Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I actually read over summer

So a little while ago, I posted a list of books to that I planned to read over summer in an attempt to be widely read. To save you from a long, weasely explanation, in short, I didn’t read many of the books on the list. At all.

The one book I did read on my list was Miranda Julys’ collection of short stories, No one belongs here more than you. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the stories were told from tonally identical first-person points of view. These narrators were either child-like in their naiveté or slightly mentally slow and their stories hit exactly the same notes as they attempted to overcome emotional isolation and a lack of intimacy. This saminess was of serious detriment to the quality of the collection. However, Julys’ use of language is still very clever, and she describes everyday actions and character’s internal states with fresh and evocative imagery. I also should add that I thought the final story in the collection, “How to Tell Stories to Children” was fantastic, complex and (though I resent the use of the cliché) interestingly thought provoking.

(The view from my coast house balcony. Note how the trees have conveniently grown in a "U" shape...)

(The big rockpool I like to swim in.)

So, after that brief literary review, what did I actually end up reading?

One of my family’s summer holiday traditions (along with initiating piscine massacres, rowdy games of Pictionary, and gin and tonic drinking) is to collect all of the bumper, summer-special issues of trashy magazines (a form of media we all normally shun, hypocritical, we are). Within the first two days of being down the coast, my reading list was shipwrecked by the siren song of Who’s “Best and Worst of 2009: Your 180-page special collector’s edition”. Truly, who can resist scorning at the years’ celebrity fashion fails? Some of those outfits are like car crashes; they’re terrible and horrid, and you’ll be scarred by looking, but you just can’t turn away.

So, with all the pretences I have to being serious and literary destroyed by 180-page collector edition tributes to Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga’s sartorial (non) successes, I sought some redemption in Francoise Sagan’s first novel, The Unmade Bed. The Unmade Bed, it first appears, is a very standard, boy-meets-girl story. However, as the narrative progresses and the central characters flaws, complexes, vices, histories, fluctuating emotions and neuroses are revealed, Sagan writes an unconventional, engaging and human love story. Though I liked reading The Unmade Bed, I think Sagan’s earlier and shorter novellas, Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile are actually stronger pieces because of their narrative brevity and more focused emotional intensity.

Failing to find the Carl Hiaasen novel I wanted, I ended up with a similarly toned New Zealand crime novel, Guerrilla Season by Paul Thomas (an appropriate title given that my coast house is at Guerrilla Bay). Thomas tells a witty, off-beat crime story with a plethora of outrageous but utterly convincing interrelated characters. Set in a wonderfully perceptive version of Auckland, Guerrilla Season demonstrates that New Zealand still certainly remembers the Rainbow Warrior and is possibly home to more people involved with international espionage than we ever would have guessed. Thomas’ prose is witty and fantastic, as this sentence, possibly my favourite in the book shows: “Tito Ihaka would’ve disliked the counter-terrorism expert Wayne Cramp at first sight but he didn’t see an point in waiting”.

Finally, I read Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. Somehow I justified that a late Victorian novel could replace my Russian classic, Anna Karenina (look people, they’re both classics? Straws, grasping, I know). Anyway The Picture of Dorian Grey was a Christmas gift that I felt very good about reading. Wilde’s use of language in the novel is beautifully opulent and evocative and like in his plays, he depicts the Victorian era with an acerbic and cutting wit. However, because of the unsteady and unbalanced pacing of The Picture of Dorian Grey, I feel that Wilde’s major achievement is still The Importance of Being Ernest. Furthermore, I like the fun that Wilde has in Ernest; and that particular kind of irreverent, naughty but very intelligent fun seems to be missing from Dorian Grey.

So that’s where I’m up to so far with my reading. I probably would have read more except for the time spent drawing things like “Reflex”, “Where” and “Bloody Mary” in Pictionary. These have been holidays well spent.

All for now, xx Esther

Monday, December 14, 2009

Old Sydney Times

I am a Canberran born and bred. Being such means you spend a lot of your time explaining that Sydney is not the capital of Australia. Annoyingly, I have even had foreigners challenge this fact. Naturally, it is understandable that the bustling, vibrant city is more familiar and appealing to foreigners than the tranquil streets of Canberra. I have often dreamt of being a Melbournian, whilst being somewhat apathetic to Australia’s most populous city.

It occurred to me recently that I had not ever really explored Sydney. Sure, there was a school camp, and several trips for concerts and Surry Hills vintage shopping, yet most of my knowledge of old Sydney was second hand.

