The Regent Book Sale

James McNeish’s Lovelock, the fictionalised biography of the great 1500m runner from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, is quite possibly the best sports novel I’ve read.

Maybe that sounds like damning with faint praise! How many great sports novels have there been? Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was pretty good, Hunter Davies has written a few football ones, but I’m struggling to think of many other novels that might qualify. (I do have an idea for one of my own, but that’s a few years away, I think.)

Anyway, McNeish brought this book out in 1986 so why am I talking about it now? Because last year I was the grateful recipient of an absolute treasure trove of books, most of which range in date from those Berlin Olympics to the present day (although some are hundreds of years older.) How did I find this treasure trove? That, my friends, is the Regent Book Sale, and it’s on again tomorrow.

The Regent 24 Hour Book Sale: EDGAR CENTRE – 3 & 4 March 2023 | The Regent Theatre

If you live in Dunedin, you’ll know what I’m talking about it, our great second-hand book sale, organised as a fundraiser for the Regent Theatre in the middle of town. If you live elsewhere, please just substitute in your own community book sale as you read…

Do you ever think about how much it would cost to purchase every new book you want? I’m sure I’m not the only person who would be needing a chat with the bank manager if I obeyed every book-buying urge. There are a few alternative solutions, of course:

  • Use the library (and put up with the waiting list)
  • Buy ebooks (too much screen time, and the costs still add up)
  • Second-hand. Second-hand is the correct answer. Cheaper than ebooks, and you own them immediately, so no waiting list.

The other beautiful thing about buying second-hand is that at community book sales I can find all those books that several years ago I wanted to buy new. Now I can get them all for a dollar or two each.

Last year’s sale, after a couple of years of Covid-cancellations, produced a bumper crop.

Lovelock was one of the standouts. James McNeish takes us through the story of a young New Zealand man trying to fit into Oxford University society while training for the Olympics. There’s the on-track rivalries, the friendships that appear away from running, and then the build-up to the Olympics – the clashes with the best of the American and European runners, the search for the secret tactic that will give Lovelock the edge, the political dilemma about how to respond to Hitler (the New Zealand contingent decided to comply with the request to salute him, but accidentally saluted some other random German in the crowd instead!) Tense, creative and absorbing.

Probably the pick of the bunch was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I’d read – and loved – her The Secret History, but hadn’t read anything else by her. The Goldfinch is another masterpiece, the story of, well, a literal masterpiece. 13-year-old Theo Decker survives a terrorist attack at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, barely conscious of what he’s doing, walks out with a ring given to him by a dying man, and with a 17th century painting that was his dead mother’s favourite.

For the rest of his adolescence, Theo suffers from both the trauma of the attack and from the guilt at his theft of a painting he’s afraid to return, while living first at a new home with a wealthy family, then a drug-riddled life in Las Vegas with a Ukrainian classmate, before he returns to New York and the family business of the man who gave him the ring. As an adult working for this business, those twin influences in his life lead him deeper and deeper into trouble, until, at a party to celebrate his engagement to a woman he doesn’t love, the Ukrainian from Las Vegas re-emerges with a proposition: come to Amsterdam and I will solve all your problems. What Theo doesn’t know, is that this friend knows more than Theo about the stolen painting, and he really can solve all those problems. Maybe. If all goes well. (Do you think it will?)

It’s a marvellously full story, skilfully written. At times Donna Tartt makes you want Theo to just grow up, and then a page later you just want someone to give him a hug. 

I’d love to tell you more about some of the many other gems: China Mieville’s totally believable steam-punk fantasy, Iron Council, or Nothing Like the Sun, Anthony Burgess’s imagining of Shakespeare’s life as he writes The Sonnets. Thrillers by Lee Child, Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly. Classics from Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Tim Winton, Nigel Cox and Edgar Allan Poe. Wow. Just wow.

Now, here’s the bad news. I bought so many wonderful books at last year’s sale, that I haven’t even finished them all yet. I just had a look at what’s left – Tom Wolfe, Carl Hiaasen, David Lodge, Catherine Chidgey and many more.

So what am I going to do when the Regent Book Sale opens tomorrow? At the moment I’m telling myself I have to be really selective – no more than five or six books. Just the seven or eight. A dozen or so…

Happy book hunting to you all!

Published by gregbrook

Books. I read them, I write them, I read about them and I write about them.

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