Friday 26 September 2014

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Penguin and I have been on a huge bush walk over the last couple of days.  We went with author Cheryl Strayed from the Mojave Desert on foot in California all the way north through the mountain ranges of California and Oregon to the Washington State border.
 For the first time in a long time I was reading a book that I didn't want to end.  Cheryl is remembering a time 20 years earlier after her mother died, her father left the family when they were tiny and her grief was really messing up her life.  Her stepfather who they had been close to disappeared pretty much after her mother died, she lost touch with her siblings as they dealt with their grief in various ways and she became quite promiscuous and entered the drug culture.

In order to get her life in order and get to know herself better she decided to hike the 1100 mile Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast of the United States.

I really enjoyed this book.  It has serious undertones to it but it is amazing because she was the least prepared hiker I have ever come across.  Her boots are too small. She doesn't learn to use her water purifier until she is on the trail. Her back pack is the size of a small "volkswagon beetle" as she describes it.  It really is absolutely amazing that she attempts this trail at all.  There is beauty and danger on the trail but I think the most danger she faces is simply dealing with herself and her past memories of her grief over her mother who died of cancer in her 40's, her heroin usage, her failed marriage. The idea of walking this trail came to her when she saw the guidebook  in a queue at the store.

Cheryl seems to have lived her life to this point having no idea what direction she is going.  What I enjoyed the most are the books she put in her collection box at certain points along the trail.

She and her mother were studying English and literature in university together when her mother
became ill.  She had a love of reading, she met beautiful people along the way and had such interesting times, moods and thoughts.

While reading on the trail she would burn the pages once finished because of the weight of the books.
They were old paperback copies (not Folio editions) so that didn't bother me too much.
I enjoyed what she took from the books as she applied their lessons and the lessons of such strenuous hiking to her life.

If there was anything I would improve in this book is perhaps she dwelled a bit too much on her family grief but then on the other hand the reason for the trek and the book was to deal with it.  She had to immerse herself in it and the flashbacks were quite enlightening as to what she had to go through.

I almost didn't read this book because it was one of Oprah's books.  I am totally turned off by this because Oprah always acts (to me) that the book and experiences were her ideas and she has to immerse herself in the whole concept.  But as this was  a library book and there was only mention of Oprah once on the sticker on the front of the book I got over it.  Travel literature is one my most favourite genres but it has to be adventurous, the people realistic and the dilemmas interesting.

I learned a lot about the mountains of California, the trail and the changes in weather in this book.  She did her research so this wasn't just a "oh poor me" book.

Some of the books she read along the track were: The Pacific Crest Trail Vol I and II, Staying Found: The Complete Map and Compass Handbook (she didn't learn to use the compass until she needed it); The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor which she then traded for James Michener's The Novel.

She went through Margaret Drabble's A Summer Bird Cage, Nabokov's Lolita and James Joyce's The Dubliners. There were others but too many to list here. They are listed in an appendix at the back of the book.

The other thing she did that I liked is the Afterword at the end told what happened to her and the friends she met on the trail over the next 20 years.

The suspense of reaching several destinations to see if her posted box was waiting for her got to be quite high at times.  As she often had no money or food by the time she picked them up we worried for her.  This woman is a survivor and though it is short of a miracle that some of her experiences didn't kill her she did in fact become very strong.  I won't spoil it with the things that happened whilst on the track.

For a non fiction book I found I was completely immersed in Wild but then I love this type of  adventure. Others may not feel the same. I love living vicariously through others as they traverse the globe either walking, bicycling, on horseback or motorbike.  I have read a lot of travel books over the years and I would rank this one quite high.

If you've read this I'd love to know what you thought of the trip and what you thought of Cheryl also.

An except at the beginning as she packs her bags and telling us about the things she is to put in it:

There was a blue compression sack that held the clothes I wasn't already wearing- a pair of fleece pants, a long sleeved thermal shirt, a thick fleece anorak with a hood, two pair of wool socks and two pair of underwear, a thin pair of gloves, a sunhat, a fleece hat and rain pants- and another sturdier sack called a dry bag, packed to the gills with all the food I'd need over the  next fourteen days before I reached my first resupply stop at a place called Kennedy Meadows. 

