AbeBooks Home

Pages & Proofs


A book blog from the staff at AbeBooks.co.uk

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

Ghost Boy: Martin Pistorius’ Book About Locked-in Syndrome

ghost-boyIt sounds like the stuff of nightmares, like it must be invented by a tortured imagination. But Locked-in Syndrome is a real affliction, a rare neurological disorder. It is characterized by total paralysis of muscles throughout the body, excepting the muscles that allow for eye movement.

South African man Martin Pistorius – whose 2012 book Ghost Boy details the entire journey – was just 12 years old, a normal boy like any other, when his body began its descent into paralysis. What first began as symptoms of a flu soon revealed itself as something far more horrific, and with baffled doctors at a loss (far, far later, doctors eventually diagnosed cryptococcal meningitis), Pistorius was rendered entirely immobile over the course of the next 18 months. In the beginning, he was even unable to think. and was for all intents and purposes unconscious. Pistorius’ parents were informed he was entirely vegetative, with no brainpower remaining, and would likely remain that way until he died, for which they should prepare themselves.

Unbelievably, when Martin was (he thinks) somewhere between 14-16 years old, he “woke up”. That is, he was suddenly conscious and aware of his surroundings. He could see, hear and think, but was unable to alert anyone around him to his new state, or communicate in any way, so the people around them continued as if he were brain-dead. The medical community has thus far been unable to explain what “woke” him.

barneyA more terrifying, isolating and panic-inducing predicament is difficult to conjure, but Pistorius found strength and determination in a very strange place – that polarising big purple television dinosaur, Barney. Being made to watch repeated, seemingly endless episodes of the antics of Barney and his friends made Pistorius focus on a goal – learning to tell time and to count down time without the use of a clock, by the length of each episode.

All in all, the paralysis-coma lasted 14 years, 12 of which he was conscious.

Astonishingly, today, Martin Pistorius now lives in with his wife, and is a freelance web designer/developer. For more about how that came to be, you’ll have to read Ghost Boy.


Rare photo album commemorating The 39 Steps movie sells for £8,250

AbeBooks.co.uk has sold a rare presentation photograph album commemorating the 1935 movie version of John Buchan’s classic thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps. The book – containing more than 200 photographs – sold for £8,250 (approx. $12,500).

Probably one of only a handful produced by Lime Grove Studios as a gift to key people involved in the film’s production, the album chronicles the development of the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat as Richard Hannay.

The 39 Steps photo album

The album is a notable piece of British film memorabilia and the sale coincides with several John Buchan landmarks that occur in 2015. The Thirty-Nine Steps novel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year while Hitchcock’s movie version celebrates its 80th anniversary in June. In February, it will be 75 years since Buchan’s death.

It contains images showing the scenes, actors and sets, and 27 behind-the-scenes photos of Hitchcock and his crew at work. The film is ranked by the British Film Institute as the fourth best British film of the 20th century and helped to turn Hitchcock into a major force in the film industry.

Many of today’s thrillers owe much to the film thanks to elements such as an innocent man wrongly accused, suspense on a travelling train, an ordinary man doing extraordinary things, incompetent police and a blonde with a sharp tongue.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an early example of the ‘man on the run’ adventure story. In the fast-paced plot, Hannay becomes embroiled in a spy hunt when a German double-agent is murdered in his apartment. He becomes the prime suspect and goes on the run as he tries to solve the mystery.

Buchan’s novel first appeared as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine before being published as a book. In all, Buchan wrote five novels featuring Hannay. Donat went on to win an Oscar for best actor in Goodbye, Mr Chips in 1939.

Robert Donat as Richard Hannay

Key scenes from the film

Further scenes from the 1935 film

Robert Donat (left) and director Alfred Hitchcock


Joan Didion’s favourite books

The Brainpicker blog has highlighted Joan Didion’s list of her favourite books of all-time. Lots of classics including Henry James, Hemingway, Orwell, Emily Brontë, James Baldwin and the poetry of WH Auden, Robert Lowell and Wallace Stevens.