With this in mind, a few weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to the big city, leaving the Canberra suburbs far behind. My first point of call was, naturally, the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I simply love the 19th century building, complete a beautiful entranceway, and sculptures out the front. After visiting the gallery, which has a fantastic collection of Australian and Victorian Era art, I sat blissfully under the trees of the surrounding park. Speaking of the trees, their roots were so thick with age that I couldn’t help admiring their nostalgic appeal. They reminded me of the trees in old children’s books, like Beatrix Potter.

The gallery is right near Hyde Park and the Botanic Gardens. Both of which offer numerous routes for leisurely walks and picnic spots amidst the wildflowers and overgrown trees. I don’t know how anyone could not love this place. It is amazing to me how the bustling city appears alongside the perimeters of these tranquil areas. It is almost like travelling between two countries.

Speaking of travel, ferry rides are about the most fun part of any Sydney trip. On my way to Manly I enjoyed beautiful sunset views of the harbour, and the homes of rich and famous that dot the water’s edge. Alas, if only I had a lovely glass of Chardonnay to sip on the ferry then my voyage would have been bliss. Though I did get to sit on the balcony and have my hair swept by the sea air. This sounds rather glamorous, but I’m sure I looked somewhat scruffy to the tourist behind me.

The Rocks is another area that I rummaged through on my visit. I have often heard the area spoken of, particularly the beautiful sandstone buildings, yet never really taken the time to visit myself. This is probably one of the oldest parts of Sydney, as small laneways and cobbled roads attest to. I was so surprised by the unspoilt beauty of this historic area. Sure, I was still in Sydney, but The Rocks was more laidback and quaint than anywhere else I had seen in the city.

I walked around behind the Museum of Contemporary Art, which to my delights is housed in an exquisite Art-Deco building. This area is filled with numerous 19th century cottage houses with old lace on the outside. Definitely the sorts of places that I would like to live in. In fact, I would be quite happy to reside in the oldest home in Sydney. Cadman’s Cottage was built in 1815 and is the quintessential Rocks dwelling – yellow sandstone situated along the harbour.

After my Rocks adventure in thirty degree weather, I naturally wanted to rest my legs. However my search for all things pretty and historical wouldn’t let me take a break in any old place, so I made my way up to Observatory Hill. Before you start questioning my interest in Astronomy, let me reassure you that the Observatory is housed within a beautiful Colonial building, dotted with numerous trees that are as old as the building. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the historic building that attracted me, nor the sculpture of the Dutch fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen that attracted me to this secluded place. It was the view. From my park bench I got the loveliest panoramas of Sydney that I have ever seen. It certainly rivalled the photos of the harbour I have often looked upon.

All in all, my Sydney adventure has changed my feelings toward the city. I think if I ignore the smell and bustle of the city and focus on the lovely haunts I uncovered on my trip, then I may indeed be happy to be a Sydneysider one day. Well, at least I will be happy to revisit the city, if only for the trees and the historic places.



My Favourite Summery Things

I think I must be a difficult person. Climate wise, I mean. I am always complaining endlessly about the cold in winter, then whinging about the heat in summer. In an attempt to embrace the thirty plus degree heat that I will be enduring for the next few months, I am writing about all the positives of summer; the things that just aren’t the same in other seasons. Hopefully, this will help to distract myself from the sweltering heat of my non-air-conditioned house.

Walks -

I love going for long walks just before sunset. The weather is usually lovely, and I don’t need a jacket, or an umbrella. Just my music, and myself. Leaving in the early evening usually means that the sky is turning into night by the time you get home. I am fortunate to live in a suburb that has numerous tranquil, leafy paths to tread. Bliss. I always sleep like a baby after a lovely evening stroll. This is my kind of exercise – no strange electrical equipment involved!

Books -

After my aforementioned walks, I love sitting down with a book. I have just finished W. M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and am currently halfway through Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. I also find summer great time to read all those books you buy through the year, but never actually read. This is a bit of an expensive habit of mine. My 2009 unread bookshelf includes James Joyce’s epic Ulysses, and Siobhan O’Brien’s biography of Florence Broadhurst, one of my favourite Australian designers. Speaking of biographies, I also must tackle Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf. There is also the copy of David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon that a friend recommended to me, and while I think of it, I never did finish Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I am clearly not going to have any trouble filling my time this summer.


