Thursday, 30 May 2013

Australian Penguin Not Very Australian

The Pink and the Brown by Hugh Atkinson
Published by Gollancz in 1957
This copy published by Penguin Books 1965  No. 2655 (Australian Penguin No. AU 16)

Counts as Century of Books Challenge for 1957

This book is part of my vintage Penguin books collection.  It is interesting because as part of the main series of the 3000 + books Allen Lane published this one was number 2655.  But lo and behold when I opened it I saw it was also numbered as an Australian Penguin published as AU 16 though no recognition of that on the spine of the book as with the other AU series.  Just goes to show the English were wanting to get those Aussie books out there but still futzing around a bit as I have written about previously.

 It really does seem as though Penguin just thought they should keep the Colonials happy and stick an AU on any one of their books they felt like. Penguin Poets has one, Penguin Plays has one and on it goes so now I am really on a mission to find all of the missing Penguin Australian books.  Guess they thought they'd kill two birds with one stone and whack both a British number and an Australian number on to it. Or is that kill two emus….something about a bird in the hand is as good as two in the bush…however I am getting side tracked.

This is an interesting book to have published as an Aussie book.  Penguin didn't publish a lot in the Australian series and also interesting this book is written by an Australian novelist at the time who later left and settled in London (of course).  The entire book takes place in India so although it is an absolutely stunner of a book looks like the Australian culture still wasn't being represented very well by Allen Lane and his ilk.

Now on to the book.

The book is written as a biography although for the life of me I can't work out if it was a true record or a fictional account. I imagine it is a novel but I could be wrong.

I have searched the internet and I keep coming up with Kate Atkinson because Life after Life is so popular at the moment and then of course there is Rowan Atkinson, our dear old Mr. Bean.  

Hugh Atkinson was a journalist who lived in Sydney, he wrote several books all of which are listed on Wikipedia as I can't find much other information on him yet I am quite curious about him.  

The year is 1955 and it is during the time of recent independence from Britain of the Indian continent. However Goa is still under Portuguese rule and in 1955  a group of unarmed civilians called the Satyagrahis demonstrated against Portugal.  It was meant to have been a time of non violent protest and both men and women were involved. However the entire movement turned into large riots where quite a few people ended up being murdered.
I seem to get a lot of help when I get the
camera out.

This is the background of the narrative. Nehru was in office at the time and eventually in December 1961, Indian troops crossed the border into Goa and the final result was the unconditional surrender of Portuguese forces. A referendum and vote then allowed Goa to become an autonomous, federally administered territory.

Now this may sound all very dry but the book is anything but. The main protagonist is introduced to us at the beginning as he attends a cocktail party held by those people working for Eastern Oil.  The food served, the guests, all British with the exception of a few servants are established firmly in our mind and of course our expectations are met as to how the scenario plays out. British colonialism may be at an end formally but change takes awhile and the differences between the Pink and the Brown of course are very much outlined.  Peter Boyd is the only Australian amongst the Brits and the Indians and the story is told from his perspective of both cultures.

He falls in love with a young Indian woman who is very political and is intent on marching as part of the Satyagrahis demonstration. The men folk try very hard to stop her but of course women are trying to become more independent and have more of a voice in their country.  All of the British characters are in place such as they would be in any movie that takes place in India starring Maggie Smith. Racism continues to be rampant on both sides.

The story is a familiar one but the writing (in my opinion) is wonderful.  The story moves along, the issues are outlined well, the characters are well developed and there is a great deal of suspense at the end.  Read below for an example of this wonderful author's writing. 

There is a time before the monsoon breaks, when the dark and passionate Indian tides squeeze the heart as palpably as a hand. The heat is intolerable, an almost physical presence, like the body-warmth of a monster, crushing, foetid, sickening. The countryside lies stunned, scorched bare, screwed to the limits of endurance. For weeks the trade winds whip in the black rain-clouds out of the Arabian Sea. Day by day they pile up, thicker, blacker, pressing lower on the city, fretting the nerves with their inner cores of turbulence. The crows, grey with dust, perch panting, their beaks agape. The beggars whine with red-rimmed eyes. The Europeans reel from their flats to their offices, from their offices to their clubs in the intense and vicious irritation which becomes the characteristic, indelible mark which India prints on every foreign brow.

