Friday, December 18, 2015

Dear Santa ... Books for Christmas

Below is a list of recent reviews we some how missed publishing.  So if you're looking for a few last minute gifts then consider these.  Perhaps.

'According to Yes' -  Dawn French

OK so our favourite vicar can write.  Can't she?  On the whole her  books are consistently live up to expectation, and I've always enjoyed them. 'Dear Fatty', in particular had a acerbic wit that was a virtual extension of her stage presence.  I just laughed my self silly.  But times have changed.  Serious TV appearances have dwindled.  The breakup of French and Saunders, her marriage to Lenny Henry, everything has come home to roost in the years of late middle age it seems.  Personally there's been a bit to much 'No' lately.

So what are we left with?  According To YES. In the Foreign Land of the Very Wealthy - otherwise known as Manhattan's Upper East Side - has its own rigid code of behaviour. It's a code strictly adhered to by the Wilder-Bingham family.  Yes, Virginia, rich people in fiction have Emotional displays - unacceptable. Unruly behaviour - definitely not hyphenated names.  It's the rules.  This is Glenn Wilder-Bingham's kingdom.  A beautifully displayed impeccably edited fortress of restraint. So when Rosie Kitto, an eccentric thirty-eight-year-old primary school teacher from England, bounces in with a secret sorrow and a heart as big as the city, nobody realises that she hasn't read the rule book.  For the Wilder-Bingham family, whose lives begin to unravel thread by thread, the consequences are explosive. Because after a lifetime of saying 'no', what happens when everyone starts saying . . . yes?

It seems that it takes many words to say 'Yes' - more words than she might to make a point.  Add to this a range of very homogeneous characters that seem to be carbon copies from "Clueless" (Alicia Silverstone), or the film "Six Degrees of Separation" (The Donald Sutherland/Will Smith film), they all have similar issues and strangely familiar friends.  There's a fair few sitcom characters, too.  Plump South West women who love chocolate, for example.  Not original. 

There are some darkly humorous moments, a French trademark, as well as a few emotionally challenging sections to make it a bit more interesting.  Yet somehow, it all feels just a little rushed and that some parts might have benefitted from more rigorous editing,

Overall an enjoyable read, brilliant for a rainy day at the batch, when the Women's Weeklies run out, but don't expect to come away feeling like the ground has moved!

'Big Blue Sky - A Memoir' - Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett - Big Blue Sky

There was a time when long, bald Peter Garrett dominated our TV screens.  He was a man of boundless energy, compassion, intelligence and creativity.  Aussie band Midnight Oil was an outfit larger than life.  Many of their songs, like "Beds Are Burning" challenged our thinking about environmental, social and indigenous rights issues.  With the exception of Aboriginal musicians Yothu Yindi, nobody was as loud, as vocal or as noticed as Garrett and his boys.  Yet Australian indigenous politics and climate change still remain the biggest ostriches on the farm.  Australians still refuse to take these topics seriously.  At least Garrett made some small in roads.

Starting at the end, with a very poetic reflection of his former Canberra Offices on the day after he's lost office as Minister for Environmental Protection, Heritage and the Arts Minister and a previous Minister for Education, Garrett begins to wind back across his own remarkable life.  His first chapter is a sombre note, possibly from a man defeated by the chauvinistic bullying of the Australian parliament.  Gillard has been tossed as Kevin Rudd tries to reclaim his tarnished, battered crown and  Garrett, along with other Gillard cronies has been dismissed. 

