Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paperback writer


EP Thompson was passionate about democratising culture and education. In his decade as a half as an employee of the Workers Education Association Thompson travelled relentlessly through Yorkshire, giving lectures in pokey halls to miners and housewives who had just come off their shifts. Thompson later quit a cushy job teaching history at the University of Warwick because he had tired of the more absurd aspects of academic life. Whether he was writing about English peasant and working class life, Romantic poetry, or the Cold War, Thompson always hoped to reach a popular audience. His hopes were not always disappointed: the monumental, incorrigibly exciting The Making of the English Working Class has been reprinted dozens of times since its first appearance fifty years ago.

You'll understand, given all this, why I felt slightly embarrassed that The Crisis of Theory, the study of Thompson's work which Manchester University press published for me last year, has retailed for ninety-two dollars. I don't blame Manchester for this steep price: they are in the twenty-first century book trade, and in the twenty-first century hardcover books are not cheap to produce. All the same, I have tended to advise folks who have asked about my book to head to a library, and to see if they can track it down or order it there (many thanks, by the way, to Auckland City Libraries, which isn't obliged to buy up obscure and expensive academic tomes, for shelling out for some copies of The Crisis of Theory, and for displaying one of them in a choice spot close to the checkout desk of their central Auckland branch. Auckland City Libraries have also been very generous in their purchases of other books I've been associated with: I was delighted to see, for instance, that they're currently stocking ten copies of the selection of Futa Helu's essays On Tongan Poetry which I co-edited earlier this year).

I hope that EP Thompson would approve of Manchester University Press' decision this month to publish a paperback edition of The Crisis of Theory, which will trade at a far more reasonable price than its predecessor. This page at the MUP website announces the paperback edition, while this one offers an abstract of each of the book's chapters.
While I'm talking about the economics of books, I should give an update on the fate of the hundreds of volumes donated to Tonga's noble but impoverished 'Atenisi Institute earlier this year, in response to an appeal made on this blog and through the literary journal brief.

As a result of the 'Atenisi book drive I've developed a new obsession. Some supporters of 'Atenisi gave me a few dollars, in lieu of donations of books, and I decided to spend their dosh on bargain volumes. I soon discovered that Auckland, with its scores of op shops, continual garage sales, and regular charity book fairs, is a paradise for hunters of cheap books. I've always been a habitue of secondhand bookshops, but over the past few months I've begun to hang out in tumbledown carports and Sally Army warehouses. Where once I happily shelled out fifteen or twenty dollars for a prized book, now I haggle bitterly with old nuns if I'm asked to spend more than a buck on a volume by Updike or Moorcock.

In the three or four months since the 'Atenisi appeal I've added hundreds of books to the pile of donated volumes. Many of my additions are in near-pristine condition, and all of them are - I hope - relevant to the courses the institution is offering next year. What I like best of all is that Skyler can't reprimand me for disappearing from the house for hours on end and spending money, because I'm doing it all for charity. (If only I could booze for charity...)
We'll be heading up to 'Atenisi in mid-February with the books, and installing them in the school's library, which is being moved from a notorious old wooden structure that stands over a deep swamp - for years now, visitors have reputedly been able to glimpse alarmingly large carp between gaps in its greening floorboards - to a relatively new concrete building.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

9 Comments:

Blogger Sanctuary said...

After watching the TV show on Eccentric hoarder Richard Wallace in the UK, and reading here of your need for good literature to be donated, I went into my spare room and pondered which of the many books on my book shelves i could give away. Alas, there are none, for one never knows when one might need that much thumbed volume over there, or this tired looking one just here, or even that brand new one you promise yourself you'll get around to reading in the new year.

I know what you mean about second hand books in Auckland, you can get some corkers for practically nothing!

7:11 am  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

I think we may be able to do a bit of business, Scott. We have mountains of books looking for a good home, and you have a worthy recpient of such books ... let's talk on this further.

9:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harrison was a good man the best of The Beatles-the rest were/are Reds. In the end, Lennon voted for Reagan and caused a rift with the hapless-talentless-screaming Yoko "I see a paycheck" Ono. McCartney and Starr can kiss my ass.

