One of my oldest friends, recent mother, and published author (damn her hide) commented on Facebook the other day:

Would like to know what makes Borders think they can charge $80 for a hardcover novel (not signed or anything). No wonder they’ve gone into receivership.1

Naturally, the owner of the book chain blames THE INTERNET (dun dun dun) for its woes. A simple glance at Amazon tells you that this opinion has its merits: the famous webstore has been selling books online for over fifteen years, and it’s estimated net income of 2010 was US$1.152 billion. That is a lot of money, and it is money that Borders Australia and Angus & Robertson lost.

Of course, Amazon and The Book Depository (my preferred online retailer) don’t have to deal with Australian publishing restrictions. Essentially, booksellers in Australia have to deal with ‘parallel import restrictions’. Good ol’ protectionism: a brick-and-mortar bookseller cannot source books from overseas authors on the cheap and sell them below fixed prices within this country.

This means that the international online book market is easily able to maintain prices well below those of their real-world Australian competitors. This harms even local online sellers such as Fishpond.com.au.

So for all the problems online stores pose to sellers such as Borders and Angus & Robertson, the Australian Government’s protection racket is a more significant problem. In late 2009, the Government decided to keep these restrictions despite the Productivity Commission ruling that “the ban was effectively a trade barrier, resulting in some readers paying up to 35 per cent more for their books than readers overseas.”

herp derp derp

I am somewhat saddened to see Angus & Robertson go out of business, as they are one of Australia’s great book sellers (since 1886). Much of my childhood was spent lurking in their stores, browsing through their SF sections, bored out of my tiny adolescent skull.

Except. Except that their selection was awful. Their prices tremendous. Their staff insulting. Did I mention their poor selection? Because it was pretty dreadful.

John Birmingham notes that, back in the day, Borders had a great backlist. Why, one could wander in and find novels that were unfindable anywhere else- a feature of which I availed myself of quite regularly, when I had the money (and boy, did one need the money). That stopped being the case at some point over the last decade. Angus & Robertson got even worse:

I’m not sure whether you’ve been into an A&R store the last couple of years. Jesus, talk about depressing. They became giant dump bins for failed remainder copies imported directly from the US. Shit books by no-name authors, poorly printed on cheap stock.

Well said, John. I carefully avoid A&R stores nowadays for this exact reason: they suck. It is actively depressing to walk into a bookstore and see precisely nothing that I have not either read before or would rather burn than see on my home shelf.2

Mister Birmingham and myself are not the only ones who see the deadly combination of sucky stores and pernicious prices as murdering the local book industry. Personally, I prefer to browse in a real bookshop- especially those with music and coffee and lovely wooden shelves and attractive young men and women with cheerful grins offering to help:

Derek Dryden, owner of a Newtown bookshop, Better Read Than Dead, said it is hard to compete with online outlets like the Book Depository offering titles at half the price he has to charge.

“When the difference is $25 you can’t really blame the customer for going for the cheaper option,” he said. “You can be as nice as you want and have as much ambience as you want but you still can’t be half price.”

Exactly. And Better Read than Dead is a pretty nice shop, too. I always try to stop in whenever wandering by. It is one of the joys of Newtown, all the bookstores scattered among her streets.

It has been pointed out it is all very well to talk about one’s fondness for local bookstores- quite another to decide to shop there. For all that indie bookshop owner Corrie Perkin claims that the lovely stores, witty staff and all that comes at a price- the simple fact is that I, like so many others, am poor.

I cannot afford to buy a novel at a lovely store with polished wooden floors and a handsome young man with a goatee and a PhD in literature discussing the flaws of the Beowulf movie with me3 when said novel comes at double the cost of getting it from thebookdepository.co.uk. I simply cannot.

Tim White of Books for Cooks describes the bookseller as “a bespoke retailer. The experience of being in an independent bookstore is a bit like saying, ‘I don’t want to buy a suit off the rack, I want one that is made to fit me.’ A good bookseller will match you with your book, and the book fits.”

This never happens. I suppose it would be nice if it did- but is it worth paying nearly double? I doubt it.

On the other hand, one can get this kind of service, along with the ambience, atmosphere, useful assistance and all that: at your local second-hand store.

Elizabeth’s, in Newtown and Sydney City, or Urchin Books in Marrickville, or Sappho Books in Glebe or- well, feel free to comment with your own local favourite.