From his idyllic childhood in the northern suburbs of Sydney, to early work fighting for equality and social justice; to the height of 1960s culture shock at ANU and then fronting iconic Australian band Midnight Oil; and galvanising his environmental activism to become the only unaligned Cabinet Minister in two Labor governments, it's not the usual rock'n'roll journey.  In fact the more you read, the more you realise that Garrett was never really just a musician.  His writing is what really pulls you in.  It's reflective, delicate prose, a level beyond the usual biography dirge.  You can truly feel his lifelong connection to protect the environment and recognise Aboriginal people.  There's also a strong colour theme, with blue being a strong player in Garrett's metaphoric pallet.  Early memories of washing, kitchen paint, Sydney harbour, the ever present, endless blue sky - particularly in the desert.  It colours an intense passion that stems way back before "Beds Are Burning", back to a time when no white Australian would even approach an indigenous person, let alone consider their rights.  At least that's how it seemed.  And there's more than one reason for bloodletting, including Garrett's demotion in the first Rudd administration, in 2010, over running a troubled Home Insulation Program, in which four labourers died. Garrett calls that chapter "The Fall Guy" - Rudd "didn't need to dump me, and you would like to think a leader with any sense of loyalty or spine, like [Paul] Keating, wouldn't have".  No he's not bitter at all.

Of course the launch of the book, in Australia, was not without some further media hoo hah.  Garrett, understandably dug his toes in about his "scathing description" of former Rudd, calling him "an unpredictable megalomaniac who was a threat to national security".  Rudd, in response accused Garrett, of trying to "rewrite history" to sell books. However, from this side of the ditch, having watched Rudd train-crash his own party not once, but twice, I'm inclined to side with Garrett any day on this one. 

'Parachuted' into the inner-Sydney ALP held seat of Kingsford Smith Garrett was not a real Labor Man.  He had to fight a few stalwarts to gain credibility.  Plus being a rock star would have ruffled feathers down the ASL.

At the time of the launch another black cloud - a correction Garrett was forced to make about his claim that a representative of Clubs NSW had given him "an envelope full of cash" shortly after his election. A "clarification" was inserted in Aussie versions that "Peter Garrett wishes to make clear that the envelope in fact contained a cheque, made out in favour of his electorate council, and not cash."  Cheque/Cash, what ever.  Given Garrett's long connection with fighting for injustice I wouldn't be surprised if this was only the tip of the iceberg. 

More than a musician's memoir, Big Blue Sky contains a fair few reflections on activism, the Aussie music scene in the 60's, 70's and 80's; and a tortuous decade in politics (particularly that Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government rollercoaster) but gives little hint to what may lie ahead.  I doubt that Garrett will be hanging up his megaphone for good.  With the events like the Paris Climate Change Conference, Anti-Terrorism laws going through the Senate and recognition of the 'Lost Generation' (aboriginal children forced into foster care) there will be plenty of reasons to stay on the white charger.  Watch this space, closely!

"Griffith Review 50 : Tall Tales Short The Novella Project III"

‘I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers…’ Ian McEwan

Every Griffith Review is a treasure, a sort of intellectual Pandora's box that makes you look at things just a little differently.  I was recently awe inspired by the vast raft of views about new Asia and new perceptions of war that the last two editions of this quarterly journal.  More than anything t is truly refreshing to read thoughtful, inspiring work coming out of Australia.  Being across the ditch, we are either starved of independent thoughts or drenched in middle class white Australian conservatism. But there is way more to the great red land than the internal chaos of the Labor party or what the Sydney Morning Herald thinks of the All Blacks.   Best of all is the rich tapestry of fiction much that we often forget about, until we find ourselves stranded in an airport bookshop and desperate to rake past the best sellers in search of a 'real country soul'. 

I'd suggest that that soul, or a tiny slice might be contained in this small volume.  In 2012, the "Griffith Review 38: The Novella Project" re-launched the concept of the novella in Australia and it gave back  to Australian and New Zealand authors something of a platform for this lost short:long form of fiction.  Novella's are tricky things.  They are more than simply long short stories.  But often, they just end up being underdeveloped novels.  How do you get it right? 

In Aviva's introduction, she quotes David Mitchel: "I like the length of a novella ... It's short enough to be the getaway car from the cops of boredom".  Who could argue with that?  especially, when you keep falling asleep with the latest Elly Catton. 