Being a cold person means I normally spend winter encased by several layers of projective garments. I love being able to wear cute dresses and sandals in summer. Not to mention my gorgeous broad brimmed hat (think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and my great-aunt’s floral parasol. One is generally more elegant when not swamped in jumpers and cardigans. I especially love wearing simple cotton dresses. Vintage shops and are a great way to find these, without having to pay the ridiculous price of most shops.

When I’m feeling indulgent, I treat myself to something from Mod Cloth, my favourite online shop. I love the retro style of their clothes, and unlike a vintage piece, you’re not limited to whatever size the item happens to be in. Not to mention the great titles of the products –anyone for a Tulle There Was You or a Sequins of Events dress? Check the site out – I promise that it is even fun just to look at, as the postage from American can make for an expensive investment. http://www.modcloth.com/

My Garden -

I must have hit the jackpot with my rental house. Lust summer my housemates and I discovered our garden was filled with beautiful fruit trees. Figs, plums, apricots, apples and cherries. I love seeing all the fallen fruit scattered across the ground when I walk outside. Not to mention the prospect of making delicious fig tarts and plum pies. I also have a pretty pink rose bush, and white oleanders amongst other lovely flowers. I am also quite relieved that these are bearing fruit this year, after my attempts at growing herbs over the past few months have resulted in several deaths. There is always next year.

Food -

I love summer food! Fresh seafood and delicious salads. Not to mention delicious fresh juices. I like to experiment with salads and put as many different delicious ingredients in them as I can. When I can afford seafood, I am in heaven. I especially love having fresh prawns, cooked lightly, then dipped in lemon juice, then salt. Give it a try – you don’t need anything else, trust me they are delicious!

Speaking of delicious, summer ice creams are another favourite of mine. The first time I went to Paris it was summer, and almost every day I went to one of the numerous ice cream carts and purchased a delicious scoop of ice cream, in a cone of course. There is something so childish about ice cream cones, they are one of those things that you never grow out of, yet always remind you of being a kid. My favourite flavours are vanilla and pistachio. Yum yum!

With all of these things to occupy me, I guess I can survive the heat. Though I may need a fan to help me out. Besides, it won’t be too long before I will need to get out my winter tights again. Then I can indulge in hot chocolates and wear my cute winter coats and scarves again.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Summer Reading List

I’m compiling my summer reading list at the moment. It’s been good fun. Like someone out deep sea fishing (but without the potential to end up resting in a watery grave), I’ve been trawling Canberra’s funky independent book shops, the shelves of my friends and family and the literature review section of each newspaper I obtain from cafes. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that there’s a lot to read out there. And so to ensure I don’t end up reading either Peter Costello’s memoirs (highly unlikely but the thought still makes me shiver) or re-reading Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” crime novels, I’ve imposed (loose) criteria the books have to meet in order to make the list.

Criteria one: I can’t have read it before. This is because I constantly re-read books. Choosing my ‘three essential desert island novels’ is always easy for me – I’m absolutely fine with being stuck on a tropical beach with only Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Garth Nix’s “Sabriel” for company (in fact, this is what happens most summers... except my beach isn’t tropical. And it’s usually got a few blue bottles and dead mutton birds on it.)

Criteria two: It has to come with glowing personal recommendations. This is because I have a tendency towards intellectual laziness when it comes to my summer literature. Even if a novel is proclaimed “post-modern absurdist classic of our time”, if it’s also referred to as “extremely difficult” and none of my friends have liked it, then what’s the point? Over summer, I’m not too fussed about critical success. I just want a good read. For this reason, although l plan to read Atwood’s “After the Flood”, it seems a bit too depressing and tough to read with a gin and tonic on a sunny deck.

Criteria three: The books have to be from a variety of genres, and preferably from a range of countries. This is to prevent a summer spent entirely with crime fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with crime fiction, or any genre fiction – just look at my final list).

So, this is what I’ve ended up with thus far:

- “Native Tongue” - Carl Hiaasen. It’s one of his older novels, and one that I’ve somehow not read yet. Carl Hiaasen is a crime writer from Florida. His novels combine a twisted sense of humour, wry observations about the American public and environmental messages without ever sounding preachy or contrived.

