by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Books”

The Random Chaos of Renovations

Posted 7 May 2012 in by Catriona

This week, the hallway and main bedroom are slated for painting. This leads to a complex game of Tetris (or, perhaps, Jenga), since the contents of the spare room and the study are still clogging the living room, after last week’s painting. So, rather than move all that material back and then move the hallway and main bedroom ephemera into the living room, we’ve just shuffled.

So my living room is full of my study and my spare room.

My spare room is empty, bar the actual furniture, because we need to sleep in there from Wednesday.

And my study is full of the hallway and main bedroom (which would be less of a concern if the hallway didn’t house three enormous bookcases).

All is chaos and strange juxtapositions.

But don’t think that either the chaos or the fact that my lads lost the FA Cup final will stop me from live-blogging the Eurovision semi-finals. Watch this space! Well, not tonight, but soon.

Strange Conversations: The George Orwell Edition

Posted 12 February 2012 in by Catriona

ME: I can’t believe you talked me into buying a new desk chair.
NICK: Look, you’re a knowledge worker …
ME: Brainworker, honey. We pigs are brainworkers. That’s why we need all the apples and milk.
NICK: Okay, whatever.

Lifeline Bookfest 2012 (January)

Posted 17 January 2012 in by Catriona

Oh, Lifeline Bookfest. How I look forward to you every year. Well, twice a year, actually. And yet … and yet.

This year, I found the January sales just a wee bit disappointing. I suspect a big part of that was sheer exhaustion: my first full week (which isn’t a full week, for me) back at work after the Christmas season and seasonal chest infection, and I woke up with a splitting headache. So I wasn’t in a truly pro-Bookfest state of mind.

They’d also made what was, to me, a fairly significant change in the structure. The Bookfest has three sections: high quality, priced, and unpriced. Often, the unpriced section is fascinating: I have, in the past, found fabulous girls’ boarding-school stories there, because they’re not usually the types of the books that attract a high price tag. But the books in that section are also usually a bit grubby and often in poor condition. So, in recent years, I’ve stuck to the priced section while Nick winnows his way through the high-quality section.

And, as a cursory glance through my past posts will show, I tend to focus my attention on the children’s books, and then have a quick run through literature and paperback fiction.

(I only look at sci-fi and fantasy if I fancy being elbowed repeatedly.)

But this year, they’d stripped all the children’s books out of the priced section: they were only stacked in the high-quality and unpriced sections.

I should, of course, have gone straight to the high-quality section once I realised that, but I spent some dispiriting time in the unpriced section before I realised I really wasn’t going to find anything I could be bothered queuing up for. Then I went through the high-quality section.

As a result, I bought much less than I usually would.

I also resisted the urge to buy no fewer than three different versions of the Robin Hood stories, because they were all annoying in different ways. (Especially Roger Lancelyn Green’s version, in which Marian explained to her father that, yes, she considered herself promised to Robin and she was planning on going to live with him in Sherwood if her father continued to be a prat, but that she intended to remain Maid Marian until Robin’s lands and title were restored, which led me to assume that Marian was marrying Robin for the money and prestige. I don’t want to think that of Marian!)

As usual, the books are all children’s and young-adult fantasy, not least because I was exhausted by this point and couldn’t be bothered looking at the literature tables:

I really must get around to actually reading those Carole Wilkinson books at some point: I own three now (fortuitously, they’re the first three in the series, which is better luck than I usually manage), so I really do’t have any further excuse.

I’m also quite pleased about that Margaret Mahy: I’ll happily read pretty much anything by Mahy, and this one (“In a time not far from our own, a colourful group of travellers brave the twisting, tricksy landscape of the Remaking, after Chaos ripped the world apart. They are the magicians, clowns, trapeze artists and musicians of Maddigan’s Fantasia, healing the injured land with their gifts of wonder and laughter”) sounds delightful.

I’m also rather ashamed that I didn’t know it was based on a television series (whose concept Mahy developed), especially since spec-fic film and television is actually the focus of my current research.

Bad, bad researcher.

