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.
'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...)
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]