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Thursday, 27 July 2006

A box of old books and two cases of photographic slides brought by my cousin yesterday are awaiting my new bookcase and sideboard — due to be delivered to my flat this weekend. He hasn’t space enough in his house to store them, along with everything else from the estates of two of my uncles. One, Elmer, died some years ago. He had lived in New Zealand working as a ferry captain. The other, Geoff, an engineer who was very kind to me when I returned from Japan, is now living in a nursing home and suffers from dementia. Douglas collected their belongings and, now, having taken possession of a large collection of photographic slides and prints last December, I’m the main repository for all things ‘Elmer’.

The books reflect the interests of two generations of men and women. They’re a mix of old and not-so-old. The list:

Barry Humphries: More Please (An Autobiography), (1992)
The Coming of the Maori, Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) (1950)
Rigby’s Romance, Tom Collins (nom de plume of Joseph Furphy) (1946)
Green Mountains, Bernard O’Reilly (1940)
Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters (illustrated by Oliver Herford; no date in volume)
The Cicadas And Other Poems, Aldous Huxley (1931)
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (1973)
The Story of Japan, Juliet Piggott (1971)
Heaven and Hell in Western Art, Robert Hughes (1968)
500 Years of Art Illustration: From Albrecht Dürer to Rockwell Kent, Howard Simon (1942)

Quite a curious collection, to be sure. I’m looking forward to reading the Robert Hughes tome. It’s a lovely, big, illustrated first edition with an Angus & Robertson price sticker: it was purchased for $6.50!

It’s really great seeing what types of books other people have bought and read. The time and effort spent selecting and reading books, of whatever stripe, is always a source of interest. That’s why I’m always so keen on garage sales.

The Furphy novel should be good. I’ve never read any books by this man who, according to the Wikipedia, “is widely regarded as the "Father of the Australian novel".” According to the dust jacket, this book first appeared in 1905-06 in serial form in the newspaper Barrier Truth, and was apparently first published in a single volume in 1921, but the edition I now possess is spruiked by the publisher (Angus & Robertson) as the first “unabridged” edition. The dust jacket is a bit worse-for-wear and there’s some foxing on the top of the pages, but it’s still in pretty good nick.

It’s been a long time since I read any science fiction, so the Arthur C. Clarke book should be worthwhile. (I was a big fan of Philip Jose Farmer and Ray Bradbury in my youth.)

According to a Web page I found, Sir Peter Buck’s “achievements are astonishing for their diversity, reading more like a list of possible careers than a biography – a pioneering and internationally renowned anthropologist, the first Maori medical doctor, a politician, administrator, soldier, sportsperson and leader of the Maori people. Through exploring the Maori/Pakeha cross-cultural advantages of his birth and exercising a scientific rigour that was largely self-taught, Peter Buck extended the edges of knowledge.” So, this book also promises some good reading. “Buck, keen to reach a wider audience,” goes on the Web page, “produced a popular easy to read book, Vikings of the Sunrise, as well as the more erudite, The Coming of the Maori, which has graced the spectrum between university and coffee table.” Sounds like my kind of book!

Another Web page says that Bernard O’Reilly “bushman and author, was born on 3 September 1903 at Hartley, New South Wales”. “Easy-going, quiet and modest, O'Reilly wrote Green Mountains (Brisbane, 1940), largely through public demand; Charles Chauvel's film, Sons of Matthew (1949), was based on it.”

Edgar Lee Masters was born in 1896 and “began a series of poems about his boyhood experiences in western Illinois, published (under the pseudonym Webster Ford) in Reedy's Mirror (St. Louis). This was the beginning of Spoon River Anthology (1915), the book that would make his reputation and become one of the most popular and widely known works in all of American literature.” This volume is especially precious as there is a stamp placed on the fly-leaf by my maternal grandfather — Geoff’s dad — that is dated 1926.

You learn something new every day.

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