As many people in Australia and other sub tropical to tropical climates know, the build up to the monsoons is always difficult and it really is as if a human presence is amongst us.

Then the rains come:

The hot, restless street life had gone to shelter, washed out by the rains. Day and night it beat down on the city, flooding the streets, stalling the traffic. The storm drains filled and choked with the filth and refuse of months, coughing back the overflow in rivers, turning low lying districts into lakes and streets into canals that only the gharries could travel through, the worn out horses over their knees and up to their bellies in the swirling muddy tides. The office workers waded in black forests of umbrellas, drenched and coughing, and indoors the mould grew in cupboards, mushroomed on shoe leather, soaked mattresses as though with perspiration.  The pavement sleepers, the refugees and the homeless had miraculously disappeared, like English flies in winter, gone into cracks, under stairways, into lavatories. Somewhere. Anywhere.

I absolutely loved this old Penguin and even though it is an Aussie Penguin that has little to do with Australia except for the writer. I forgive Allen Lane for publishing it under our briefest of lists of books.  I will be interested to get out some of my reference books on Australian Lit and see what else I can learn about this lovely Sydney writer who sadly passed away in 1994.  Evidently some films were made from his books including this one I believe and I will be looking into to check that out. Would love to see what the film makers did with it.

Has anyone else ever heard of this writer?  

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

An Autumn Clean Up of All Things Books

Now that winter is on its way here in the southern hemisphere it is time to start thinking about what I might do to keep from going stir crazy over these darker months.  We are fortunate that we don't get much snow here but the days are short and the winds off the Southern Ocean very cold. After all Antarctica is the next stop south of Tasmania.

I decided to redo this blog and have a good think about the direction I take it.  Yes I am an avid vintage Penguin book collector. The main reason I collect these books is because the social history they tell of the 20th century is great.  They are also disappearing from our earth at an alarming rate because they are after all quite delicate paperback books.  Do I wish to read all of them? No.  I wish to pass on to another person one day a really lovely collection of first published Penguin books in the hope that whoever inherits this collection will continue to be its keeper for another couple of generations or so.

I read enough Buddhist texts to understand the laws of impermanence so I know that one day they will all turn to dust along with the rest of the world.  So I can't be too precious about them.

I also collect a few old books of American authors.  I like Uncle Tom's Cabin and authors John Steinbeck and Jack London.  I keep my really lovely older books in the hallway as there isn't much light there and I like seeing my American heritage as I enter the front doorway into our home.  All of the Penguin books are brightly displayed in the front bedroom which should be our larger master bedroom but instead is the library and computer room. I am currently reorganising Penguin shelves to photos of that later.

Another collection of books I have that many people don't know about is everything that William Horwood has published in a first edition. A still living English author I never read anything about him anywhere online.  He wrote the Duncton Quest fantasy series and the main reason I began collecting them is because, one, they are affordable, two, I love the large chunky sized hard covers with the beautifully illustrated dust jackets.  He also did a series of books following Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. I generally don't like it if an author follows up with another author's works but these books are delightful.

I have a good collection of old dog adventure stories that I collect from the 1800's to 1950. I mainly collect those because I love the illustrations especially those of the English illustrator Cecil Aldin. He is becoming very collectable these days and I can't afford many of the prints but the books are still within reach.

I have been so obsessed with my Penguin books that I haven't given much time to the other books I love just as much.

But back to the new directions of my blog.  I am hoping to post up more often during the winter.  I also hope to share more unusual interests I have in books besides my Penguins and general things I read.  I love the quirky, I love American literature and I'm wanting to explore more Australian Lit.  Most of the blogs I follow tend to feature a great deal of English lit and writers and personally I'm wanting to read  more American Lit and also translated fiction.

