16 June 2006

First edition, first print

There's this really old Garfield poster that says something like: "The material things in life aren't important to me, but I do like the stuff".

I collect things I like. When I was young, I used to collect tiny shards of ceramic tile from building sites. I used to collect the liners from soft drink bottles, when they had promotional copy on them. For a while, I used to collect badges and pins. Old coins. Stamps. But as you grow older, your collections change, become more sophisticated, somehow. You grow bored with bottle liners and become interested in books and records. Things you can only have by exchanging money for them. You turn away from being a mere collector to being a completist. This is dangerous territory; a land inhabited by madmen, human squirrels, anoraks, artefact smugglers. Passionate folk, understandably, but quite, quite insane.

Wouldn't we all like to own first edition, signed copies of things like Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (worth about £600 mint condition) or George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (worth about £4500 mint condition) or even Bram Stoker's Dracula (about £20000 mint condition)? Frankly, possessing such treasures would give me a nervous breakdown (is there too much humidity in the room? the dust jackets must be protected from fading by sunlight! are they insured? no, don't touch those!). So therefore I do not collect rare and valuable books - we'll conveniently forget about the affordability of the price tags and my current state of solvency. Most of my small collection of books is comprised of paperbacks. I like these immensely: they're easier to hold whilst reading, are cheaper and stack well on the shelf. Also, there's none of the fuss about whether it's a true first edition and all that nonsense.

For those of you who are interested in whether a book will be worth anything, here are some handy hints. A true first edition is actually the first edition, first print of a book. Second and third printings may look identical, but will be worth less because they do not represent the original state of the book. Check the publishing history page of the book: most books from the latter part of the 20th century onwards have a strike through line. It's the line of numbers that usually looks something like this: 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1 . The lowest number you can see is the number of the print run. The paperback copies of Labyrinth by Kate Mosse in the shop at the moment have a strike through line that reads 15 17 19 20 18 16 14 . These copies are from the fourteenth print of the paperback. Sometimes there'll be a single number, as in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist: 44 . The instant you walk out of a bookshop with a paperback, it's worth much less. This is because you've turned it into a second hand book by buying it and there are a million others like it.

Hardcovers may sometimes appreciate in value the longer you keep them, but not all hardcovers. The trick comes in knowing which ones will become valuable. If it says New York Times Bestseller on the front, it's not a first edition. Debut novels by authors who will eventually become famous are usually valuable to collectors. Acclaim adds value as much as does exclusivity. Often these will have very small initial print runs, the publishers being cautious with new talent. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (500 copy first print run) versus Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (10.8 million copy first print run) is a very good example. Bet you wish you hadn't waited for Smith's White Teeth or Mitchell's Ghostwritten to come out on paperback, now don't you! In reality it is nearly impossible to know intuitively whether a debut novelist will make it big later on.

I collect things I like. I listen to the records I buy and I read the books I buy (or plan to read, at least!). I'd feel too sorry for a really precious hardcover to even open it. Paperbacks come in wonderfully designed covers, especially when they form part of a series. I've discovered many awesome books and authors by collecting other titles in a series: the essential.penguin series of the late '90s comes to mind. I wouldn't have known about the joys of Carson McCullers without it. Admit it now: how many of you were first drawn to the books of David Mitchell by the amazingly well designed covers? In some cases you can judge a book by its cover - moreover, a book can be judged by its publisher. Good publishers and theirs editors can throw money into making their products look good. Certain kinds of books are targeted to a certain audience by how they look. If you want to stay away from mass market fiction, don't read books where the name of the author is printed bigger than that of the book, or those that have the name of the author in giant embossed gold lettering. Et cetera, et cetera.

In the end, a collection of anything is only worth something if it has been assembled with love and passion, and yes, maybe even a touch of madness. It should be amassed by the collector for the collector, not to impress friends or according to some fashion. A good collection will reflect the compulsions of its custodian. A good collection is the most sincere self-portrait anybody could make.

9 June 2006

A list of favourites and things

Thanks, Arcadia! You know I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to compile another list!