Second hand bookstores are where you can get bespoke books. The classics with old, faded annotations in the corner; the favourite hardback with the spine cracked; yellowing pages and that wonderful, musty ancient-book-smell. Unique books for unique individuals.

Plus, super cheap.

Save getting brand new books for online shopping- cheap, reliable, straight to your door (or held at the post office because you live in a flat, dammit). For individual sales and support of local business, and to get that personalised book like no-one else has: head down to a second hand local.

Alternative hypothesis: I am just annoyed, bitter because Borders never stocks anything on Old Irish.

Read the rest of this entry »

Acher in Gaíth

Is acher in gaíth innocht,
fu·fúasna fairggae findḟolt:
ni·ágor réimm mora minn
dond láechraid lainn úa Lothlind.

Detail from "The Viking Terror" by Denis Brown

Sharp the Wind

The wind is sharp tonight,
it tosses the white hare of the ocean:
I fear not the coursing of the clear sea
by the fierce warriors from Lothlainn.

Read the rest of this entry »

It is a long standing tradition that writers and the melancholy -and the two are often combined in the same human- turn to literature in times of mournful need. I know that I certainly do it, and if my preferred depression-times reading features rather more graphic novels than pretentious poetry, the works of Pratchett instead of Wordsworth, the point is still the same. Human creative endeavour has a way of easing the most painful of periods.

Except. Except when one’s mood, one’s sad song of oneself, is not created by the events of life, but instead by tiny monsters in the brain. One can read as many adventures of first-Sergeant-later-Captain-later-Duke Vimes as one wishes, but disease is a twisted, horrible thing that no amount of escapism can cure.

I generally avoid this sort of personal blather on For I Have tasted the Fruit, as it is generally more suited to the emocracy of Livejournalstan. Yet I wish to speak about it here. Here, I discuss everyone’s favourite medieval period, and regularly -well, back when my posts were regular- translate medieval and occasionally classical poetry. And the sentiments expressed in many of my favourite Anglo-Saxon pieces are, one would think, perfectly suited to this sort of mood.

The murnende mod of the woman in Wulf and Eadwacer; the weeping poet who laments the fall of the great past in The Ruin; the sea-weary soul of The Seafarer, with his ice-and-rain-soaked birds of prey: these are powerful images, powerful pieces of poetry, and one would think, expect, that reading them would make one’s own problems seem distant or petty- or, at the least, offer the consolation that such emotions are part of the broad spectrum of human experience.

I am sure that they do. Perhaps bound editions of the more misery-wracked of our period’s poetry could be bound and offered to depressives in psych wards. Read The Wanderer and appreciate loneliness, or Wulf and Eadwacer to help cope with abusive, ambiguous relationships. Unfortunately, when a key source of one’s stress is the very act of studying the period, one can stare at these carefully constructed words all day… and all one gets in return is a sense of growing unease.

Original Source Unknown

I have not been able to write in months. I cannot remember the last time I set fingers to keys for anything longer than a status update- this post is approaching four hundred words, and the effort required to write it is exhausting. I am posting it today, a Monday, because the theme is so very medieval. I constantly find myself wondering- did Bede feel this kind of exhausted despair? Did Boethius? Is one of the much-vaunted ‘consolations’ of philosophy that it keeps one focused and energised? Because I have to say, as much as I try, my own scholarly efforts make me feel weak and inept, not focused and sharp.

Perhaps it is the summer. For all the misery some of the old English poets expressed, for all the hardship the icy-feathered eagle must endure, at least they did not have to survive the heat of Australia’s most hateful season.

Ic þis giedd wrece          bi me ful geomorre,
minre sylfre sið.    Ic þæt secgan mæg,
hwæt ic yrmþa gebad,     siþþan ic up weox,
niwes oþþe ealdes,         no ma þonne nu.

A ic wite wonn          minra wræcsiþa.
Ærest min hlaford gewat          heonan of leodum
ofer yþa gelac;     hæfde ic uhtceare
hwær min leodfruma          londes wære.
Ða ic me feran gewat          folgað secan,

wineleas wræcca,          for minre weaþearfe,
ongunnon þæt þæs      monnes magas hycgan
þurh dyrne geþoht,      þæt hy todælden unc,
þæt wit gewidost          in woruldrice
lifdon laðlicost,          ond mec longade.

