Odd books I own…

I moved house recently, which meant boxing up a lot of books. A veritable shed-load of them in fact. And amongst their number I discovered some rather odd titles. Have you got anything that compares to these oddities?

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Teach Yourself Esperanto

This might be the oddest book I own. I think I got it from a charity shop in Canterbury around 2003. At the time I was studying English at uni, so languages, especially constructed languages like Esperanto would’ve attracted my eye. I was also putting equal effort into my drinking studies, so it’s highly likely this was a drunken impulse purchase. This might explain why I didn’t notice the note on the front that said it was meant to come with a cassette, which my copy didn’t. Alas my learning of Esperanto was thwarted at the first step. To this day I have yet to meet anyone who speaks Esperanto. Wikipedia reckons there’s 100,000 active speakers, so it’s not that surprising I’ve yet to meet anyone, although, Wiki estimates that over 10 million people have studied it at some stage. Wow, how about that?

Wikipedia – Esperanto

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The Lonely Planet Guide to Antarctica

I’ve never really got on with the Lonely Planet books. I find the name a bit depressing. You can tell it’s a British brand. It’s not Happy Planet, or People Planet, or Travel Planet…it’s Lonely Planet…insert sad face here. Also, I’m still a bit annoyed with the Lonely Planet people for giving Southend-on-Sea a kicking in their 2003 edition (they basically laid on the Essex stereotype…which isn’t helpful for an area trying to lose it).

Anyway, I bought this from a charity shop in Downham Market, Norfolk around 2004 – this is perhaps the most bizarre Lonely Planet book I’ve ever seen. It’s not short on pages, though a large chunk focuses on the history of the continent. There’s an amusing section on getting there and away…and I was tickled by the ‘places to stay’ chapter as well as mention of the various tourist ‘attractions’ – there’s a museum in Antarctica donchyaknow?

Perhaps what I find so amusing about it is that it’s highly unlikely anyone can backpack to Antarctica. Backpacking is about not knowing where you will lay your head the next day, moving from town to town, country to country on the whims that inspire you, maybe even thumbing lifts to get there, just like they do in films. You are hardly likely to be able to thumb a lift off a dozen penguins in Antarctica, nor, without something massive going awry, be passing the frozen continent by chance. No, a trip to Antarctica isn’t a Lonely Planet trip, it’s an expedition.

It says this first edition was first published in 1996. I know, having researched it a lot, that Anarctica tourism has grown massively since then – indeed, getting to the South Pole has been rendered somewhat meaningless when celebrities can reach it using only kites and push-bikes – so maybe the latest version of this guide is relevant to a great pool of traveling types.

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Sega Power presents: Golden Axe

In the early 90s I spent a lot of my spare time playing computer games, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was reading magazines about them. I wasn’t a particularly loyal reader – I’d consume anything I could get my hands on, or buy whichever magazine had the best freebie that month. In 1992 Sega Power took the odd and rather brave move to issue a novella as their freebie – it was written by the magazine’s editor Andy Smith and basically made a story out of Golden Axe, one of Sega’s most famous scrolling beat ’em ups. It was the first in what would become a series of four game novellas published by the magazine over the next year or so. Road Rash and Super Monaco Grand Prix followed (both written by Deputy Editor Neil West) and concluded with the publication of Desert Strike (by Andy Smith). I preferred the West ones, but that’s probably because it was possible to write more story into them. I mean, Golden Axe is just the same action repeated over multiple different levels. Confront enemy, beat up enemy, move on to next enemy. It’s pretty hard to make a story out of that, whereas racing games can have backstory, rivalry, characters – although, having said that, in Super Monaco Grand Prix, there is a cheeky chapter that just says ‘Another race. Another win’ – I suppose when you’ve got a season of races to write up as stories you’re going to run out of ways to create drama.

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These books have puzzled me for years. How the hell did they get the green light? Given that the magazine was marketed at kids/teenagers and their love of computer games, it seems curious that they’d try and put a book in front of them. Or maybe the editor was overcome with guilt at being a pied piper leading a generation of kids down a illiterate slide that he woke up one night and said ‘Egad! I must get them reading!’ and so scribed Golden Axe in a late night, coffee induced, frenzy. Having said that, I loved Sega Power, loved these novellas and went on to have writing aspirations and a love of literature – so to Messrs Smith, West and Yeo (he wrote a novella of Super Smash TV for rival title Sega Force – and it’s really good) I say thank you. Your books remain oddities amongst my collection and I won’t ever be giving them up.

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DinoPark (German version of Jurassic Park)

‘Welkommen zu die DinoPark!’ [cue trumpets]

I don’t speak German. I wish I did…and for a while I tried, but my grammar and pronunciation are hopeless, but that didn’t stop me picking up this copy of Jurassic Park when I was in Berlin a few years ago. It was left in the doorway of an apartment building, a bookshare kinda thing.

I’ve read Jurassic Park so many times I figured I’d know it word for word. I’ve read a few pages and I can follow what’s happening, but I lack being able to tell the real difference between the versions. The one thing that really bugs me about this book, the title on the spine goes the wrong way. I’m guessing this has something to do with my continental cousins driving on the wrong side of the road. Maybe.

How to write a novel

Over time I’ve acquired a few of these books and there remains just one I think of as any good. Better than good, in fact. ‘Bloody sublimely useful’ would be a better way of putting it – Stephen King’s On Writing is head, shoulders, torso and belly-button above all over books I’ve read on ‘writing’ and ‘how to do it’ – if you’ve not checked it out, give it a look.

There’s a million books out there that claim to be able to give you Matrix like abilities to learn a craft/skill quickly. This is bullshit. There are no quick ways to learn anything. All learning is effort, and you have to put the effort in to reach whatever level of competency/proficiency you’re after. There is no magic book that once read makes you a genius (trust me, I’ve been looking for years). And it saddens me that so many of these snake-oil salesmen write books about writing.

Augusten Burroughs wrote a book about how to deal with life, in which he made an excellent point about diets. He said, he sees diet books everywhere, diet DVDs, diet programs. He researched it and learned that dieting was a billion dollar industry – which lead him to the conclusion that if it’s worth so much money, a lot of people want it but few can attain it. Same with writing, everyone on some level would love to be a successful super-rich writer; these writing books are the equivalent of lottery tickets. Writers buy them, hoping to learn some alchemy, but in truth it’s another duping. The only way to learn is to practice, read widely and read often (I’m paraphrasing Stephen King here, in fact, I might be quoting him directly…I’m a total convert to his book…and if I’m honest, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan – read five of his so far, I think.)

I’ve recently given all my ‘how to write’ books to charity (hence no picture) because every time I saw them on my shelves I got a little depressed. And I don’t want bookshelves to depress me, I want to see the spines of great works and feel inspired.

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