Back in July I updated on my progress of the Agatha Christie reading challenge (Read Christie 2021) in this blog. Now, I have completed the challenge!!! Very excited that I managed to finish this one.
This is a list of the books I read for the challenge, including their category in brackets):
For some of the books, the connection to the prompt is a bit tenuous. For instance, Towards Zero has a scene at the beginning where the detective has to visit his daughter's school, as well as towards the end of the book. Something on the main suspect's face reminds him of the look on his daughter's face in that earlier scene, and that helps him solve the case. At least the book had an actual school in it. I was tempted to read Crooked House, where the youngest child in the family is home-schooled. The only Christie book that is actually set in a school is Cat Among the Pigeons. That one would have been perfect for the prompt, but I only read it last year and didn't want to reread so soon.
Before I start, I want to say neither author nor the publisher of the book I’m about to write about know I’m writing this. It’s not a paid promotion. As usual here on the Reading Project, our own interests determine the content.
The reason I wanted to write this blog entry is because I’ve recently come across one of the strangest distribution and promotional decisions I’ve ever heard for a novel. I was in Gleebooks in Blackheath the other day. Blackheath is in the upper Blue Mountains, farther west than Springwood where we live. I noticed a book by Michael Duffy, The Problem with Murder, a murder mystery set in Katoomba, which is another upper mountains suburb two towns before Blackheath, if you’re driving west. I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction lately, so when I saw this book I was interested to read a story set in our local area.
It’s not surprising I had never even heard of this book before finding it on a shelf. Inside the front cover I found this note:
I checked a few mountains bookstore websites as I sat down to write this blog entry. The Little Lost Bookshop in Katoomba, which I wrote about in last month’s blog, currently has fifteen copies for sale. I can’t find it listed on Gleebooks website, despite buying it there. When I bought it, Gleebooks had a few copies on their shelf. Megalong Books in Leura lists two copies for sale. Rosey Ravelston in Hazelbrook doesn’t list it, Lambda Books in Wentworth Falls lists it but doesn’t give stock numbers, and our own Turning Page Bookstore, here in Springwood, doesn’t list it at all on their site.
Assuming only a small print run that would potentially give a financial return, there would still be a lot of books to try to move through only a few local stores. And given that not everyone reads Crime Fiction, and of those who do, not everyone who even lives in the mountains will buy locally, and of those who do buy locally, many will choose another book from the vast selection of Crime literature, it’s hard to understand limiting the distribution of a book like this.
Google Books doesn’t provide a cover and simply says, “We haven't found any reviews in the usual places”.
Despite its limited physical distribution, you can obviously order it online if you live somewhere else.
We were just parking locally on Saturday when we noticed a sign advertising used books in an obscure building just down the path from the parking lot. So we checked it out. We discovered a treasure trove of used books donated to the Lions Club, all going for the asking price of a gold coin donation (in Australia that’s either one or two dollars). Apparently, the sale began earlier in the year, but was interrupted by the COVID lockdown that began in June. They’re only just getting going again, and we found a friendly volunteer sorting books from boxes into their respective categories across two rooms. We took a look in his boxes and helped categorise a few of the books. Toriaz left with a bunch. I left with three: Patrick White’s memoir, Flaws in the Glass, David Malouf’s The Great World and an old classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress by Paul Bunyan.
John, the Lions Club organiser (pictured) told us the sales are currently held on the second Saturday of each month, but will revert to the first Saturday of each month next year. In the unlikely event that anyone living in our local area of the Blue Mountains reads this, they can check out the sale next month at the western end of Winmalee Shopping Centre car park. There should be signs about.
Thank you to John and his unnamed sorter who were friendly and helped us out!
Bart Layton’s 2018 crime docudrama, American Animals, is based on the true story of the theft of John James Audubon's Birds of America from Transylvania University in 2004. The book was worth millions and its impressive size was part of the difficulty the thieves faced when trying to get it out of the library.
