Thursday, 27 October 2011

Reading Habit’s Five Best Selling Historical Naval Fiction Authors

On a recent book purchasing spree I was lucky enough to purchase a whole stack of different nautical fiction titles to boost our online second hand bookstore catalogue. It got me thinking about how a niche genre had maintained such a fanatically dedicated reader base for over a century. The naval fiction genre is littered with writing superstars who show unusual longevity and are incredibly prolific in terms of the number of titles they have penned. With my interest peaked I set out to find an online list of the top 10 best selling naval fiction authors of all time, but came up empty. I contemplated putting together a list of my own, but thought my selections might get crucified by the die-hard fans. Let’s face it! With such a rich catalogue of authors and works to choose from, I’ve no doubt naval fiction fans could argue forever about who the top ten authors of all time are. What I can write about with authority are the authors that sell the most consistently through our online bookstore. Accordingly, this piece will shine a brief light on five of Reading Habit’s best selling naval adventure fiction authors.

Let’s start with one of the definite front runners for best nautical author, Patrick O’Brian, an English novelist who is best remembered for his 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series set in the Napoleonic wars. O’Brian was born in Buckinghamshire in 1914, the eighth of nine children. He lived a sheltered life with only sporadic education, but began writing from the age of 12. After the war, O’Brian lived a quiet life in the Wales countryside living off the small income he earned from his fledgling writing career and his work translating French texts into English. His early writings were published under his birth name, Richard Patrick Russ, before he changed his surname to O’Brian in 1945. O’Brian hit the big time in the early 1970s when the first books in the Aubrey-Maturin series were published. O’Brian’s work in this series was well researched showing an attention to detail and historical authenticity that still holds his work in high regard today. So much so, that the series was re-released in the 1990s to popular reception, and in 1995 O’Brian was awarded the inaugural Heywood Hill Literary Prize for his life work. O’Brian lived to the age of 86, passing away in Dublin in the year 2000 with a 21st instalment in the series partially finished. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his Aubrey-Maturin characters come to life on the big screen in Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe, released in 2003. Click here to view our current catalogue of Patrick O'Brian titles.

Did someone say Hornblower? Horatio Hornblower is quite possibly one of the most beloved of all naval fiction characters and we have none other than C. S. Forester (and British ITV) to thank for that. Born Cecil Louis Troughton Smith in Cairo, Egypt, in 1899, C.S. Forester was an English novelist who wrote many nautical novels, but was most noted for his 11-book Horatio Hornblower series, set once again in that golden age of sail, the Napoleonic era. Forester was writing from an early age and was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his two novels A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours in 1938. Throughout his career Forester also wrote many novels of the non-nautical kind several of which were made into movies. The best known of these was The African Queen starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Forester lived most of his life in England before moving to the United States during World War II. While living in Washington he met a young Roald Dahl and is said to be the person who encouraged Dahl to write his first book. Forester died in California in 1966.  Thirty seven years later a lost Forester manuscript titled The Pursued was sold at auction. Just recently Penguin Books announced they would be publishing the book in early 2012 much to the delight of Forester fans everywhere. Click here to view our current catalogue of C S Forester titles.

Given that Dudley Pope was inspired by the works of C S Forester and has often been compared to Patrick O’Brian, it seems fitting that he is next on the list. Pope was born in Kent in 1925 and though he wrote many history texts, he was most famous for his nautical series featuring Lord Ramage as the central hero. Like many naval writers, Pope gained first-hand knowledge of his genre when he faked his age to join the Home Guard at 14 then joined the merchant navy at age 16. After just one year at sea, Pope’s ship was torpedoed in 1942 and he was lucky to come away with his life, spending two weeks in a lifeboat with a small group of other survivors. On being rescued he was discharged and went to work in newspapers as a naval correspondent. Writing naval history was his first love and he published his first title, Flag 4, in 1954. He tired away at this subject for almost 20 years before moving into nautical fiction after some encouragement from his mentor, C S Forester. And so it was that in 1965 the world was introduced to Pope’s first instalment in the 18-novel series featuring Lord Ramage, aptly titled Ramage. Pope spent most of his later life living onboard vessels where he did most of his writing. He was taken from us in April 1997, but has left an incredible legacy of both fiction and non-fiction titles. Click here to view our current catalogue of Dudley Pope titles.

