Birthday Books Abound…

September 28, 2009 at 6:53 am (Uncategorized)

Sorry I’ve been posting so late in the day recently – it’s all for a good cause, namely freelance work, and lately there’s been quite a bit of that (hear that? Silence. That’s the sound of no one complaining). I’m staring down the barrel at a very busy week, but since my sources for one story have stalled (not good, but I remain optimistic), I am now going to take a break and quickly tell you about my lovely haul of birthday books.

Birthday books! At last!

First came a non-fiction title from my friends R and S – Stephen Fry in America. Fry is a troubled but supremely intelligent and hilarious individual, and I am really looking forward to reading his observations and insights as he travels around the United States. An Englishman in New York and just about everywhere else – all with the help of a London black cab. Naturally.

Next A and E gave me a book I’d already read – I reviewed Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden for Who magazine back when it was released – so with the present givers’ joint blessing, I exchanged it for M. J. Hyland’s Carry Me Down. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, I’ve only heard good things about this novel, and Hyland’s writing in general. I have a delicious level of anticipation about this one because I think falsehood – the ironic fact of it – is such a fascinating and complex area of the human condition.

A double Waugh whammy from my friend S. First is the short satire (coincidentally concerning another Englishman crossing the Atlantic) The Loved One. Universally regarded as hysterical and important, slim in length only, I’ve never read it, but it’s dedicated to Nancy Mitford, and that’s a jolly good start. Second is another of Waugh’s celebrated masterpieces, Brideshead Revisited. S really went all out on this one, giving me what is without a doubt the best-smelling book I have ever received. It’s leather-bound, specifically vegetable tanned buffalo calf, part of the Bill Amberg for Penguin Classics series and a most delicious chocolate-coloured edition.

As well as birthday dosh, Llewie gave me the latest edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2009, but since it’s full of UK listings, it sadly isn’t as relevant  to me now we’re back in Australia (and have been since 2001, which explains why the copy I own is from the year 2000…). I dutifully trotted off to exchange it for the latest edition of The Australian Writer’s Marketplace 09/10. The bookstore in question was out of stock, but I’ll be back…

Last but not least, I bought myself a book second-hand, one of those great reference books you occasionally spy on a dusty shelf and think, ‘Yes! How did I ever live without this?!’ – in this case, the tome in question is Brewster’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Millennium Edition, spotted in a box of unsorted books at Man Town’s Desire Books (3/3 Whistler St, Manly, 9977 0888) the day the Darklings departed Cottage Point and returned to the serene silence of the city. I was with Darklings JB and Deb, and on the day I came away empty-handed (lies! Only one hand was free by the time we left, because I had to have Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces – to see from whence our own Fugitive has come – and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle because…well, just because). They called me as promised once they’d sorted the box of goodies, and I picked it up the day before my birthday. It’s great, chock-full of brilliant stuff like this entry:

Brooks’s. This LIBERAL and social CLUB was originally a gambling cub, previously ALMACK’S, which had acquired the former reputation of WHITE’S for the high stakes laid by its members. In the late 18th century it led the fashion in hazard and faro. The WHIG statesman Charles James Fox was a patron, as was the Prince Regent (later George IV). The younger Pitt was a member at one time but subsequently withdrew to White’s. It later became a leading Whig club.

I mean, come on, what’s not to love?! There’s so much interest and intrigue in that one small entry that I am practically palpitating about what the rest of this mighty text contains. On the same page:

Brownie. The home spirit in Scottish superstition, in England he is called ROBIN GOODFELLOW. At night he is supposed to busy himself on helpful chores for the family over which he presides [Hmmm… wonder if he’d be interested in a new spirit life Down Under?]. Brownies are brown or tawny spirits, and farms are their favourite abode.

I love it! Hours of fun, right there. Hours and hours of good, clean, phrase and fable fun.

So what do you think of my bulging book bag? Not bad, huh? I’m giddy with excitement, and plan to get stuck right in after I finish Lilian’s The River Midnight, and her second novel The Singing Fire. Happy days!