Naturally, I haven’t got any book near as impressive as that, but years ago I bought a copy of Neville Cayley’s What Bird is That?, a book specifically documenting Australian birds through paintings Cayley produced earlier last century. The book was published in 1931. My edition is a 1990 reprint. I bought it at a time when I thought I might take up watching birds, in the way that we take on many short-lived interests. Nevertheless, the book has sat on my shelf since then, and occasionally I look at it because it is beautiful. It may not be as large and heavy as the Aubudon, but it’s still a hefty book. It’s 31 centimetres high by 23 centimetres wide and weighs about 5 kilograms. Here is a painting Cayley did of King Parrots which appears in the book:
I started leaving seed out for our native parrots last year. I particularly wanted to feed King Parrots and Rosellas. My feeding has been somewhat irregular, but recently when I began to feed them more regularly I found I had also attracted the attention of a couple of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos. These are large birds with big personalities, and it’s not a good idea to feed them. First, you have one, the next day you have thirty of forty. They scare off the other birds and can be destructive with their large beaks. My solution was to stop feeding the birds. But then a funny thing happened. One of the King Parrots I had been feeding began to approach me. I offered him seed out of a cup and found he would take it. Since then, whenever I feed him, I feed him by hand. I’ve also had his mate come to take seed from my hand, too. Here are two pictures, one of the mating pair and the other of the male on his own:
This afternoon the two birds, pictured, were accompanied by their baby, almost as large as its mother now but still preferring to be fed by its parents.
My photos give a sense of the quality and accuracy of Cayley’s paintings. However, his book describes the King Parrot as “rather wary”, whereas I’ve found that about five or six birds are now willing to let me stand right next to them. I thought I’d write about this here because it’s an opportunity to talk about a beautiful book that would not normally be discussed on this site. Besides, I rather like the birds.
I’ve had email exchanges with two authors today. Hearing from both was a surprise.
First, was Michael Duffy. Toriaz wrote in this blog earlier this month about Michael Duffy’s crime novel, The Problem with Murder. Yesterday Michael contacted us through our Guestbook after finding our website and reading Toriaz’s blog to explain his philosophy behind limiting his book to a local distribution (Check the Guestbook to read his comment). I sent him an email asking whether he would be interested in doing an interview with us, and he kindly agreed. So, we should have an interview with Michael on the website sometime in January. Toriaz and I both intend to read Michael’s book before then.
Second, was Pamela Crane, author of A Slow Ruin. I wrote in this blog on 12 October that Netgalley had rejected my request for a review copy. But this morning I received an email from Pamela (part of a promotion to anyone who had requested a copy) that suggested she could make copies available to reviewers who hadn’t received a copy. So I shot her an email back explaining the publisher’s decision and she promptly sent me a download link. So, I shall make it a priority to review Slow Road to Ruin sometime within the next month.
Thankyou to Pamela Crane and Michael Duffy for their interest and generosity!
We’re late into the year but I still hope to get another couple of reviews done before the calendar ticks over. I’ve taken a look back over the books I’ve read this year, hoping to choose three favourites, rather than breaking my list into categories this year. In the end, I chose four. Toriaz and WaywardWoman have also chosen their favoutire books of the year. For the moment the listis prominently displayed on our front page, but the list will reside permanently here.
Christmas was fun this year. While my sons are now adults, our young dog, Lucy, makes up for the lack of real children. She gets very excited by wrapping paper, not to mention her presents. I received a couple of books and a book related present this year. I was given the Little People, Big Dreams edition of Charles Dickens, since I am currently reading or rereading all of his works. I received Graeme Base’s new picture book, The Curse of the Vampire Robot (I have a collection of his work), Hilary Mantel’s Mantel Pieces (my son knows how much I like her Thomas Cromwell series), and another Charles Dickens related gift, The World of Charles Dickens, a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.
While there seems to be a new sense of gloom with the emergence of Omicron, we can only hope that things slowly get better. In the holiday period, that’s probably all that needs to be said about it. Instead, I hope everyone had a nice Christmas, and all the best for the New Year!