Short stories are something I don't read a lot of and I have a bit of a hankering (love that term) to get into them as well and if I really get ambitious I might revisit some American poetry.  I need to wake myself up, wake up Travellin' Penguin a bit and find something to study that I think others might also find interesting.

I will still include little stories of the furballs I live with and might even do a proper introduction of them. Maybe a feature here and there of each one individually because they really are quite the characters.

The Penguin hunting will continue on motorbike trips but the bikes are so heavy with all the gear we wear in the winter time might not be able to put too many books on the machine.  So I'm hoping the winter stays bright with interests and with long nights the seasonal affective disorder doesn't get  me.

I am going to the USA to visit family and friends for the month of November later this year and hopefully will find some interesting things in the book shops.  More on that closer to the date.

Well as it's going on 4:00 pm, my dog Wally who can tell time is reminding me it's his dinner hour so I'd better pay attention and do something about it or he really will make a nuisance of himself.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Bill Bryson- Funniest Guy on Earth? My thoughts.

I just read Simon's of Stuck in a Book's post (here) about having difficulty coming at books that get so much media hype and stay at the top of best seller's lists.  I have always been a bit like this with Bill Bryson.  I just finished A Walk in the Woods by him published in 1998.  This one will do nicely for that year on my Century of Books Challenge.

I decided to get this from the library when I saw it on the shelf for the main reason I do love travel stories.  I also enjoy travel tales especially if by foot, bicycle or motorbike.  The Appalachian Trail has always appealed to me.  I have not been on it personally but I do remember travelling the Blue Ridge Parkway once. We also visited the beautiful White Mountains in New Hampshire a long time ago. Oh, yes and I remember my husband and I spent a disastrous honeymoon in the Smoky Mountains in a tent outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the pouring rain about 42 years ago.  So it is an area of the USA I am familiar with.

I decided I'd give this book my standard 60 to 100 pages and by page 5 I had tears in my eyes from laughter. I have read Bryson's  The Lost Continent about his childhood in the midwest and found that extremely funny yet by the end of it I thought there was just too much "funny."  I was getting weary.  Sometimes I think a good thing can be overdone.   I didn't find that concept quite so much in the reading of this book. I felt he wasn't looking for a laugh a minute through out the entire book.

I enjoyed his research about the trail and learned quite a bit of historical facts about the area and I laughed at his description of preparing for the trip and what to do if he encountered bears.  Encounters with bears were very much on his mind in the days leading up to the beginning of his journey.

For those who aren't familiar with this tale Bill Bryson decides to walk the 2200 miles distance of the Appalachian Trail that begins in the state of Georgia in the southern USA and finishes in New Hampshire in the northeast of the country. There are many mountain ranges and dark forests to traverse and it is possible to encounter bears, mountain lions and other very strange humans.  He was walking through 'Deliverance' country after all in parts of northern Georgia.

As he began thinking of the enormous scope of this project he decided to send out a note in his Christmas cards asking if anyone would go with him.  No one responded but later an old mate of his, Stephen Katz, thereafter known as just Katz,  whom he hadn't seen in more than 25 years rang up out of the blue and said he'd love to go.  Bryson grew up with Katz in Iowa and only had young adult/childhood memories of him.

The first question Bryson asked Katz was, " What kind of shape are you in?" The reply, "Real good. I walk everywhere these days."  "Really?" This is most unusual in America.  "Well they repossessed my car, you see." "Ah."

Several weeks later Bryson and his wife picked him up from the airport in New Hampshire where he lives.

Katz was arrestingly larger than when I had last seen him. He had always been kind of fleshy, but now he brought to mind Orson Welles after a very bad night. He was limping a little and breathing harder than one ought to after a walk of 20 yards. "Man, I'm hungry," he said without preamble, and let me take his carry on bag, which instantly jerked my arm to the floor. "What have you got in here?" I gasped. "Ah just some tapes and shit for the trail. There a Dunkin' Donuts anywhere around here? I haven't had anything to eat since Boston." 
"Boston? You've just come from Boston?" "Yeah, I gotta eat something every hour or so or I have, whaddayacallit, seizures." This wasn't quite the reunion scenario I had envisioned. I imagined him bouncing around on the Appalacian Trail like some wind-up toy that had fallen on its back."

