We’ve Reached That Time Again

Race of a LifetimeWe’ve reached that book pile time again: the time where I have to wade through the teetering, nearly toppling pile of books next to my bed to pluck out a few suitable for a long-haul flight.

This is starting to feel like a semi-annual blog post, but one that I feel is necessary as the task near stumps me every time.

I’m heading to Santiago, Chile, for the Homeless World Cup (HWC), an annual event that uses football to tackle homelessness, and one I attend each year.

Some of you may recall I’ve been to Santiago before. I stopped in there on my way to the HWC in 2010, which was hosted in Rio de Janeiro. The reason you may recall it is because I vastly underestimated my reading excitement and finished my books by, oh, just about the time I had landed.

That left me three weeks essentially book-less and no amount of scouring the Spanish- and Portuguese-penned books stocked in Chilean and Brazilian bookshops could assuage my reading hole. I can’t read Spanish or Portuguese well enough to devour books in those languages with gusto and, well, let’s just say I deeply regretted not having an electronic reading device right about that time.

This time around I have an iPad Mini, so if I get desperate I’ll be able to download some books. But truthfully, I still probably lean towards physical book copies—not because I’m a technophobic luddite, but because I honestly forget which books I already own if I can’t see them on my shelf.

Literally. I inadvertently bought both an electronic and physical copy of The Queen of Katwe because of this memory flaw. Come to think of it, I’ve actually not read either copy. Which perhaps means that one should most definitely be included in the books-to-pack pile.

One of the books I took to Santiago last time was Race of a Lifetime, which dissects to an extraordinary level of detail the election campaign that would eventually see Barack Obama elected America’s first African-American president.

In my defence, it’s an absolute tome of a book, which misled me into thinking reading it would take a while. I underestimated the skilful, un-put-downable storytelling contained within it, which saw me inhale the book in a few short sittings, begrudging even the time it took to eat or go to the bathroom as that was valuable time not spent engulfed in the tale. If you haven’t read this book yet, read it, read it, read it.

Love & Terror on the Howling PlainsPoe Ballantine’s Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is likely on the might-make-it-on-the-plane list. I heard him in conversation with ABC Radio’s Richard Fidler and he was outstanding, his writing style exquisite.

The same goes for Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, although I also have to add the addendum that her writing, though crafted as if directly from some genius, ethereal muse, tends to require quiet-time and quiet-mind reading, which the inside of an aircraft on a long-haul flight doesn’t lend itself to.

Plus, I got burnt by The Little Friend and want to make sure this book is The Secret History standard before I lug it halfway across the planet.

I should probably get round to finishing Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, but I feel that the book’s topic and even more so the book’s finely wrought writing might destroy me. When I grow up I’d love to write books like and on topics like Boo does. But I’m not sure I’ll ever grow up or master writing something so delicate and simultaneously uplifting and wrenching, so it’s arguably best I never finish the book and therefore never subject myself to feeling inadequate in her shadow.

Which leaves me with such books as Cocaina and The Candy Machine (debatably either appropriate or inappropriate given that I’m heading to home-of-cocaine South America), Tampa (probably too raunchy for reading in public), Even Silence Has An End (again, a little too close to home with stories of kidnapping in South America), and The Coke Machine (which I know I need to read, but which I also know will mean I have to give up my one and only vice: Coke Zero-delivered caffeine).

So I’m putting it out there instead: I leave in exactly seven days. What would you recommend me packing to see me through flights to and from, and my stay in, Santiago?

The Big Issue’s Digital Edition

Home and AwayThe Big Issue (Australia) made an exciting announcement this week: From 7 June there’ll be another way to enjoy it. Currently a print-only magazine (and a fantastic one at that), it will also be available digitally.

It’s a complementary approach and one that I’m fairly excited about—the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), of which The Big Issue is a member, has been trialling the digital editions overseas for some time.

The response has been positive, with digital sales making up between 1% and 10% during the trial period. At the same time, the digital issues ensure that, while never replacing vendors’ incomes, give readers options to read the mag in formats that best suit their needs.