I have a sneaking memory, somewhere in the back of my head, that tells me I’d come across the Patrick Rothfuss somewhere before (an online review, or Amazon entry, or some such) and decided it didn’t appeal to me. But that vague memory only surfaced after I’d read the back, decided it did appeal to me, and bought it. I’m stuck with deciding for myself now, I suppose.

Still, to balance that, there’s always the Ursula Le Guin at the bottom, about a world in which reading, writing, and scholarship are punishable by death. Let’s face it: you can’t really go wrong with Ursula Le Guin.

Moderately Obscure Nineteenth-Century Lit Joke

Posted 4 October 2011 in by Catriona

I make my own fun.

Lifeline Bookfest 2011 (June)

Posted 18 June 2011 in by Catriona

A week! An entire week without updating you about my lovely, lovely Lifeline BookFest purchases! what an unforgivably slack blogger I am.

But, end of semester being what it is, these have just been piled up on a corner of my desk (on top of two books about George Orwell, a glossary of literary terms, two notebooks, an exam, two draft journal articles, and a critical work on Victorian thing theory) for a week, waiting for me to find the time to photograph them.

The collection this time is, as it’s been for a while, rather heavy on the young-adult speculative fiction:

Well, excluding the Kurt Vonnegut essays, of course.

The Sisters Grimm book on the top there I bought because it’s the first volume and I already own volumes two and three. I haven’t read them, of course, but I do own them.

And another Diana Wynne Jones that I don’t already have! Not as successful as January’s sale in that respect, but, hey: a new Diana Wynne Jones is a new Diana Wynne Jones.

The book on the bottom is the real excitement in this pile, though:

Admittedly, I already own at least two other copies of the Brothers Grimm household tales: one a complete set and one a Victorian translation with only the more popular tales in it. But neither of them is a version of the household tales illustrated by Mervyn Peake.

I couldn’t have turned that down.

The other pile is also young-adult speculative-fiction heavy:

I’m keen on reading that Gail Carson Levine (even if it is prominently marked “Ages 9-12”), because I’ve a bit of a soft spot for her after reading Ella Enchanted and realising it wasn’t at all what I expected. She’s not in the Diana Wynne Jones camp for me, though: I’m not interested in all Levine’s books, just the odd one that takes my fancy.

The real joy here, though—the single best find of the entire sale, one that would have made the trip worthwhile even if I’d bought nothing else—is on the top of the pile:

No, not the Doctor Who short stories. Believe it or not, I bought those for research purposes.

No, really.

No, honest: I’m writing a journal article.

No, it’s the George MacDonald short fantasy fiction. I mean, how utterly, utterly beautiful are these?

They’re ’80s reprints, but they’re absolutely gorgeous.

And, what’s more, they’re an entire box full of MacDonald’s fantasy. Definitely and completely worth getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday and trawling through millions of books before breakfast.

Vale, Diana Wynne Jones

Posted 27 March 2011 in by Catriona

I heard about Diana Wynne Jones on the weekend, during Earth Hour. We were sitting on the back verandah in the light of some leaf-shaped candles when Nick, reading his iPad, told me that she’d died.

I texted my older sister, another fan. “Diana Wynne Jones has died,” I wrote.

She didn’t reply. But she rang the next night to tell me she’d been at a dinner party. She’d read my text out loud to a room full of historians and one psychologist. Most of them weren’t familiar with Diana Wynne Jones, though one said he had enjoyed her books “when I was a child”.

“He can’t have been a real reader,” said my sister. “Real readers enjoy her books now.”

Then we chatted for an hour about how many times we’d read each book.

“I’ve only read The Pinhoe Egg about four or five times,” said my sister. “But it hasn’t been out that long. It’ll catch up to Charmed Life.”

I’ve written elsewhere on the blog about my feelings for Diana Wynne Jones. Only on Friday, I was talking about the delight of finding two of her books that I didn’t already own.

But, now, I think I’ll just follow the footsteps of other fans, and show you rather than tell you what Diana Wynne Jones meant to me as a reader.

Vale, Diana Wynne Jones.