- “Anna Karenina” - Leo Tolstoy. Although Imperial Russia mightn’t always spring to mind when “summer” is mentioned, I have been meaning to read this novel for so long it’s ridiculous. In fact (and here’s a dirty secret of mine), I started reading “Anna Karenina” months ago, but got distracted by all those frustrating things like university essays. Anyway, I feel terrible about not having finished it, and it’s a novel that I’m certainly looking forward to reading. Plus, I also have a really lovely edition of the book which I'm looking forward to carrying around (though it is a large enough book that if you accidentally threw it at someone, they'd probably be knocked out. But remember, I don't condone violence... this is just an observation).

- “No one belongs here more than you” - Miranda July. I've come across several really positive recommendations for this collection of short stories, and, according to the First Tuesday Book Club's Marieke Hardy, (she annoyed me on Triple J but I've always respected her judgment of books), the book contains "very quirky, beautiful short story writing and [it's] very touching (...) like eating sunshine, reading this book, it’s quite lovely!" I've decided that I want to score some of that booky-sunshine.

- “The Life of Katherine Mansfield” – Anthony Alpers. I'm in a bit of a Katherine Mansfield moment right now. I think she’s incredibly clever, is acerbically perceptive about people and writes with such an intriguing restraint that I would like to be her. I’m reading this very famous biography of hers to remind myself that although she was a brilliant artist, actually emulating her tragic, damaged life and early-death isn’t the best idea.

So that’s what I’m reading. Does anyone out there have any suggestions, or lists of their own?

Finally, here is a link to Animal Collective's "Summertime Clothes". It's certainly on my summer music playlist.


-- Esther xx

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Errie Picton Adventure

'Picnic at Hanging Rock' is one of my favourite films. I first watched the 1975 Peter Weir classic when I was a teenager, in the midst of my obsession with Victorian era dress and literature. The supposedly true story of three young girls who wandered off into the rocks of Mount Macedon in Victoria in the early 20th century still captivates me. The Romantic in me can’t help admiring the adventure, mystery and elegant fashions featured in this film. Naturally, my nostalgia for the film, combines with a long-held wish to make a trek into a mysterious, rural area à la Miranda. However, I would like to be seen again after my Romantic explorations.

With this ethereal film and desires for adventure in mind, I set off with two friends for some regional exploration – floral dresses and sun hats in tow. Firstly, I really should clarify. When I say that I set off, it was more that I was kindly (but firmly) asked by my two car-less friends to drive them to the town of Picton. While the prospect of antique shops, country cakes and quaint houses was appealing, there was a much more serious impetuous for our leisurely excursion: ghosts. Picton is about an hour outside of Sydney, and is thought to be one of Australia’s most haunted towns. My two friends Jane and Tara have a passion for the ghosts that lurk around Australia’s old towns, and I have an interest in all things old and historical. Clearly, it was to be a day of hard work and research, with plenty of delicious treats to keep us on the go.

With this in mind, we set off on a Picton adventure throwing caution to the wind as Miranda and her friends did when they climbed Hanging Rock. After receiving some friendly and informative advice from the Wollondilly information centre we formed our ghost-hunting plan. Speaking of the information centre, it is housed in a beautiful Victorian post office with old-fashioned red post-boxes out the front, which I just could not help admiring. It was just the kind of building that was around during the time of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock,' a fact which I felt validated my connection between the two. However, my friends had ghost haunts to research.

Our first point of call was the Redbank Range Tunnel, also called the Mushroom Tunnel. It was used by the military during World War II, and was a railway tunnel in the late 19th century. Sadly, one young girl never made it to the safety alcoves and was killed by an oncoming train. Unfortunately, we did not hear the eerie strains of the ghost, nor see the flashing lights that visitors have reported. On reflection, we did notice a light chill after reading the guide book's eerie accounts of this phenomenon. However, we did meet with an unexpected visitor as we exited the tunnel – a discarded toy giraffe. Was this symbolic of the childhood the ghost of the young girl had left behind? We could but speculate.

After a pub lunch at the George IV Inn, we set our sights on another haunted area: the cemetery. I love going to cemeteries (don’t think I’m too weird). Particularly old ones like the cemetery my friends and I explored in Picton. Gravestones have, throughout history, been sites of elaboration decoration to commemorate fallen loved ones. I love looking at the ornate, sculptural forms and imagining what the people who reside in the graves they support were once like. This area naturally has a reputation for being home to a poltergeist or two that produce mysterious sounds and sights. However, once more the ghosts did not bother the three ladies who roamed their terrain. It was the same story at the local church, which also housed some intriguing gravestone, minus the presence of mysterious ghosts.

