Friday, 28 April 2017

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ May 2017

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Abbey’s has sold a great many copies of The Word Detective: A Life in Words – from Serendipity to Selfie by John Simpson, former Chief Editor of The Oxford English Dictionary, or more colloquially the OED.

Not only are many of our customers wordy people, but here at Abbey’s we have a very special relationship with Oxford University Press, and also with Cambridge University Press. By special agreement, we have stocked every available title from these famous publishers. We have had a complete set of OED on our shelves, and in one magnificent moment even sold a leatherbound edition of the OED - I don’t think such a thing exists any more.

In the early days, we also had some of the limp fascicles that were published to keep people up to date while waiting for the real edition! Today you can subscribe to an online edition, which includes the Historical Thesaurus. You may even find that your library is a subscriber and you can access the OED there. Keep in mind the OED is a Historical Dictionary. Lexicographers search to find the first time a word was used - no simple task. The definition completes the task.

You will be amazed how much information is included in the online edition. Check it out for yourself. Meanwhile read this wonderful book, which is a mix of memoir and reference. John Simpson describes the work of the lexicographer and when he spies a tasty word, he takes time to digress and discuss just how this word was handled. So this is a book you can read bit by bit and enjoy the ride. Simpson uses his wry humour to describe his progress up the ranks in the dictionary underworld, culminating in the triumph of the online edition in March 2000. It is constantly updated. Have fun!

You can’t be interested in words and not know David CrystalHis books are as entertaining as they are instructive. Recent titles include: Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, Making a Point, The Story of English in 100 Words, and Spell It Out. More interesting to customers at Abbey’s could be The Oxford Illustrated Shakespearean Dictionary, written with his son Ben Crystal, or The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation or Think on My Words: Explaining Shakespeare’s Words. You can find these in our Shakespearean Studies section, where you will also find the plays, sonnets, cribs and audio books. Two more unusual titles you will find at Abbey’s are Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language and Tyndale’s Bible: St Matthews Gospel Read in the Original Pronunciation (audio book).

It’s not often that a novel is re-published in hardback fifty years after first publication.
The Watch Tower, Elizabeth Harrower’s distressing story of the psychological enslavement of two unfortunate sisters abandoned by their mother, is now available in a special hardback Collector’s Edition from Text Publishing. And to make it even more collectable, Elizabeth has been in to Abbey’s to sign copies of her book. It is a brilliant story of marital enslavement and the struggle to retain one’s sense of self. Both the hardback and paperback are available in Text Classics. Both include an introduction by Joan London.

I recommend, also in Text Classics, her three other novels written in the fifties – The Long Prospect, Down in the City and The Catherine Wheel – which have introductions by Fiona McGregor, Delia Falconer and Romana Koval respectively. More recent publications include In Certain Circles and A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories. This last title contains the fabulous story Alice, first published in the New Yorker.

I enjoyed reading John Meacham’s biography of the 41st President of the United States, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. I guess George H W is one of the last of that American class of true gentlemen, always working for the good of their country and caring for their people – Presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Who else could have had such preparation to become President? Member of Congress, Member of the Senate, Head of the CIA, Head of the Republican Party, Envoy to China and Vice President for two terms to the great hero Ronald Reagan. 

Well brought up, Bush was careful never to upstage Ronnie, although Nancy Reagan kept an eagle eye on everyone. Bush became a Texan businessman after service in the Air Force during the Second World War, but was brought up a New Englander – expected to succeed, but never ever to boast and always to be kind. One amazing impression I have gained is that American elections are a huge slog and cost enormous amounts of money! Where does it all come from? One more thing… although this is a very fat book (640 pages plus 240 pages of index, notes, bibliography and acknowledgements), it is a pleasure to read. Beautiful paper and nice typeface, it is best laid flat on a table while you read.

I really enjoyed Mark Colvin’s book Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s SonIt would be useful to read if you were also to see the terrific play at the Belvoir Theatre called, unexpectedly, Mark Colvin’s Kidney. Mark Colvin is the ABC’s longest serving and most influential radio broadcaster. He still fronts PM. His memoir focuses especially on his relationship with his somewhat distant but loved father, a British diplomat. He discovers his father is also a spy, which explains how he came to spend his school holidays with his father in Outer Mongolia! 

Colvin reported on many world-shattering events, such as the Rwanda crisis and the Iran hostage crisis. You will see flashbacks to these in the play, but in reality the background of the play refers to the phone-hacking crisis involving Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in the first decade of this century. The book and the play complement each other. Don’t miss them.