Lifeline Bookfest 2011 (January)

Posted 25 March 2011 in by Catriona

Two months ago, Lifeline held their January Bookfest. It was shortly after the city drowned, and shortly before the months began haring past as though they’d made a bet to see how fast they could get to 2012.

I roused sufficient energy to write my name and the date in these, and to enter them all in Delicious Library. But since then, these books have sat in an increasingly unsteady pile under my desk, on the grounds that they were going to be blogged about one day.

Today is that day.

They’ve all been banished to various shelves around the house, some scientifically, some on the grounds that “Eh, you fit there. That’s good enough.” So now is the time to show you all how terribly restrained I was this year.

I’m always delighted to find a new Trollope, though rarely surprised, since the man wrote, at a conservative estimate, 1.5 million novels. This is one I’ve never read, and (in all honesty) won’t be reading any time soon. But I like to have them on my shelves for that day when I do feel like an orgy of mid-Victorian prose.

And two Chalet School books! One feels like a victory, so this feels like—is there something better than a victory? A rout, maybe?—this feels like a rout. And they’re early ones, too: when the school was still in Austria and we hadn’t moved on to the second generation of Chalet School girls. Sadly, one (A United Chalet School) is one of those annoying volumes that Armada produced where they only published half the novel, and coyly invited you to buy the second half separately.

Sods.

The L.M. Montgomery is the second of these little paperback collections of short stories that I’ve found at the Lifeline BookFest. Short stories aren’t really my cup of tea, but I’m a completionist at heart (or a completist? I can’t remember which Tim suggested last time he corrected my misuse of this word), and they’re worth having for that sake alone. But they also tempt me to pen a journal article on Montgomery’s cannibalism of her own early prose for her novels. Maybe one day I’ll get around to that.

Paula Danziger is someone about whose presence on my shelves I’m a little ambivalent. (Now, there’s some complicated syntax for you.) I loved the books when I was a pre-teen, but, then, I also loved Judy Blume, and I’ve somehow stopped myself from re-buying those. And, while they’re charming and make me want to live in Woodstock, Danziger’s books are pretty light reading when you’re (ahem) 34.

So why do I buy them when I see them? I don’t really know. I justify them on the grounds that they’re only tiny volumes, and I sometimes get a blog post out of them. But I wonder if that’s enough, when the bookcases are groaning and creaking all over the house.

The Rip Van Winkle, though: I was never leaving that behind. It’s one of a collection of classic children’s literature in facsimile reprints. I have about a dozen of them (maybe less) and I can never, ever resist them.

The Dana Girls mystery (Secret of the Swiss Chalet) was, as it turns out, a book I really didn’t need to buy.

(I already own it. Don’t tell Nick.)

The Scott Westerfeld is another series that I’ve shamefully not read. But I have Uglies on my shelf, and I wasn’t leaving Pretties there to be snatched up by someone who might, you know, read it or something.

The Diana Wynne Joneses, though, are my greatest triumph of this sale. I don’t own either of them already, and it’s a rare day these days that I find a secondhand Diana Wynne Jones book that I don’t already own. I had to banish the His Dark Materials trilogy to the spare room to make room for these on what is now a dedicated Diana Wynne Jones shelf, and I still can’t fit on Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Still, if anyone deserves a dedicated shelf, it’s Diana Wynne Jones.

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants is one of the mystery books of this sale: I don’t really know why I bought it, except that I always like to make my own mind up about hit books, and I don’t see why I can’t still do that here, even if I am about ten years behind the times. Still, Nick was relieved when I told him I’d decided to put the three sequels back.

Speaking of books I’ve shamefully never read, I’ve never read From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. But now I own it, I can pretend I’ve read it, even if I don’t quite get around to it yet. I won’t pretend to have read it by reading the synopsis on Wikipedia, though. (That’s how I finished the Vampire Academy series, after the books got longer and my patience got shorter.)

Half the books in this pile have some degree of familiarity: The Worst Witch (really, far too young for me these days, but how charming!), Susan Cooper’s King of Shadows (never read it, but The Dark is Rising haunted my childhood, flanked by Lloyd Alexander and Alan Garner), Peter Pan (which I already own, but which comes with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, which I don’t own), Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (which joins If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller and The Literature Machine in a corner of the study).