1.Three best films you’ve recently watched:

  • Capote
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Walk the Line (who notices that I haven't gone to the cinema much of late?)
2. Three favourite songs at the moment:
I'm quite drawn to pieces with really lush arrangements again; that wall of sound that you can listen to on repeat for hours, picking out new things you've not noticed before. This is one of the reasons why I like Depeche Mode so much. Endless variety, yet all tied together by theme and subject matter.
  • John the Revelator by Depeche Mode - so damn powerful and probably not unrelated to the whole Judas Gospel/Da Vinci Code controversy
  • Mising Piece by Recoil - the electric violin gets me every time
  • My Joy by Depeche Mode - the glory of infatuation turned up until the knob falls off
3. Favourite dessert
My mother makes this yummy malvapoeding which is absolutely fantastic.

4. Your favourite two physical attributes
a) of yourself

  • I like my scary green eyes
  • I think I've got good legs
b) of a partner

  • Good dental health
  • Absence of dandruff, skin diseases, viral infections, etc. (a slight limp is okay)

5. The ultimate unforgiveable act in your book is:
Violence and infidelity in a marriage. How do people who are so exactly wrong for one another tend to end up together so often? I'm surprised the divorce rate isn't higher. Don't go back to him, girls! The best prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour. Oh, and persons who commit offences against children must be removed from society.

6. If someone had to dress up as you, what would you give them to wear?
Thumb ring and cuff-strapped Fossil watch are prerequisite attire. I like wearing green, but exactly what kind depends on my mood. I tend to cycle between nerdy pseudo-emo sweater vest outfits with hideous Converse hi-tops and my (probably laughable) attempts at turning myself into the ambient trip-hop DJ of my dreams, i.e. Adidas sneakers and hideous shirts. I don't have good taste, but at least it's my own.

7. Three favourite magazines:

  • National Geographic is a good read with stunning photography. And it's not biased in any way, oh no, not at all ;-) .
  • Plant Cell, because I want to be published in it one day.
  • Die Huisgenoot, because I can read the whole thing in 2 minutes (that's if you skip all the advertorials, gossip, fashion and sob stories nobody could possibly be interested in, boys and girls!).
8. A newly acquired bad habit:
I actually think it's a good habit; I've given my circadian clock free reign. I go to bed at about 22:30 and wake up at about 7:30. Naturally, without an alarm clock (the most hated invention ever). This way, I get my required amount of R.E.M. cycles and also get to drive to the University when all of the morning rush hour traffic has dissipated into little old ladies driving to their knitting circles. It looks like I'm not a morning person, after all. And I get to have the lab all to myself at night (no, I don't do cloning in the nude).

9. Dream house, described in a few sentences:
Aaah. Besides a fantastic tropical garden designed by
Made Wijaya himself, there are three things I'd like. A conservatory in the Victorian style, where I'll grow my specialist collection of Andean and New Guinea orchids. A library/study which will house my ever-growing collection of books. You must employ a ladder to reach the topmost tomes. The library will have low lighting and dark wood finishings in the colonial style and also house my collection of archeologial artefacts and ammonite fossils. The rest of the house will be modern and minimalist, open and full of light. I shall make piles of money and purchase extravagantly expensive artworks. The third thing I desire is a completely white, square room to be used as a decompression chamber. This is where the SACD player will be.

10. You take five people to a deserted island.....who are they? (and does each one have a purpose or not?).
Wait, am I also on the island? Or do I get to be the observer in a white lab coat making notes on their behaviour? And then sell it to a television network? Okay, let's see...
  1. A doctor (I watch Lost, so I know this is a good idea).
  2. Wisened old crone to spout aphorisms Oprah-style.
  3. Hilarious (but unlovely) guy for comedic relief.
  4. Ratings-grabbing romantic interest for doctor person.
  5. Fat kid to eat in case of famine.

Another Blog Interview (as told to Kirstin)

1. Have you ever been hooked on any reality tv show?
I love Survivor. It is society on a micro-scale, with all of the petty rivalry, jealousy and deception of Lord of the Flies. And the locations are great. I loved the one where they swam with the Mastigias jellyfish in Palau. I've always wanted to do that. The games they give them to play are really cool (and I always think I'd be able to play them faster or more intelligently). Oh, and the contestants are often nice to look at, too.