We made a final stop at the local stone quarry viaduct (it would be rather nice if my town had one). Here we channelled a Roman and Victorian atmosphere amidst alluring rock faces that were very eerily similar to the ones that Miranda disappeared amidst in 'Picnic at Hanging Rock.' Fear of the unknown amidst the picturesque rocks, and of dirtying our cotton dresses, prevented us from climbing into the thick foliage that surrounded the rock face. Rumours have stated that visitors have heard the splashes of ghosts that drowned in the creek, but all we heard were chirping birds. This idyllic stop off was my favourite part of Picton.

Of course there was much more to explore in Picton, but we three lady explorers decided to return to the safety of Canberra, rather than risk a night in haunted Picton. We did not want to suffer the fate of the young girls from 'Picnic at Hanging Rock,' who were never seen following their adventures. Perhaps our daylight departure explains why we did not come across any ghosts; thirty-degree weather and brilliant sunshine are not the conventional atmosphere for all things mysterious. A mid-winter, evening sojourn into the town may well provide more opportunity to see the ghosts of Picton in full force. However, this would be at our own risk.

You can find out more about the ghosts of Picton by going on a ghost tour. Check out the page about Picton on the Paranormal Australia website: http://paranormalaustralia.com/hauntings/picton.html

The Wollondilly Shire also has interesting information about the town, see:


Happy ghost hunting!



Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Year Without Sex (It’s a film, people)

I’ve decided to write about my favourite Australian film for this year after Louis Nowra went and hated on Australian Film (capitals most certainly required) in the society and culture magazine, The Monthly. (Honestly, I hear that title and I just shudder, imagining 1960s Maiden Aunts whispering to young nieces, “have you got your monthlies yet?”... I digress...)

The cast of "My Year Without Sex" (L-R) Portia Bradley as Ruby, Matt Day as Ross, Sacha Horler as Natalie and Jonathan Segat as Louis

So Nowra was none too impressed with the this, or really any years’ films (link to the online preview of the article here: http://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-louis-nowra-nowhere-near-hollywood-preview-australian-film-2178) In the full article, Nowra writes that after deciding to sit down to watch most of the Australian films released this year, he found they suffered a "monotonous bleakness", adding that they are "so dispiriting that they make Leonard Cohen seem positively cheery". Basically, if Australian films were personified, according to Nowra, they’d be beige-clad emo kids, who all just stand, dull and gloomy in the corner.

I haven’t, like Nowra, sat down to immerse in all that the Australian film industry has offered us in 2009. So basically, I’m pontificating and generalising without being truly educated (always a dangerous situation). However, I’ve watched enough Australian films from previous years, and I tend to agree with him, up until a point. Australian films can be terribly grim and unsatisfying, and for some reason, the more grim and unsatisfying they are, the more props they receive from critics and the public alike. Think “Jindabyne” (2006) where there’s a lot of cold, empty angst, and killer/rapists get to roam free amongst the sub-alpine scenery. Or “Noise” (2007) where there’s further random, unresolved death (albeit this time in grim cheerless suburban Melbourne). And, in Noise, just to really make sure you feel like someone swiped the final bite of your sandwich, it’s kept deliberately ambiguous as to whether Brendan Cowell’s protagonist character lives or dies (personally, I hope he died. He was a jackass).

I know that some argue that this speaks to a certain “sophistication” that these films possess. “All films don’t have to be neat Hollywood narratives!” the wanky-film crowds cry. But before you go all Margaret-and-David on me and start defending the depth and realism of Australia’s films, I want to make a few points: Firstly, even though your film is wrought, probably involving dead/dying/emotionally disconnected relatives, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Secondly, resolution doesn’t actually cheapen a story. Austen managed to resolve her narratives. So did Dickens. Hell, Shakespeare achieved ultimate resolution in almost every play, either marrying or killing everyone off. No one’s accused him of being some populist schmaltzy sell-out. Anyway, my point is that a narrative can still be interesting, thought-provoking and successful even as it is resolved. Finally, elements of “happy” and “funny” doesn’t automatically = Rob Schiender’s “The Animal”. Films can be make you laugh and still be intellectually rigorous. The Australian film industry needs to get on this concept.

