television viewing, reaching people’s mass consciousness, there’s the AIDS plague and more people dying of catastrophic diseases. You’ve written a book dealing with death and dying. Much of Buddhism is concerned with death and dying, as is much of Christianity. Isn’t it time we stopped talking about dying, and learned how to live more?
SOGYAL RINPOCHE: You will notice from the title of my book, it’s not just about dying, it’s about living. The problem in Western society is that you don’t look at life and death as a whole. You isolate death. That’s why there’s so much fear. You become attached to life and deny and reject death.
It is important to realize that death is not something to be feared as a tragedy, but rather an opportunity for transformation. Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected. Spiritual traditions, such as the Trappist order in Christianity, often maintain a vow of silence while constantly saying, “Remember dying.” If you remember dying, you might understand what life is about.
When we do not understand death, we do not understand life. Even though we know that we will die one day, we think we have an unlimited lease on life. We become trivial and lose perspective. By reflecting on death, realizing you could die at any moment, life becomes very precious. As Buddha said, “Of all mindfulness, and of all awareness, mindfulness of death and impermanence is the most important.” Reflecting on death enriches. Death is in many ways our greatest teacher. It enlivens and shows us what life is all about.
It is a book where I still have much to explore. I came to it because M in 1999-2000 was overseas for twelve months, and in the Christmas/New Year period he was visiting Bodhgaya in India, the holiest place for Buddhists. The Dalai Lama happened to be there, and M attended his teaching. In the next six months, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, in both English and Chinese versions, was M’s constant companion, and the difference it made in him is there for all to see.
My copy originally belonged to my friend The Mufti of Watsons Bay, who gave it to M to celebrate M’s return. M already had one, so he left this copy behind, and now it is mine. I treasure it for many reasons.
Kind of related are the following titles I am also keeping:
# Adeline Yen Mah, Watching the Tree (Flamingo 2000).
# Simon Leys (translation and commentary) The Analects of Confucius (W W Norton 1997).
# Three little books from the Shambhala Pocket Classics: Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield (1993); The Zen Teachings of Huang Po edited by John Blofeld (1994); Cold Mountain, the wonderful poems of Han-shan, translated by Burton Watson (1992). All three are just delightful.
# Ray Grigg, The New Lao Tzu (Tuttle 1995) makes the Tao vibrant. This is my favourite religious text.
# Kazuaki Tanahashi and Tensho David Schneider (eds), Essential Zen (Harper 1994) and Thomas Cleary (ed), The Essential Tao (Harper 1991) are two lovely collections. The beauty of the traditions represented here and above is their lack of hate, their lack of dogmatism, their essential modesty, and their deep resonances. Islam and Christianity do not always do as well.
# John Welwood, Towards a Psychology of Awakening (Shambhala 2000) is a book I have so far just dabbled in, but it does promise a revisioning of human psychology that has much to offer. It is a journey I must make. so the book must stay.
# Stephanie Dowrick, The Universal Heart (Viking 2000) is not exactly life’s little instruction book, but it comes close. I wish she’d been around long ago… Mind you, her ideas were. I will be severely tempted by her new book Free Thinking.
# Totally off theme is The Penguin Book of Latin Verse, edited by Frederick Brittain (1962), a real rarity. It took me so long to replace in the 1990s the copy I had bought in 1963 and had subsequently lost. This is a treasure of the first rank.
I have added to fiction too:
# Nicholas Jose, Avenue of Eternal Peace (Penguin 1989-1990) has great sentimental value, as well as being a rather good novel, set in China. You could say M is in it. Or bits of him.
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Wednesday, 13 April 2005
The Great Book Clearance: Part Three
Here are four more of what my very dear friend The Rabbit calls “the lucky books”.
# Richard J Evans, In Defence of History (Granta, expanded edition 1997) because standards of historiography really have needed defending against the excesses of postmodernism, and Evans does it convincingly and entertainingly.
# Salman Rushdie, Step Across this Line (Vintage 2003) is just packed with must-read essays. It is heretical of me, but I think I prefer this book to his novels… “A beacon of sanity. In an age of religious fanatics, patriotic zealots and self-righteous leftists, Salman Rushdie champions free thinking and fun.”
# Jonathan Glover, Humanity (Pimlico 2000) is “a moral history of the 20th century” and a book absolutely everyone should read.
# A N Wilson, God’s Funeral (Norton 1999) is a fascinating intellectual history of major 19th-century figures, mainly British, from Hume to William James – and yes I know he was an American. Here is a brilliant account by a thinking Christian writer of currents of thought the US fundamentalist pretends never happened.
