Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The joy of books

I am a book nut. Correction; I am a complete and utter book nutter. I have been known to get wobbly-kneed and short of breath after a particularly good book purchase. The last time it happened was a couple of months ago when I managed to buy not one, but two out of print volumes by Hendrik van Loon. (Can’t recommend him highly enough, especially his Lives) I almost wept with joy. I simply can’t resist books and they’re starting to take over the house. One whole wall of the living room is covered in bookshelves and every other room in the house has more bookshelves. 

Well, except the bathroom and laundry; don’t want my beautiful books to get soggy. I’ve run out of room in my bedroom so now there are piles on the floor. It started as just one neat pile by the bed, known as my ‘current reading’ pile, but somehow that has grown into eight neat piles on the bedroom floor. I have been warned by Anthea (one of my partners) that if any of the piles grow big enough to kill one of our cats if it fell down…well, let’s just say that the threat was quite graphic.

Like any true book nut I always have more than one book on the go, as well as a supplementary diet of magazines and newspapers. I also read books for Anthea, who is studying for her PhD in musicology (as well as having other projects on the go). I help her wade through arcane academic texts and histories and make notes about anything relevant to her studies. Ostensibly I help do this because she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and her eyes tire quickly but I kinda love it because it takes me to new and unusual areas that I never would have thought of tackling for myself. So I thought I’d share with you a brief snapshot of the books and magazines I’ve been reading this week. And the list goes like this:
  • The First Fleet by Jonathan King,
  • The Luddite Rebellion by Brian Bailey,
  • A History of Metallography by Cyril Smith,
  • The Shocking History of Phosphorous – A biography of the Devil’s element by John Emsley,
  • This United State by Colin Forbes and
  • Lost Secrets of the Sacred Ark by Laurence Gardner.
Now if you can figure out which books I was reading for pleasure and which ones were for a musicology thesis, award yourself a big pat on the back and the honorary title Smartiest Smarty Pants of the Year. As for magazines, this week I read New Scientist, New Dawn, Atlantis Rising, The Fortean Times and Uncensored. So yes, I read the nutter magazines as well as the respectable ones. The nutters are so much more fun!
So what did I learn this week? That Ralph Clark, 2nd Lieutenant in the First Fleet was a sentimental idiot who couldn’t spell to save his life. He regularly spells Psalms as Spalms and all his journal entries drivel on about missing his dearest, most beloved Alicia and how many times a day he kisses the locket that holds her ‘pictour’. Actually none of the soldiers on board who kept journals seemed to be able to spell or construct grammatical sentences. I thought it was just typical 18th century ‘creativity’ in regards spelling, until right at the end of the book when I read the one letter from a convict and…the spelling and grammar was perfect. Must have been a forger. I’ve barely started the Luddite book so nothing to report so far. The history of metallography book is surprisingly interesting. I was looking for stuff about the history of Damascus steel and it turns out, it may not have come from Damascus. That ‘Damascus’ in this sense may refer to watery patterns in the steel that look a bit like patterns in the fabric ‘damask’. And that the first known examples of such steel don’t come from the East at all, but from 6th century France and are associated with the Merovingian’s. Intriguing.
I also learnt that phosphorous was probably discovered by mediaeval alchemists who obtained it by boiling down gallons and gallons of human urine. Charming. Now we leave the realms of fact and turn to ‘alternative’ archaeology. I love Laurence Gardner’s stuff. Don’t know if I believe a word of it but it’s fun to read. This 2003 book ends by telling us where the Ark of the Covenant is currently hidden. Ethiopia? No. The Vatican? No. Instead, he reckons it’s right in the middle of the labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral. Why can no one see it? Because it’s been slightly shifted out of our space time continuum. Gotta love that don’t you?
Which brings me to fiction. I stopped reading fiction for a long time after I finished my college degree. It bored me. It took me a while to realise that it was only literary fiction that bored me. Turns out I like meat-and-potatoes simple narrative fiction. I like actual stories not dreary, endless internal monologues about love and fate. So I’ve been ploughing through heaps of cheap thrillers courtesy of my local op-shops and discovered some writers I really like. I’ve also developed a sense of the fads and concerns that flow through different time periods. I’m particularly fond of the era between 1989 (when the Iron Curtain fell) and the 2001 terrorist attacks on America. Before 1989 the baddies are pretty much the Soviet Union and after 2001 the new baddies were Islamic terrorists. But the period in between is fascinating as all these authors were forced to find new global threats. Some were unwilling to drop the communists; some went for China or Japan and others conjured up such unlikely threats that they unintentionally drift into comedy. That’s where This United State ends up. In this book America decides that England is no longer a reliable enough ally to keep Europe under control. They decide to invade and make England the 51st state of the U.S.A. They prepare the ground by organising a whole bunch of supposedly terrorist bomb attacks in London in the hope that English authorities become so overwhelmed that they call in the F.B.I. for help, (as if!). Then they secretly send an invasion navy armada into the English Channel. My absolute favourite scene is where a group of crack American Navy Seals are sent to take over a secret British intelligence communications station and are defeated by a mere handful of British intelligence agents and, wait for it, a group of plucky English cabbies. Almost fell off my chair laughing. That’s what I call good imagination.
Finally, one tasty little morsel from my magazines. A new conspiracy theory concerning the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, and you have to guess which magazine it came from, (Hint: it’s not New Scientist). According to this theory those three men were targeted because they all intended to curtail the power of the Federal Reserve Bank. Hmmm, chunky. I particularly enjoyed their use of a new word for banking officials that I hadn’t come across before: Banksters. Says it all really. And speaking of creating new words, let me note in passing the sad demise of Amy Winehouse last week. Another talent gone too soon. She will be remembered for her music, but I also choose to remember her for coming up with a wonderful new way of using the word ‘fuck’. Namely the line in ‘Me and Mr Jones’ that goes, ‘What kind of fuckery is this?’ Farewell Ms Winehouse, I hope Kurt, Janis, Jim and Jimmi are looking out for you and are showing you the best bars in the afterlife.


  1. Of course. No one remembers anything past the "one of my partners" line. Love ya, Posty!! fahey xx

  2. I love reading about people who love reading!
    And I also loved reading the first comment here.
    Please say hello to Anthea who I met re the Tortoise Project in Thornbury.