There was a sleeping bag and a camp chair that could be unclipped to use as a sleeping pad and a headlamp like the kind miners wear and five bungee cords. There was a water purifier and a tiny collapsible stove, a tall aluminium canister of gas and a little pink lighter. There was a small cooking pot nested inside a larger cooking pot and utensils that folded in half and a cheap pair of sports sandals I intended to wear in camp at the end of each day. There was a quick-dry pack towel, a thermometer keychain, a tarp and a insulated plastic mug with a handle. 

There was a snakebite kit and a Swiss army knife, a miniature pair of binoculars in a fake leather zip up case and a coil of fluorescent coloured rope, a compass I hadn't yet learned how to use and a book that would teacher me how to use the compass called Staying Found that I intended to read on the plane to L.A. but hadn't. There was a first aid kit in a pristine red canvas case that snapped shut and a roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag and stainless steel trowel that had its own bleach sheath that said U-Dig-It on the front. 

There was a small bag of toiletries and personal items I thought I'd need along the way- shampoo and conditioner, soap and lotion and deodora t, nail clippers and insect repellent and sunscreen, a hairbrush and a natural menstrual sponge, and a tube of waterproof sunblock lip balm. There was a flashlight and a metal candle lantern with a votive candle inside and extra candle and foldable saw- for what, I did not know- and a green nylon bag with my tent inside. There were two 32 oz plastic water bottles and a dromedary bag capable of holding 2.6 gallons of water and a nylon fist that unfurled into a rain cover for my backpack and a Gore-Tex ball that opened up to become my raincoat. There were other things I brought in case the other things I brought failed- extra batteries, a box of waterproof matches, a Mylar blanket and a bottle of iodine pills.  

There were two pens and three books in addition to Staying Found: The Pacific Crest Trail, Vol I, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language. There was an 8 x 11 200 page hardback sketch book that I used as a journal and a ziplock bag with my driver's license inside and a s mall wad of chas, a sheaf of postage stamps and a tiny spiral notebook with the addresses of friends scraped on a few pages. 

There was a full sized professional quality 35 millimetre Minolta x-700 camera with a separate attachable flash and a tiny collapsible tripod, all of which was packed inside a padded camera case the size of a football.  

What was so laughable about  this she does get everything in or on her pack. She never thought about where all this would go until she was in the motel room the morning of her departure and it was all on her bed.  Also once everything is packed to carry for the next 3 months she cannot lift the pack off the ground.  I was in stitches laughing at this conundrum and you'll just have to read the book to see how she manages it all.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Vintage Australian Series of Penguins

It took me a week to settle down from the Melbourne trip and then the weather got so good we have been doing bike rides.  The book blog just can't compete with bike rides on a hot spring day in Tasmania.  It doesn't happen that often.

The other day Richard from the Cracked and Spineless bookshop left me a message that he had been to a deceased estate and found an older Australian series of Penguin books.  They were from the early 1970's so weren't from Allen Lane's empire but they were a beautiful set none the less.  A little bit of sun fading to a couple but for 40 years old not bad at all. They were published in Australia.

I dropped in later that afternoon and he showed me the set.  They are gorgeous.  They seem like new and I love the Australian theme of them.  I have heard of a few of them but not all of them.

I also don't know how many were in the series but there are 12 that Richard found.  He gave me a great price on them (he has so many books in the store he can't think straight so easy to get a bargain).

I put them into a bag and here they are. The series is called The Penguin Colonial Facsimiles which I have never heard of before but perhaps others have. If anyone has any information about them I'd love to know about them.  There isn't anything that I could find on line though I have checked the series title with Abe books and found nothing.  I have not checked the titles out individually.

I hope you enjoy the covers as much as I do. The stories are all about early settlement in Australia.

Monday 15 September 2014

The Melbourne Haul and a Spring Day

I have been home from Melbourne for almost a week and it already seems a lifetime away.  These holidays sure get away from us.  I was making my coffee this morning before settling down to read some blog posts from others and I saw the back yard was full of fairy wrens.  A sure sign that it is spring though these little birds are around quite a bit.  They were busily eating insects.  For those of you who don't know what these birds are here is a photo of the male and the female.  He is very flashy.

