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review 2018-01-21 08:24
The One-Cent Magenta
The One-Cent Magenta - James Barron

I have always thought postage stamps were neat.  I admit I'm the ass in the post office line asking if I can see all the current stamps when I get to the counter, so I can pick out the coolest ones.  (This, by the way, is unheard of in Australia; I've only found one post office where the lady is nice enough to let me pick my own stamps.)

 

But I have never collected stamps.  The hobby holds no appeal for me and never has. What I am hooked on, is rarity.  The idea that there are only x number of something in the world sucks me in, no matter what x is.  I understand the collectors that want to own what no one else owns; I don't have the ego for it, but the idea of owning something that is completely unique is a seductive one.

 

That's why I bought this book on a whim.  That and the cover.  James Barron is a New York Times journalist, who stumbled on the story of the one-cent magenta stamp at a cocktail party; the article he wrote about it led to this book, where he chronicles the path this odd-looking stamp took on it's way to becoming the world's most valuable stamp, selling at auction in 2014 for 9.5 million USD, to Stuart Weitzman, he of the red-soled shoe empire.

 

This is where journalists who write books shine, especially for someone like me, who knows almost nothing about stamps or philately.  Let's face it, stamps do not lend themselves to page-turning drama, and philately needs all the help it can get if it's to appeal to those outside the bubble.  Barron succeeded beyond my expectations.  I completely enjoyed this book and spent all day reading it.  His journalistic style brought the stamp's history to life, and even though he has a bit of fun with the eccentricities of "Stamp World" as he calls it, I thought he did a brilliant job describing the passion and dedication of the hobby in a sympathetic way.

 

I'm thoroughly surprised and delighted at how much I enjoyed this book.  

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review 2018-01-20 17:38
Cedilla, Adam Mars Jones
Cedilla - Adam Mars-Jones

The second instalment of John Cromer's life story picks up where the first left off, with our youthful white British suburban Hindu starting his A-Level studies. Unfortunately, this continuation of the school career is very much more of the same thing covered at length in the first volume and it gets a bit dull.

 

Things liven up considerably when Cromer goes off to India on a spiritual quest, then upon returning heads to Downs College, Cambridge where life proves to be neither easy nor stereotypical and being a wheel chair user makes one prone to being kidnapped, exploited and dropped down stairs...

 

We're left on a bit of a physical and emotional cliff-hanger and who knows when a Volume 3 might appear to tell us where John and his adapted Mini might go next?

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text 2018-01-17 17:41
Reading progress update: I've read 600 out of 733 pages.
Cedilla - Adam Mars-Jones

The other Boat Race: Eight pubs, eight pints, one hour, no peeing. John is volunteered as cox.

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review 2018-01-17 10:02
The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World's Greatest Botanical Explorers
The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World's Greatest Botanical Explorers - Carolyn Fry

First - this is a gorgeous book.  Generously and fabulously illustrated, at least half the pages are eye candy.

 

Second - it's really well researched, although it does lack a citation / notes section at the end, an unfortunate oversight.

 

Also unfortunate is the writing.  It's dry.  So, so dry.  Think academic history text dry.  If I had to guess, I'd say it's a case of severe editing; trying to pack huge chunks of history into small 1-2 page sections.  The result is a litany of names and dates guaranteed to make the most interested eyes droop.   

 

Luckily, the illustrations go a long way towards perking up a reader's attention.

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text 2018-01-17 01:05
Reading progress update: I've read 590 out of 733 pages.
Cedilla - Adam Mars-Jones

Cromer is exploited by another undergrad more motivated by her self-righteousness than any genuine desire to improve the plight of the disabled and suffers "Does he take sugar?" syndrome. Also, is dropped down some stairs when the police raid a student protest about...something.

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