Modest complaint to the management: As you know this is a freebie and therefore subject to nuisance ads, most of which are fairly discreet. Lately however I notice that totally asinine piece of legal but unethical spam has appeared a few times on the page, and not as a pop-up: you know the one:
Congratulations! You are the one millionth (THINK OF ANY NUMBER AS LONG AS IT’S BIG) visitor to this site. Hit the frog and claim your prize!
Is it up there now? Ignore it. What childish crap! If I had a business I would be embarrassed to promote it in such a thoroughly insulting and objectionable manner. So I apologise to you if my blog insults you with rubbish like this, but I have no choice in the matter, and I guess I should be grateful to Angelfire for the service. And I am. I just wish some marketing gurus had better taste, don’t you?
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Wednesday, 13 April 2005
The Great Book Clearance: Part Four
Delenio is coming soon to help divest me of some books. M, of course, set aside a very large pile the other day. He tells me old books about China (especially pre-revolutionary ones) are very much in demand in the Peoples Republic, and are likely to be even more so. I find that interesting.
Perhaps I will list a few of the titles M has set aside for himself. What do you think?
A World War II vintage edition of Arthur Waley’s translation of Monkey was one of them.
OK then. Here are seven of the hundred or so that M has set aside as “definites”.
and articles on China’s literature, culture, and art, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
One wonders who would dwell on this, and why… One thinks of Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden, and of Coetzee’s remark via Elizabeth Costello, that the British sought for Hellas among the Zulus… Homoeroticism is/was one major component of the orientalist gaze, from this painting to the rice queen touring South-East Asia today.
For those who don’t know, and all my regulars do know, M is from Shanghai, was my partner, is my friend, and has been in Australia since December 1989.
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Interlude on Orientalism
Image on left from Cover detail “Occidentalism” by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit.
This arrived from one of M’s Pakistani friends. I am sure such sentiments are widespread, and this is a person of good will. But do also look at Here’s Pak Positive – “simple Pakistan news and stories without religious, political or military tones – presented unmodified and unedited at their sources.”
The so-called “War On Terror” is largely angering the common people over here. People here do not want to live according to the wishes and whims of the West. We have our own religion, and a way of life. No one likes intrusion in his/her affairs and so do we.
Here “War On Terror” is viewed as only targeting Muslim countries, interfering in their political and religious lives. People think that the Western/Christian world has joined hands against branding Muslims as “terrorists.” Even people who are
fighting for freedom are labeled “terrorists” like those in Palestine, Kashmir etc. The occupiers and oppressors like Israel and India are NOT called terrorist states for their murderous activities in the occupied lands. When they murder Muslism everyday it is NOT terror. The occupation of Muslims is NOT terror. The OCCUPIED, OPPRESSED and TERRORIZED Muslim people are being branded “terrorists.” How unjust! Force and sanctions are always used & threatened only against Muslim countries and never against any other like Israel or India for the occupations….
It is chastening to recall that Said is onto something absolutely right in Orientalism: the world can look very different depending on who is looking and why. I have a lot of time for the general field of post-colonial theory, and am an inveterate relativist, multiculturalist and pluralist, as you may work out from my favourites on the left. Why? Because it fits the reality of the world, and because anything else inevitably leads to conflict. But see also “The Origins of Occidentalism” by Ian Buruma (The Chronicle Review Volume 50, Issue 22, Page B10 February 6, 2004.)
Look too at this article by Edward Said: “Preface to Orientalism“.
I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn’t. For all kinds of reasons the situation in Europe seems to be considerably better. In the US the hardening of attitudes, the tightening of the grip of demeaning generalisation and triumphalist cliché, the dominance of crude power allied with simplistic contempt for dissenters and “others” has found a fitting correlative in the looting and destruction of Iraq’s libraries and museums. What our leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, clean so that “we” might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow. It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar. But this has often happened with the “Orient”, that semi-mythical construct which since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century has been made and re-made countless times. In the process the uncountable sediments of history, that include innumerable histories and a dizzying variety of peoples, languages, experiences, and cultures, all these are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sand heap along with the treasures ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of Baghdad.
…Today bookstores in the US are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental peoples. Accompanying such war-mongering expertise have been CNN and Fox, plus myriad evangelical and right-wing radio hosts, innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow journals, all of them re-cycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalisations so as to stir up “America” against the foreign devil…
Speaking both as an American and as an Arab I must ask my reader not to underestimate the kind of simplified view of the world that a relative handful of Pentagon civilian elites have formulated for US policy in the entire Arab and Islamic worlds, a view in which terror, pre-emptive war, and unilateral regime change — backed up by the most bloated military budget in history — are the main ideas debated endlessly and impoverishingly by a media that assigns itself the role of producing so-called “experts” who validate the government’s general line. Reflection, debate, rational argument, moral principle based on a secular notion that human beings must create their own history have been replaced by abstract ideas that celebrate American or Western exceptionalism, denigrate the relevance of context, and regard other cultures with contempt…
Is this still true a couple of years later? What do you think?