They were about to be immersed into the wilderness in three days time so this pretty much gives you an idea of what this trek may be about.

I think a lot of people have romantic ideas of adventures on long walking trails maybe on the Appalachian Trail or across the UK or somewhere in Europe and whenever I think of trips such as this I think of really wild wilderness.  Okay, there were bears and other animals they were likely to run into but the number of people they encountered really put me off.   If I'm going to walk in the wilderness I don't want to run into a lot of people. I don't want to have to stay in the hut I'm told to stay in and I certainly wouldn't want to be told where I had to pitch my tent.  But the rules and regulations of this trip due to overpopulation and regulations by the National Park Service put me off ever wanting to do it.

I think that is probably due to my mindset now I am no longer only an American, plain and simply, but an American Australian being more Australian these days having lived here so long.  Here when you're in the wilderness you're in the wilderness whether it be rain forest or outback.  You don't run into other people. Perhaps you'd want to run into one or two, especially if they knew where they were and had great map reading skills and big bottles of water. But other than that wilderness here is really wilderness. You can always tell true wilderness here b/c some idiot will want to put a mine in the middle of it or cut all the trees down and you'll probably only see people who will be living in the trees to stop that.  The other thing I found really disconcerting about Bryson's trip is they came to highways a lot.  One minute in the middle of nowhere and the next there was a highway.

I loved his commentary (mostly negative) about the cutbacks in the American Parks services and the history of the tree felling in North America in general.  I also agreed with his environmental views and felt his angst at how so much of the wonderful North American wilderness has been developed especially with so many roads going everywhere and recreational developments.  At least Australia hasn't caught up with that yet but give them time and some more people and I can see it happening here as well.

But I digress.  I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the descriptions of the people he met. I felt like I was with him as I walked the trail. I admired the stamina of both of them especially Katz. I really didn't think Katz was going to last but to his credit he did quite well.  Some of the people they met on the trail and in the small towns they sheltered in were hilarious. The conditions were atrocious at times and yet they kept walking.

Bryson knows how to describe people and make each individual really stand out and his knowledge of the area was impressive. He'd done his homework.  He perhaps could have had a bit less of the evangelising regarding the environmental concerns. I got that pretty quickly but overall I enjoyed his writing and no one could doubt his passion for the environment.

If you've been in a funk and need something to make you laugh and see the ridiculousness in life then I feel Bryson could be your man.

Sunday, 12 May 2013


Yes I have been reading. Trying to get into a new crime book that's been put forward by the book group I'm in. Also someone loaned me the Language of Flowers which I'm looking forward to and I see I have 4 books that have come in at the library that I need to pick up.

But the past week has been a distraction.  As people who know me know I am in a motorbike group that rides every Sunday and also participate in a lot of social activities.  Well unfortunately one of our members was in a tragic accident last Sunday and sadly he did not survive it.  So thoughts of this very tragic event will not leave my mind.

Yes it is a high risk sport however anyone who would have been in the same place at the same time whether they be in a car, a bike or a horse or even walking probably would have been hit by this idiot who decided to pass a slow moving caravan in front of him without adequately looking to see if anyone was coming towards him.  Enough said on that. 

All of us will be back to normal and riding again and most of us have already been out on our bikes this week.  I remember having a very bad fall in my kitchen when I ran to answer the phone one afternoon, barefoot and one of my animals had taken the liberty of having a little accident on the lino floor and I went flying across the kitchen, knocking into all kinds of cabinets.  It just shows these things can happen anywhere and one cannot live life in fear.

So I have been reading and I have wanted to put up a book post though there have been several days I thought I'd just hit the delete button and not worry about Travellin' Penguin anymore. However the little guy makes me laugh, keeps me focused and I also am reminded when I've been reading well and frequently as opposed to doing sweet bugger all and getting lazy.  This week I have been lazy. However I have finished other jobs I needed to do.