Born in 1934, Didion’s literary career began in 1963 with her debut novel, Run, River. In 2005, Didion won a new generation of fans with The Year of Magical Thinking, a non-fiction classic describing the year after the death of her husband. Here’s the list:

Joan Didion’s Favourite Books

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Victory by Joseph Conrad

Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

Speedboat by Renata Adler

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

The Novels of Henry James  (Washington Square, Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw)

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

Collected Poems by Robert Lowell

Collected Poems by W.H. Auden

The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens


Bails, balls and books: from Wisden collector to Wisden bookseller

Chris Ridler and his WI5DEN number plate

The Wisden Shop in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, sells… well…Wisdens – the bible of the cricket world since 1864. Chris Ridler is the man behind this specialist bookselling venture and I’ll let him tell his story. It’s a tale that goes way beyond books.

“The main oddity may be that I am really just a collector that ended up with a heck of a lot of spare books and things evolved to where we are today,” said Chris.  “Having a shop, an auction site and an information site, wisdens.org, where this all started does sound quite a lot for a collector but it is a great place to be when you love cricket and statistics like I do. I also umpire and I am qualified to ECB level 2.

A 1917 Wisden in hardcover

“I guess it all started as I am very fond of cricket, and I was very good at maths in my youth so the two combined pretty much spells out Wisden. Back in 2005 I had a rather unpleasant experience from a Wisden dealer and ended up paying over the odds for some rather poor condition books.

“I work in IT so I created wisdens.org which is an information site and I started collecting prices and knowledge about Wisdens and also set up a forum (now called wisden.club) where we chat about the good book and other related matters, I can’t believe we are still going nine years later.

“I was asked all the time if I had a copy of Wisden year X and also received emails where people said they had a Wisden and did I want it. I did buy some for myself to increase and upgrade my set.

“Then came a catalogue and finally the WisdenAuction.com site , which was set up a month before the 2008 financial crisis. I created Wisdenshop.com for my books and these are what are also listed on AbeBooks. I have no intention of opening a shop as I work 9-to-5 (or longer) in my day job.

“Although it is a single book there are over 150 Wisdens (1864-2014) and also some in hardback and softback, then there are limited leather editions. Some books have bookmarks, most have pictures but not all. There are so many things to know and learn.

“The special Wisdens are, of course, 1864, the first one , 1875 the rarest, 1896, the first hardback, 1916-1919 in hardback which are very hard to find as are 1940-42 in hardback. Hardbacks are the more sought after hence the 1896 hardback can be priced over £20,000 and 1896 paperback is under £500 yet pretty much the same book.

A 1944 Wisden in linen cloth

“Some signatures appear in Wisden. Many are presentation copies from editors to helpers. Wisden prices have dropped lately. We run an index of prices but the last reading showed an upturn, so hopefully this will continue. A lot of sets are coming to market at the moment which is keeping prices down. The ultra rare books go up and up in price.

“I am lucky enough to have a full set of Wisdens, I still need to upgrade a couple of the early ones and I probably have a second set in spares but if I ever see a book better than mine (and I can afford it) then it’ll end up on my shelf. My car registration is W15DEN. I could go on forever.”

The showpiece offering from Chris’ inventory is an inclusive run of original hardback Wisdens from 1897 to 1948 priced at just under £85,000. This set is special as it includes the hard-to-find wartime editions and the rare editions from the 1890s.

 Browse the Wisden Shop.


The most expensive sales of 2014 – a double helping of David Bailey

Michael Caine from David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups photography book

Today, we have published our annual list of the most expensive sales of the year. The list for 2014 is remarkable for many reasons. A copy of Das Kapital sold for a staggering sum. There were appearances from legendary books like Dune, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit, Ulysses, and A Farewell to Arms. A signed postcard from Gandhi sat alongside a photograph of the Apollo XI crew.

Two copies of David Bailey’s seminal 1960s photography book, A Box of Pin-ups, appear on the list. The book contains images of just about anyone who was anyone – from Michael Caine to Mick Jagger – in London during that period.

 See the list.