On the home front, J. E. MacDonnell flies the flag as Australia’s most prolific and best loved novelist of the sea. As a boy, MacDonnell dreamed of becoming a seafarer and entered the Royal Australian Navy at age 17 where he spent 14 years. MacDonnell began writing in 1942 whilst still on active service and his first novel, Fleet Destroyer, was published in 1945 by The Book Depot. MacDonnell was also a staff member for The Bulletin between 1948 and 1956 for whom he wrote short stories. In 1956, MacDonnell began writing for Horwitz full-time and often churned out upwards of 10 novels a year. In total, MacDonnell wrote over 200 novels in at least 7 different series under various pen names. His most popular fictional characters were Captain ‘’Dutchy” Holland, Captain Peter Bentley, Captain Bruce Sainsbury, and Jim Brady. The Horwitz Naval series is what MacDonnell was most famous for but he also dabbled in the crime, medical, juvenile and espionage genres as well. MacDonnell passed away in Queensland in 2002, aged 84. Click here to view our current catalogue of J E MacDonnell titles.

Until I began trading in used books I’d never heard of Douglas Reeman, nor had I heard of Alexander Kent. I’m a little ashamed to say that even after becoming familiar with their work it took me quite a while to discover they were both one in the same. Douglas Reeman is another of those British naval authors. Born in 1924 he joined the Royal Navy at just 16, serving in both World War II and the Korean War. Not surprisingly, Reeman drew on his first-hand naval experience to write historical nautical fiction set mainly in World War II and the Napoleonic era. Reeman’s debut novel A Prayer for the Ship was published in 1958, but it is Reeman’s Napoleonic series featuring the central character of Richard Bolitho, written under the pseudonym of Alexander Kent, that is his most popular. It is interesting to note that the pen name of Alexander Kent was actually the name of Reeman’s fellow naval officer and friend who was killed in World War II. There are currently 30 novels in the Bolitho series including the most recent published in 2011, In the King’s Name. With Reeman still writing novels at age 87, Bolitho fans will be sated for some time to come. Click here to view our current catalogue of Douglas Reeman titles. Click here to view our current catalogue of Alexander Kent titles.

There are, of course, many other historical naval fiction authors, both past and present, that could have been included, but these five represent the bulk of purchases our customers make within the genre. There are also many popular authors who I haven’t touched on, like Tom Clancy and Patrick Robinson, who straddle many different genres. Suffice to say, the naval fiction genre is in a healthy state.

If you are interested in browsing through our online catalogues of second hand naval fiction books just click through here to our bookstore search page and look under Action/Adventure Fiction.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

How to Read an International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

If you’ve ever wondered how to read an ISBN and what all the numbers stand for then you’ve come to the right place. To most, an ISBN is just a random assortment of numbers much like a bar code, but to those in the book industry it’s a unique commercial book identifier. The ISBN was invented by Gordon Foster, an Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Trinity College in Dublin, in 1966. It was originally a 9-digit number, but it was increased to 10-digits in the 1970s, and 13-digits in 2007. So how does one go about reading an ISBN?  

The first point to note is that ISBNs are designed to be read from left to right. The second is that the important parts of an ISBN are separated by either a space or a hyphen (as in the example below). The third point to note is that an ISBN will have either 4 or 5 parts - 4 parts in the case of a 10-digit ISBN and 5 parts in the case of a 13-digit ISBN. The final point is that each part of the ISBN does not have a fixed number of digits, except for the check digit which is the last part of the number. The example we will use is the 13-digit ISBN seen below.
In a 13-digit ISBN the first set of numbers is referred to as a GS1 prefix. The GS1 system of product marking is an international standard developed for efficient supply chain management. Generally the GS1 prefix refers to a specific member organization, but in the case of books the GS1 prefixes of 978 and 979 have been allocated for use by all publishers. This is because the ISBN was in use long before the GS1 system was developed, so instead of replacing the ISBN system the GS1 system has found a way of blending it into their system by allocating these prefixes. The 3-digit GS1 prefix is also sometimes referred to as an European Article Number (EAN) or an International Article Number (IAN). In short, the first 3-digits of an ISBN don't mean much to the book collector.