"Griffith Review 46: Forgotten Stories—The Novella Project II" produced another confronting, moving and provocative collection of five novellas, this time with a historical dimension.

"Griffith Review 50: Tall Tales Short—The Novella Project III" is another bite of the cherry.  this time with the bar set and ready to lift even higher.  It features five novellas selected from a nationwide competition, blind-judged by a panel of writers and academics: Cate Kennedy, Jacqueline Blanchard and Brian Johns. Contributors are Tony Davis, Nick Earls, Helen Gildfind, Catherine McKinnon and Madeleine Watts.   There were no thematic or geographic restraints – the criteria was "were simply looking for the best work".   This year the competition broke several records for the publication: we had a record number of entrants with 271 and a record number of hits – 13,000 – on the competition webpage. Our three judges considered a mountain of entries as they whittled their totals down to a handful, each choice fiercely debated.  the five winners shared a prize pool of $25,000, so a time worth spending for an author, too!

Catherine McKinnon, Will Martin
Nick Earls, Cargoes
Madeleine Watts, Afraid of Waking It
Helen Gildfind, Quarry
Tony Davis, The Flight.
My favourite, if I can pick one is Nick Earls' "Cargoes", a sort of loose road story about an aging journalist taking a trip to interview a self absorbed, hard core rapper at his home.  Sounds like a bit of a dream, especially for someone like me, who'd love to have been that Rolling Stone reporter drugging it up with the band in the back of the bus.   If you are a fan of the TV show 'Empire' then this might seem close to home.  It's the young black celebrity with a troubled past.  Not entirely new I know, but Earls puts them in interesting situations, and with close camera on the intricacies of their interactions.  His work definitely fits the format, though - three distinct locations and moments, with an in-depth study of each situation. A poke at each mouse in the cage.  It's a very real take on the old theme of the elder statesmen surveying the precocious youth and vice versa.  But definitely an original take, I thought. 

Madeline Watts, in "Afraid of Waking It", tells of an impressionable young girl, our narrator, who falls under the spell of an older artist, who wants a muse - a sort of Lolita in reverse, without the pervy overtones.  She's a fragile, delicate person but wields a sort of unmentioned sinister power over him that leaves you feeling confused about who's really in control.  The relationship is intentionally glamorised, as if intentionally 'un-pc', to play with your own moral compass and jemmy the magnets.  Moreover, the trick you learn is that no one is.  That's the disturbing conclusion.  The best bit, though is this incredible sense of place, like familiar photos. You get urban, suburban 'blurs', a flash out of a speeding bus, textures of a place transitioning in the seasons becoming smothering, claustrophobic, alien.

Catherine McKinnon tackles the 18th Century ("Will Martin"), with a story of a cabin boy on one of the first fleet to Botany Bay.  His insights to the first contact is an interesting glimpse into the imagined minds of the early settlers, particularly Bass, Flinders et al.   Definitely a good attempt this one, but of all the stories it was the most trite I thought.  If this was from an aboriginal view point, then perhaps it would really seem fresh. 

I'll confess I haven't read Tony Davis' "The Flight" yet.  But the story of an "Edward Snowdon" type making the long hall to his trial sets up a wonderful tension and is not unlike the damaged, demented protagonist in Helen Gilfind's "Quarry", a man who tries to find love in a world that is full of anger and hate.  A common theme, perhaps.  Gilfind sets up a sort of 'anger management' character, and then proceeds to poke the knives.  His navigation is the journey of the plot. Her 'elephant man' is the 'updatable' mutant Luke who's all too aware of his many shortcomings.  This is a disturbing invitation into a world-weary, savagely damaged mind of a Frankenstein's monster in the everyday.  It would all be a trashy as a 60 minutes special if not for Gildfind’s lyrical approach which settles us into the rhythms of Luke's thinking and familiarises us sufficiently to become sympathetic to his plight.  