And then there’s Michael Molloy. I’ve bought a number of his books lately, and haven’t read a single one. If I read one and think it’s rubbish, I’m going to be really annoyed.

And, finally, some more speculative buys (except for the Charlaine Harris short stories). Celadine, for example, which is both an unknown quality and the sequel to a book i don’t own. And another Michael Molloy, but how beautiful is that artwork? I call all books of this nature “research”, though I doubt whether my novel will ever see the light of day again. (Poor lovely.) But the Richard Newsome really is research, because he was the inaugural winner of a prize that my fiction is (if it were a bit better) eligible for, and I wish to figuratively pick his brains. To be honest, it doesn’t look like my sort of thing, but I’ll give it a go.

When I was showing Nick my purchases that afternoon (a post-BookFest tradition), he audibly gasped when I showed him the Fu Manchu Omnibus. Sure, it’s horrifically racist by modern standards, though very much of its time. But the man happily watches and roars with laughter over The Talons of Weng-Chiang. And how can you have Li H’sen Chang without Fu Manchu?

I told him it was more than flesh and blood could stand, good Victorian scholar and feverish consumer of popular culture that I am, to leave that beautiful book behind me on a trestle table and just walk away.

Little Treasures: Part Three

Posted 25 March 2011 in by Catriona

Once we’d had time to look through (and swiftly re-pack) the Little Golden Books that Nick’s mother passed on to us, we rummaged through the other enormous box of books (knowing that there was at least one, if not two, more still waiting in her entranceway for us).

And that’s where we found the real treasures:

Sure, I normally prefer to read books that are slightly more in focus than this, but Asterix is Asterix, fuzzy or otherwise. And look how those books have been loved: half to death, poor darlings.

But then there are these magnificent creatures:

These are Nick’s father’s hardcover Tintin books, from the 1950s and early 1960s, and they are gorgeous, from their red cloth spines to their thick, matte pages. It’s not a complete set, but each one is a gem.

I promised Nick that these would go on a shelf, not in a box in the garage. Now it’s only a matter of deciding which books currently on the shelf will be sacrificed to make space. Whichever books draw the short straw, I hope they realise it’s nothing personal: we can’t all be vintage Tintins.

Little Treasures: Part Two

Posted 14 March 2011 in by Catriona

One of the boxes that Nick’s mother passed on to us contained piles and piles of books for children in the early stages of literacy: mostly Little Golden Books, but a small number of other picture books. We have no children and so have no idea what to do with them. Back they’ll go into the box and thence to the garage. But in the meantime, I couldn’t help but boggle over the illustrations for some of them.

Some are worn by the passage of time, giving them a new, slightly disturbing ambience:

Some (why is his navel smiling at me? Why?) would have frightened child-me into never eating sentient food again:

Some are plotting to eat my brains:

Some seem to have generated a forceful if childish disapproval:

Some are beautiful:

Some have been loved too hard and still bear the scars (get it? “Bear” the scars?):

Some have a charm that is distinctly old fashioned:

Some seem to authorise cruelty to animals (and who, I’d like to know, twisted that rabbit’s head round like that?):

And some make me wonder what drugs people were on in the 1980s:

Oh, wait: I remember. Cocaine.

Christmas Books

Posted 6 March 2011 in by Catriona

With all the natural disasters, exploding laptop batteries, exploding fridges, and other generalised excitement that this year has thus far flung in our faces, I never did have a chance to post about my exciting little pile of Christmas books.

Last year, I don’t think I received a single book for Christmas. This year, there were books ahoy, and then I went and bought myself more books.

Behold!

Hmm. Actually, the only one of those that’s a Christmas book is Struwwelpeter, which my mother bought me for reasons that are probably best known only to her. (Though it is rather a lovely little facsimile edition. Since she didn’t buy me any grooming products, I probably shouldn’t really take it personally.)

The others are all books I bought myself for various reasons—mostly because I have a compulsion to buy books.