The next part of the ISBN we will examine is referred to as the Group Identifier. In most cases, the Group Identifier is the 4th and 5th numbers of a 13-digit ISBN (or the 1st and 2nd numbers of a 10-digit ISBN). The Group Identifier refers to the language the book is published in. Most books have single digit Group Identifiers, but the Group Identifier can be anywhere between 1 and 5 digits long. Suffice to say, the rarer the language the book is printed in, the longer the Group Identifier. We have listed the single Group Identifiers below as they are the most common: 

0 or 1 for English speaking countries;
2 for  French speaking countries;
3 for German speaking countries;
4 for Japan;
5 for Russian speaking countries; and
7 for Peoples Republic of China. 

In the example above, the Group Identifier is only 1 digit long and given the digit is the number 1 we can tell the book is published in the English language. For a full list of Group Identifiers we suggest you visit the International ISBN Agency website and download the Range Message.

The third part of the ISBN is the Publisher Code. In the example above, the Publisher Code is 4 digits in length (4116), but publisher codes can stretch up to 9 digits. The Publisher Code is assigned by the ISBN agency. Publisher Codes are allocated in blocks and once a publisher has used all of their allocation they are assigned more blocks meaning that Publisher Codes are not always uniform or sequential. Unfortunately, there is no one place that you can look up all Publisher Codes, but a little creative searching online can lead you to some informal lists that are pretty accurate though not exhaustive.

The fourth part of the ISBN is the Item Number which in the example above is represented by the numbers 8691. The Item Number refers to the title of the book. Again, the title number can be varying digits in length and may only be a single digit.

The fifth and final part of an ISBN is the Check Digit which is always only 1-digit in length. The Check Digit is used as a form of error detection and is determined by a complex calculation using the other digits in the ISBN.

That's it!! I'll just finish off with a few words about the importance of ISBNs for book collectors. An ISBN is assigned to each edition, and each variation in format, of a book. This means that a first edition of a particular book will have a different ISBN to a second edition of the same book. This is why it's important to include ISBN information in any searches you are performing for a particular book, as sometimes just the title and author will not yield the exact book you are looking for. ISBNs also differ between formats (e.g. a hardcover version of a book will have a slightly different ISBN to a softcover version). In general, reprints of the same book (edition and format) will have the same ISBN.                                              

PS: It always bugs me that people write and read it as “ISBN number”. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. If you write “ISBN number” you are effectively writing International Standard Book Number Number. Call me crazy but you don’t need to write or read the word number twice. Get it right people!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Australian Book Lovers Calendar

We've just launched a new calendar on our website titled The Australian Book Lovers Calendar. We hope that the calendar will be a one-stop reference for avid readers that includes all the major and minor international and Australian-based literary events. The calendar is dynamic and is supported by Google so that you can copy the details straight into your own Google calendar.

Whilst calendar entries are growing nicely and we now have a good selection of book fairs, trade shows, writers' festivals and much more listed, we are looking for any interested persons to send through details on any events they know of, or are running, that would be suitable for the calendar. Please send through information to Your email should include a brief blurb on the event, event specifics (dates, times etc), and a web link. Please be aware that we will use our discretion in selecting what is suitable for inclusion.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

101 Things to Do With a Reader's Digest Condensed Book

Reader's Digest Condensed Books are breeding in my storage shed. I've got no idea how I've come to have so many in stock, yet there they are piled high to the rafters. All I can assume is that for everyone who donates books to my shop they slip in a few Reader's Digest. I certainly don't buy them for my bookstore because I can't sell the ruddy things, not even for 50 cents at a local market. They're virtually unsellable which if you ask me is a mystery unto itself. I mean, there are obviously heaps of people who buy them brand new otherwise they wouldn't be available second hand and they cost good money too. So why will no-one buy them for next to nothing second hand? Wouldn't it make more sense to not buy brand new, save yourself thirty bucks and pick-up a second hand copy for $1. Go figure?

