Monday, November 9, 2009

Doing the two four

The best time to go to a 24-hour second-hand book sale is early in the morning, but not too early. These places get surprisingly busy at three in the morning, but only stupid people get up at 6.30 on a Sunday morning to drive across town and browse tables full of musty books.

I was there at 6.55 and there were six other people in the hall.

It was great! There were no long, slow browsers there, you could be up and down an aisle in minutes. Looking for key words, key authors, key works – you can do that with a bit of speed.

And I was out of there before eight, with a bunch of new books and I was so chuffed I went and bought eighty dollars worth of meat. I did spend a lot of time trying to decide if I needed the Astronomy A-Z by Patrick Moore, ultimately leaving it because it was so out of date and I really wish I’d bought that now, but I only need a few old books to keep me happy.

There were so, so many bad books on those tables. So many family dynasty sagas set in the 1920s and featuring smart, spunky heroines, plenty of Dan Brown and Bryce Courtney and Wilbur Smith, if that’s your thing. There was also some really good stuff I already had, including the first two parts of James Ellroy’s American Tabloid trilogy. But it was easy enough to ignore all that, and this is what I got from the Auckland 24-hour book sale at seven on a Sunday morning:

Jack’s Return Home, by Ted Lewis.
Made into the classic Get Carter film, with Michael Caine at his double-hard best. Gritty British crime fiction can get bloody sordid, and Lewis was one of the finest at it. He died horribly young, but still produced a number of dirty, gritty crime books that are still a heavy influence on the British crime genre. I haven’t actually read the book the film is based on, but have read other novels by Lewis, so quality is assured.

Blake’s 7: Scorpio Attack, by Trevor Hoyle
Sometimes it gets a bit difficult to justify my love of Blake’s 7, but I had no hesitation in grabbing a 156 page tie-in novel from 1981 because I do still absolutely adore the television series. And a quick breezy read, designed for 14-year-old nerds from the early eighties, is a good little bonus, especially since I had no idea they produced original novelettes at the time of the show.
(Last week I almost bought the 1980 Blake’s 7 annual for $20, but ending up buying some Doctor Who fanzines instead. I should have gone with Blake.)

Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason

There were a few shining examples that stood out from the onslaught of Vietnam War-inspired movies, television shows and books that hit popular culture in the late eighties. Sometimes it took a bit of time, and it did take a while for the charms of something like Full Metal Jacket or Casualties of Ware to become obvious, but Chickenhawk - a brilliant first-person account of flying helicopters into warzones – received a warm welcome from the start
I remember the book as a refreshingly unsentimental look at one aspect of the conflict, and Chickenhawk also benefited from the author’s willingness to write about incidents where he was a complete dick. Books about war are always good, but books about war that show people acting like people in horrific circumstances are always much better.

Eden’s Promise, by Cassie Edwards.

“Beautiful, wild-eyed and golden-haired, Eden Whitney was the most delectable woman Zach Tyson had ever found trussed up in the hold of his pirate ship.”
My wife loves this stuff, and I can see why.

Didn’t you Kill My Mother-In-Law by Roger Wilmut and Peter Rosengard.
I got this book out from the library half a dozen times when I was 15 and thought the people in this book – alternative comedians who revolutionized stand-up comedy in Britain in the early eighties – were the coolest fucking people I’d ever seen.
They mostly just look a bit stupid now.
I am still looking forward to reading the book, as many of the people profiled in it went on to do some wonderful things. (Many went on to do some terrible, terrible things, unfortunately.)
And the new style of comedy, not more than a quarter of a century old, was revolutionary. They really did do wonderful things with comedy which have lasted the test of time. Seeing the Young Ones as a youngster in the middle of a grey decade had a profound influence on this young Bob, and it still makes me laugh.

Viz comics – Holiday Special and The Big Pink Stiff One

Viz has always been an appalling comic, relying on crude sexism, disgusting bodily functions and violence for cheap laughs. But it also appeals to a lot of people who never pick up any other kind of comic. I have one mate who will never read any sort of comic, but loved Viz. (And also the Dicks comics by Ennis and Mcrea. He thought that comic was the bee’s knees.)
After all, it’s still going, so someone must still be reading it.
I bought these books cos I knew I could always flick them on over the internet, and I probably will. But I still had a read of them last night, and the sheer onslaught of swearing, gross nudity and unfeasibly large testicles is still oddly endearing. Maybe I’ll hold onto them to give to my mate…

Spitting Image: The Giant Komic Book

A fascinating read, even if I have no idea who most of the UK politicians skewered in it are. But there is some great art from the likes of Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins (back when they were both pushing UK comics to be all they can be through Deadline), and other lovely talents like Hunt Emerson and Oscar Zarate, who are always welcome. The actual writing on the dozens of strips in the book veers from tedious to nonsensical to interesting and all the way back again, but for a spoof comic about overseas politicians who all retired decades ago, it’s surprisingly readable. Especially for $2.

Apart from a quick flick through, I won’t be looking at any of these books for a while, as I’m about to crack into the long-awaited Blood’s A Rover, the third part of James Ellroy’s aforementioned American Tabloid saga, and that will take a while. And then I’ll be reading nothing but books about Doctor Who for the next two months (and I’m starting with Return of the Living Dad). But it’s always nice to pick up a few cheap books, and know I can ride into the valley of death on a huey, or head off on another space adventure with Avon and his crew, or get some cheap laughs out of the cheapest of humour, whenever I want.

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