Exit Wounds

October 22nd, 2012 at 12:35 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Australia has lost another soldier in Afghanistan.

This is the 39th Australian soldier to have been killed in the war in Afghanistan since 2002.

The soldier’s next of kin have been notified.

Australia currently has about 1550 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

In August, the ADF suffered its darkest day since the Vietnam War when it lost five soldiers in two separate incidents.

This included two soldiers in a helicopter accident in Helmand Province and three soldiers in a  “green on blue” attack north of Tarin Kowt.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith will speak from Sydney later this morning.

By coincidence I read yesterday the book Exit Woundsby Major General John Cantwell. The synopsis sums it up:

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will beunmoved, nor forget its imagery or words.

I highly recommend this book.

The section on the Gulf War was fascinating. He was a Major and meant to be a liaison officer between the US and British forces, which meant travelling all over the place to liaison points, to find no one there. Several times they almost got killed by friendly fire – and once found themselves 20 kms in advance of the coalition forces, meaning that had to drive towards the coalition forces from the Iraqi side.

Also he describes the scenes of bodies buried in the ground as tanks with blades had crushed all in their sights. That was the start of the nightmares.

In Iraq in 2006 he was a Brigadier or one star general. He dealt regularly with senior Iraqi leaders and his stories of their duplicity and betrayal are eye openers. He also has several near misses with death and see first hand the results of a massive bomb. You get a feeling of what it is like having 100 or so people a day die, mainly civilians.

Then in 2010 he was a Major General and the commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan. He disobeyed orders to go out on patrol with some of his men, and again there were many close calls with death. However it was the 10 Australian men who died that hit him hardest, and the scenes of him fare-welling them after he has formally identified them are incredibly moving.

Generals are not meant to admit that they can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and Cantwell’s book has probably done his fellow soldiers a great service in allowing them to recognise and get treatment also if they need it. It is hard to imagine anyone being totally untouched by the scenes of carnage Cantwell describes. One can only imagine how much worse great slaughters such as WWI were.


The Whitcoulls Top 100

July 16th, 2012 at 7:55 am by David Farrar

Whitcoulls have announced their top 100 books, as voted on by 20,000 readers. The top 10 are:

  1. The Millennium Trilogy
  2. The Hunger Games Series
  3. The Lord of the Rings
  4. Pride and Prejudice
  5. The Fifty Shade Trilogy
  6. Harry Potter
  7. Cross Stitch
  8. Song of Ice and Fire Series (Game of Thrones)
  9. The Pillars of the Earth
  10. The Hobbit

I’ve read all but two of the top 10.

A mixture of old and new. 28 of the 100 are on the list for the first time. There was also a vote for favourite author and the top three are:

  1. Jodi Picoult
  2. JK Rowling
  3. Lee Child

Why book stores are dying

February 4th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

All other things being equal I prefer reading a book in bed, rather than a kindle.

But all other things are not equal.

I have been a long-term fan of the Magician series of books by Raymond E. Feist. I’m even lucky enough to be on a mailing list with the author, where you can discuss his works with him.

His 29th and penultimate book in what will be a 30 book collection (in 10 series) has just been published. It is not yet available in NZ bookstores. To be fair, we do often get it in our bookstores ahead of even the US bookstores.

As a hardcover, it will probably cost NZ45 or so when it is released here.

I could order the book off Amazon to be home delivered. But the book is not available for delivery until 13 March 2012.  Cost with delivery would be around US$28.

But I managed to buy a Kindle version for US$10 last week, and am already halfway through it.

I love having a physical book collection, but I can see more and more of my future purchases being for my Kindle (technically Kindle on iPad).


Bookstores under threat

February 18th, 2011 at 8:28 am by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Book chains Borders and Whitcoulls have been put under administration in New Zealand and Australia.

The two chains have about 1000 staff in New Zealand.

Australian parent company REDgroup Retail, which manages operations in both countries, called in voluntary administrators to the business, The Age reported. The jobs of up to 2500 staff were now in doubt, the newspaper said.

REDGroup is controlled by private equity group PEP.

Borders and Whitcoulls made up 85 of the 350 bookshops in New Zealand according to Booksellers New Zealand.

I’m still missing Dymocks. I liked the way they organise their stores. I love Borders Auckland for the range of books they have there. Borders Wellington doesn’t have as many.

It will be sad if these two book chains collapse, but not the end of the world. The Internet has allowed independent bookstores to compete with the giants.

In Newtown, there’s a second hand bookshop called Book Haven. I’ve only once been to the store physically. But they have over 50,000 titles online – I think the largest second hand online collection in New Zealand. They also have a network of other stores, so can find rare books for you.

The shipping charges for Book Haven are only NZ$5/item and they turn up the next day. Amazon charge US$10 for the first item and US$5 for each other item for slowmail andUS$20 for the first item sent fastmail.

Reading Kiwi books

October 11th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The SST asks:

MAYBE IT’S because we’re so open-minded and outward-looking. Maybe it’s because our tastes are too lowbrow. Maybe it’s because we’re a small English-speaking country facing the marketing might of the US and UK.

Whatever the possible reasons – and they are countless – there’s no denying the fact that when we’re at the bookstore browsing for a great novel to read, only 5% of the fiction we choose to buy is published in New Zealand.

By comparison, for non-fiction titles, the figure is more like 30%, and for children’s books, about 12%, according to Nielsen BookScan.

What does this say about the books our authors are writing? Or is the issue that we’re simply not terribly interested in reading stories about New Zealand?

I don’t think this is a “problem” about Kiwi authors. Let us say Kiwi authors are just as talented as US and UK authors.  Our population is 1% of the US and UK, so you would expect NZ authors to make up 1% of the books we read if all other things are equal.

In fact it is 5% for fiction, 12% for kids and 30% for non fiction. All well above our share of the English writing population. Now non fiction is higher as we are more interested in our home country. But people get fiction to escape reality. Sure it is nice to be able to relate to the setting of a story, but just because it is a Kiwi author doesn’t mean it is set in NZ.

Book Catalog Software

January 21st, 2009 at 8:37 am by David Farrar

I have thousands of books and want to catalog them. Ideally what I want is a hand scanner which I can use to roll over their ISBN bar code, and software will automatically identify the book’s title and author.

I’ve looked a bit on Google, but can’t see too many products – at least not locally.

Has anyone got something similiar they would recommend? Cost is an issue, but functionality is more important.