I spent the weekend reorganising my Penguin Book collection.  I had a lot of non Penguin books on the shelves and I removed these in order to spread the Penguins out a bit more.  I currently have them filed on top of each other so tightly that when I'd add more to the collection I could not fit them in. So I put the non Penguins in a box and though I'm not happy they're in a couple of boxes I will try to get them read so I can either sell them or give them away to make room for the Penguins. 

I would really like the library room to just be Penguins including the various series of them.  These are the books I found in Melbourne.  They are from different series and different time frames as you can tell by their covers.

These are from the earlier series of Penguins (1940's to 1950's.
These Penguins were in the later series as you can tell from the variety of covers.

These were also from the later series and there are some humorous books in this batch.

L to R:  The Penguin music scores which have beautiful covers, Typee is from the Penguin Illustrated Classics and the
George Meredith book is one of the Penguin Hardcover copies made especially for libraries. Bigger print and hardcover.

These books are from late in the series. They number as 2000 plus and were published in the late 1960's for the most part.

These are from the children's books, The Puffin series. All are first published Puffins and I only pick them up if they are firsts and low in price.  I can't afford to collect the Puffins from book shops where they usually cost more.  I found these in Melbourne and they were reasonably priced so I picked them up because I like t heir covers so much.

I would love to know if you have read any of them as some are obscure. On a Spring day while the wrens played in the back door I was happily organising all my shelves with my new Penguins.  Little pleasures, eh?

Tuesday 9 September 2014

A Penguin, An Airport and Graham Greene- 1959

Today I am sitting in the airport reading Graham Greene’s Penguin No. 2822, In Search of a Character.  It is a slight book and I am greatly enjoying it so far. It has two novels within it of two Africa Journals he keeps. I have read the first one. He is in the Congo area and he is thinking about a doctor, a character for his next book. However it is quite funny that every time he comes with an idea there is a footnote at the bottom of the page that this idea was later pitched out.  I have no idea if he ever settles on anything for certain.

He tends to visit places around the world for 3 to 4 months, he gets quite depressed until he has established a routine each day. He speaks of melancholy quite a bit. In this particular journal he is surrounded by people with leprosy.  He writes quite a bit about leprosy especially focusing on both contagious leprosy and non-contagagious leprosy. A lot of what he believed then is no longer true about the illness and that is also highlighted in the footnotes.

He also has a great deal to say about the role of the church in this country and most of it non too flattering.  He mentions a nun who is bemoaning the fact that a settlement up the river no longer has the numbers of people with leprosy anymore and says, “Oh there is almost nothing to do anymore.”  

One of the priests he spends time with shoots everything and one evening while on board a most uncomfortable boat ride the priest shoots a heron and serves it for dinner.  He doesn’t realise it isn’t rabbit until later.  He is not happy with the way the priest tends to sadistically tease cats, dogs and shoot birds.  He doesn’t think the faith and the actions mix very well.

The story is laid out like a diary beginning January 31, 1959. I guess keeping a journal that is true to events at the time is that later on medical research changes some of the facts of the time.  There are quite a lot of footnotes  but I found them quite interesting.

I felt very much like Alan Lane only in an airport and not a train station, wanting a little book that would fit in my pocket as my bags are so heavy with books. So after I checked in the bags I pulled the Penguin from my pocket and began reading this 1959 tale, trying to find a quiet place that wasn’t playing musak in order to concentrate on the story at hand.  (That is another topic altogether.)

Looking forward to getting home and unpacking all the books and putting them away.

Monday 8 September 2014

A Book Free Day- Last Day in Melbourne

Today was a rest day. I slept late, read quite awhile today and didn't leave the hotel room until 3:00.  Last night's performance of The Last Confession with David  Suchet was above excellence. An interesting tale about the death and conspiracy of the Pope in the 1970's.  It was a fascinating tale and the acting was incredibly strong. I loved it.

