Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mountains of Books - 31st October and 1st November 2009

My blog title today could refer to my life in general - I am sitting at my home desk, madly cataloguing to get through the last 10 boxes of a mountain of books I bought from a deceased estate this time last year; I am surrounded in my back room at the shop by mountains of books waiting to be shelved, sorted or otherwise disposed of; but in actual fact it refers to the book fair I and several colleagues are preparing for next weekend (31st October and 1st November). The idea for Mountains of Books Used, Rare and Out-of-Print Book Fair came to Meryll Williams and I as we returned from a book fair a couple of years back. Meryll is the popular proprietor of Rainy Day Books in The Basin, a foothills town nearby, and has been something of a mentor in my bookselling career. We roped in Sandy from Wormhole Books, the dapper Paul Trahair from Sad Paradise Books and Willie Williams from Kallista Books -Willie is a landscape gardener with a weekends-only bookshop in the same village as my shop.

They're a lot of work, book fairs, and not always financially rewarding for booksellers. I've been to a couple where I barely made enough money to cover the cost of my stall, but persist because of my experience at the Clunes Booktown weekend, where I always do very well. Finding a venue can be difficult, but we've set up in a pretty, historic hall in a picnic ground setting on the fringes of Sherbrooke Forest (and conveniently across the road from my house :-). Finding a date can be tough too - for our first one in 2008 we settled on what's known as the Melbourne Cup weekend (because it falls the weekend before the world-famous horse race on the first Tuesday in November) because the local Horticultural Society used to have an annual flower show that weekend - except that year they changed the date of the annual flower show! Finding the right mix of booksellers can also be a task - and last year we got it almost right.

This year we have been joined on the organising committee by the charming and industrious couple Sascha and Jeremy from the internet-only bookseller Lost and Found. We've got some local authors appearing for book signing and selling: Hanifa Deen; Ilsa Evans; Corinne Fenton; Macarthur Job & Nick Anchen. and while we have slightly fewer booksellers, they've all got more space and therefore more beautiful books to sell. The beauty of this fair is that most of our sellers are internet only dealers, meaning that the fair gives the public a unique opportunity to browse through some of their stock. Most of the sellers will be refreshing their stock throughout the weekend, so it'll be worth coming up at any stage during the weekend. All the booksellers deal in very good quality books, no rubbish to be found here, and the price range should provide something for everyone, with books from $10 - $1000

Here's an idea of what our sellers are bringing to the fair. If you are coming up, have a look at the internet stock of all our dealers before you arrive. If there is something in particular you'd like to see, they'll be happy to bring it along for you to the fair - there is nothing quite like holding a book and seeing it 'in person'!

Rainy Day Books has a cross-section of quality fiction and non-fiction. Meryll is a regular on Radio 3AW's Nightlife program so naturally she'll have copies of "Bruce's Bits and Phil's Philosophies" . Other highlights are Ross Napier's The Castlereagh line series, International garden photographer of the year - Books 1 and 2; Australian dreaming - 40,000 years of Aboriginal history; Medal of honor - portraits of valor beyond the call of duty - complete with dvd as well as a good selection of discounted paperback biographies.

Jill Braithwaite (Bookworm Ink) is a specialist children's bookseller. I've never seen as many collectible Enid Blytons in one place as I did last year on Jill's stall. She'll have a selection of Biggles; Mary Grant Bruce; Milly-Molly-Mandy; Ethel Turner; Cherry Ames; Bobbsey Twins; Rupert Annuals; Elsie J Oxenham; Angela Brazil; Elinor Brent Dyer; LM Montgomery..... Jill's table is always a highlight at any book fair she attends - a real trip down memory lane for many people (including myself).Sad Paradise Books: Paul is a generalist, but has an excellent range of books by and about the beat generation poets. This year at the fair he's offering 50% off marked prices on a selected range of Australiana, fiction, transport, the arts, Asia Pacific. Check out his online stock at

Joan Rogers has recently left The Old Bakery Cottage Bookshop in Warrandyte and is now selling online as The Book Fossicker from her new home in Clunes. She'll be bringing mainly non-fiction to Ferny Creek, with art, gardening and other kinds of related books - some biographies and history, it should be an interesting mix.

The elegant Pam Bakes of Page Two always has a beautiful stall. This year she plans to bring an eclectic selection of stock with a leaning towards fashion, art and architecture, plus some lovely Folio Editions, including a large format of Milton’s Paradise Lost in the original slipcase, classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with a pale green moirĂ© silk binding, and a delightful copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Also in stock will be Caroline Rennolds Milbank's magnum opus Couture : the Great Fashion Designers, showcasing about 50 of the most famous including Worth, Lavin, Poiret, Fortuny, Chanel, Dior, St. Laurent and Balenciaga. For fashionistas who enjoyed the movie The September issue, Pam also has a pristine copy of the September 2007 issue of US Vogue (which was the subject of the film). Also in Pam's stock will be Willem de Kooning’s Vellums published for an exhibition held in New York in 2001. This is not readily available in Australia, but fans of the artist will be entranced by this beautiful copy. For lovers of Australian art there will be Judith Ryan’s studies of Ginger Riley and Kitty Kantilla, both published in conjunction with exhibitions at the NGV, plus Sandra McGrath’s seminal work on Brett Whiteley which, when published in 1979, was the first major work on this artist. Pam's website is .