The George Orwell books are all for my forthcoming study guide to Animal Farm (and, by the way, if you know a high-school student who’s having trouble coming to terms with the complexity of Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novella, do I have the book for you!), and the Alberto Manguel is something I’ve been meaning to read for years (though I imagine my main reaction will be a deep and life-altering state of jealousy, since I don’t actually own a barn in the French countryside that I can transform into the perfect library. Why? Why is this something that it denied to me? Is it because I don’t live in France?).

But this next batch totally contains Christmas books!

Well, one Christmas book. Nick bought me one of the Patricia Wredes: The Thirteenth Child. Then I bought myself two more Patricia Wredes at Galaxy Bookshop, and this sent Nick into a post-Christmas meltdown, because he’d apparently ticked the wrong book off his “List of things Treena has mentioned in passing that she’d quite like for Christmas” and was convinced I was buying a book I already had.

Needless to say, I was right and he was wrong. And it may be needless to say that, but I tend to say it quite often anyway.

Oh, and the Salman Rushdie? That’s the sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which remains one of my favourite books and one that delights me every time I read it. Luka and the Fire of Life is not, to my mind, quite as sparkling and gorgeous and caustic as Haroun, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Stitch & Bitch was a Christmas present from my sister, along with a pile of delicious (and extremely luxurious) hand-dyed Japanese wool, which I’m currently knitting into two shawls, in the hopes that this will somehow bring about a nice, cool, entirely non-Brisbaney winter.

A sort of wool-based cargo cult, if you like.

And the graphic novels are also from Nick (bless him! Now I have the bridge between the last time I bought a Jack of Fables trade and when I started buying them in the monthly issues. So far, the monthly issues were just proliferating unread on my bookshelf, because I was missing an entire arc and, as fast as Jack of Fables moves, that’s the equivalent of missing half a season of Deadwood and still thinking you can follow Al Swearengen’s machiavellian plotting).

He also bought me the Michael A. Stackpole, At the Queen’s Command. Apparently (for no, I have not yet read it), it’s alternate history, set during the American Revolutionary War.

I said, “Oh, good! I do hope we win this time.”

The Sheer Horror of 1920s' School Stories

Posted 1 March 2011 in by Catriona

Part of the fun of reading old books is finding the unconscious traces of old social, economic, even sartorial practices—like reading a nineteenth-century novel and discovering that train timetables were much more malleable than they are today. As long as you’re not reading this on a railway platform while waiting for a train that’s thirty-five minutes late, this is all great fun.

Then sometimes you read something that reminds you that our (over-inclusive pronoun warning!) ancestors were, well, jerks.

Like these passages from Elinor M. Brent Dyer’s The Rivals of the Chalet School (1929), in which another English headmistress has the temerity to bring her school to the banks of the Tiern See, in the Austrian Tyrol, inspiring a seemingly unnecessary degree of homicidal insanity from the pupils of the incumbent Chalet School.

Cornelia Flower, another American child, jumped to her feet. ‘Let’s swear a feud against them,’ she said.

‘Mademoiselle said we weren’t to,’ objected Margia.

‘Well, call ourselves the Ku-Klux-Klan, and then it isn’t a feud,’ put in Evadne. ‘it’s fighting for our right—and things.’

Margia knew very well that it would mean a feud only under another name, but she easily stifled the voice of her conscience, and nodded. ‘It seems an idea. What can we do? What did the American Ku-Klux-Klan do?’ (p.50).

You … what?

But, wait! Margia clearly doesn’t know what the Ku-Klux-Klan do. She doesn’t even know that the second wave of the Klan is peaking in the very 1920s in which she is speaking, rather than being the historical entity that she seems to think it is. So maybe we should cut her some slack. Let’s wait and see what she thinks after she reads about the Klan in that well-known and unbiased historical text, Elsie’s Motherhood (1876), fourth in the long list of Martha Finley’s rather dreary Elsie Dinsmore books.

The account of the doings of that far-famed ‘Klan’ as given in Elsie’s Motherhood thrilled them all, though they sometimes stumbled over the long words used and were bothered by the very elaborate style of the book.