11:19 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Jack,

any more donations are very gratefully accepted! I was quite happy when I heard recently that the library is shifting premises, because I wasn't comforted by the state of the venerable old wooden building during my September visit to the 'swampus'.

I completely understand your sentiment, Sanctuary. There are some books which are biding their time on our shelves. For years they seem inessential, even frivolous additions to the world of letters, and then one day we discover a desperate need for them...



5:10 pm  
Anonymous People who suck said...

Ringo Starr Sucks. Here’s why. Ringo has made a career (does he even do anything anymore?) by being the fourth man in a four man band. The drummer. But ok, let’s grant that drummers are “necessary” to provide the beat for good music. Even so, Ringo Starr shouldn’t have been the Beatle’s drummer. That honor should have gone to Pete Best (who perhaps wins the loser of the millenium award, just beating out Art Garfunkel). But suave, saavy Ringo Starr stole Pete Best’s job, leaving the poor Best man behind to soak in the Beatle’s new fame. Then the Beatles die out. Ringo’s career should be over. After all, he’d only written two songs, and, come on, let’s face it, Ringo baby, they were both pretty silly. Who’d want to hang out in an Octopus’s Garden? Do Octopus’s even have gardens? No, your career isn’t over, is it, Ringo? You go on to have a successful career as a tiny railroad conductor, and various other cartoon voices, and develop a band of your own, which really consisted of nothing more than a bunch of has beens who only got together with you in the first place because of the aura of John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartny that surrounded you. All because you can hit a stick to a little drum, and because you elbowed out a good guy and took his place. Shame on you, Ringo.

Ringo Starr, you suck.

6:47 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I collect or collate and sell books. many people sell by the way, it is not big business in s/h books. I started collating or gathering when I was at AU for a reason similar to Sanctuary's - in fact I once did a big sale to a book shop and inclued some very good paper backs. The up shot was that, as time went by, I found myself reading things that referred to the very books I had given away or sold.

I just found Scott, Cheever's Journals for $2 in a local op shop...! I have been reading his stories: they are extraordinarily good.

I am slowly building up "doubles" though and could get some to Atenisi. Even in the digital age I see the value of books, including encylcopdedias. As for ref. I have a biographical book I sue all the time and an encyclodedic Dictionary. I will still go to a book shop (rarely new) and or online to get boks as my passion has doubled as an obssesion...

Was Jack partly joking? he doesn't mean his whole collection...he has wonderful collection. Unless he is departing this realm.

You can also pick up good non - fiction stuff in op shops.

By the way - this is one thing I used to do. Iwould get say nominally $100 worth of books in second hand shop (not an op shop) and slap down $40 or $50 on the counter.

With offers and haggling (as a seller and buyer) it pays to not take an aggressive approach. I used to put prices up at my book stall when that was tried on me. But in a bookshop the other day the owner (who knew me a bit) took $10 off the total). It pays to only make a few offers or haggles or it gets unpleasant.

If you want to and you can talk to the shop owner that is best.

So, as to those "doubles" (books I have 2 copies of two or more) these I will see if I can get to Atenisi.

8:09 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The other thing is I am selling off all my stock and have already reduced all of about 3000 books by 40% or more. (Total reductions over time mean some stuff is as much as 80% reduced.) I am taking off those that interest myself and the rest are destined for auction or any one interested in getting interesting books at a reasonable price.

Prices are always negotiable.

(Technically, in accounting, a price is actually only an offer.)

8:15 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Ringo Starr sucks? What does it matter? Is he still alive? The Beatles were very creative. I didn't listen them much as (in the 60s) I was listening to Brahms and Bach etc (and some contemporary "experimental" stuff) when everyone else was listening to pop...but I recognised they had talent. I could never get very interested in jazz though, although I did have a record by Brubeck - I may still have it.

8:21 pm  
Anonymous David McInerney said...

Hi Scott

Congratulations on your book being out in paperback. I lost my hardback copy a week ago in Sydney so I had to buy a paperback version to replace it. I'm wondering if you have heard of the conference I'm involved in each year in Sydney. The second annual Historical Materialism Australasia conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Making of the English Working Class. If you are interested in speaking on this please get in contact. You can see our facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/hmoznz/ If you apply to join one of us will approve it.

best wishes
David

10:18 pm  

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