I would like to use Sarah Watt’s film “My Year Without Sex” (2009) as an example of an Australian film that is sweet and quirky and fun but also incredibly believable, challenging and emotionally nuanced (simply setting the tone of your film at “grim” does not make it nuanced. It feels like you’re getting hit over the head with a hammer). “My Year Without Sex” offers the audience a myriad of emotional notes – there are some very dark, scary moments in this film but the key to its ultimate success is that they are tempered with “happy”, often ironically gorgeous other moments. A clear example of this occurs when Natalie and Ross’ children, Louis and Ruby, reveal a giant “Welcome Bunny!” sign moments after Ross, having forgotten to buy any chocolates for Easter, says that they (his kids) probably don’t still believe in/care about the Easter Bunny and all the chocolately goodness that the said bunny brings. The film then cuts to Ross, at the local servo, picking through the remaining four, broken chocolate rabbits.

Welcome, Bunny

So, Louis Nowra, there was at least one fantastic, non-grim film made in 2009. And it's important to note that the Australian film industry will only become more interesting and complex if more films like “My Year Without Sex” are made.

“My Year Without Sex” – available now at all good video shops (I grew up in the 90s. I’ll be renting DVDs from “video” shops forever).

Esther xx

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pursuits of a Bibliophile

When I was young, I was always the shy girl in the corner with her head tucked away in a book. Not much has changed! Being a lover of literature has obviously led me to read as many books as possible. Which makes for a lot of reading. Reading that comes with many benefits to a dreamer like myself. Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for all things old, which has led to a natural inclination to read the classics. I’m sure many of you can relate to the fantasies of Regency dress that entered your head whilst reading Pride and Prejudice or the longing for a lover who would profess grand statements of love in the flowing language of a Shakespearean character.

It isn't just the text I'm interested in, I love the whole package of a book. Surely the aged, faded form of an old book emphasizes this journey into the past. The art enthusiast in me can’t go past the nostalgic charm of an antique book. While some can’t wait to get the latest mp3 player, I drool over the embossed leather covers, if you’re lucky some quaint illustrations, and yellowed pages with the inscription of their first owner’s name.

Doesn’t this seem a bit more exciting that yet another cheap paperback? I am often amused by the re-packaging of classics. The same title given a flashy new cover to align itself with the contemporary books on the shelf. This doesn’t fit the romantic, adventure-filled and classic tales that these texts narrate. I recommend to all youthful readers out there to rummage through their relatives’ bookshelves. There is bound to be a lovely copy of Shakespeare or Austen hidden away, and unwanted and unappreciated. These beautiful books are just waiting to be opened and enjoyed by an enthusiastic reader like myself.

I went home the other night in pursuit of said family treasures. This year I studied works by Milton and Dickens at university, published in modern paperbacks. On the weekend I discovered a copy of Martin Chuzzlewit that dates from 1849. Flicking through the greasy, yellowed pages suddenly made the novel seem so old. This sounds silly I know, but it is easy to forget that books like this were written in an age before computers, often by hand, and were expensive to purchase. There were certainly no stands of classic Penguin books for under $10 when this was written.

All hunters of aged books quickly learn what to look for. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, you can find the thoughts of previous readers tucked away the the margins of the mottled pages. No need to click onto Wikipedia to explain these complex passages – someone else has already done it for you. I like knowing that a wise family member also stumbled over complex passages. If only I knew about this quant red-leather bound 1910 edition of Book One of Milton's Paradise Lost, complete with detailed analysis of the complex poem by an unknown owner. I’m sure I would have had less difficulty following the poem! Well to be honest I’d need a magnifying glass to decipher the miniscule handwriting, but at least the flowing cursive is lovely to look at!

Speaking of relatives, my great-grandfather was a teacher, Virgil’s Aeneid from 1901, with an index of Latin vocabulary that may prove useful for any forthcoming trivia night. This said great grandfather also possessed a copy of an arithmetic book from 1832. The book’s pages of mathematical tables certainly make me grateful for the invention of calculators. The inner cover has the handwriting of my great-great-grandfather writing how the book was owned by his father. You can even see several places where my great-grandfather wrote his name – it is reassuring that I’m not the only one who has often practiced different handwriting styles. I love looking over my collection of old books that provide hours of enjoyment, all without having to buy a single book!

I do realise that not everyone has my fortune of inherit treasured old books. There are many places to find great old books, or even just look at them. Your best bet for a 19th or early 20th century gem is at second-hand bookshops, antique shops, or best of all, in your elderly relative's bookcases. Most national and state libraries have a rare books reading room where you can look at some fragile texts. Make sure to handle with care, or you will risk the fury of protective librarians. It is nice to know that ther are some people out there that are more obsessed with old books than myself!