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12 Comments

  1. Pete said,

    I’m so jealous of your book haul. Brewster’s looks like a delight. My association with Brownie was chocolate brownies and brownie points but that just shows how lowbrow I am! I also want that Stephen Fry for his dry observations of all things American. And the Aussie Writer’s Marketplace practically sells itself. Fugitive Pieces – brilliant. And I’m also envious that you’re reading Lilian’s The Singing Fire. Enjoy!

    • doctordi said,

      Me too! And Girl Guides! I had no idea brownies could be tawny spirits… which just makes me think PORT. And I ordered both of Lilian’s at once because I knew I’d have to get them through Amazon.

  2. litlove said,

    What a lovely book haul! I’m particularly interested in what you think of Carry Me Down, which I have sitting on my shelves but have yet to read. I saw some of the Stephen Fry series on television and it looked like a lot of fun. I keep meaning to read Moab is my washpot, which is his memoir and apparently the best of his books (so they say).

    • doctordi said,

      I’ll let you know – I really do need leave to just put everything else on hold and clear this pile of books, it’s getting silly now. Yes, I understand the show was very funny – of course I’ve not seen it, but the book shall do nicely! I can imagine his writing a great memoir, actually.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    How wonderful! Books as presents–that is the height. The only thing just as good is music. One year for my birthday I gave h a list of cd’s that I wanted.

    • doctordi said,

      I agree, Lilian, there is just nothing better. Music is tricky for us since we’ve completely reverted to vinyl – there’s not a lot of it around, so we end up scouring specialty record stores (Tokyo was amazing for vinyl) and ordering online for ourselves… which is great fun.

  4. woo said,

    Gosh, that dictionary of phrase and fable is precisely the kind of thing I love. Chock full of fascinating tidbits.

    Have you read ‘Gilead’ and ‘Home’ by Marilynne Robinson? The best two books I have read in a LONG TIME. And I read a great deal and constantly, so I get through a fair few. Highly recommended.

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, exactly, Woo, and I do think in that case you would really love it – keep your eyes peeled! And doesn’t it make you wonder about the previous owner?? Who gives up a book like this and in what circumstances?!

      No, and no. No Marilynne Robinson yet on my tired shelves… clearly this is something I must rectify forthwith, but really, she’s just going to have to join the queue. I am badly behind. Get me to a deserted island.

  5. woo said,

    Oh, and you can follow Stephen Fry on twitter. Which has to be the single best use of the internet ever. 😉

    • doctordi said,

      I’m going to have to take your word for that one, Woo. I just don’t do that twitter twit twitting thing.

  6. Fugitive Pieces said,

    Brewers! One of my favourites! Welcome! I’ve owned it since I was, um, shorter – which is quite a while back, aged crone that I am.
    I must must must read some MJ Hyland, as this is getting embarrassing. And thanks to you, I want to go and rummage through my pieces of Waugh, though none of them smell as good as yours (perils of a second-hand book habit). Hope you like Fugitive Pieces; I ground to a disappointing halt in her new novel, The Winter Vault, and can’t decide whether I’ve changed or she has…
    PS Stephen Fry put out an excellent book on poetry called The Ode Less Travelled, just the thing to counter my horrifying ignorance of villanelles and sestinas and such. Although, naturally, I didn’t do any of the homework, so I doubt the Forward Prize committee will be breaking my door down any time soon.
    PPS By the way, Woo, I finally scored my own copy of Gilead, so no longer need to borrow yours – ta ever so for the offer, though.

  7. doctordi said,

    Cool, I’m really pleased someone else has it! And in a long-term relationship, no less. Disappointing about Michaels, though… I hate it when a previously adored writer puts out a novel that makes your heart sink, it’s just awful. Like a death.

    Yep, pretty ignorant on the anatomy of poetry myself. I ran away from the form at some point in undergraduate English and never really returned to anything with stanzas… although Fry sounds like he’s written something capable of turning my head – except for the part about homework.

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