Have you noticed the photos of visiting authors which Craig takes and includes in our newsletters? We plan to create a place to show these permanently. I was surprised at one visiting author whose name is Malachy Tallack. He comes from the Shetland Islands, so I thought he was a bit out of his way! He is also a singer/songwriter. His first book, Sixty Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home, was greatly admired as both a memoir and a travel log. The 60th parallel touches lower Norway, Sweden and Finland, Greenland, Alaska and the great spaces of Canada and Russia. He describes these places in beautiful clear prose. Not surprisingly, he ends up in the Shetland Islands. 

His new book is The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes. Be careful how you say this because he means islands which were once “discovered”, either in myth or fact, but no longer exist. Quite a fascinating story. I remember I once thought I could see Atlantis from the coast of Cornwall while sleeping out under the stars. The book is most beautifully illustrated by Katie Scott and would make a special gift.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ March 2017

A new book from Michael Lewis is always a thrill.

His energetic dissection of financial booms and busts, always peopled with eccentric characters and amazing costs have all been bestsellers. Wall Street workers are usually anxious to know what he will write about next! This time prepare to be surprised – for The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed the World is about psychology (and of course mathematics). I am beginning to believe that all the problems of the world could be solved with an algorithm! It is a pity we don’t all speak that language.

This time Lewis is writing about two seemingly disparate Israeli scholars, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who together worked on how we make decisions, especially in uncertain conditions. Eventually, after the death of Amos, Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences (which he says was mostly for work he had done with Amos). This is not a book to be dipped into at bedtime – pay attention and work it out!

In typical Michael Lewis style, it is filled with anecdotes and character assessments, and somehow you can manage to understand the developments in cognitive psychology and how we make decisions, how we spend, how mistakes can be made in medicine or in basketball even.

Michael Lewis has thirteen other titles to his name, beginning with Liar’s Poker and including Flash Boys, The Big Short, Moneyball and The New New Thing as some of the books which have been made into movies. Terrific, entertaining reading, but this time you’ll have to work at it.

Here are two recommendations for readers interested in Literary Fiction. If your interest is in the writers of the thirties such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway you will of course be interested to read about their legendary editor at Scribers. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A Scott Berg is full of fascinating and useful information, not only about these famous authors but also about the world of literature generally. Hendrix Willem van Loon even gets a mention. Who has heard of him these days? (He wrote The Story of Mankind and other popular treatises).

The second book is by Elizabeth Strout and is called My Name is Lucy Barton. The novels by Elizabeth Strout are the sort of steady sellers which are usually recommended by one reader to another. If you don’t remember her name perhaps you remember the name Olive Kitteridge, which was the title of one of her earlier remarkable books and which won the Pulitzer Prize. Don’t miss this new one. It was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and I think it should win.

The story concerns a young woman whose rural childhood is indeed poverty-stricken, both emotionally and financially, but who later becomes a successful writer, wife and mother although, as her mother-in-law says, “she comes from nothing”. Heartbreakingly true writing. Two more of her books are Amy & Isabelle and The Burgess Boys. I’m going to read them now.

If you’ve been an Abbey’s customer for a long time you probably know we didn’t have a Sports section, despite intermittent calls for such stock. This has changed now and there is a Sports section near the information counter at the front of the store. I became aware of this when I wanted a book given a terrific review by Michael Heyward, the publisher at Text Publishing. It is called String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis with an introduction by John Jeremiah Sullivan. It is a very nice edition, green hardback with a fantastic photo of a tennis ball for the end papers - it would make a lovely gift for tennis fiends. There are five essays including a very funny one on David Foster Wallace’s own junior tennis career in the windy state of Illinois. Judging angles comes into it, so once again mathematics is useful. The final essay on Roger Federer is a gem, as is Roger Federer.

David Foster Wallace was famous for his novel Infinite Jestset in a drug rehabilitation centre in Boston, but he became more famous for his essays as a cultural critic. Two we have in stock are A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again or Consider the Lobster: Essays and Arguments!

You might find some other surprising titles in the Sports section such as a book on Australian Rules by Chip le Grand called The Straight Dope: The Inside Story of Sports Biggest Drug Scandal or The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert. I think there will be many people who would enjoy The Meaning of Cricket: or How to Waste Your Life on an Inconsequential Sport written by Jon Hotten, who is a rather famous cricket blogger. I liked this quote from the blurb: “Cricket is a team game entirely dependent on individual performance.”

I’m now going to read Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a New York Times bestseller. This looks fascinating. Lots of photographs, index, bibliography and 169 pages of notes. The blurb says “this is an affecting portrait of a man who, driven by destiny and duty, forever sought, ultimately, to put the country first” and goes on to say “should be required reading for every president-elect”. I don’t suppose it is much use offering it to Donald Trump.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Monday, 5 December 2016

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ December 2016

I fully recommend Mark Colvin’s journalistic memoir, Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son.