I have considerable doubts now about the validity of much in Said’s Orientalism, finding Robert Irwin quite convincing. None of that, however, invalidates what I say above about perspective.
The Great Book Clearance: Part Five
Here is a mixed bag indeed, six more books I treasure too much to sell.
# The World’s Shortest Stories ed. Steve Moss, Running Press Philadelphia 1998. Lovely concept: complete stories just 55 words each. Also, this was a present for my 60th from The Rabbit, so how could I part with it? I do admit M coveted it…
# David and Hilary Crystal, Words on Words, Penguin 2000, a browser’s delight, especially when the browser is a logophiliac. “I am what they call a logophiliac, although I don’t call it that because it just seems dirty.” – Michael Talbot.
# George Plimpton, The Writer’s Chapbook, Penguin 2nd ed 1992. Excerpts by topic from The Paris Review interviews with eminent writers. I see there is a later edition, but them’s the breaks…
# Amin Maalouf, On Identity, London, Harvill 2000. Also known as Murderous Identities. A book of enormous warmth and wisdom. M’s friends in Pakistan, you, I, all of us, need this man’s spirit.
# Martin Palmer, The Jesus Sutras, London, Piatkus 2001, translates and comments on some amazing Chinese Christian documents dating back to the Tang Dynasty, “recovering the lost religion of Taoist Christianity.” The documents are, some of them, very beautiful. Check the link: it is a full transcription of a 2003 Radio National program on the subject.
# Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, New Directions 1971. Lovely.
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Interlude: Children’s Treasures
Story-Lovers Greeting Cards. This is simply a beautiful site, which fills me with nostalgia for half-remembered illustrated children’s books of fifty to one hundred years ago, with illustrators from a golden age of book illustration: Arthur Rackham, Walter Appleton Clark, Margaret Evans Price – so many. On the right you may see Arthur Rackham’s “Titania Sleeping” (1900).
Perhaps I will keep my mouldering copy of The Children’s Treasure House ed John R Crossland, Odhams 1935, but harking back longer than that surely.
M has taken Grimm’s Fairy Tales and The Arabian Nights.
Yes, much tweaking here today, befitting my restoring the Angelfire site to its former place of honour – despite Angelfire’s sometimes crass marketing efforts…
So, what do you think? Like it?
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Tuesday, 12 April 2005
The Great Book Clearance: Part Six
On Saturday my coachee Erwin, who is a pretty amazing reader himself, was asking me about the Great Book Clearance. It hasn’t progressed as it should, I’m afraid, though at least I have M’s selections boxed up.
The trouble is partly that I keep finding reasons to expand the “core collection.” Take Tales from the Arabian Nights translated by Andrew Lang (1898), my edition being the cheap Wordsworth paperback of 1995, $2.95 then!
In the chronicles of the ancient dynasty of the Sassanidae, who reigned for about four hundred years, from Persia to the borders of China, beyond the great river Ganges itself, we read the praises of one of the kings of this race, who was said to be the best monarch of his time. His subjects loved him, and his neighbors feared him, and when he died he left his kingdom in a more prosperous and powerful condition than any king had done before him.
The two sons who survived him loved each other tenderly, and it was a real grief to the elder, Schahriar, that the laws of the empire forbade him to share his dominions with his brother Schahzeman. Indeed, after ten years, during which this state of things had not ceased to trouble him, Schahriar cut off the country of Great Tartary from the Persian Empire and made his brother king.
Now the Sultan Schahriar had a wife whom he loved more than all the world, and his greatest happiness was to surround her with splendour, and to give her the finest dresses and the most beautiful jewels. It was therefore with the deepest shame and sorrow that he accidentally discovered, after several years, that she had deceived him completely, and her whole conduct turned out to have been so bad, that he felt himself obliged to carry out the law of the land, and order the grand-vizir to put her to death. The blow was so heavy that his mind almost gave way, and he declared that he was quite sure that at bottom all women were as wicked as the sultana, if you could only find them out, and that the fewer the world contained the better. So every evening he married a fresh wife and had her strangled the following morning before the grand-vizir, whose duty it was to provide these unhappy brides for the Sultan. The poor man fulfilled his task with reluctance, but there was no escape, and every day saw a girl married and a wife dead…
The grand-vizir himself was the father of two daughters, of whom the elder was called Scheherazade, and the younger Dinarzade. Dinarzade had no particular gifts to distinguish her from other girls, but her sister was clever and courageous in the highest degree. Her father had given her the best masters in philosophy, medicine, history and the fine arts, and besides all this, her beauty excelled that of any girl in the kingdom of Persia…
So I began reading the other day, and I am afraid Scheherazade has had her impact on me too, as I am still reading.
Posted by realm/ninglun Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2005