Het mec hlaford min          herheard niman,
ahte ic leofra lyt          on þissum londstede,
holdra freonda.          For þon is min hyge geomor.
Ða ic me ful gemæcne          monnan funde,
heardsæligne,           hygegeomorne,

mod miþendne,          morþor hycgendne.
bliþe gebæro.      Ful oft wit beotedan
þæt unc ne gedælde          nemne deað ana
owiht elles;          eft is þæt onhworfen,
is nu swa hit        næfre wære,

freondscipe uncer.        Sceal ic feor ge neah
mines felaleofan          fæhðu dreogan.
Heht mec mon wunian          on wuda bearwe,
under actreo          in þam eorðscræfe.
Eald is þes eorðsele,          eal ic eom oflongad,

sindon dena dimme,          duna uphea,
bitre burgtunas,          brerum beweaxne,
wic wynna leas.          Ful oft mec her wraþe begeat
fromsiþ frean.          Frynd sind on eorþan,
leofe lifgende,          leger weardiað,

þonne ic on uhtan          ana gonge
under actreo          geond þas eorðscrafu.
Þær ic sittan mot          sumorlangne dæg,
Þær ic wepan mæg          mine wræcsiþas,
earfoþa fela;          forþon ic æfre ne mæg

þære modceare          minre gerestan,
ne ealles þæs longaþes          þe mec on þissum life begeat.
A scyle geong mon          wesan geomormod,
heard heortan geþoht,          swylce habban sceal
bliþe gebæro,          eac þon breostceare,

sinsorgna gedreag,          sy æt him sylfum gelong
eal his worulde wyn,          sy ful wide fah
feorres folclondes,          þæt min freond siteð
under stanhliþe          storme behrimed,
wine werigmod,          wætre beflowen

on dreorsele,         dreogeð se min wine
micle modceare;          he gemon to oft
wynlicran wic.          Wa bið þam þe sceal
of langoþe          leofes abidan.

Ærest min hlaford gewat | heonan of leodum / ofer yþa gelac...

by Katie West (but Matt took this)

The Wife’s Lament

I recite this fully sad song of myself,
my own experience. I can say that,
what I endured of hardships, since I grew up,
new or old, were never more than now.
Ever I suffered the torment of exile.

First my lord departed hence from the people,
over the tumult of the waves; I had dawn-cares:
where may my prince be in the land?
When I went, departed to seek the retinue,
a friendless wanderer, for my necessary woe,
this one’s kin began to plan,
through secret thought, that they should separate us,
that we most widely in the world-kingdom
will live most wretchedly- and me afflicted with longing.

My lord commanded me to dwell in a grove;
I have few of beloved ones in this landstead,
few of loyal friends; for this is my soul sad.
When I found for me a fully suitable man,
ill-fated, mind-sad,
concealing his spirit, violence plotted
with a blithe demeanour. Fully often we vowed
that we would never separate- ought else save
death alone. Afterwards is that changed:
it is now as if it never were,
our friendship. I must -far or near-
endure the enmity of my dearly-loved.

I am commanded by one to dwell in a wooded grove,
under an oak-tree in this earth-cave.
Old is this earth-hall, I am all seized with longing.
Dim are the dales, high the hills,
bitter cities overgrown by briars,
the dwelling joyless. Fully often the lord’s departure
cruelly takes hold of me. friends are on earth,
living lovers occupy their bed,
when I, alone, wander in the pre-dawn
under an oak-tree, through these earth-caves.

There I may sit the summer-long day;
There I can weep for my miseries,
many of hardships; thus I can never
ease my heart-care there,
nor all this longing which this life bequeathed unto me.

Ever must a young one be sad of mood,
hard of heart in thought; thus he shall have
a blithe demeanour and also breast-cares,
endure constant sorrow; let him be dependent on himself
for all his worldly joy, be very widely outcast
far from his folk’s land, so that my friend sits
under a stormy stone-cliff, frost-covered,
my lord weary in mind, drenched by water
in a desolate hall; he suffers, my friend,
with great heart-grief; he remembers too often
a more delightful abode. Woe be to him who shall
await for long the beloved.

Read the rest of this entry »

I wrote a long post here, deliberately prolonged and ready for the posting on September Eleven. I counted the dead in the Twin Towers, and contrasted it with the numbers killed by American and Coalition troops in the wars the United States is waging, and noted how larger numbers have died and those days of remembrance are not pointedly and constantly waved in the face of the world.

I deleted it. I am tired of discussion of this day, tired of the hysteria the Right whips into his mobs, frothy-mouthed about vengeance and bloodshed. Tired of American jingoism. People died. It was nine years ago. America has killed a lot more, since. fin

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