‘Cut all that,’ commanded Margia when the reader came to any preachy bits. ‘Get on to the fun.’ (p.52)

It’s true, the ‘preachy bits’ really slow down the otherwise exciting record of homicidal xenophobia.

After Kaffee und Kuchen, they returned to their amusement, and by the time the bell rang for them to go upstairs and change for the evening, they knew all they wanted about the original Ku-Klux-Klan.

‘Only we can’t go round beating people or sticking up coffins against their back-doors,’ said Margia regretfully.

‘No; but it gives us a general idea of what they did,’ said Evadne. (pp. 52-53)

You … what?

I’ll tell you something, Margia. With an attitude like that, there’s an organisation coming your way in the next decade that you’re going to just love.

(All quotes from the 1952 Australian Dymock’s edition of the text.)

(For the record, Finley’s book doesn’t present the main characters as sympathising with the Klan, nor does it suggest that the Klan was a good or a necessary force during the post-war Restoration. So the blame is more on the schoolgirls themselves than on poor, dreary, pious Elsie Dinsmore.)

Bookshop Finds

Posted 20 September 2010 in by Catriona

I certainly posted the “Bookshop Porn” pictures from last weekend’s bookshop rummaging, but I never posted the actual books I’d bought.

I’ve photographed them against an enormous but completely anonymous pile of marking, just to really drive home the fact that I won’t get to read them any time soon.

This first lot owes itself to my second job. I’ve been working two jobs this semester, though it sometimes feels like more. I said to Nick the other day, when I was marking late into the night, “I feel as though I’m working two jobs.”

He said, “You are working two jobs.”

“Oh,” I said. “In that case, it feels as though I’m working three jobs.”

Anyway, this second job (the reason the blogging’s fallen off) entailed, at one point, reading through a great deal of information on the 1970s’ adaptation of Arthur Upfield’s Bony novels, and I thought to myself, “Hmm, I really must read some Arthur Upfield.” I think I have a couple of his other books on my shelf somewhere, but it would take me at least a week to find them, so I simply bought ones that looked unfamiliar.

It’s a technique that usually works.

Then there’s the compulsory pile of children’s fantasy, which I tend to call “research materials,” as though I might one day actually do something with one of my own novels. (Unlikely.)

But I’m slowly collecting the seven volumes in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom: once I have them all, I’ll start reading them. This one’s book five, so I can’t be too far off.

I like to pick up Margaret Mahy, because she has the career I’d like to have. Well, to be honest, I’d like to be Diana Wynne Jones, but I don’t have that in me, unfortunately. But I’ve spoken of Mahy before on the blog, so I’ll just slide straight on past her to the L. Frank Baum at the bottom there.

It’s always a delight to find one of these editions. I’m slowly—very slowly, far more slowly than with Garth Nix—buying up all the Oz books, and simultaneously trying to buy them all in facsimile reprints. (The theory is that I’ll then get rid of the non-facsimile versions, but so far that’s failed to happen. Obviously.) So this one is a double bargain, because I don’t have this in any form whatsoever and it’s a facsimile reprint.

Score!

But the real excitement is in this last photo:

No one who doesn’t read/collect Rex Stout can really understand the excitement of finding Rex Stout novels in a secondhand bookshop. It’s a rare and wonderful thing. I suspect that people rarely get rid of their Stouts, because they’re not like, say, Agatha Christie novels. I’m terribly fond of Christie and have devoted more than a shelf of my limited bookcases to her novels, but hers really are “whondunnits”: much of the fun is gone once you find out who the murderer is. But the whodunnit aspect is, to me, only part of the joy of Rex Stout novels: their re-readability comes from Archie and Nero and the devoted but uneasy partnership in the old brownstone.

No wonder people don’t give them away easily. And no wonder when my mother said to me, “Oooh, what did you pay for them?”, I had to say, “Do you know, I didn’t even check?”