These are challenging and abrasive stories at times.  Sometimes the themes are familiar, sometimes a little unrecognisable in their form.  Sometimes the voices are not as unique as one would like.  But always challenging, so that alone is a good reason to pack this one away for the quietest times - for reading just for your self.    


Monday, November 30, 2015

'We're taking this bloody car to Invercargill' : Geoff Murphy: A Life on Film - Geoff Murphy

I'm taking this Bloody Book to Invercargill.

 Good Bye Pork Pie is still one of the greatest movies ever made - There I said it.  And not just because Bill Gruar's (no relation) daughter Shirley was in it.  It was the first on screen breast I ever saw or a willy or and the first time tomato sauce was splattered on fried eggs or the first time a mini was destroyed on screen on the road!  It was awesome - and still is. 

Murphy’s memoir should be as popular as his three hit movies of the 1980s.  He just keeps proving himself a natural story weaver, and in this entertaining account he tells his own story with a very droll humour. Often as not it's a self-deprecating rendition, with occasional unforgiving moments. Especially when it comes to his own foibles.

He talks fondly about early life in the Capital.  Almost compulsary for an artist of the 60's was the Catholic Education.  Of course Murphy was strapped during his primary school years at Marist Thorndon, nay caned during his secondary school at St Patrick’s Town and like my dad he did the compulsory military training at 18 - “Conscripts were marched endlessly, up and down the parade ground with NCOs shouting at us at the top of their voices.” there was an awakening at Victoria University, especially when he became a trumpet player in the uni jazz band.  Then the setting sun of drudgery beckoned with a move to teachers’ college.  A complete failure to teaching and a gain for film, in the long run, he was given the lowest marks during seven years as a primary teacher.  Finding other ways of earning money he ended up touring with Blerta (the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition.)

The idea filmmaking surfaced in the dismal teaching days.  “If you wanted to make films [in the early days] you had to be tenacious, persevering, devious and lucky”... because the "absolutely absurd structure” of the local film industry in the 1960s" made it nearly impossible. “Two main producers: television and the National Film Unit, both lavishly government funded.” The Film Unit was “anointed with the sole right to make motion pictures in New Zealand. Anyone else attempting to enter this field was an upstart and should be opposed rigorously.” Of course, in the centre were the independents and freelancers, led by John O’Shea’s Pacific Films, whose film processing had to be done in Australia because the Film Unit refused to handle anyone’s images except their own.  It was a time of Muldoonism on the rise, unions and Bloodymindedness.  “How were we going to succeed in this atmosphere?”  says Murphy.  He answer his own question with many tall tales of extraordinary initiatives, including building and spec building a new camera crane, which was then hired by everyone including television and even the Film Unit. And even funnier - setting up the legendary Acme Sausage Company. “It was suggested that it should be a functioning anarchy. [But] the likes of Andy Grant and Albol had no need of philosophical principles. As far as they were concerned, you just set your goals and went for them. In the end, the devastatingly simplicity of this philosophy, or lack of it, was its strength, and ultimately we all took it up. Interestingly enough, this is pretty much what the main characters in Goodbye Pork Pie did when we got around to making that film some ten years later.”

If you're a film buff, you'll probably pooh pooh it a bit but Geoff’s descriptions of the challenges involved in making Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth are absolutely eye-openingly entertainment.  Brilliant as just a great account of good ol Kiwi Fuck-it-let's-do-it!

He’s frank about his personal life, marrying Pat, raising five children. And after 15 years, beginning a relationship of “intensity and passion” with Diane, but not leaving Pat. (“There were the kids, there was my own emotional cowardice, and then there was that thing called Catholic conditioning.”) The complexities of a shared life in the commune at Waimarama, which would lead to fisticuffs of law in court. The final separation from Pat, after 22 years and the abandonment of the relationship with Diane and a new relationship with Merata Mita who “was sometimes economical with the truth”. And then, after 20 years, a new relationship with Diane, who he finally married.