The ABC’S esteemed journalist has given us a potted history of the last fifty years as he describes the adventures of himself and others as well as a touching memoir of his youth and his relationship with his father who was, indeed, a spy.

Have you read any of the novels written by Elizabeth Jane Howard? They  are all set in the Home Counties among upper-middle class people (like herself), very observant and perceptive. They used to be regarded as romantic but as time passes her books are admired for the very truthful picture they paint of that sort of English family. The five books which make up the Cazalet Chronicles are The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change.

A TV version was made of the first two and I think now BBC radio is also broadcasting them. There are two collections of good short stories as well. They are called The Long View and Getting it Right. I’ve just read her biography Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence by Artemis Cooper and it is absolutely full of literary gossip.

She was always known as Jane, she was a prodigious entertainer and cook, still writing in her nineties and famous also for her three husbands and many lovers, who included Arthur Koestler, Laurie Lee and Cecil Day-Lewis (only the best literati). Her first husband was Peter Scott, (the birdlife man) and longest lasting third husband was Kingsley Amis. Martin Amis publicly thanks her for making sure he got a proper education. As he says, “rescuing me from the arms of Harold Robbins and such like”. Hilary Mantel is a fan.

Artemis Cooper, daughter of John Julius Norwich and granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, is of course in a good position to write such an enjoyable biography. Her previous effort was Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure which was the authorised biography of the greatest travel writer of the twentieth century, who was great pals with Lady Diana Cooper and Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, and lots of other women also.

Just out now you can have Dashing to the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor selected and edited by Adam Sisman (who recently wrote John le CarrĂ©: The Biography. His introduction to the letters, could serve you as a shortened version of the biography of the gad-about known as Paddy.

Frankly, I can see why he hadn’t finished the third volume of his account of his famous walk, in the Thirties, from London to Constantinople. He spent an awful lot of time writing letters – but rather wonderful letters. Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron (another great travel writer), finished the third volume for him after he died in his nineties. The three volumes are called A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.

For another amusing and interesting book from this time try Deborah Devonshire’s Wait for Me: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister. It was a New York Times Bestseller. Artemis Cooper is married to Antony Beevor with whom she wrote Paris after the Liberation: 1944-1949. I won’t go on about Antony Beevor, except to say ALL HIS BOOKS ARE GOOD. I am sure you know him.

Admirers of the writings of Jan Morris will pounce upon Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris by Derek Johns, who was her literary agent. For some, her most famous book is Conundrum describing her transition from male to female but I prefer her wonderful descriptions of places such as Oxford, Venice or Sydney, or Spain. She preferred not to be known as a travel writer because, as she said, she didn’t move around!

As James Morris she was known for many fascinating works of history including the Pax Brittanica Trilogy describing the British Empire. This is made up of Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress, then Pax Brittanica: The Climax of Empire and finally Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat. These will fit in nicely with Julia Baird’s wonderful new book on Victoria: The Queen - An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.

For a bit of satirical fun I recommend the latest adventures of Plant, Michael Wilding’s investigator who is now investigating decriminalisation of marijuana, In the Valley of the Weed.

Distinguished historian and intellectual Inga Clendinnen died recently. You will find all of her books available at Abbey’s varying from The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society and her essays Reading the Holocaust, Agamemnon’s Kiss, Tiger’s Eye: A Memoir, True Stories: On History, Truth, Aboriginality and Politics, Dancing with Strangers, about the arrival of settlers in Australia, even The History Question: Who Owns the Past? which appeared in a Quarterly Essay.

I was in Abbey’s for the launch of Naida Haxton’s memoir called Res Gestae: Things Done. Naida was the first practicing female barrister in Queensland and later became the Editor of the NSW Law Reports. Her book will inspire many more legal females.

The shop was looking lovely – absolutely full of books! Don’t forget that upstairs you can find Language Book Centre and Galaxy Bookshop for science fiction. If you want to use the lift ask one of the staff to show you where it is located in the lobby.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Lindy Jones picks her famous fives for 2016

December already?!! Whatever happened to the other months that were supposed to separate last year from this!

Even subtracting the four months I spent solidly reading for the Miles Franklin Award (and yes, the winner, Black Rock White City by A S Patric, I thoroughly recommend, as I would any of the short-listed titles) it seems far too soon to be contemplating end-of-year lists - but here goes!

And remember - you can always sit down with a cuppa and look through our Summer Reading Catalogue.

Five Books with Pictures for Children You Read To.

Lucy Ruth Cummins
A surprise ending and a surprise middle and such a LOT of fun to read out loud!