Bookshop Porn (Part Two)

Posted 11 September 2010 in by Catriona

Secondhand Books

Posted 24 August 2010 in by Catriona

Down in Sydney and back up in Brisbane, I did—naturally enough—a little rummaging for secondhand books. I’ve been meaning to post on them for a while, but I became trapped in a nightmarish maelstrom of uncharged rechargeable batteries and the villains (namely me) who keep forgetting to recharge them, and then thought, “Sod it. I’m just going to use my camera phone.”

(Wasn’t that a story worth waiting for? It had everything! Fierce weather! A villainous protagonist! An unreliable narrator! Batteries!)

So the images are a little fuzzier than usual. Fuzzier, but somehow atmospheric (she tells herself hopefully).

These ones weren’t Sydney purchases at all:

Poor Bettina! I found her in a local secondhand bookshop. I only hope she hadn’t been blundering around in there too long.

And the book under Blundering Bettina is The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, which is an old volume of mine that I rescued from my parents’ house before they could send it to Lifeline. Short stories rather than a novel, it’s perhaps my favourite Pimpernel book: much more rescuing aristos from the guillotine and much less agonising about his marriage. Oh, and the assassination of Marat, without which no lazy Sunday afternoon reading is ever going to reach its full potential.

The bottom book is The Daisy Chain, one of Victorian moralist Charlotte M. Yonge’s 160 works (“chiefly novels,” adds Wikipedia blandly, as though writing 160 novels in the days when “novel” meant “no fewer than two volumes, thanks” were no mean feat).

My favourite thing about this volume is the illustrations:

In this one, the child has been accidentally poisoned (by its nurse, obviously) with opium, which I guess makes this picture some form of Victorian necro-lithography.

Then there was the Berkelouw’s haul. This year, I took more photos of the inside of Berkelouw’s than I actually bought books, but I did snag these:

One would have to have a heart of stone not to buy a book called English Dialogues of the Dead, especially when it’s subtitled “A Critical History, An Anthology, and A Checklist.” How can my bookshelves be complete without that?

And The English Common Reader may actually have caused me to exclaim, “Score!” a little too loudly for the liking of all the ladies-who-lunch browsing around me.

Then there was the rummaging in Narellan Lifeline, which was punctuated by my over-excited younger nephew (he turned four that day) saying, “Auntie Treena, spin me round on this chair!” and (after I refused on the grounds of safety) adding, “I fell off, but I’m okay!”

Goodness knows what would have happened if I had spun him.

This is the fuzziest photo of the lot . . .

. . . but rest assured, almost every title includes one or more of the following: “castle,” “bone,” “time traveller,” “haunted,” or “mountain.” The exception is the top one, and since that’s called Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, I think any mention of haunted, time-travelling, mountainous bone-castles would have been over-kill, no?

But my real joy is in the last pile:

E. Nesbit’s Tales of Terror. I’m pretty sure the scariest thing she comes up with is the protagonist finding out that he really is as middle-class as he’s always been brought up to believe.

The Existential Horror of the 1980s

Posted 25 July 2010 in by Catriona

My students seems quite fascinated by the 1980s. I suppose, when the majority of them were born in the 1990s, it seems oddly exotic and ancient to them, a state of mind that in turn makes me feel ancient, though not particularly exotic.

So I tell them the 1980s was a time of unremitting horror, and they should be lucky they don’t have to revisit it.

(I’m actually quite fond of the ’80s, myself, in a nostalgic kind of way, but I seem to have gone a little mad in front of my classes, ever since I started teaching students who were born while I was in high school.)

I could tell them about the sense that we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust or, this being a giant isolated island, survive in a nuclear wasteland among mutant kangaroos before committing suicide with Armand Assante.

(I may be mixing up Tank Girl and the 2000 adaptation of On the Beach, there, but, hey, it was a confusing time.)

But to drive home the true existential horror of the 1980s, all I really need to do is to show them the covers of Paula Danziger novels:

The tight jeans!

The short jeans!

The socks that match your magenta-and-black-striped jumper!

The magenta-and-black-striped jumper!

The blue slip-on shoes!

The polka dots!

Truly, an impending nuclear holocaust would always have been slightly less terrifying than those lemon-coloured, three-quarter-length leggings with white high heels and matching plastic bracelets.

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