And there's a few star turns Dinner with Jagger and a holiday in the Jagger residence in Mustique. Directing Emelio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Stephen Seagal and 'almost' directing Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Hanging out in Beverly Hills with Russell Crowe.  And, almost as famously directing second unit for Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings. (Five camera crews in Twizel, and 200 people under his command, as well as 300 soldiers on horseback and 150 orcs in rubber suits.)

And It goes on.  It's a book I look to every night for another instalment - I couldn't put it down or should I - Like a good movie, with a much bigger cast and a much more substantial plot - and about 10 sequels!

Becoming Beyonce' : Te Untold Story - J. Randy Taraborrelli

'All the singlllllla Laaaaadies!   Buy these books up!'   What does it take for someone from humble beginnings to become one of the most powerful artists in the world?

Beyonce Giselle Knowles knew who, and what, she wanted to be since the age of 8. Even then, she had extraordinary talent, drive, and ambition. But it takes more than just that to become a star. This is the story of the long road traveled by a talent show prodigy, and the parents who sacrificed everything for her, as she evolved from a pageant show winner and girl group singer into the vocalist, actress, pop icon, wife and mother she is today. It is also the story of a darker side that is, unfortunately, the price of success: in the remaking of an everyday girl into a global superstar, something, or someone, can get lost. The path to becoming “Beyonce” would ultimately be defined by a choice: to let go of the past and embrace her own future — not the one she thought she was destined to have, but the one she would now create for herself.
Beyoncé has sold more than 250 million records, both as a member of Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist, and has become one of the most powerful and popular musical acts in history. Yet despite years of high visibility, the woman behind the carefully tailored brand has remained a mystery to the media and her fans—until now.

As the first comprehensive biography of Beyonce Knowles, BECOMING BEYONCE not only includes countless revelations about her guarded, personal life with Jay Z, it documents all of her many record-breaking career milestones, including behind-the-scenes stories of her hit recordings as told to J. Randy Taraborrelli by writers and producers never before interviewed. Indeed, in crafting this portrait, acclaimed celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli conducted exhaustive research and interviewed scores of Beyonce’s intimates.

BECOMING BEYONCÉ is a backstage pass to the glamorous and cutthroat world of the music business, and an absorbing insider account of the birth of a pop culture legend.

Over the top and back: The Biography - Tom Jones

'For a lot of years, I've answered a lot of questions, but have never told my story before', says the original panty magnet.  For over 60 years Sir Tom Jones has maintained a vital career in a risky, fickle, unstable music business - a business notorious for the short lives of its artists. With a drive that comes from nothing but the love for what he does, he breaks through and then wrestles with the vagaries of the music industry, the nature of success and its inevitable consequences. Having recorded an expansive body of work and performed with fellow artists from across the spectrum and across every popular music genre, from rock, pop and dance to country, blues and soul, the one constant throughout has been his unique musical gifts and unmistakable voice.  But how did a boyo from a Welsh coal-mining family attain success across the globe? And how has he survived the twists and turns of fame and fortune to not only stay exciting, but actually become more credible and interesting with age? In this, his first ever autobiography, Tom revisits his past and tells the tale of his journey from wartime Pontypridd to LA and beyond.  He reveals the stories behind the ups and downs of his fascinating and remarkable life, from the early heydays to the subsequent fallow years to his later period of artistic renaissance.  It's the story nobody else knows or understands, told by the man who lived it, and written the only way he knows how: simply and from the heart. Raw, honest, funny and powerful, this is a memoir like no other from one of the world's greatest ever singing talents.  This is Tom Jones and Over the Top and Back is his story.

