Friday, 30 November 2012

2012 Christmas Display Up Now!

It's the time of year to bust out your best crafting skills - as our very own Maija has certainly done for this year's Christmas window display! The photos below simply don't do the display justice - stop by and check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Antonia

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

I'd loved Alison's Moore's The Lighthouse - which was also shortlisted for The Booker this year - and Swimming Home is similarly a short, tight and powerful novel. But while The Lighthouse has a meandering ambiguous quality to its story, Swimming Home is considerably more resonant and dramatic. There are so many phrases, sentences and paragraphs in the book that sing. The novel explores the devastating effect that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams.

May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes

I'd not read any of AM Homes's novels until this one, and I enjoyed May We Be Forgiven so much that I'll definitely be looking at her backlist. Critically acclaimed as belonging to the tradition of  Jonathan Franzen and Suri Hustvedt (The Guardian said it had ‘the narrative intensity of Franzen’s The Corrections and the emotional punch of Hustvedt’s What I Loved’), this is an exploration of family life beginning at a Thanksgiving celebration, a novel about connections, broken, made and remade, existing physically, emotionally and, increasingly, electronically. One of the strongest openings in fiction that I've read for ages - just start reading and you won't be able to stop. The sort of book that makes you excited about books all over again.

The Hanging Garden by Patrick White

2012 was all about Patrick White: May marked the centenary of his birth, Happy Valley was finally republished as a Text Classic after being out of print for decades, the excellent Patrick White exhibition visited the State Library, and we were treated to publication of his previously unpublished novel The Hanging Garden. Whether you've long been a fan of Patrick White or haven't read him yet, I do urge you to read The Hanging Garden. Two children are brought to a wild garden on the shores of Sydney Harbour to shelter from the Second World War. The boy's mother has died in the Blitz. The girl is the daughter of a Sydney woman and a Communist executed in a Greek prison. In wartime Australia, these two children form an extraordinary bond as they negotiate the dangers of life as strangers abandoned on the far side of the world.

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Jane

The Street Sweeper – Elliot Perlman

Elliot Perlman’s third novel comes eight years after his last novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity, and is dedicated to the victims of racism, named individuals ''who died from manifestations of the same disease.'' The worlds surrounding two men and their families swirl in and out of history as the forces of the Holocaust, the American civil rights movement, Chicago unions, and New York City racial politics combine in a thrilling cross-generational literary symphony. Despite describing some of the worst horrors of the 20th century, it ends unapologetically happily as ''a young African-American oncologist and a white Jewish historian stood smiling and talking to a skinny black street sweeper''.

The Chemistry of Tears – Peter Carey

In Peter Carey’s 12th novel, much depends on two voices. The first belongs to Catherine Gehrig, an horologist working at the (fictional) Swinburne Museum in London, who has recently lost of her lover. The notebooks she receives introduce us to the novel’s second voice, that of a wealthy mid-19th-century Englishman, Henry Brandling. Henry pursues a beautiful invention, to heal his sick son; Catherine reassembles the mechanical swan as a means of balancing her grief. Carey manages these time-shifts with ease. The themes turn out not simply to concern the beauty of science, but the ways in which science and humans interact and overlap. Specifically, it is a vision of how to discover order in a random universe, the illusory versus the actual, the mechanical versus the organic. And it turns out that the most tremendous of all Mysterium Tremendums - overwhelming mysteries - is the body, which operates according to specific laws ("the chemistry of tears"). The gap between that which imitates life and that, which is living, is something that isn’t simply part of the works. A soul! 

A Perfectly Good Man- Patrick Gale

Gale’s latest novel was conceived as a companion piece to his earlier book Notes on an Exhibition. The central idea of that book was of the difficulty in growing up with a mother who was a mad genius, and in A Perfectly Good Man the madness is on the father’s side. Barnaby Johnson, the central character, is not just a priest; he is a man who has devoted his life to being as good as he possibly can and inevitably that flows over onto his wife and children.

It’s a kind of moral thriller. At the beginning of the novel when Barnaby prays for the dying Lenny’s soul instead of calling an ambulance, it leads to his having to justify his actions as well as the power of prayer at the inquest, which shows bravery in an age where priests are considered as mere social workers. But Barnaby stands up for what it’s really about.

On another level it’s also a thriller because of a frightening stalker, Modest Carlsson who seems to be excited by death and whose main aim in life is to destroy the “good” Barnaby. He is a character who doesn’t realise how his actions affect others. The plot moves in two directions at once spiralling backwards into Barnaby’s roots and troubled teens and childhood to find out what the answer to his need to be “good” might be and each chapter to feel as contained as a short story. In the end the novel is about much more than religion. It’s really about family as most of Gale’s books are, and about the dynamics of the family.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Kay

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Just as engrossing as the first one, I was transported to the time of Henry the Eighth. An absolutely fascinating look at the politics, both national and international of England at the time. I am anxiously awaiting the third in the trilogy.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I reread this this year - a rarity for me - but it has always hovered in my top 3 books and so I thought I'd remind myself why. I don't think there's another book about the first world war that packs such a punch - there are passages in this that had me gasping for air - the horror, the futility, the waste of human life. We all know it happened but this really brings it all home. It kept me awake all over again.

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

I loved White Tiger and was so wary of being disappointed but I actually think this is even better. The residents of a small, respectable block in a run down area of Mumbai are offered incentives, of all kinds, to move out so that a luxury block can be built. The once good friends and neighbours are pitted against each other in a struggle for survival. Engrossing.

Kay is the School Account Manager at Shearers

Interview: Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is a British fantasy writer and film editor. He dropped into Shearer's Bookshop and spoke to Megan about his new book Red Country.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Author Event: Ian Rankin

On Thursday evening 21 November, the Leichhardt Town Hall housed a capacity crowd to hear Pam Newton, a former police officer–turned award-winning crime novelist in an interview with Ian Rankin about his latest DI Rebus novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

They were both introduced by the newly appointed Leichhardt mayor, Cr Darcy Byrne, who insisted that the Leichhardt Municipality was the best place possible to host two such accomplished crime writers due to the fact that the infamous "Lennie" McPherson, one of the most notorious and powerful Australian career criminals of the late 20th century had been born and raised in the area.

But the crowd wanted to hear about Rebus – and the fact that after five years in retirement - Rebus is back! The character of John Rebus lives in real time and was forty in the first novel (25 years ago), retired 5 years ago and now he has been brought out of retirement to work as a civilian in a cold case unit with the unfortunate acronym SCRU (Serious Crime Review Unit).

Rankin told the audience how he has to be vigilant to fit with the rules of the Edinburgh Police force. And in real life, their retirement age is 60 years. Rankin amused us with the story of a member in the Scottish Parliament who asked the Justice Minister if he’d consider changing the retirement age of police in Edinburgh so that a fictional detective could keep working. Apparently this didn’t endear Rankin to his local force!

Newton mentioned that this latest novel reintroduces some old foes, like Cafferty, Rebus’ nemesis, who turns up to take Rebus for a drink because he reckons he owes him for saving his life. But as readers, we’re never sure if it’s just a friendly drink or whether there is something going on below the surface. As Rankin said, “It’s an interesting relationship because we’re never sure if they’re going to become old friends or if they’re going to kill each other.”

Rankin went on to discuss how another old character, Malcolm Fox, usually a protagonist, this time has to perform in the role of the antagonist, the “bad guy”, trying to bar Rebus from returning to the force. Rankin’s editor told him that she “didn’t like Fox now – she’d gone off him.” So Rankin had to focus on carefully explaining the reasons for his not wanting Rebus back and trying to make Fox less unpleasant. He found it a challenge to see Malcolm Fox, the hero, through the eyes of the detective whom he’s hunting.

Newton added how interesting she found it to see Rebus from the point of view of Fox and Fox from the point of view of Rebus. In a rare moment Fox actually physically describes Rebus, revealing, she thought, an incredible jealousy. She asked Rankin whether he had had fun writing about this shifting power balance.

Rankin responded by adding the potential conflict with Rebus’ sidekick, Siobhan Clarke, who has emerged from his shadow and therefore is also perhaps not so happy to see Rebus return to his former position in the force. There was also the inner conflict of the older characters such as Rebus, who is unfamiliar with the modern social media and feels insecure around the younger officers and Cafferty who has to contend with the new ways of breaking the law. But Rankin’s main concern was how to write Fox in future books as a hero. If the reader now dislikes him, could he get their sympathy back or will Fox always remain “the bad guy”?

Rankin went on to describe how constraining being true to real time can be for an author. He confessed that he could kick himself for making Rebus too old in the first book. He’d recently been told that the cold case unit his character is working in is going to be wound up as the whole Scottish Force is being restructured. He’s also discovered, now that he has Fox in Internal Affairs, that officers only serve in that position for 3-5 years, so he is faced with moving Fox back to the normal CID with people he has prosecuted and who will always hate him.

Other challenges come with writing about real places and events, such as in The Naming of the Dead. This novel was set during the 2005 G8 Summit in Auchterarder, Scotland, allowing for an encounter between President George W. Bush and DI John Rebus. When the London bombings took place during the Summit Rankin was compelled to also include them in his plot. There are humorous incidents which lead from this too, such as when readers visit the St Leonards Police Station or the Oxford Bar expecting to find the fictional Rebus!

Rankin went on to describe how his latest novel received its title: it is a mondegreen - a mishearing of a lyric by the Scottish songwriter and folk musician, Jackie Levin, to whom the novel is dedicated. He was a long time friend of Ian Rankin and they released a joint album entitled Jackie Leven Said. Unfortunately Levin died during the writing of the novel and Rankin has sprinkled many of his lyrics throughout the novel in homage. The true words are, “standing in another man's rain”.

Rankin feels that as a crime writer he can explore everything he wants to in his fiction - complex characters, a strong sense of place, the pleasure of a who-dunnit with the pieces coming together to a neat end, the vicarious thrill of a roller coaster ride for the reader, but also the ability to look quite deeply at society and tackle the big moral questions such as why do we continue to do bad things to each other? What is evil? To this end Rankin investigated the nature of evil and how it is manifested in a three-part documentary series named Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts. In the course of his travels, he met philosophers, theologians, historians, neurologists, psychiatrists, criminals and victims, and explored their widely differing notions of evil, and examined how evil is perceived and portrayed today.

Rankin shared his writing style with us, telling us that he makes up the story as he goes along and that he writes as though he were Rebus, as equally in the dark as to the identity of the killer until very close to the end. It is only then, after the first draft is written that he goes back to research and plug the holes so that the whole fits neatly and completely.

We eagerly await being illuminated by Rankin’s next book – despite his assertions of not being sure how it will pan out as he has no ideas for it at all. He only knows it has to be delivered in June 2013.

That's good enough for us!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Interview: Kate Morton

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden, and The House at Riverton, Kate Morton's new novel The Secret Keeper is a spellbinding new novel filled with mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love.

Here she talks to Barbara about her latest novel.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pre-order Your Ian Rankin Signed Copy

Our event with Ian Rankin on Thursday November 22nd at Leichhardt Town Hall is unfortunately booked out, but you can order a signed copy of his latest novel Standing in Another Man's Grave. It’s twenty-five years since John Rebus first appeared on the scene, and five years since he retired. But 2012 sees his return in Standing in Another Man's Grave. Not only is Rebus as stubborn and anarchic as ever, but he finds himself in trouble with Rankin’s latest creation, Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit.

Pre-order your signed copy by calling Shearer's on (02) 9572 7766.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey is an epic story of life, love and survival at all odds and one of the most-talked about and anticipated books of the year. It will be published on 3rd December and would definitely make an excellent Christmas gift. Below is a review from our youngest staff member, Angus.

I approached Wool (a five-part omnibus by the US bookseller Hugh Howey) with the appropriate amount of skepticism. The norm for the sci-fi genre is an over-imagined, barely believable world with a variety of half-baked characters who get so excited about their futuristic gadgetry that they forget their one true purpose - to enthrall, excite and challenge me. The setting and plot get too caught up in the unbelievable and the end result is a confounding mess of (literally) astronomical proportions. 

Fortunately for readers, writers and booksellers everywhere, Wool fails each and every one of the criteria mentioned above, providing a beautifully worked array of characters in a believable yet wonderfully creative world, intertwined throughout with innate, challenging questions that feed the conspiracy theorist in all of us - do we know the truth, or is the truth merely what we are made to believe? 
Sometimes, is it better not to know at all?

The story begins with the initial novella, originally intended to stand alone. It has a dark-edged, bleak, almost vintage sci-fi feel to it and one becomes immediately enveloped by the protagonist and his tortured quest for the truth. The story unfolds through flashbacks, as we follow Holston's journey and unearth the circumstances that lead to the dreadfully inevitable conclusion - we desperately hope that it is not so, however as the dark politics of Howey's world come to light we see there is no way out other than that which Holston chooses for himself. Howey does a splendid job of establishing the setting, manufacturing it in such a way that the true implications of the ensuing events can manifest themselves  in our minds - he gives us a taste of what is to come and sows the seeds of doubt...he gives us the hints that everything is definitely not the way we perceive it to be.

After the initial novella, Howey focuses the story on the ordeal of Juliette (the Silo's new sheriff)  - a capable young woman from a mechanical background who dedicates herself to the discovery and exposure of the truth around the origins of the Silo (the huge, underground community to which humanity is now confined), its history and the circumstances that led to the entire human race being 'trapped' inside this giant, self-contained, functioning community. Only problem is... to leave the Silo means certain death and the punishment for any untempered curiosity and/or dissidence is just this - to be forced to leave. Juliette attempts to deconstruct the taboos that exist within their society and begins to reach a dangerous conclusion - they have been living a lie, a state of affairs manufactured to keep terrible secrets from festering into full-blown rebellion. Her odyssey unfolds with increasing tension, taking the Silo and its inhabitants on a trip through unrest, discovery and eventual rebellion. The moral quandaries subsequently raised are catalysts for heated book club discussion and Wool is ideal fodder for anyone looking to further blend the lines between truth, reality, right and wrong.

It is a mark of Howey's skill that he has been able to write Wool in such a way that the characters, plot and ideas drive the story along. Too often I see science fiction start promisingly, but quickly descend into mayhem as the over-described technology competes with a bizarre completely poorly realised world for your attention. Howey uses the science-fiction genre as a means to an ends, to present important ideas and valid observations. One gets the feeling that Wool set within our contemporary, mundane society would achieve much the same purpose as that which is already achieved.

Another of Howey's strengths is solely in his characters. While the story initially unfolds through the eyes of the previously mentioned Juliette, Howey introduces other characters that are wonderfully distinct, yet familiar in their desires. They love, create, and have the innate claustrophobia of the current living conditions hardwired into their being - they all share a sense that something is not quite right and long to explore beyond the strangling confines what is essentially an underground skyscraper. The storytelling is based on complex, multi-dimensional characters placed in situations that both challenge and excite, instead of world-building or laser guns. 

It's always a great feeling when you finish a book, series or (in this case) omnibus, feeling completely satisfied. Howey has a remarkable skill which he exercises with extreme effectiveness throughout Wool - he leaves you curious, rather than unfulfilled. He paces the book perfectly, ups the ante at every opportunity, maintains suspense, invests your emotions into the action and (this is how good he is) even manages to get you sympathising with the damn protagonist! 

The Silo is a dangerous place to be. It is a delicate society supported by a tangled web of secrets, deception, power and above all, the quest for survival. It is a representation of humanity with a rollicking great storyline to boot, the kind of book that raises your blood pressure with plenty of well-written action sequences and leaves you dreaming long after the final page has turned.

Thank you Mr Howey, thank you so very much.
- Angus

Interview: Maxine McKew

Maxine McKew's career spans both politics and journalism. Maxine spoke to Megan about her new memoir Tales from the Political Trenches.  Her story is an intimate account of one of the most tumultuous periods in Australian politics, as well as a tale of personal change. She brings a reporter’s eye and an insider’s knowledge to a story that has caused despair among Labor supporters and produced disillusionment among the electorate.

Tales from the Political Trenches is a must-read for those who have followed the events of the past few years and are still asking, ‘What the hell happened?’

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Author Event: Claudia Chan Shaw

Claudia Chan Shaw joined us for a morning tea at Shearer's today to speak about collecting and her new book Collectomania. If you weren't able to make it to the event, you can read the text of her fascinating chat below - she called it the extended version! Claudia also signed lots of copies of her book which are now available to buy in store.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen – my name’s Claudia, and I’m a Collectomaniac.

I suppose I’ve always been like this.  I was never one of the cool kids. I was a little bit quirky, and at age eleven I became obsessed with Humphrey Bogart.

Now, it’s not unusual for young girls to have posters of their idols plastered to the walls of their bedrooms – but Humphrey Bogart? A dead, not particularly handsome actor best remembered for playing tough guys and gangsters on screen in the thirties, forties and fifties.

I blame it all on my eldest brother, Daniel. He used to take me to the Bogart festivals at the Academy Twin in Paddington. We’d head off in his ’63 EJ Holden – the one with the white venetians in the back window. – and for the next few hours I would be transfixed by this short and kind of ugly, lisping, twitching tough guy. I thought Bogie was just heaven.
One year Daniel gave me a Bogart filmography for Christmas, and that book became my bible: I could tell you the year of a particular film, who directed it, who did the music, and all the co-stars.

When I got a little older, I haunted the Bogart festivals and sat in the front row with my audio tape recorder (the video recorder hadn’t yet been invented!). Then I’d come home and lock myself in the bathroom, and  listen to the dialogue, reciting every line, anticipating every sound effect. And my brothers would be banging on the bathroom door, telling me to hurry up in there. ‘I’ll only be ten more minutes. I’m up to the airport scene from Casablanca.’ 

The sounds coming from the bathroom went a little bit like this….

“You’re saying this only to make me go.”
“I’m saying I because it’s true. Inside of us we both know you belong with Victor – you’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. That plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
“But what about us?”
“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have it, we’d lost it till you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night”.
“And I said I would never leave you”.
“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do too. Where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Some day you’ll understand that. Now now. Here’s looking at you kid.”

The collecting began with a poster of Bogart that was stuck to the ceiling of Gould’s Book Arcade in George Street. It cost me a dollar and after that I was off, buying books, posters, soundtracks and lobby cards. I used to borrow money from Ruth, a girl in my class, so I could buy more Bogie posters. It was like an addiction. If there was a Bogie film on TV I’d even cut up the TV programs with the description of the film and stick it a scrap book. I was Bogart mad.

Now here’s a Mystery Object for you. Can you tell me what this is? Yes it’s the Maltese Falcon from the 1941 Bogart film of the same name. It’s a replica of course - I picked it up in San Francisco in the early 1980s. 

These days you can buy a Maltese Falcon online and have it delivered within a week. When I bought this beauty 30 years ago, I tracked him down to a store I’d read about called the Detective Bookstore. 

When I arrived in San Francisco I called the store and checked they had the Falcon in stock. The store was wonderful – only crime and detective fiction. The owner of the store was a large gentleman, spilling out of his swivel chair with his back to the front door.

I wandered in and said “Oh wow! This is fantastic!”
He replied, with his back to me “so you’re the Australian?”
I said “ Geeze! How could you tell?!” 

So here is my very special Maltese Falcon. He’s not valuable. But he’s priceless to me.
The original film prop sold a few years ago at a Christie’s auction – it went for $398,000! 

While this is not the very first piece of my collection, it represents my first collecting obsession. The first signs of my Collectomania.
When I was invited to audition for a presenter’s role on Collectors on the ABC, I was told to bring along an object that I could talk about on camera. I took my trusty Maltese Falcon!

Many people swear that they do not collect anything and that they don’t see the point of accumulating stuff, but most people do have photo albums, permanent records of their memories, or at least a collection of images saved on an iPad or hard drive, carefully arranged in categories, just like any collection, and that collection is meant for sharing.

Now my attention has turned to collecting tin toys and robots. There are about 400 in our house, all displayed in glass cases with lighting. Collections of wind-up and battery-operated tin robots sit with spaceships and ray guns. They jostle for space with the rabbit mowing the lawn, the tumbling monkey, the elephant with a propeller on his head, the panda playing drums, and the battery-powered redhead who snaps photographs while her boyfriend drives their beeping red convertible.

A word of advice on toy collecting. Or three words of advice…..keep the boxes…..I bought a lot of tin toys in New York in 1990 and couldn’t fit everything in my suitcase, so I threw out the boxes. Now I’m not about to sell my toy collection, but if I were to, the toys would be about double the value with their original boxes. It was funny when I arrived at the airport and they opened my bags for inspection. The toys were still twitching and moving after having all been wound up the previous day.

Collecting can start by accident. You may not have intended to start a collection, but one day you realise that you have three of something. That’s the beginning of a collection.

Collectors are a fascinating lot. They gather an amazing array of objects, from glass eyes, paper serviettes and sugar sachets, toilet paper, Rolls-Royce mascots, air-sickness bags, Art Deco radios, snow domes, art, Barbie dolls, vintage clothing, musical instruments, blue plastic objects, red stuff, orange stuff, jewellery made from teeth, to the guy who collects his own navel fluff.

But why do we collect? I believe the world is made up of collectors and non-collectors. Some people need to collect, others do not. Collecting gives the collector control, the parameters established are limited only by themselves: they make the decisions such as if they should specialise, or if they are going for quality or quantity. For some there is great satisfaction in arranging, rearranging, collating, cataloguing, displaying and establishing order. Collectors can be defined by their collections and one person’s definition of what is precious will be different to another’s. There is no right and wrong.
Collecting can create an association to the past and give comfort in reconnecting with the familiar. It can establish a bond with fond memories and give fulfilment and gratification. Some people collect for investment, others because it’s fun. Some love the social interaction: they blog, attend swap meets and exchange information with kindred spirits. For others, it’s a means to preserve the past and they are merely custodians of these objects for the time being. And for some people, collecting is all about the journey, the quest, the never-ending search for the Holy Grail.

A collector is a bit like a compulsive gambler, thrilled by the pursuit, the whole process of the hunt, and then the final possession and sense of accomplishment. Acquisition is such a sweet victory. Sigmund Freud had a theory about collecting. He said it traces back to the time of toilet-training and suggested that collectors were trying to regain ‘possessions’ lost. Interesting thought, Dr Freud!

Collecting is in my nature (and, fortunately for me, my husband understands, because he too is a collector). For me it’s all about nostalgia. I sold off my toys at Balmain markets when I was a teenager and realised too late that I’d made a terrible mistake. So, since then, I’ve been making up for it (some might say overcompensating), buying toys that remind me of childhood and the TV shows and movies I grew up with.

The collector goes through this thought process: ’I had one of those’ or ‘I always wanted one of those – I’m gonna get one of those’, and then we put these objects into little groups to establish some kind of order. We proudly display them and hope that others will find our passions equally enticing. What’s important is knowing when to stop, for instance, when your guests glaze over at a dinner party while you wax lyrical about your latest pick-up on eBay, the 1965 Corgi James Bond DB5 Aston Martin from Goldfinger in its mint box, still with the baddie in the ejector seat, retractable machine guns and secret instructions… We had one of these when we were kids and we used to fight over it. I’ve got it back now.

Who knows for certain what really motivates collectors? What, for example, drove Frank Stoeber, a farmer from Kansas, to collect twine? After almost eight years he had produced a ball 3.3 metres in diameter, comprising 488 kilometres of sisal string. What we do know is that humans have been collecting since time began.

Today it is widespread and specialised – nearly one in every three adults collects something. 

We’ve all got boxes of old letters, clothes and keepsakes we’ve collected over a lifetime. Sometimes these boxes take over the spare room or the garage and we joke “maybe I’m a bit of a hoarder”, but there’s a big difference between holding onto mementos and compulsive hoarding.

Hoarders have no order. Collectors have focus and tend to specialise in the areas that interest them. They’re proud of their objects and want to display and share them.
Collecting is very different to hoarding. 

Hoarding is compulsive behaviour where the hoarder acquires – and fails to throw out – a large number of items that have little or no value to others. The items can be newspapers, clothes, flyers, food labels – things that we consider to be junk. A true hoarder gathers so much useless junk that their home no longer is a viable living space. They believe that a piece of their life will be lost if they get rid of their possessions. 

On the other hand, a collector is proud of their pieces and wants to share them and the joy they feel in collecting. The hoarder can be ashamed of their situation and the mess they live in. There’s a big difference. 

One of the most famous cases of hoarding is the story of American brothers Homer and Langley Collyer. The reclusive brothers never came out of their large house in Manhattan and were a curiosity to neighbours. Though both men were highly educated, they remained unemployed for most of their adult life and became so distrustful of the outside world that Langley devised a series of booby traps in the house so that intruders could not enter. Homer suffered ill health and eventually went blind, leaving Langley as his carer. The discovery of the extent of the Collyer brothers’ hoarding was revealed in March 1947 when an anonymous person reported there was a dead body in the Collyer residence. To gain access to the home, authorities had to remove tonnes of garbage from the front foyer. After climbing through tunnels of junk for two hours, the body of the elder brother Homer was found among the boxes and rubbish. It wasn’t until three weeks later that the authorities located younger brother Langley. He had died before Homer – crushed by one of his homemade booby traps – and his body was found three metres from where his brother lay, buried beneath piles of rubbish. Authorities eventually removed more than 100 tonnes of garbage from the Collyer brothers’ house. Some of the more unusual items unearthed included pickled human organs, the chassis of a Model T Ford, fourteen pianos, the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage, and more than 25,000 books.

I’ve been known to keep the occasional chocolate wrapper, because I like the graphics on the pack. I keep birthday cards, and still have some of my assignments from high school. I keep the boarding passes from overseas trips. And if my husband writes me a note, it goes in the drawer, never the bin. Does that make me a hoarder? No, that makes me sentimental. If you have an emotional attachment to the item, surely that’s not hoarding?

We have a very eclectic household. Between my husband and myself we have collections of tin robots, books, wine, fossils, antiquities, photography, contemporary art, Warners Bros animation cels, and plaques de muselet – they’re the caps from champagne bottles ….. it’s a very good thing to have a man who understands, and encourages.

In Collectomania I explore what makes collectors tick, and share stories from my own collecting journey. I meet collectors along the way and celebrate the history behind objects, and the passion and dedication of my fellow Collectomaniacs. We go from the auction room to the flea market and take a look at classic cars, Wedgwood, vintage fashion, Bakelite radios and Bakelite jewellery, wine, first edition book, crazes, snow domes, guitars and much more.

One of my great passions is robots – tin, plastic, wind up, battery operated.  50s 60s 70s 80s 90s. Nothing gives me more joy than playing with a toy robot. He strides forward, arms swinging, his upper body rotates then his chest bursts open as he approaches, guns blazing and lights flashing. It’s that element of surprise, the sound effects (‘bup, bup, whoop, whoop, whoop’), that moment of excitement and then, as quickly as it began, the guns have retracted and the robot strides on.

I blame it on the Irwin Allen TV series Lost in Space. I’d race home from school to tune in to the re-runs, but I didn’t have a thing for Will, or even Don. The object of my affection was The Robot, as he was simply known. This was a robot with humour and personality – he even sang and played guitar. It was only much later that I discovered his name was B-9 (benign. )We have a Lost in Space Robot from the Japanese maker Masudaya that says ‘Warning, warning – danger, danger. I am sorry, that does not compute’ in English and Japanese. Curiously, he’s called YM3 on the box.

Well, whatever you want to call him, my robot fascination started with him. Of all the categories of tin toy collecting, collecting robots is a vast and lively area. I started collecting robots pre-internet, but now they are easy to find, with many internet sites devoted to the sale and discussion of classic robots.

It can be a pretty high end field, with the highest price for a tin robot was achieved at a Sotheby’s auction in New York  - $74,000 for a Masudaya Machine Man. Very rare. I know – that’s the cost of a family car. Way out of my league!

I’ve been buying first edition Biggles books for my husband, Stewart, for many years and the little collection has grown to twenty-three. Only seventy-five to go! Stewart is one of that generation of young boys who grew up with the adventures of the great airman James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth and his trusty companions Ginger and Algy. Written by Captain W.E. Johns, it turns out that Johns never made it to the rank of captain at all but gave himself the grandiose title because it sounded much better than plain old Flying Officer Bill Johns. With rip-roaring titles like Biggles Secret Agent, Biggles Defies the Swastika, Biggles and the Black Raider and Biggles Foreign Legionnaire, ninety-six Biggles books were published between 1932-1970, plus two further books in the late 1990s. . 

British actor and writer Michael Palin grew up with the books and is a huge Biggles fan. The books were mercilessly parodied by the Monty Python team including the famous bookshop sketch referring to that smashing adventure Biggles Combs his Hair, or what about Biggles Goes to See Bruce Springsteen, and who could forget Biggles Flies Undone?

Many people become accidental book collectors. They like to read, do not borrow from the library or read e-books, but prefer to own a physical book. There is a joy in filling the shelf with books that you love and, with that, the feeling of turning pages, poring over the illustrations and re-reading the best bits. When you collect your favourite author and have every book they ever wrote, the idea of downloading a book becomes abhorrent. It’s the smell of a book, that old friend next to the bed at night. And you don’t have to turn it off for take-off and landing.

Author and humourist P.J. O’Rourke said, ‘Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.’ We have thousands of books in our home, so I think if we were both to suddenly shuffle off, at least we’d look clever. 

An author’s first book will usually be the most valuable. The first book will often have a small print run, making it hard to get from the beginning. If the author becomes popular with subsequent books, the first book will become all the more desirable. So do make sure you pick up a copy of Collectomania on your way out today –  if you’ve got friends who love to collect or just have a fascination with wonderful objects -  it’s a terrific Christmas gift idea!

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a good example. The first UK print run for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was a meagre 500 copies. Prices for one of that first run, range from $40,000 - $55,000, depending on condition. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, had an initial print run of twelve million copies. While it may complete the set, Deathly Hallows will never be collectable because there are just too many of them. Now, if it were autographed by J.K. Rowling, that would be another story. A book needs to be rare or scarce or a combination of both to be one that will increase in value.

A couple of years ago I thought I’d move on from Biggles and tried to track down first editions of Ian Fleming’s suave super spy Bond, James Bond, thinking what a marvellous gift they would make as an alternative to Biggles. We could start a new collection. 

There are only twelve Bond novels and two books of 007 short stories to track down. Would Ian Fleming ever have imagined that the stories he penned between 1953 and his death in 1964 would go on to sell 100 million copies, and that his creation would become one of the most famous fictional characters of all time? Ian Fleming’s early books are extremely sought after. A fine first edition copy of Casino Royale, Bond’s first appearance, sold at Bloomsbury Auctions in March 2006 for $10,285. An inscribed copy to Ian Fleming’s friend Percy Muir fetched a staggering $33,225 the previous year.

I came across a first edition of The Spy who Loved Me (1962). The dust jacket features artwork by Richard Chopping and is, according to the description, ‘soiled and chipped, but nevertheless a good copy’. I don’t mind – it was $125. What’s a few chips in the scheme of things? I see it as owning a piece of history. Is it the best example available? No. Does it give me joy to own this treasure? You bet!

So while any collector would love to have the best example of their chosen passion, at several thousand dollars each these can be beyond the reach of the average collector. Though it’s important to know what your Holy Grails are – it always gives you something to strive for – make a purchase because you love the book or admire the author rather than because you think it may soar in value. Buy the best example you can and if it’s valuable it’s a bonus. If you can afford the best – good for you! Buy the finest examples and keep the legacy alive. But you should possess the item because you love it.

Remember the days when you’d go around to a friend’s house and spend the afternoon listening to records, vinyl. If you were playing a single, one of you would have to jump up every three minutes to turn the record over. It was better if you were listening to an album: the enjoyment lasted longer at around twenty-five minutes per side.

The basis of many kids’ record collections from the seventies were the K-tel compilation albums. By the same team that brought you the Veg-O-Matic, the Record Selector and the Fishin’ Magician, these days you can find K-tel albums while rummaging through milk crates at second-hand markets. There’s that delightful nostalgia flash when you pull out one of the many ‘as seen on TV’ classics like 20 Dynamic Hits, 20 Electrifying Hits or 20 Explosive Hits.
When CDs came in, we all thought that was the end of vinyl. First 78s had made way for LPs, then cassettes came along and we’d record our albums on cassette to preserve them. (Then you’d leave your tapes in the car on a hot day and they’d melt – a common sight used to be a trail of brown audio tape lying on the road after a motorist had thrown it petulantly out the window when the tape jammed or was eaten by the tape deck.) But trade in vinyl records is booming and many collectors never really stopped buying them, even with the introduction of CDs in 1982. They tended to buy their favourite records on CD as well and ended up with a collection of CDs almost by default. Vinyl collectors saw CDs as a mere hiccup, maintaining that vinyl sounds better, and record stores continued to sell a limited range of vinyl. 

In 1995 eBay made its way into the lives of collectors and opportunities to buy vinyl from anywhere in the world became a reality. More than three million records are bought and sold on eBay every year, with the Beatles’ White Album (1968) the most popular and widely traded. Considered one of the most influential albums ever, the two-record set was housed in a plain white cover, and each carried its own unique number stamped on the front. Copies numbered 0000001 to 0000004 were originally given to the members of the Beatles themselves and, as yet, none of these first four numbers has emerged onto the market. In 2008 a 1968 UK first mono pressing of the famed album turned up on eBay. Numbered 0000005, it was the lowest number to ever emerge. The story goes that a musician friend of John Lennon’s visited him at the flat he shared with Yoko Ono in London. When he saw a pile of White Album discs on the table and asked if he could have one, John agreed but said, ‘Don’t take number one – I want that.’ So he took number five. It sold on Austrian eBay in 2008 for $48,624.

What a phenomenon eBay is. For a very long time I avoided eBay; I was suspicious of it and wanted to see the objects I was buying. But after buying my first tin robot on eBay I was hooked. I enjoyed the process of bidding and winning, and the adrenalin rush was still there as you were watching the clock. I now regularly buy from the original seller I found on eBay. Having now become such a part of the collector’s arsenal, it’s hard to imagine how we shopped without eBay. We use it to compare prices, not only in Australia but around the world, and you can shop any time of the day and pick up some real bargains.

And to think it all started in 1995 with a broken laser pointer. Software developer Pierre Omidyar launched the site, originally known as AuctionWeb, with the listing of a single broken laser pointer. He intended that first listing as a test but was surprised when the object sold for $14.83. When he contacted the winning bidder to make sure they knew the pointer was broken, the bidder replied, ‘I’m a collector of broken laser pointers.’ Omidyar knew he was onto something. AuctionWeb became eBay, short for Echo Bay, the name of his consulting firm at the time, and demonstrated that there’s a buyer for just about anything. The sale of a ten-year-old toasted cheese sandwich bearing the image of the Virgin Mary had punters searching for signs of Jesus in their cornflakes; the holy snack sold on eBay in 2004 for $28,000. Yes, there is a buyer for just about anything.

I love the persuasive language used on eBay: ‘It’s almost over and you’re currently the highest bidder’; ‘An item you’ve been watching has been relisted’; ‘You have been outbid’; ‘Hurry this item ends soon’. Even though you may have lost that object, there’s always hope. There will be another. Keep the faith and don’t let it get away next time. I talk to the computer screen when bidding on eBay. When there’s a persistent bidder at the other end, forcing the price up, I can be quite vocal. ‘Oh no you don’t, &^*%$#@**. That’s mine. Ha! Yes! Mine.’ ‘You won this auction’: now they’re the words I want to see on my screen.