The Effect

Tonight I went to a play called The Effect with Australian stars Sigrid Thornton and William McInnes. It was a story about two psychiatrists, one who works for a drug company and their research with mental health i.e. Depression and their two main subjects of their experiments. The two subjects fall in love and the ramifications of that are shown as well as Ms. Thornton's own depressive behaviour.  The young actors I thought were stronger than the two seasoned ones.  It was an interesting story but not overly memorable like The Last Confession.  I just enjoy live theatre.

I had time to kill before the theatre so I walked around the Southbank area next to the river and took photos, got something to eat from a food court and then sat down near the river and read an hour.

Once finished with the play I walked back to my hotel. By then it was dark and I got a few photos of nighttime Melbourne.  I hope you enjoy my last photos of Melbourne for awhile.

It has been a lovely week away from home and a chance to have time to myself, focus and look forward to getting home again tomorrow.

Sunday 7 September 2014

A Really Uplifting Bookish Tale for a Sunday

I'm having a Melbourne rest day so thought I would share a lovely story that took place in Hobart during the last week.

My favourite second hand book store in Hobart is one called Cracked and Spineless.  They took over the operation of this shop a year ago and it appears to be going from strength to strength.

Richard and Mike compliment each other in how they market books to the public and they seem to be doing a fine and dandy job of it.

One of their strengths is how they sell books to all ages and all walks of life. You can get the weirdest, cult loving books or you can be a died in the wool traditional who only reads the classics.

Whatever your bent is you can have a lot of fun on their Facebook page too.  The link to their Facebook page is here.  If you are on Facebook you really should like them because they have some pretty funny conversations every day and it is a great marketing tool for those, um, maybe weirder types of books.

The other day Richard put up this post and I thought, "Wow, I love this and I know anyone who reads this blog of mine will also love it. "

Here goes,

I just thought you might enjoy that little tale. With all of the world wide gloom and doom about these days I really do hang out for these small tales.   And while you're at it, be sure and check out these crazy guys at Cracked and Spineless and I might add that their classics section is really beautiful. You might not get that from this Facebook page.  A great example of how a book shop can be interactive with the whole community.

Saturday 6 September 2014

Saturday in Melbourne: Serious Penguin Hunting.

Today I found the Mother Lode. I decided it was going to be sunny and 19 degrees (68F) and I was going to have a good look around City Basement Books which is on Flinders Street across the street from the back of Flinders Street Station.  I found it yesterday but only 30 minutes before closing.
This is only about half of City Basement Books in Melbourne on Flinders Street. 

This store was absolutely amazing and only about 5 blocks from my hotel. I spent two hours in this shop finding Penguins I didn't have and because prices weren't very bad I bought everything I could find that I didn't have already.  I crawled around on the carpeted floors and scrounged through the bottom bookshelves.  I kept taking more and more Penguins to the counter for safe keeping before I dove back into the shelves again. I also found several Puffins that were first published. I only looked for first published that I didn't have because you can only keep so many Penguins in a small house without looking like one of those hoarders you see on TV.

More of City Basement Books
As I paid for them (she gave me a discount as well for about 25 of them) she told me about Book House in St Kilda.  I knew there was a second hand store in St Kilda but I didn't find it the other day and as I didn't feel that well went back to my hotel. Well, today I felt much better finally and decided to head out there again with the GPS on my phone and a tram ticket. It takes about 30 minutes to get out there with traffic so not really that bad. Then took me about 30 minutes to walk through a neighbourhood to find it. It is not near all the shops but rather tucked away in a residential neighbourhood.

This shop can be tricky to find but well worth it if you are a Penguin collector. He had other books as well.

I followed the dot on my GPS I had turned into and practised turning up one road and down another to see if my dot got nearer the dot that was the bookstore. It worked.