2. If you have to choose (and, you do have to choose!) who is your one favourite person in the world, who you could stand to be stuck in an elevator with for.. 7 days? (That's a long time.)
My favourite person in the world is Anna. I've known her longer than anybody - we went to the same school. She's the single most optimistic, bright, funny, intelligent, kind person I've ever met. She knows more about me than anybody else and I trust her completely. We might be stuck in a very confined space for a long time, but we'll find something to laugh about.

3. Remember the last time you were so FURIOUS you wanted to scream... What happened? (As in, what caused you to be so angry? Also, did you punch the wall? (Some guys do that.))
Last weekend at the bookshop one of the guys from the Seattle Coffee shop next door came in to ask me to help him fix a printer jam on their cash register. So I go over to see if I can help out. I tell the Seattle people that I don't think I can fix it and that they'll need to shut down and restart their cash register. As I'm standing there, fiddling with the ink cartridge and the roll of paper, this damn woman shouts at me: "Can you hurry up? We're still waiting here. Just pull out my receipt or something". I was quite upset. Here I am, doing people a favour in a shop where I'm not even employed and this woman is shouting at me. I looked her right in the eye for a moment, turned around and went back to the counter of the bookshop. Right then another customer started a shouting match with Matthew, because he refused to sign his debit card slip even though it's in his own best interest to do so. I went into the back office and did a little screaming of my own that day. I'm not a wall-punching kind of guy. As Daffy Duck said: "I'm not like other people. I can't stand pain. It hurts me".

4. Cats or dogs?
Dogs. Cats have hideous personalities and make me itch. Garfield is much cooler than Snoopy, though.

5. Summer or Winter? (Or Spring or Autumn!?)
I think I'm pretty much an autumn person. Good cocooning weather. I like the turning of the leaves, the warm days and cool nights. People dress more stylishly. And orchids come into bloom after the summer growing season. If I can just discover a way to eradicate autumn colds and 'flu, it would be perfect.

2 June 2006

In The Greenhouse (06/06)

Somehow, there's always a month where not much is happening, even though it's supposedly peak orchid season. This is probably due to the fact that subtle changes in weather patterns sync up all the plants in my greenhouse and under shade net outside in the cold. The autumn flowering has come and gone. Lots of buds promise beauty for late winter and early spring, but at the moment it is kind of quiet. I'll get some photos and comments up about the Winter Show of the Orchid Society of the Northern Transvaal which will be running from 30 June to 2 July. I think that this will more than make up for this month's modest offerings.

Cymbidium Leodogran Cradlemont. I inherited this orchid from my aunt when she moved to George. Cymbidiums are notoriously difficult to flower at the seaside, where the maritime climate prevents the large differences in day and night temperatures that these denizens of the Himalaya foothills require. This cultivar received an award of merit from the
American Orchid Society. It's a strong grower and very floriferous. The flowers tend to cluster together - although this may just be because of the way I grow it. It is highly fragrant, a heady combination of halva and frangipani (well, that's how I would describe it). Scented Cymbidiums are quite rare and to find one that is also something to look at is rather special.

Potinara Atomic Mushroom. Yummy. Potinara is the name given to a hybrid between four completely different (yet related) genera: Cattleya, Laelia, Brassavola and Sophronitis. The result is usually a compact-growing plant with brightly coloured flat flowers. This one does what it says on the packet, exploding with the nuclear colours seen in Hiroshima, Bikini Atoll and in the Nevada desert. And it's tiny. The flowers only measure about 4cm across.

Dendrobium Dal's Glory x Blue Twinkle. A cross that hasn't been registered with it's own name yet. The flowers are not as large or rounded as some of the more commonly seen hardcane Dendrobiums, but the intensity of colour delivers impact nevertheless. This is one of the few hardcane Dendrobiums I keep under shade net - it doesn't seem to mind the cold and I do think the colours are that bit darker because of it.

Jumellea arachnantha. This thing was impossible to photograph well, because the plant is enormous and obscured by various other things. The species name means 'spider-flower' and is quite apt. This species comes from the Comoros, a group of islands off the east coast of Africa. It is a beautiful plant with long strap-shaped leaves held in a fan shape. During winter a multitude of white flowers emerge from the leaf bases, carried singly by thin inflorescences about 20cm long.