Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937 / 1993)
The story is of Wednesday, half-sister of Ronald Gilfillan, a comfortable conforming New Zealander with "a quarter-acre section neatly fenced". Having consulted Madame Mystera, a fortune-teller of Freemans Bay, and been told that fortune, lovers and children are ahead of her, Wednesday takes a ticket in a lottery. She wins £25,000.- Joan Stevens. The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965. 1961. Rev. ed. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. REED, 1966.
Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937 / 1989)
One of the nicest things about Wednesday's Children - for an Aucklander, at any rate - is the vision it provides of our lost city of the past.
I remember, for example, a daring weekend sail in my father's family-sized 16-foot yacht out into the Hauraki Gulf. We ended up landing on the far end of Browns Island, the only portion which can be safely approached from the sea, due to the skein of reefs that surrounds it.
We had to scale a fairly steep cliff to emerge out into the open fields, the ones which look so attractive from a distance, but which turned out to be quite swampy when experienced up close.
After that the wind got up, and we couldn't make it back through the outgoing tides at the head of the harbour. We were forced to anchor the yacht off Mission Bay and row our way forlornly by dinghy to shore. My father sailed the boat back to his mooring in Ngataringa Bay next day single-handed.
So when I read about Wednesday Gilfillan's residence on Brown's Island it immediately struck a chord. Mind you, I wouldn't fancy rowing out there in a tiny dinghy on a regular basis - but it's by no means an impossible feat.
Freemans Bay, Auckland (1900s)
And then there's Wednesday's part-time gig as a fortune-teller in Freemans Bay. Robin Hyde's descriptions of its tight-packed streets and working men's houses certainly allow her to channel her inner city-beat reporter. Has it changed much? Profoundly, I fear. Which makes her pen-portrait even more valuable.
It's nice to know that there are still a few vintage bookshops in the glitzy surrounds of Ponsonby / Grey Lynn. How they manage to survive is beyond me. But I suppose there must be enough people out there who savour the unique odour of mould and bookdust to keep them in business. All power to them!
Robin Hyde: Wednesday's Children (1937)
I remember once coming up to the counter in this shop with an armful of books, only to be asked: "What is it, exactly, you do?"
I must have looked a bit bemused, so the owner went on to explain that she found it very difficult to square such very disparate purchases with one another.
John Clute & Peter Nicholls, ed.: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1999)
Clute, John, & Peter Nicholls, ed. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 1979. 2nd ed. Contributing Editor Brian Stableford. Technical Editor John Grant. Orbit. 1993. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 1999.
I think I had, on that particular day, located a nice paperback copy of John Clute's magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, to which I was proposing to add a rather sumptuous edition of The Holy Qu'ran:
The Holy Qur-ān: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary. Ed. Mushaf Al-Madinah An-Nabawiyah. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali et al. Saudi Arabia: King Fahd Holy Qur-ān Printing Complex, A.H. 1411 [= 1991].
"I teach Creative Writing at Massey University" was my rather lame reply. I could see her still shaking her head as I left, though. How could the same person be equally enthusiastic about Science Fiction and the intricacies of Arabic culture?
I remember that one of the kinder reviews I received for my poetry collection Chantal's Book, some twenty years back, referred to me as "a literary magpie, gathering together his shiny objects with a remarkable eclecticism." The author was James Norcliffe, whose recent novel The Frog Prince I've just lately written about for Landfall Review Online. I hope I did it justice.
He did rather hit the nail on the head with that "magpie" analogy, though. I do like to collect pretty objects and ideas and put them together. You could call it mosaic - or even collage - if you were inclined to be charitable. If not, you could simply refer to it as lack of focus.
Never mind, it works for me. "The world is so full of a number of things / I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings" and all that ...
Herman Melville: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1959)
Herman Melville. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Ed. Walter E. Bezanson. New York: Hendricks House, Inc., 1960.