Great deals on classic literature from Oxford University Press

Our friends at Books2Anywhere, one of our longtime booksellers, have sliced 55% off the RRP price for more than 200 titles published by Oxford University Press. This offer lasts until December 31. Lots of classic literature is available here, including some masterpieces from Trollope, Kipling, Woolf and Lovecraft. There is also a decent helping of non-fiction.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

Greenmantle by John Buchan

Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

War Stories and Poems by Rudyard Kipling

Classic Horror Stories by HP Lovecraft

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Selected Poems and Songs by Robert Burns

The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault

The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton

William and Dorothy Wordsworth by Lucy Newlyn

Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations by Gyles Brandreth

The Book: A Global History by Michael F Suarez

Britain Begins by Barry Cunliffe

Wordsmiths and Warriors by David Crystal

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

The Story of Pain by Joanna Bourke

George Orwell: English Rebellion by Robert Colls

The Newton Papers by Sarah Day

Poetry of the First World War by Tim Kendall

Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples by Charles Dickens

 


Off the Beaten Path Bookshops

beaten-path

Forget London, ignore Paris, neglect New York. Let’s go to some isolated, hard-to-find bookshops where the passion for books burns brightly. From a Welsh hillside with no neighbours for miles around to a remote peninsula in Alaska, visit some of the world’s most remote bookshops – all of whom sell on the AbeBooks marketplace. Destination book-buying at its finest, these are books well worth traveling for.

See the Bookshops


Do-It-Yourself Coffins, and Other New Weird Books

Do it Yourself Coffins
And now, for something completely different….when’s the last time you had a good dose of weird? The Weird Book Room has been updated again and has more titles than ever. It’s an uplifting experience to visit the WBR and frolic about in the weirdness.

The Weird Book of the Week this time around is Do-It-Yourself Coffins: For Pets and Peopleby Dale Power. It’s a clear example of a special brand of weird book where really, only the title is odd. When you think about it, any artist, woodworker or master ctaftsperson might very well love to create their own beautiful coffin (or one for a friend!), but when read as simply a title in a sea of other quirky, strange titles, they make for a good laugh. We do hear from folks now and again who have taken umbrage at one or more of our selections, pleading the case for seriousness. Fear not – we know the books we choose to feature are largely useful, serious, wonderful books. We’re merely having a bit of fun and are grateful for the levity the titles provide.

This holiday, have a grave perusal of Do-It-Yourself Coffins, and catch up on other classically weird titles like The Bible & Flying Saucers, Electricity in Gynecology, How to Be Happy Though Married, What Not to Wear on a Horse and many, many more. Remember, the key to a youthful glow and glad heart is weirdness. Lots and lots of weirdness.

Weird it Up!


Crime Writer P.D. James Dies at 94

unsuitable-jobPhyllis Dorothy James, better known as P.D. James, died this morning. The crime writer wrote over 20 books in total throughout her career, most of them novels. She is perhaps best-known for the creation of recurring character Adam Dalgliesh. The much-beloved Scotland Yard Inspector featured in 14 of James’ novels, including her first book, Cover Her Face, in 1962.

Outside of the Dalgliesh novels, James’ most famous work was the 1992 dystopian novel The Children of Men, set in a future experiencing a mass pandemic of infertility. With declining populations and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, the discovery of a young pregnant woman throws matters into further chaos. The novel was extremely well-received, and an equally successful film adaptation was released in 2006.

Most recently in 2011, James published her novel Death Comes to Pemberley, a murder mystery written in the style of Jane Austen, beginning where Pride and Prejudice left off.

James died peacefully at home. She was 94.


My Favourite Reads of 2014

Every single year around this time, I find myself reflecting back on the books I’ve read since January 1st, and feeling:

1) mad at myself for not reading more;
2) mad at myself for wasting my life finishing that one really dreadful book;
3) delighted that I kept going through the hard bits of that one that turned out so wonderful; and, mostly
4) grateful that thanks to affordable secondhand books and libraries, I have such a wealth of access to so many inspiring reads.

The Washington Post has put out their list for the top 50 fiction books for 2014, and reading it made me want to share my favorites of the year, too. The Post’s selections are all published in 2014, but mine are all over the map.

Here are my favourite 20 of the books I read in 2014. As in previous years (2008,2010, 2011, 2012), the selections are all over the place. Some are new, some are old, some are Canadian, some are graphic novels, some are chock full of violence, some are tear-jerkers, some are comedy, some are historical fiction. It’s just a little glimpse inside my brain and what it likes to read. Here are my top 20 books of 2014, in no particular order. Enjoy, and I’d love if you leave a comment with agreement, disagreement, recommendations or whatever else.

1. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
It would be almost impossible to overstate the graphic and visceral violence in the book. Be warned. That said, The Orenda is a thoughtful, intricate and fully-realized story of the very early days of Canada’s settlement, the lengthy clash between the Huron and the Iroquois people, and the involvement of the white Jesuit priests and missionaries who came to settle there. Like all of Boyden’s work, even the most terrible and brutal of passages are still simultaneously beautiful. He is a tremendously skilled writer.interestings-meg-wolitzer

2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I must confess that even though this is only one of Wolitzer’s 10 novels, this is the first I’ve heard of and first I’ve read. But I enjoyed it so much that I intend to seek out her previous titles now, as well. You know the feeling you get as a child at summer camp – something like an overwhelming mixture of possibility and purity? It’s a feeling of falling in love with the people, time and place of the moment, a simultaneous slowing and speeding of time, invincibility, and bittersweet nostalgia for something that isn’t even over yet. Wolitzer captures that perfectly, and follows the lives of the six friends who experience it all together as teenagers, studying the places life takes each of them and the way they still belong to one another.

3. More Than This by Patrick Ness
More Than This is billed as a Young Adult (YA) novel, but don’t be fooled. Its story will certainly appeal to teenagers, but adults would be remiss to skip over it. The book tells the story of 16-year-old Seth, a boy who drowns, and then finds himself in a deserted neighborhood. Seth believes he is in hell or some kind of purgatory. Much more than that would risk spoiling, and this is absolutely a book worth reading. It made the hair on my arms stand up multiple times. It’s a considered, thought-provoking and philosophical read. Some of its plot points could have become preachy or heavy-handed, but Ness skillfully maneuvers around all the curves. If there’s a sequel, I will snatch it up as quickly as I can.

4. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
You may know B.J. Novak better as Ryan the Temp from the American version of the sitcom The Office. woman-walked-into-doors This collection is 100% worth it, even if you only read the story titled “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”. The title story is memorably great as well. A few of the stories felt a bit cutesy and gimmicky, but overall it’s a solid collection and made me laugh out loud a handful of times.

5. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Absolutely heartbreaking. It would be a masterpiece if it were written by a woman, but the fact that Doyle, as a man, was able to so masterfully write the character of Paula Spencer, an abused but unbreakable working-class woman thinking back over her life, is mindblowing. This novel is so real, so understated and so powerful that I had to pause or stop several times during my reading, to think, or cry or just take a break. It’s such a small, quiet story, but told so beautifully that it’s unforgettable.

6. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
A mysterious sudden (and by sudden, I mean all the males are wiped out in an instant) plague has eradicated males all across the globe. Not just humans, but all other male mammals as well. All, that is, except for Yorick, an easygoing, perhaps a bit bumbling young man, and his pet capuchin monkey, Ampersand. lowland-jhumpa-lahiri Some of the storylines of the series are less successful than others, but author Brian K. Vaughan clearly put a lot of thought into plot branches and possibilities here, and the result is a creative, interesting, really fun read. I recommend the whole series.

7. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is the first full-length novel I’ve read from Lahiri, having only read (and enjoyed) her short fiction previously. Lahiri’s prose is elegant and vivid as ever, whether she’s describing water lilies on a pond or tense escapes. The Lowland is the story of two inseparably close brothers growing up in Calcutta whose paths diverge as they reach adulthood.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler
What a strange and excellent book. First published in 1979, it is a science-fiction novel, but also a classic of African American literature and historical fiction. It details accidental and periodic time travel after a dizzy spell, between a woman’s modern-day Los Angeles life, and an early 19th-century Maryland plantation, where slavery is still in full practice.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Come on, you’ve read this book. It’s embarrassing that I hadn’t read it before. I’d always meant to, but just kept not getting around to it. invention-wings-kidd It did not, of course, disappoint, nor did Offred. If you haven’t read it, get to it!

10. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I liked The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd’s 2002 novel, pretty well, but did find it a bit saccharine and heartwarming for my taste. The Invention of Wings is still moving, but in its pages, Kidd seems to have better achieved a balance between characters. The novel tells the story, through alternating chapters, of Handful (slave name Hetty), a young slave girl in Charleston, and Sarah, the daughter of the family who owns Handful and her mother. It felt uncomfortable to be reading a book about slavery, written by a white woman, but from the (sometimes) perspective of a black slave. But it was a solid story.