Jeannie Baker
The best book for young naturalists about migratory birds' flyways. These pictures are definitely worth more than a thousand words.

Brendan Wenzel
They did indeed - but does a child see a cat the same way a flea does? Or a dog or a bee or a mouse or a bird? A clever book about perception.

Jo Pritchard
A lovely first counting book with simple but sweet illustrations, featuring a male Satin Bowerbird decorating his bower.

June Factor & Alison Lester
First published in 1987, this sweet little book is a celebration of a special summer’s day.



Five Books with Pictures for Children who can read for themselves.

Judith Rossell
Delightful heroine, enthralling adventure, charming illustrations. A worthy sequel for the award-winning Withering-by-Sea.

Megan Shepherd
Heart-wrenchingly beautiful story guaranteed to move the tender young female reader. Sophisticated pencil drawings (by Levi Pinfold) that don’t condescend.

A F Harrold
A bullied girl. A boy who has a secret. Troll music and a shadow-munching cat. And more atmospheric illustrations by Levi Pinfold.

Richard Roxburgh
Yes, the talented actor wrote it. He also drew the pictures. And you know what? It's a funny story too.

Paul Jennings
The well-known author writing the sort of story that gained him legendary status, teamed with Craig Smith's humorous drawings.


Five Children's Books with Pictures to Give to Friends who Can Read For Themselves (because picture books shouldn't be exclusively for littlies).

A beautifully produced collection, which just goes to show how lucky generations of school kids, teachers, writers and illustrators are, to have had access to this magazine.

Danny Parker
Gloriously expressive illustrations by Freya Blackwood. A train journey or a metaphor for life and friendship or just a beautiful experience.

Guy Gordon
Sometimes you only pretend you aren't interested, sometimes there's a reason. A true friend persists in finding out, and helping. Clever mixed-media artwork.

Janet Hill
Twenty important lessons to ensure happiness, health and harmony for any pooch or person. Whimsical illustrations.

Jory John & Lane Smith
You think you have problems? Try being a penguin… particularly when interfering walruses give opinions! Try keeping a straight face reading this!



Five Books for adults with pictures that add to the enjoyment of reading.

Doug Purdie
When my garden consists of more than a dozen pots along the landing, this will be my bible. But even now, it is extremely useful. And beautifully photographed.

Caroline Eden & Eleanor Ford
I bought this for a friend but she’s not getting it! Onion Flatbread, Melting Potatoes with Dill, Sour Tomato Sauce, Shah’s Crown, Plov …and beguiling photos from the region make me want to go there. Now.

Ted Sandling
Okay, I don’t know anyone else who gets the same pleasure in gathering up odd bits and pieces, but this man does! And he understands their history! I want to go mudlarking on the Thames. Now!

Judith O’Callaghan, Paul Hogben, Robert Freestone
Interesting chapters cover all aspects historical, cultural and design-oriented, but it is the stunning photographs that draw you in.

Mark Avery
You didn’t think I wouldn’t include a bird book now would you?! A fabulous compendium with exquisite ornithological illustrations and engaging essays on different birds around the world.



Six Books that don't need pictures because the words are vivid enough!

Mairtin O’Cadhain
A rollicking romp entirely in colourful dialogue – and the characters are all dead and buried! Considered the greatest Irish-language novel of the 20th century, only recently translated into English.

Ann Patchett
What happens when a bottle of gin is taken to a christening party? Wonderful characters, an interesting structure and a totally satisfying read.

Maria Semple
Takes place over a single day, but what a day! Clever, observant, witty, poignant, fabulous!

Jess Kidd
A truly intriguing structure revealing in tantalising fragments the story of a girl’s disappearance, a young man’s quest and the eccentric characters in a scenic Irish village.

Melina Marchetta
'Pick it up, can’t put it down' stuff. A sidelined policeman, a bomb attack on a bus full of students including his daughter, a link to a notorious terrorist attack of the past… a great blend.

Mena Calthorpe
Text Classics #100: a long-lost novel that wonderfully evokes post-war Sydney, full of recognisable characters and vivid descriptions.



Five Books that don't need pictures (because the words are everything!)

Oxford University Press
Two volumes, chock-a-block full of schmick Australian words. Every lover of words NEEDS this.

Maxine Beneba Clarke
A poet’s sensibility, a young girl’s cry of pain, a woman’s search for strength. And a thoughtful examination of prejudice.

Helen Garner
Essays and articles and polished, expressive, perfect prose.

Stan Grant
Passionate, personal, powerful. Thoughtful, thought-provoking. Essential reading. If there aren’t answers yet, then we should still keep asking the questions until there are.

(Ed: Stan Grant won the 2016 Walkley Book Award with this memoir.)

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers