The Costs and Pitfalls of Book Buying.

I have far too many books – and still I buy more.

When I develop a new reading interest, or a new interest in general, I’m not satisfied to dabble around the edges, I jump right in and obtain as much as possible related to that interest.

In recent years I became interested in some aspects of military history. At first I just wanted to find out why Anzac day was such a big deal in Australia. Like many Australians, my knowledge and understanding of the Gallipoli campaign at the heart of Anzac day was minimal. As the centenary of the original Anzac day (25th April) came around in 2015, I decided to put an end to my ignorance and I read several books about the campaign that attained mythic status in Australian culture.

From there my curiosity about other aspects of WWI was sparked, and my reading widened to other battles and their historical consequences.

But that wasn’t enough. I moved on to WWII when I discovered some family involvement in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of 1943.
I was able to untie some of my dad’s tangled childhood memories to find the facts behind the tragic loss of his cousins Albert and Horace during those campaigns; even being able to track a report of Horace’s desperate cries for help, followed by the sound of his drowning, after his glider crashed into the Mediterranean.

I sought out and bought as many books as I could find that might increase my knowledge of Albert and Horace’s experiences of war. A lot of the books were out of print so I needed to track down second hand copies. A helpful resource was https://www.bookfinder.com/

Through that site I was able to find books covering my topics of interest that have been long out of print. Unfortunately some were outside of my comfortable price range, but most weren’t.

As I’ve written in several recent posts, my current interest is crime fiction, a very popular genre with far too many reading options. The only way I could realistically launch myself into reading crime was to find someway to limit those options. I chose to be selective with the authors I read.

So far I’ve followed two paths. Firstly there are the two authors who helped me get into the world of crime in the first place. I’ve already written about Lynda La Plante and Ann Cleeves.
Secondly, because my greater interest has been fuelled by the strength of character and place in Cleeves’ books, I looked around for British writers basing their work around Derbyshire, the English county where I spent my pre-teen years. I’ve also written quite a lot about the three writers I’ve been following.

To date Sarah Ward has three published books, Steven Dunne seven, and Stephen Booth at least seventeen. It would be a very costly exercise to get all of them, so when available I’ve helped the process through purchases from charity and second hand book shops, while keeping an eye on the prices of new books in online stores. Occasionally books will be discounted and a little money can be saved if I’m viewing the right site at the right time.

book list 2Ideally I’d be able to find all of the books at a local bookshop, giving them support instead of some overseas mega-store, but they rarely (if ever) have the kind of books I want, that cater to my sometimes obscure tastes (how many Australian readers are looking for Derbyshire crime writers?).

I now own all of Sarah Ward’s books.

I have the first three of Steven Dunne’s books. The first I could only find second hand online, the second I bought new and the third I also found second hand in a Canberra bookshop.

Stephen Booth’s books have been a mixture of new purchases from The Book Depository , Some from charity shops and two I bought online through the book finder address cited earlier. Those latter purchases have been examples of the perils faced when buying used goods on line. When I received the books they weren’t the editions that had been illustrated (they were older) and their actual condition didn’t match that of the written description on the website.
Bringing the problems to the attention of the supplier doesn’t always lead to the customer finding a satisfactory outcome.*

After two disappointing experiences, I’m now reconsidering the buying of second hand books online unless they are completely out of print and can’t be obtained any other way. In the recent cases I only resorted to the second hand orders because the number of books in the Stephen Booth series pushed the overall cost of new ones into uncomfortable territory, and I was eager to get his earlier books for an affordable prices as soon as possible.

At the moment those early books are some of the more expensive, unless I compromised by buying American editions. However an American version of a Derbyshire book, with American spellings and the possible “translating” of Derbyshire turns of phrase into Americanised approximations… well it kind of defeats my purpose of choosing Derbyshire based stories.**

I’m resisting the temptation to order more books for a while.  Over the Christmas break I could be away from home from time to time, so won’t be around to make sure any book deliveries are received securely.

Anyway, I have more than enough crime fiction to keep me going for a few weeks before I need to order again in the new year.

Apart from filling in some of the existing gaps in my collection, next year there will be at least two new books to look forward to: Sarah Wards fourth DC Childs book The Shrouded Path is due for release in the UK autumn, but before that will be The Devil’s Dice, the debut book by Roz Watkins released around March 2018.

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The image illustrating this post is part of the book list I keep in my wallet to help me keep track of what I already have so I don’t double up on any title.