11. The Messenger by Markus Zusak
I read this entirely because I loved Zusak’s The Book Thief so much. The Messenger was extremely different, and a hard plot to pull off – hapless Ed, the broke and rut-dwelling taxi driver, has greatness thrust upon him one day in a most unlikely fashion, and goes about shrugging and becoming a hero by following a series of cryptic and authorless instructions, because why not. eleanor-park-rowell But it’s a really fun read, and even if I rolled my eyes a few times, I kept reading.

12. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Another YA offering on the list. From the description, I wasn’t too excited to read this, as it sounded like many books I’d read before, about teenagers who don’t quite fit in finding each other. But the characters of both Eleanor and Park are written so realistically and unapologetically that it felt like a brand new story, and I found myself caring so much what happened to them. Rowell didn’t take any easy or obvious shortcuts to happy endings or clichés, either. It was a refreshing, raw and lovely book.

13. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
Love, love, love this book! Much like O’Neill’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, this second offering from the Montreal author is inhabited by the most irresistible and charming characters possible. But O’Neill’s writing has improved, as well. While I found aspects of her first novel jarring and requiring me to suspend too much of my disbelief, this one gets it just right. It maintains enough strangeness and magic to remain its sense of wonder, but doesn’t close the door on the possibility of reality. The relationship between Nouschka and her twin brother Nicolas is perfect. On Such a Full Sea (1/7/14)by Chang-rae Lee

14. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
A very unusual, risky and ambitious science fiction novel that really worked for me. For an inarguably dystopian story, On Such a Full Sea nevertheless manages to somehow buoy the reader up with hope and small snippets of joy as they traverse the strange landscapes. Read it yourself and see if you can help but cheer for Fan in your heart.

15. The Bear by Claire Cameron
This book bugged me from the get-go. Perhaps it’s because I have limited experience with five-year-olds, but the narration by Anna struck me as wholly unbelievable, and took me out of the story countless times. That didn’t really let up, to be honest, but I found the book so interesting in its details, history and story that I got past it.

16. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
I was nervous upon starting this book, because I feared from the get-go that Bernadette was one of those dreaded literary tropes – specifically, the madcapped, scattered, free spirit manic pixie dream girls. They’re annoying and done to death. But I was pleasantly surprised as I kept reading. It probably helped that my brain somehow decided that she would beplayed by Allison Janney in the movie in my head. I love Allison Janney. boxers-saints-yang

17. Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang does it again. He is the author of one of my favorite graphic novels, American Born Chinese. His latest offering is this two-volume graphic novel set in China’s Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century. He chose a two-volume format, writing one from the perspective of a young boy on the side of the rebels, and one from the perspective of a little girl on the side of the Christians. That choice, with both volumes being written gracefully and sympathetically, ensures that the reader is unable to pick a side, which of course makes it all much more tragic and futile, but more realistic.

18. Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This is a heck of a good debut novel. I found it impossible not to fall in love with June, our teenaged protagonist, and the complex, beautiful relationship she has with her uncle Finn. The novel that follows Finn’s death is mysterious, touching and perfectly paced as June struggles to understand and separate her feelings and navigate relationships with her mother, her sister Greta, and her late uncle’s boyfriend.

woman-upstairs-messud19. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Nora is an ideal unreliable narrator. She draws us in, intrigues us, and gets us, her readers, firmly on her side before slowly, inch by inch, unfurling the rest of the story. And as she does so, her likability recedes in turn, but by that time, she’s got us. And much of it is a story too familiar to many people, women especially – that of the exhausting, sorrowful awareness of dwindling life, wasted potential and futility. But there’s a spark, here, and by the end, it’s burning.

20. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
Not all of the stories contained in Munro’s 2009 collection worked for me. The title story, in fact, more of a novella in length, is too broad in scope and feels undecided the whole way through. I found it lacked the undeniable authenticity and truth in characters that typifies Munro’s writing to me. However, most of the stories in the book were great, and a couple were absolutely brilliant. The opening story had me at the library (I started reading there, before going home) sniffling into my sleeve.