Anyway, with no real practical idea for getting rid of the little blighters (other than disposing of them in the recycling section of my garbage) I've decided to come up with a totally impractical and completely silly way of using them. Thus, without further ado, I launch the 101 Things to Do With A Reader's Digest Condensed Book challenge and I need your help. I consider myself reasonably creative and am confident of coming up with a few ideas, but I thought it might be more fun to get your ideas. We'll be putting selected ideas into practice every couple of days and we promise to provide visual proof. Just post a comment here to have your suggestion considered and we will do our best to get around to it. Even if you don't make a suggestion for the list, make sure you visit the blog regularly to see what novelty ideas other people have come up with. Challenge accepted!!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Spotlight On: Large Print Books and Frederick A. Thorpe

Large print books barely cross the mind of most readers, or so I thought. A more accurate statement would be that large print books barely cross the mind of most readers until later in life. That’s because the major cause of vision impairment around the world and in Australia is ageing. If you think that this won’t be a problem for you, it might be wise to think again. The hard truth is that in excess of 161 million people worldwide are visually impaired (A Guide to Australian Eye Health, 2009) and 52% of the Australian population report eyesight problems (ABS National Health Survey, 2007-08). Put simply, 1 in every 2 Australians will suffer from visual impairment of some kind at some stage. For a large percentage of us the minor visual impairment we will encounter will not result in having to read large print books, but there is still a decent chunk of the reading population that will have to. Having to read large print books isn’t the end of the world. In fact, I’m sure most people who read large print books are just grateful they exist at all. What is a little disheartening is the availability of titles in large print format. According to the Availability of Accessible Publications study, only 4.4% of titles published in the UK between 1999 and 2003 were reproduced in an alternative format (LISU Occasional Paper No. 35, May 2005). This figure is just a drop in the ocean and it includes other alternative formats, like audio books. It would be easy to focus this piece on the availability issues surrounding large print books, but I’d much prefer to dwell on the positive. Given that quite a few of us are, or will be, the target market of large print books, I thought it might be nice to provide a brief history and introduce you to the pioneer of the format, a little known Englishman by the name of Frederick Thorpe.

My research on when the first large print book was published yielded some confusing results. There were some sources that stated the first large print book was published in 1914, but none provided actual evidence to back-up their claims. What most historians seem to agree on is that the first large print books produced in the English language in bulk were published in 1964 in Leicester, England. The publisher was a former book and magazine printer and publisher by the name of Frederick A. Thorpe. Thorpe wasn’t the first person to recognise the need for a larger format book for elderly readers with poor eyesight. In fact, the book industry had been talking about the need for such books for almost 20 years, but nothing had come to fruition as most felt that large print books wouldn’t be a financial success. Thorpe came at the idea from a different angle and decided that though there were risks involved, the best way to make the idea commercially viable would be to produce the books for libraries. Thus, Thorpe became the founder, and subsequent world leader in large print book publications with the formation of his non-profit organisation, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited.

In the early years, Thorpe produced large print books that were about twice the physical size of a regular book and the type inside was also about twice the size of the original publication. The books were colour coded according to their genre and had very simply designed dust jackets. However by 1969, after realising that the format of his books were too bulky for his elderly readers, Thorpe began to publish the books in regular sized bindings and came up with a standard 16-point type. This change in design marked the real take-off point for Ulverscroft. The new formatting made the books user-friendly for readers, but more importantly from a business perspective, the new format made the books more durable and shelf-friendly for libraries all over the world. Since these humble beginnings, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited, now known as the Ulverscroft Group, has purchased many other large print companies around the world and has diversified their product line to include talking books as well. Whilst many readers now buy Ulverscroft large print books themselves, libraries were the prime buyer of the Ulverscroft product back in the 1960s and they still are today. The non-profit side of Thorpe’s business is still alive today under the name, The Ulverscroft Foundation, a charity based in the UK that aim’s to provide help and support to the visually impaired.