*Although one bookseller went above and beyond my expectations to sustain their reputation for good service – sending me a book autographed by the author as a replacement for a copy that had been an ex-library book and was marred by stickers and ink stamps)

 

** To keep things in balance, I have no problem buying American editions of books by American authors, where American-English is in keeping with the authors intent.

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The Commando (the life and death of Cameron Baird VC. MG.) by Ben Mckelvey

The Commando, is a biography of Cameron Baird the 100th (and to date last) Australian Victoria Cross winner who was killed in Afghanistan in June 2013.

It was quite a disturbing read, although I’m not sure it was intended to be so in the way I found it. It was written to honour a ‘hero” but (to me) it did more to expose a lot of uncomfortable issues related to Australia’s part in the war in Afghanistan and what it did to the special forces troops trained and posted to serve there.

It shows how Baird and his regiment lived to kill and were always impatient to be sent out on a mission to hunt down the “Taliban”. (The author notes at the beginning of the book that he used the term “Taliban” as a kind of generic name for any hostile Afghan – who weren’t necessarily associated with the religious group, but were assumed to pose a potential danger to western troops).

At one stage Baird and his Australian colleagues were used as the weaponised arm of the American Drug Enforcement Agency, with the aim of destroying Afghan drug cultivation and manufacture: basically as guns for hire, because apparently the US Government wouldn’t allow US troops to be used for that purpose.

Among his colleagues Baird was considered lucky because he died in action on one of the last missions in Afghanistan. Those surviving colleagues have found it hard to settle back into everyday life. One of the men interviewed for the book killed himself not long after giving the interview.

I’ve read or seen accounts of the other three Australians awarded a Victoria Cross for their service in Afghanistan and I was left in no doubt why they were deemed worthy of the award. However with this account I wasn’t so sure about the reason for Cameron Baird’s award. The book just didn’t make it clear why his final action stood out from what his colleagues had also done to earn his posthumous VC.

I feel some discomfort writing this because it might come across as being critical of Cameron Baird, a man who gave his life in service of political decisions made by his country’s leaders. That’s not what I want to do. He was clearly a very likeable man, fully committed to whatever he set his mind to – whether that was football during his youth or his military career as an adult. He wasn’t a man willing to compromise to make do with a second rate effort or to be happy with anything less than a first rate outcome.

Any deserved criticism needs to be directed at the political and military systems that train men to become killing machines but do little to help them return to normality when those “skills” are no longer required.

Beersheba and “God’s Work”

Paul Daley (see previous post) wrote an interesting historical account of the Beersheba charge in today’s Guardian, which includes the following observation:

The charge, coincidentally, narrowly preceded the British war cabinet’s proclamation of the Balfour declaration in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. Such was the alignment of these pivotal moments in Middle East – and global – history that some evangelists and Christian Zionists have claimed that the light horsemen were somehow doing “God’s work” in re-establishing a Jewish homeland, as biblically prophesied.

This has always seemed utterly fanciful to me. While some horsemen certainly knew of the places they were traversing (Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem) from the Bible, there was nothing to suggest in the hundreds of letters and diaries I’ve read that any saw themselves as actively doing God’s work.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/postcolonial-blog/2017/oct/30/beersheba-centenary-lets-remember-that-story-is-not-the-same-as-history

 

I find Daley’s view expressed in the above quote is extremely naïve.

It doesn’t surprise me that the participants would have no idea of what role they may have been playing in God’s purposes and their ignorance of it can’t be offered as evidence of the claim’s lack of validity. Man’s knowledge and complicity aren’t determining factors of truth.

Mankind increasingly sees history in political and cultural terms, driven only by man’s decisions and actions, that the future is in our own hands, governed by our own choices. Any thought of God or any Divine intentions are mostly ignored or ridiculed.

Even many who acknowledge God’s reality tend to sideline Him, making God more of a spectator than someone with an active interest in His creation. They overlook the possibility that he may actual have a very defined purpose in mind for this world and its inhabitants, and that man’s actions will not and can not change that ultimate purpose. Instead, God is more than capable of using any of mankind’s actions (including the evils of war) to move towards His purposes being realised.

 

 

As I wrote elsewhere:

Mankind wasn’t driven along an unavoidable predestined path to war. War came about through choices, freely made by sinful mankind. The extent of man’s sin was displayed in the horrific acts committed and the resulting conditions arising from those acts; some of which I’ve described quite graphically in an earlier post.