The shop has now changed hands. I still find the odd bargain in there, however. The above edition of Melville's Clarel was certainly an exciting addition to my collection of Melvilliana.
I'm still not quite sure why the copy of Tuwhare's Ralph Hotere-illustrated Sapwood and Milk I found there was quite so reasonably priced, but perhaps they're less rare than I thought. In any case, I didn't think about it: just bought it (my motto as a bibliophile).
Hone Tuwhare: Sap-wood and Milk (1973)
Hone Tuwhare. Sap-wood and Milk. Illustrated by Ralph Hotere. 629 of 700 numbered copies. Dunedin: Caveman Press, 1973.
Latest news: "Dominion Books,which has been selling secondhand books at 230 Jervois Rd in Herne Bay since 1986, is finally closing down at the end of May 2023. Between now and then I am selling all stock at $3 per book, or as big a bag as you like for$20. I am no longer buying any books. I am clearing out my entire stock. Thanks to loyal customers after all these years."
Many years ago my father used to take me to a second-hand bookshop called "Dominion Books" - not unreasonably, as it was then located on Dominion Road. It was owned by a certain Mrs. Brazier, mother of soon-to-be-famous singer Graham Brazier.
It was a gloomy, fascinating place, full of obscure tomes in almost-unreachable corners. Or at any rate that's my memory of it. I'm not quite sure when she sold the business, which then moved to Jervois Road in Herne Bay, but I imagine it must have been back in the seventies sometime. Or perhaps the early eighties [1986, it now appears].
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Obras completas (1969)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Obras Completas. 1951-1957. Prólogo de Francisco Monterde. 1969. “Colección Sepan Cuantos …”, 100. Ciudad de México: Editorial Porrúa, S. A., 1977.
So that's the reason for the rather anomalous name of this fascinatingly out-of-the-way shop, which still seems to specialise in obscure treasures hidden in odd corners. Take the book above, for instance. Who on earth would be interested in the complete works - in Spanish - of a seventeenth-century Mexican nun?
Well, me, I'm afraid. My PhD thesis was on Versions of South America in English Literature, which took me all the way from Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) to Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School (1978).
Along the way I spent a lot of time poring over Nobel-prize-winning poet Octavio Paz's classic work on Mexican Culture, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). Paz also wrote extensively on Sor Juana de Asbaje - notably in his other great prose work Sor Juana: The Traps of Faith (1982).
This profoundly gifted young polymath, Sor Juana, occupies a position in Mexico somewhat akin to that of Murasaki Shikibu in Japan - or, for that matter, Katherine Mansfield in New Zealand: the one indisputably great, mysterious genius at the heart of an entire literary tradition.
William Plomer, ed.: Kilvert's Diary (3-1-23)
Francis Kilvert. Kilvert’s Diary: Selections from the Diary of the Rev. Francis Kilvert, 1870-1879. 3 vols. Ed. William Plomer. 1940. Rev ed. 1960-61. Illustrated Edition. London: Jonathan Cape, 1977.
Here's another nice purchase from Dominion Books. I have a perhaps unreasonably aversion to abridgements of classic books. It wasn't until I was able to find all three volumes of William Plomer's edition that I could really settle down to reading Kilvert's diary, which I found very entertaining indeed.
Christopher Ricks, ed.: The Poems of Tennyson (1969)
Christopher Ricks, ed. The Poems of Tennyson. Longmans Annotated English Poets. London & Harlow: Longman, Green and Co, Ltd.. 1969.
This one was the real prize, though. I spent a long time searching for this particular edition of Tennyson, from the Longman Annotated English Poets series. It's true that there's a later, three-volume second edition, but the sheer audacity of including Tennyson's complete poetry in one massive volume was the main reason I had to have this one. And there it was! - one fine day in the poetry section - straight from Bill Pearson's collection, as it turned out.
It is, in other words, always worth having a glance in Dominion Books. The stock there does, admittedly, tend to linger on the shelves, but you never know what might have walked in just the day before ...
Ink eats Man: Dominion Books (2010)