Many other large print companies exist across the globe today and whilst the plain dust jacket that characterised the original Ulverscroft publications in 1964 are still the standard, increasingly many more publishers are giving their large print books the same look and feel as their originals with more elaborate cover art. In terms of inclusion, this seems like a positive move, but what interests me the most about the future is the impact of e-book technology. The ability for the reader of an e-book to increase and decrease type size at will makes them almost indiscriminate. From a publisher’s point of view, one could argue that large print books are becoming redundant. Why go to the trouble of publishing them and catering for a niche market, when the e-book supposedly caters for all? With the existence of libraries themselves also under threat, it makes me wonder what kind of future is in store for the large print book. What I do know is that for almost 50 years, the pioneering work of Frederick Thorpe has meant that the world of books has remained open to many a visually impaired reader, and that ain’t bad.

NB: If you’re a reader of large print books you might like to check out the Reading Habit Online Second Hand Bookstore catalogue. We always have large print books in stock (predominantly ex-library) and they start from about $4.50 AUD. You might also consider buying in bulk and saving on postage.

Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey (2007-08)
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, A Guide to Australian Eye Health Data, 2nd edition (2009), (
Loughborough University, Availability of Accessible Publications, LISU Occasional Paper No. 35, May 2005, (
The Ulverscroft Foundation, How the Ulverscroft Foundation Began, (

Friday, 7 October 2011

October Giveaway - Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

For our October giveaway we thought we'd offer up a classic!! Catch 22 by Joseph Heller was first published in 1961. This year marks the books' 50th birthday and the copy we are offering up is a brand new special 50th anniversary softcover edition published by Vintage books.

To enter our book giveaway just leave a comment on our blog. And don't forget to increase your chances by checking out how to gain bonus entries!!

Bonus Entries
+1 Entry = Follow our Blog
+1 Entry = Liking the Reading Habit Page on Facebook (Click here to do so)
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+2 Entries = Provide a Link to our Giveaway on Your Blog
NB: If you're eligible for bonus entries, make sure you let us know when you leave your comment!!

Entries are open until 5pm EST on Monday 31st October 2011. The competition is open to residents of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and the UK. The winner of the competition will be announced on Tuesday 1st November 2011. Good luck to everyone!!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

What's on the Book Vine #3?: Christos Tsiolkas and The Slap

I don't know about you, but I'm really excited about the premiere of The Slap on ABC 1 tonight. It's fair to say that it's slim-pickings on the box at the moment and this gritty look at middle class suburban Australia is exactly what the doctor ordered. This eagerly awaited television adaption of Christos Tsiolkas' bestselling novel The Slap debuts at 8.30pm tonight with a star studded cast of Australian actors including Alex Dimitriades and Melissa George. Just like the book, this 8-part drama series is sure to divide viewers and spark lots of debate about the right and wrong ways to discipline children.

I read the book not long after it was first published as one of our book club reads. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it definitely provoked lots of conversation amongst our book club members. It also turned a prospective book club member away. A friend of one of our long-time book club members, Rhonda, expressed an interest to join our group so Rhonda loaned her a copy of The Slap. The very next day Rhonda's friend returned after having read only a few of the opening chapters and said that if this was the kind of book our club was inclined to read then she didn't want to join. The books' colourful language and sometimes confronting sexual commentary left her feeling really offended. Needless to say she's never renewed her interest in our little group. The Slap in novel form is definitely polarising. You'll either love it, or you'll hate it. Let's hope the TV series has just as much zing!!

If you haven't had a chance to read the book that started it all just visit the Reading Habit Online Second Hand Bookstore to purchase a copy. We only have a few in stock, so get in quick - I would like to purchase a copy of The Slap.

For a sneak peak at what The Slap has in store for us just follow this link to the ABC website - The Slap Sneak Peak.