God did not cause or ordain those acts, but He was more than able to USE those acts to further His purposes. He is more than willing to give mankind over to the consequences of our own choices, and will even give us a helping hand in achieving or obtaining what we’ve chosen in place of Him. (refer Romans 1:24-32 and 2 Thess 2:11-12)

What mankind meant for evil, God could turn around for His good, to move a few steps towards the fulfilment of His eternal plans.

https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/anzacs-and-wwi-part-5-the-part-god-played/

 

 

Beersheba, by Paul Daley

This was originally posted two years ago.

I thought it was worth reposting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event covered in the book.

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BeershebaOn 31st October 1917, the Australian Light Horse played a significant role in the capture of Beersheba from Turkish Ottoman control. Paul Daley looks at a variety of views of the Beersheba battle and the Light Horse charge in his book Beersheba. The book’s subtitle “A journey through Australia’s forgotten war”, reflects the general national ignorance of this part of Australian military history.

The final assault leading to the capture of the small town and its wells was an unorthodox horseback charge across open ground towards the Turkish defensive trenches. A charge of that type was not the usual Light Horse tactic. They generally acted as horse born infantry, riding to a battleground, where they dismounted, leaving their horses in the care of a designated handler, and then acted as infantry on foot.

In the charge at Beersheba they remained mounted, and relied on their horses to get them to the trenches where they would engage the enemy in brutal hand to hand combat.

The_Lighthorsemen_DVDThe 1987 film The Lighthorsemen, based on the charge at Beersheba, shows the Turkish troops being thrown into confusion by the audacity of the Light Horsemens’ action. Expecting them to dismount as usual, the Turks were taken by surprise, making it difficult to set the range of their artillery and rifle sights.

Daley is a journalist, not a historian, so he takes a much more personal approach to his subject, visiting the sites associated with the battle and combining his own experience of the place with his historical research as well as investigating how others today have been influenced by the events of almost a century ago.

Those other people include:
Joe Hockey, the treasurer in the current Australian government, whose Armenian grandfather had the task of rebuilding Beersheba after the war.

Businessman Richard Pratt who financed the Park of the Australian Soldier outside of modern Beersheba to commemorate the Anzac role in the battle.

And Kelvin Crombie who at the time of Daley’s book was an Australian long-time resident of Israel. Crombie has a strong belief that the battle of Beersheba and the subsequent Anzac involvement that removed Palestine from centuries of Ottoman rule was part of a Divine plan that led to the re-establishment of Israel as a nation 30 years later. He notes that the victory was won on the same day that the Balfour Declaration was announced, promising Jews a homeland in Palestine.

Apart from the Beersheba battle itself, Daley also uncovers a less glorious aspect of Anzac history, a post war revenge attack on an Arab village in which many of the male villagers were murdered as a reprisal for the killing of a New Zealand soldier by an Arab in the nearby military camp.

Beersheba was a turning point and was followed by a chain of victories that led on to the surrender of Jerusalem to British forces, then on to Damascus in Syria and the eventual, overall surrender of the Ottoman Turks at the end of October 1918. Less than two weeks later, four years of war ended with the armistice declared on 11 November.

Australian Light Horsemen, and the view from the Mount of Olives

Australian Light Horsemen, and the view from the Mount of Olives

Afghanistan: 3 Books and a Song

The Sewing Circles of Herat by Christina Lamb

Christina Lamb is a foreign correspondent with a close relationship to Afghanistan and its people. Long before the current crisis of the west’s longest war-without-end, Lamb was reporting from Afghanistan.

During the time of the Russian invasion of more than 30 years ago, she travelled with the Mujahedeen fighters opposing the Russian forces. Some of those Afghan travel companions afterwards became Taliban members, another of them became the Afghan President.

This book looks at the complexities of Afghanistan from the time of the Russian war through to more recent, post-Taliban years.

The book’s title refers to a group of women in the city of Herat, who took the risk of studying during the Talban’s rule, under the cover of holding a sewing circle. Those women reflect the persistence, the resilience and the stubbornness of one group of Afghan people determined to live their lives no matter what outsiders may try to inflict upon them

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Kahled Hosseini

Kahled Hosseini came to attention through his book The Kite Runner a book about male friendship and betrayal before and during the Taliban’s rule. This is his second book and this time his main characters are Afghan women of different generations, both of whom become married to the same man.
While the women’s relationship starts with resentment, shared experience binds them closer together.

This book also stretches across Afghanistan’s different political eras but starts well before the Russian invasion and ends after the Taliban was driven out. The changing politics also reflects in the changing attitudes and opportunities faced by Afghan women during the decades spanned by the story.