The move is indicative of one that’s affecting the wider publishing and newspaper industry—how to adapt to a digital age without losing revenue. That’s especially important for The Big Issue’s vendors, who have very often experienced tough times and are selling the magazine as a way to turn their lives around (not that I’m saying journalists and others who work for newspapers and magazines are any less in need—we all need a viable, steady income).

It’s no secret that I’ve a massive soft spot for The Big Issue, although I’d say respect rather than soft spot. The magazine provides quality content for readers as well as dignified, life-saving employment. What’s not to like about that?

The digital editions will work like this: Vendors will continue to sell the print editions, but they’ll also sell digital access cards for those who want them. The cards will contain details for downloading the mag to computers and reading devices such as iPads. As with the print editions, $3 from the $6 sale will go directly to the vendor—‘a hand up, not a hand out’.

The Big Issue has a strong track record with coming up with innovative ways to help people. Their Women’s Subscription Enterprise, for example, sees companies and people buy magazine subscriptions (I’m particularly impressed by this one—it’s not something I’d be clever enough to come up with).

Under this scheme, female vendors who otherwise may not feel safe selling the magazine on the street or who may have family commitments that prevent them from doing so, are able to pack and post the magazines, thereby earning a living.

The proceeds from the magazine sales also go to such programs as their street soccer one, which sees vendors and beyond head along to weekly football sessions that help them get fit, make friends, learn team work, and have fun. It’s kind of all-round win win.

Some players from the street soccer program are selected for the Homeless World Cup (HWC), an annual international event for homeless and marginalised people that uses football to inspire social change.

There isn’t yet a book about the Australian team, but Dave Bidini did a bang-up effort following the Canadian team at the 2008 HWC, which The Big Issue hosted in Melbourne. It’s a good indicator of the kinds of incredible work The Big Issue does, and the benefits of its profits. I, for one, will be roadtesting the digital editions (and supporting its flow-on football effect) come 7 June.

No Book Left Behind

Fifty ShamesI’m heading to Mexico City this Friday. It’s hosting this year’s Homeless World Cup (HWC), to which I take my annual pilgrimage. Which means I’ve done the only things rational: no packing whatsoever, but plenty of agonising over which books to take for the trip.

I don’t yet own an ereader, not because I’m against them (in fact, I’m wholly for them as yet another and complementary opportunity to fit more reading into our lives), but because Apple haven’t yet released one. Sadly, I’m not even kidding.

I’ve found the existing ereaders by non-Apple companies not well-enough designed functionally and in terms of being pretty. And don’t even get me started on the difficulties of region-specific availability and being locked into certain file types or not-author-or-reader-friendly online behemoth bookstores.

Apple-versus-the-rest-of-the-world arguments aside, I’m tossing up between taking which and how many of the following physical books.

(In case you can’t see them clearly, they from left to right include: I Lost My Love in Baghdad, Bossypants, Desert Flower, The Elephant Whisperer, The Coke Machine, Madlands, Silent Spring, Call of the Weird, and Behind The Beautiful Forevers. Fifty Shames of Earl Grey is on backorder and I’ll not deny that I’m hoping and praying it arrives before Friday.)

As I well-documented (read: moaned) at the time, I foolishly took the rational, weight- and spacing-saving option of packing too few books to the 2010 HWC, then spent three quarters of the trip with my sad face pressed up against the glass of bookstores that sold books I, in my non-Spanish- and non-Portuguese-speaking incapacity, couldn’t read.

I also spent considerable time hatching plans to order an ereader to be shipped to me, with the only thing preventing my purchase was that I couldn’t be certain of the delivery timing and I was moving around. Ugliness, availability issues, and locked-in formats and stores be damned, I’d have paid anything for any books in any format I could read at all.

I Lost My Love In BaghdadWhich is a long-winded way of saying that I’m prepared to sacrifice underpants and other essentials in order to ensure my luggage is choc full of books. But even I know the above are too many. I’m only going for two weeks and they’re two 18-hour-days-of-work weeks. One or two or three of these books need to go.

The question is: Which ones? Every fibre of my being is screaming in the ultimate cliche: No book left behind.