On a funny note I typed up a letter for a neighbour who is fighting the city council over a tree and she doesn't have a computer. I told her I'd be happy to type up the letter and print it out for her. All of 5 minutes work really.

But the next day she arrived with a lovely bottle of red wine and this funny gift cat book. I sat down with it and had a look and it really does amaze me how many quirky, very silly gift books do get published.  I think there is something about cats and cat people that they will accept anything in the name of a cat if they are in fact cat lovers which both she and we are very much.  I always laugh at how many book bloggers love their animals but many seem to have cats.

So this is my book of the week. I know , I know, not a whole lot of substance but my past week hasn't had a lot of substance and I'm a firm believer we should read what makes us happy at the time.  It really is quite astounding when one walks into a book shop and sees how many little gift books (as I call them) there are.  No doubt people receive these types of books all of the time. Christmas, birthdays, Mother's Day, Easter....they abound.  There is always a bit of a laugh involved and one realises it is nice to have friends who take the time to shop for these little things. They also come in different sizes from very small to quite tall as this cat book is.  What do people think of them?  They're cute and I enjoy them though I do realise once a big cull is in order from time to time some of them do quietly disappear when I know the giver may have forgotten it should be on my shelf.  I guess gift books won't make it to e-Books anytime soon. Kind of defeats their purpose. Any other ideas on these? 

Well, enjoy these photos of various cat patterns one is able to make for their cat if they are so inclined. Personally my cat would slap me silly if I put one of these hats on his head.

I will be back soon with a more substantial post and more of a 'real' book, whatever one's definition is of that.  I have enjoyed very much reading all of the blog posts I follow regularly on this site and they have inspired me to jump back in and pick up some more substantial books. I'll get the library books on Tuesday and might share them with you.  I'll also finish up this crime book I'm reading for the book group. No ideas on it yet.  Until then..... 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Australian Penguins- Starting on the List

AU 10
AU 15
Anybody who follows anything I do in life knows much of it centres around collecting Vintage Penguin Books.  My main aim is to complete as comprehensive a list of these books in the various series.  It is a lifelong project but if I manage to keep them out of landfill for yet some time I will be happy. 
Today I'd like to share the Australian published Penguins I own.  At first I didn't take much notice of them but then when I realised I kept finding books in the tip shop which is the main entrance to landfill I started picking them up.

Gathering these books is like walking along a country lane picking up stray kittens. They all get home, some I find other homes for but most of them I keep.  It's when I look at them really hard, meet their author descriptions and admire their covers that make me name them (catalogue onto The Library Thing) and give them permanent homes until one of us becomes too foxed or tattered to go on.

AU 1
AU 2
One of the interesting things about the Oz Penguin books that I have observed is that they are not in a simple list such as the main series of the orange, green, blue, green, yellow, red and grey Penguins, all neatly colour coded into their various genres.

Instead it is as if the publishers of the day decided around a table as if to say, "Okay we need some Australian Penguins and Australia having been the poor relatives of England for so many years - We're over that now you know) thought ...An Australian Pelican, An Australian Poets Book, An Australian Song Book, An Australian  Fiction title, An Australian Penguin Play Book. All of this equals the Australian series.

AU 9
AU 3
Although I am certain to have a more comprehensive list of all of the Australian Penguins that were published somewhere in my files,  I am printing only the ones I currently own at this time. So far all of them are first published ones with the exception of one and no doubt I'll replace that copy one of these days.

I'm going to post up the Australian Penguin list on my blog through a link below and continue to add them as I find them.  It is always a lot of fun to be in an op shop or even a lovely second hand book shop and see the little label on the spine AU with a number surrounded by the Aussie boomerang.

Hopefully I will continue to add to this collection and the information about it as I go.

If anyone knows of additional titles of these books please let me know and I will add the information to the list. This will no doubt continue to be a work in progress.  Enjoy the diversity that yet again encompasses these lovely publications in so many ways.
AU 4
My list of Australian Books can be seen here