Lost and Found are general booksellers and will be bringing books on a bewildering array of subjects. As well as a range of current and vintage fiction, they will be covering all aspects of gardening, art, hand crafts, militaria, Australiana, gorgeous children's books and interesting local histories, especially of the Dandenongs. And then there is the exotica... so esoteric it doesn't fit readily into any classification! Before you come, please check out their 14,000 books online - you can browse them by subject catalogue. Sascha and Jeremy will be happy to bring anything you are interested in to Mountains of Books for personal pick-up. You'll need to let them know by midnight on Wednesday

Kallista Books: Willie has an exciting range of ephemera on offer as well as his usual cross-section of gardening, hardware, non-fiction etc: Special mention must be made of his hardware & nursery catalogues from as early as 1880, and craft and gardening magazines.

And Vintage Cookbooks? Well the majority of my book fair stock will be books that haven't even hit the shelves in my shop yet: A good selection of Elizabeth Davids, including first editions of French Provincial Cooking and The Book of Mediterranean Food and English Bread and Yeast Cookery; a selection of Julia Child (what's left of it anyway) ; Charmaine Solomon; Marcella Hazan; Stephanie Alexander; Larousse Gastronomique. There'll also be lots of ephemera and early Australian cookbooks. As usual I'll also be bringing my complete stock of the more unusual cuisines: Scandinavian, Russian, Middle East, Eastern European; Phillipines; Indonesian etc etc etc.

It promises to be a great weekend for booklovers. Do come and introduce yourself to me and receive a 10% discount off Vintage Cookbooks stock. And remember any time is a good time to come - there'll be new stock going onto the tables throughout the weekend. The details are:

Saturday 31st October 10 - 5 & Sunday 1st November 10 - 4

Ferny Creek Recreation Reserve Hall, Hilton Rd, Ferny Creek, Victoria

Here's the Google Map

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Julie and Julia: Warm, funny and delicious

Well the movie is out now in Australia and I have seen it for a second time with my movie buddy Dee. Julie and Julia is a skilful weaving by director Nora Ephron of two stories: how Julia Child discovered French food (told in her memoir "My Life in France") and how a New York secretary called Julie Powell decided to cook her way through Child's famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year and write a daily blog about it (told in her subsequent book Julie and Julia). It was a very clever decision by Ephron to combine the two stories, as I can't imagine a film on Powell's exploits alone would have been sustainable for 90+ minutes. Yes so she decided to cook 524 dishes in 365 days, but there are only so many ways to capture this on film, and as it is only the interesting episodes from Powell's blog and subsequent book made it to the screen. I read through Powell's blog recently and can also say that she bears little resemblance to the sweet (if feisty) character portrayed by Amy Adams. Being an acolyte of Alice Waters and a bit of a locavore myself, I found her strident criticisms of both harder to take than the expletives with which her writing is peppered.

Far more interesting is the story of Julia Child's introduction to cooking, as well as her relationship with her husband Paul - they clearly adored each other. Julia Child came to both marriage and cooking late: She apparently didn't know how to cook until her thirties and married Child at 34. She threw herself into both with (an apparently characteristic) enthusiasm. Meryl Streep's portrayal of Child is delicious, and she dominates the movie: when it switched back to Powell's story I found myself impatiently waiting for it to return to Child.

The food in Julie and Julia is as authentically portrayed as you would expect from Ephron who is herself a bit of a foodie. There was a great article in the New York Times about the food styling in the movie, which Ephron insisted be real - no fake food for this movie.

I loved the movie and can see why its release in America took Mastering the Art to the top of the best-sellers list for the first time and also brought a flood of orders from there for the few copies I had in stock (it also made it a very hot item on - first editions continue to sell for hundreds of dollars at the time of writing). Streep/Child's enthusiasm for food and love of the process of cooking are palpable and makes you want to Master the Art yourself.

The response to the movie in Australia has not been as enthusiastic. When David and I saw it the first time in SF, there were about ten people in the matinee session, around 6 weeks after it had come out. When Dee and I went to see it on its opening day at our local cinema there were only about 6. Everyone who has seen it has loved it and I've had quite a few people (women mostly) come to the shop after seeing it wanting to buy a copy of the book. But I suspect that Child doesn't have the same iconic status in Australia as she does in USA. Her tv series was never shown here, and while Mastering the Art had sold over 800,000 copies prior to the movie's release, few of those copies made it to Australian shores, and it just wasn't the staple in Australian kitchen libraries as it was in American ones (it was after all specifically aimed at "servantless American cooks"). More's the pity, it is a great book, and one which provides accessible instruction for those of us who will never make it to a Cordon Bleu cooking school.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A paean to the city of books

As you may already have worked out, I loooove books. Particularly second-hand books. I have always loved them. I love the way they smell (unless some fool has let them get mouldy); I love the way they feel, I love the way they look on the bookshelf. As a child I created a library in my room, painting a small white square on the spines of all my books with whiteout and writing their Dewey number on it (including I regret to report, on my complete collection of Famous Fives with dustjackets!). I was on close terms with my school and local librarians and had to be given an adult library card at around 12 because I had read my way through the children's section. My family shares my love. Our passage walls are lined with books, everyone has at least one bookshelf, books stand in stacks next to our beds waiting to be read. One of my proudest moments was when my daughter's Grade Two report stated that she had borrowed more books than any other pupil in the school. Almost nothing makes my heart race like the sight of a second hand book shop or a book fair.

I preface today's blog with this statement just so you will understand when I say two events of nearly equal importance have occurred in the last 2 weeks - my beloved oldest child Hayley arrived home from wandering through South America for 9 months, and .... I received a delivery of 5 boxes of books (and some kitchenalia) that I had posted to myself from San Francisco the day before we left. These 5 boxes - totalling approx 40kgs were in addition to the nearly 50kgs that came back in our luggage (thanks Qantas for your generous luggage allowance, it makes up for your stingy leg room, crap food and scarcity of toilets for economy class passengers since you created premium economy!)

For booklovers like me, San Francisco really is a paradise: I have mentioned the fantastic second-hand book shops of the city (and the Bay Area) in several posts. What I haven't mentioned due to the internet drought in the last week of our trip, was that it is also home to a range of fabulous book fairs and sales. (As an aside San Francisco is possibly the only place where those trying to raise some cash will spread their collection of books on the pavement to sell - not a lot of cookbooks, but great fiction and non-fiction to be bought for a buck. I guess they know there is a market for their wares) Across the year there are several significant book sales and antiquarian book fairs, and on my return visit to Books by the Bay , I noticed a flyer for the Annual Friends of the Library Book Sale- fortuitously being held on the last 4 days of our trip.
Now this is not just any book sale - it claims to be the biggest book fair in the USA , a claim I suspect is not mere hyperbole. The fair is held in the Fort Mason Arts precinct - a collection of former military warehouses. We lined up on Day 2 (Day 1 is for members of the friends group) with a small crowd, including a charming Irishman who after being retrenched from his job as a recruitment consultant 3 years ago now makes his living selling books on Amazon (and he lives in San Francisco. Kill me now!).
Like any well-organised book sale, this one had maps available to plot out your attack before you entered the warehouse, but unlike any book sale I've ever been to, also provided shopping trolleys for your loot. Everything was under $5, and there were two large tables (in a massive warehouse the size of an aircraft hangar) of cookbooks. And what cookbooks: all in great condition, and many things I don't see very often in Australia (some dross as well, but that's always the case). There were dozens of volumes from the Time-Life 'The Good Cook' series as well as 'Foods of the World', some Elizabeth David, more Marcella Hazan than I've seen anywhere ( including my shop) and even a few paperback copies of Julia Child's The French Chef to make up for my complete failure to find a single second-hand copy of MtAoFC on this trip.
I came out of there with a trolley full - whenever I tried to cull my dear husband would remind me that I wouldn't see most of this stuff at all in Australia, and it would go on the keep pile. The criteria was this: as much paperback as possible, but anything particularly scarce in hardback was ok, as well as books for which I had customer requests. Once all these books had been purchased I had to find the most economical way to get them back to Australia. Travelling California for three weeks had already resulted in one large box of books and a smaller box of kitchenalia in the back of the SUV and now we had added another couple. We bought a suitcase and 2 duffel bags to supplement our one case and bought yards of bubble wrap and packing tape. Luckily for me USPS has several great flat-rate International Priority Mail boxes available (Australia Post please take note) and I spent around $240 and an afternoon packing and repacking my precious cargo to find the most economical use of the boxes and suitcases. Luckily I pack books for a living, as when we picked up our suitcases at the luggage carousel in Sydney it was clear that one suitcase - a cute vintage brocade Samsonite - had been at the bottom of all the luggage; it was completely squashed flat and was literally the last case to come out! A couple of the USPS boxes too were a bit bumped and torn, but I am happy to report that the books, like my daughter, had survived their travels unscathed!!
I am already planning my return to coincide with this sale next year - and perhaps to take in the Golden Gate Park Book Fair at the end of October, and the Palo Alto Friends sale in early November or maybe a Friends monthly $1 book sale; if I go in February I could take in the 43rd Californian International Antiquarian Book Fair, or the San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print & Paper Fair; stay until March and there is the Anarchist Book Fair...............