I recently picked up a fantastic buy in a Vintage clothing store in Paris. A Jean-Paul Gualtier 1990s dress for 25 euros! It’s fabulous!!!

Not so long ago, we used to refer to used clothing as plain old ‘second-hand’. Thrifty shoppers have been haunting Vinnies and Salvos stores for years picking up bargains, then in the late sixties and early seventies vintage clothing shops sprang up in Australia, offering an alternative to mainstream fashion. Where charity shops stocked a whole range of second-hand goods, the specialist vintage shops were carefully curated by dedicated experts with an eye for unique pieces from another time. 

Fast-forward a few decades and the buzzword is ‘vintage’. The word is thrown around the fashion pages, sprinkled throughout media releases and dropped by the social set. Everyone loves vintage: the A-listers adore it, the style set swear by it, ‘Julia Roberts picked up her 2001 Oscar wearing vintage Valentino’ coo the style mavens. Vintage – a word usually applied to wine and cars – became the most overused word in the fashion vocabulary. If it wasn’t vintage it was a vintage look, with a vintage feel or vintage inspired. Half the time it was bandied around to describe an ensemble where the starlet in question looked like she got dressed in the dark! However it happened, all of a sudden fashionistas were indiscriminately dropping the ‘V’ word and using it to describe pieces that were created in 2002. So exactly what is the definition of vintage?
Clothing, shoes, bags and accessories must be more than twenty-five years old in order to be classified true vintage – the 1980s just squeak in – and the piece should be a fine example of its genre within its era. The definition covers fashion and accessories from the 1920s to the 1980s, while ‘antique’ describes a piece that is at least one hundred years old.

But not all second hand clothing is vintage. It has to earn that right. Lorraine Foster who owns the Vintage Clothing Shop told me how a breathless young thing came into the store excitedly telling me that she had some vintage Wayne Cooper designs. She eagerly pulled them out of her bag: they were two years old.’ Lorraine says, ‘It’s not just about the age – some things will never be vintage. They need other credentials besides age. The piece has to be representative of its era. It must be of a certain calibre and fabrication. It’s about how it was made and its condition. The best is what rises to the top – it’s the cream.’

Foster feels that ‘a dress is like a book – it tells a story. To be collectable, the piece must speak to you. It’s like collecting furniture or paintings – it must have craftsmanship, beautiful materials and design. It does not have to be a designer label.’
And collecting doesn’t have to be only for the well heeled. How about a snowdome collection?

When I was a kid I smashed one open to see how it all worked and was left with little bits of plastic and no more magic. The magic is in the sparkly dust and water.
A snow dome is the world in miniature. The New York City skyline with a rainbow. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Big Merino. All are immersed in water and, when you shake the dome, it snows. It snows in Hawaii. It snows on Uluru. It snows in London. Well, it does snow in London. Infinitely more fun than a postcard, a tea towel or a spoon, they are the perfect souvenir. 

My eldest brother, the one who introduced me to Humphrey Bogart, has a collection of snow domes.

When I smashed open my snow dome all those years ago, the burning question for me was what is the snow made from? In snow dome R&D, the pursuit of the perfect material for snow has been ongoing. Early domes used sand, sawdust, bone, flakes of pottery, fragments of porcelain, ground raw rice, and little bits of minerals. Just about everything except snow. Today it’s mainly finely chopped plastic or glitter.

Now here is a collecting hobby that won’t break the bank: you can pick up a snow dome for a few dollars. And you set the ground rules. Do the domes have to be from places you have personally visited, or is it okay to have friends and relatives contributing to the numbers? I’m all for snow-doming as a group sport – the more the merrier. Besides, you’ll cover a lot more geography if you involve your loved ones.
American collector Andy Zito has what must be the world’s largest collection, with 9500 rare and unusual snow domes. When I was photographing the snow domes for the book, there was a little accident and one of the domes was broken. Andy Zito to the rescue. I emailed Andy and he had a replacement for me within days. All collectors want to do is share the love! They are such a generous bunch!

Actor Corbin Bernsen, who played the opportunistic divorce lawyer Arnie Becker in the TV series LA Law, has more than 7000 in his collection. Some of his pieces date back to the turn of the century. 

My brother has a New York skyline snow dome featuring the Twin Towers, which might make some collectors wonder if this is a more valuable snow dome. While it’s certainly a desirable piece to have in the collection, the Twin Towers snow dome is not valuable as they were made in their thousands; only the early Twin Towers snow domes retain a high value. Andy Zito has the very first Twin Towers snow dome ever issued, its conical shape making it extremely rare. 

I collect from the heart. I believe in collecting because you love an object and feel a connection with it. Every object has a story and that adds to its provenance.

I am not an heiress, but gather the things that I love and that give me joy. 

For others, it’s the $14 broken laser pointer, to the Fender guitar smashed by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, to a fleet of Australian muscle cars. A floaty pen, the dress Marilyn wore in the Seven Year Itch, or a Bakelite brooch from the 1940s. A bottle of wine worth $200,000 – whose value is all about the promise of what’s inside. All have been collected and loved by a group of obsessed Collectomaniacs. 

Join me on the Collectomaniacs journey.