Beneath the Pale Blue Burqa, by Kay Danes

In December 2000, Kay Danes’ husband Kerry (the Laos based managing director of a British security company) was abducted by the Lao secret police and attempts were made to get him to make false accusations against one of his clients. Soon afterwards Kay was arrested and imprisoned to increase pressure on her husband. They spent nearly a year in custody, a year of being subjected to torture and mock executions, while diplomatic wrangling went on to secure their eventual release.

After such an experience it may be hard to understand why less than a decade later Kay would choose to work in Afghanistan, especially after suffering years of PTSD following the Laos imprisonment. But her experience and recovery motivated her towards involvement in humanitarian issues, where she could make use of the public profile her experience had given her.
Then, in 2008 she was approached about a planned visit to an Afghan women’s prison in Jalalabad…

Just don’t tell mum I’m going to a war zone.

http://www.kaydanes.com/

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(lyrics here:Good Morning Freedom)

Kabul Dreams holds to the claim of being the first rock band from Afghanistan; established in 2008 in Kabul.

All of the band members were born in Afghanistan, but they were displaced to different neighbouring countries as refugees during the Taliban reign: Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, returning to meet and establish the band after the Taliban fell.

In 2014, the band relocated to Oakland, California where they recorded and released their second album.

A Nurse at the Front, by Sister Edith Appleton

The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton.

This is a book I’ve been reading over a long period – not quite for as many years as it took for the original diaries to be written, but I’ve been dipping into it since I bought it, back in April 2015 and I finally finished it last weekend

I don’t find diaries the easiest things to read, but those written from within big historical events are worth it to get the “raw” impressions of those going through the experience, especially from the point of view of “every day people”.

The surprising thing about Edith Appleton’s account is the mix of experience described. There are the obvious times of extreme stress, when increased activity at the front results in waves of countless casualties needing hospital care. But there are also the quieter times: of country walks, afternoon teas, swimming in the sea. Those quieter times are the things so often missed out of the histories. The contrast is shown below.

 

July 4, 1916

Wounded! Hundreds upon hundreds on stretchers, being carried, walking – all covered from head to foot in well-caked mud. The rush and buzz of ambulances and motor-buses is the only thing I can remember of yesterday outside my wards. Inside it took us longer than the whole day to anything like cope with the work of changing, feeding and dressing the wounds of our share of them. We had horribly bad wounds in numbers – some crawling with maggots, some stinking and tense with gangrene, One poor lad had both eyes shot through and there they were, all smashed and mixed up with the eyelashes.

 

September 17, 1916

Had the day off yesterday. Indeed, I think about half the staff did too as we had so few patients in. I went for a walk with Wood and Maxy over the cliffs and lunched with Madame – crab, roast mutton, grilled potatoes and salad, then a delicious sort of cheese that is traditionally eaten with sugar then cider, and all followed by coffee. At 1 o’clock Matron, Maxy and I started off for Caudebec en Caux… The journey was a joy of beauty, bathed in sunshine. The Seine was most picturesque, with all the trees and hills along its banks just beginning to turn to autumn.

There is an Edith Appleton website where the diaries are accessible online, along with a lot of other information about her.
http://anurseatthefront.org.uk/

Sister Appleton received the Royal Red Cross, a medal awarded for exceptional services in military nursing. It’s the kind of medal I’d love to add to my collection of Medical Militaria, but I would never expect to find one for sale.

Then by accident today I found this one being sold, but for some reason Gloria won’t let me buy it. Maybe she thinks the $1,200 AUD could be put to better use for things we actually need 🙂 .

Blood on my Hands, a Surgeon at War by Craig Jurisevic


This is another book related to military medicine, but this one has a slight difference. Jurisevic was an Australian volunteer doctor who chose to help refugees who were fleeing from Kosovo to get away from a murderous campaign waged by Serbia under the government of Slobodan Milosevic.

What started out as a “simple” aim to serve in a surgical capacity for a volunteer organisation became complicated when Jurisevic exposed corruption at the main hospital in the town he was stationed, where severely wounded and sick refugees were being forced to pay for treatment or left to die.

He became a likely target for the organised crime group behind the extortion, so was encouraged by the Kosovan resistance to join them at their front line camp where they offered protection. He then found himself in situations far outside of his intended surgical role; seeing the need to train eager but woefully unprepared fighters from around the world in the essential basics of military competency.
Serving previously in a medical capacity under combat conditions in Gaza was helpful to him in ways he couldn’t have anticipated.

 

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“They killed fourteen from my village. Three were children. They shot the children first so that their fathers and mothers could see. They shot the parents of these children with some others of my village”
( from a survivor of Sapuzane, Serbia, as told to Craig Jurisevic after fleeing across the border to Albania).