When I walked in I was blown away by the wall of Penguin books all filed in a particular order to form a decorative wall.  It was really beautiful to a Penguin lover but probably quite impressive even to a non Penguin lover.
The books are behind a perspex in the front and shelves are open at the back. He will sell any in the collection.
The prices were higher than I paid at City Basement store so I decided I would only look for first published Penguins with a number less than 1000.  They would be the priority and I wouldn't even look at the higher end of the series (to save heartbreak).  I found a few that were good finds including a first published Catcher in the Rye.  I have never seen one of those so I was happy.  I had to pay more for it than the others but he did discount the others so I felt I was treated fairly.
These shelves are in the room behind the wall of Penguins.
I then took the tram back to Flinders Station and walked back to the hotel.  I had to meet some friends of mine who came up for the weekend to see the play tomorrow with David Suchet, The Last Confession. We're really looking forward to it.  
From crawling on the floor in City Basement I stood up on the ladder to see the Penguins on the top shelf of Book House.

So as of tonight, 5:00 pm, I have officially stopped looking for and buying Penguin Books or any books for that matter as I did do a bit of that too. When I get home (Tuesday) I will post up the haul over a couple of posts.  I am very happy with this book buying trip and now to save up again for about 5 years maybe? Like they say, "As if".

Friday 5 September 2014

In Melbourne- Friday The 5th September

This morning I woke up and had one of those moments I wasn't sure where I was. Then I remembered.... Penguins. Got to find some Penguins.  I heard there was a second hand bookshop in Fitzroy on Brunswick Street.  Fitzroy is a suburb of Melbourne and for some reason I thought it was quite a ways out.  I looked at the tram map and couldn't find much help with that and I kept getting different advice from the people I asked.  So I flagged a taxi and I was there in about 10 minutes.  So that was worthwhile.  I gave him the address I had and excitedly waited to get into a bona fide second hand book store.

I got to the store and walked in and facing me straight on was a bunch of brand new books. Blast. I asked the staff there who was a little bit "busy" if they had any second hand books. "No" was the reply, "We carry ONLY new books."   "Is there anyplace around here that sells second hand books?" I replied.  "You could walk up that way (pointing in the air) three blocks and he sells them."  What is it with the people who run bookshops.  So often they seem so disinterested or downright rude.

So I walked up the three blocks and saw the shop and gratefully walked in to see a young man smiling and interested and I could have hugged him.  It was so refreshing to see a friendly face in a book shop. He actually appeared to enjoy his job.

The book shop is called Grub Street Book shop and although not really large it was packed with second hand books, it was organised well and he was most helpful in bringing me Penguin books and allowed me all the time I needed to have a good look around. I would certainly recommend this store.

After I left his shop I walked towards another shop he had recommended but just didn't feel well enough (still fighting off this wretched bug I've had for three weeks) so I had had enough of books and Penguins and decided to just take a walk around Fitzroy and see what it was about.

It is quite an old suburb and I must say I don't know much about it. It seemed busy with lots of shops and cafes down the main street but many of the buildings are quite derelict and there are some lovely old houses and shopfronts that need fixing up.  It has a friendly atmosphere and everyone I met was friendly and helpful.

I walked through some neighbourhoods taking photos of the street art and things that were quirky and thought I would share that walk with you.  I then saw the tram going up and down Brunswick St., one going each direction and wondered if that would get me back to the CBD.  I asked a shop clerk and she said I'd have no problem as they only have one tram line and it goes straight into the city.

She pointed out the stop and off I went with my store of Penguin books I had picked up in my backpack.  I had to laugh as the tram went straight into Collins Street and stopped 1/2 block from the front of my hotel.  I will do a separate post of the Penguins I bought, the new books I bought and the in betweens. I hope you enjoy the walk.

This guy was most interested in the fact I was taking his picture. I thought he was a handsome cat.

Street art seemed to be everywhere over the old broken bricks.

More Street Art

A very old Indian (I believe) woman watched me take this photo then approached me and asked me, "Don't you love the bright colours.  Very pretty"  She had such a beautiful smile on her face. 

The main street (Brunswick St) and the single tram line.

This art was on the side of the building that housed the Fire Fighter's Union.   Most appropriate. 

Entrance to a garden store.

The tram line with the advert re: The Last Confession with David Suchet I am going to see on Sunday afternoon. 

On the building next to a doorway into a shop.  

Back "home" again and in my hotel room. The main view is the backs of old buildings and dreary cement but
I could see the moon up to the left of the tallest building.  Can you spot it?