Now, beyond 'Delilah' I never really fancied him as an artist but mum always played his cassettes while I was growing up. The voice on that man! Then, I spot this. It's a no-brainer. I've got to read it.  And I gotta say, it's a great read. I like that it's not a 'beginning-middle-end'. Not just full of stories worth telling in order, year to year. Sure we have the 'I was born, grew up, etc' but the narrative bounces around enough to be interesting, compelling.   It feels like I'm sitting with him of an evening and he's remembering times gone by and recounting memories as they come to him: happenings; feelings; encounters. Although there is of course a good structure to this but the change in scenes holds my attention and insists I read the next chapter straight away. Good imagery and sense of atmosphere. Well written even if it wasn't Sir Tom's actual handwriting. Enough twists and turns and also turning out to be a really good, interesting life story. Shows his humility and honesty. Some swear words, just in case you're easily offended, which I'm not but I do appreciate that intimate descriptions are suggested rather than explained. Like when Sir Tom tells of his 'first time' with Linda. We don't need to 'know'... he gets that. His use of the 'f' word is always in the right place. Tears and laughter in one thoroughly fab night of the first 13 chapters with Sir Tom and his own story. I hear 'I've gotta be me' on every page and I can't wait until bedtime tonight to start where I left off. Not been so captivated by a book in years. Loving reading his story and thoroughly recommend it to anyone with even a little interest in the man.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson

Ever since first pottering around the UK compiling his eye opening humorous account, Notes from A Small Island, this unashamedly Anglophilic Limey has endeared himself to the National Trust subbies and Badger huggers of Britain.  Clearly charmed by his obvious fondness for their nutty, eccentric ways and his ,eye for a good poke he was able to distance himself just enough to gently laugh at and with the a country that could never do it to themselves.  Owning a tweed jacket and a fond turn of phrase was definitely a way to transverse a Bryson a country that most of us still find bewildering, quirky, endearing and beautiful at times.  And, it certainly is very easy to laugh at some of their ridiculous place names and customs. 

Notes from a Small Island. it turns out, was the best-selling British travel book ever (as voted in a BBC poll),  It was “the book that best represents Britain”.  So, of course, a follow-up was inevitable – albeit 20 years later. On the cover of his new one, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from A Small Island, there’s a colourful drawing of the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, and the jolly John Bull-type fisherman from the 50’s Skegness seaside postcards. It’s a reference to Bryson’s own nostalgic mood as he takes off from the South Coast to make a long walk the length of the island, following a direct line from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, Scotland’s furthest tip.  This line, if you run a ruler over the UK map is the longest ‘undisturbed’ line from the most southern to the most northern townships.  The Bryson line.  If Paul Thoreau is acerbic then Bryson is the opposite, if more cummudgingly.  I’m not entirely sure if this is really a re-visit of his own reasons for trying to become a Pom or a reason to write a bit a an ageist grumble. 

Bryson loves the Cotswold’s, etc. – the picture book Britain.  It’s a real challenge to create this world.  He grumbles at the decaying of the greengrocers, the postcard villages, and Torquay beach pier.  Kiwis, who’ve been to Britain, bought their argyle sweaters and still wear them wil love this.  It’s a very good whine at how the world is falling apart. He grumbles at anyone under 30, accusing them all as idiots and half wits.  He hates food courts and bemoans the loss of grocery shops.   

It’s no surprise that he starts off a Bognor Regis, in view of George V’s sharp assessment of the town, when he paid a visit to the place to benefit from its sea air.  Upon returning to London, George, apparently refreshed, soon fell ill again – probably from coal smoke pollution and bad water.  When his doctor suggested he once more should visit the seaside, the King tartly replied, “Bugger Bognor!”, and passed away.

When Bryson arrived on Britain’s shore, he says he found a country that was wholly strange, yet somehow marvellous, a feeling that has never left him. Yet, he’s now living in a country that he doesn’t recognize – a not-uncommon complaint of all of us moving inexorably toward the twilight of our years. He decides to become a fully fledged Brit, this man from the US Mid West.  Bryson loves to talk about his UK Passport exam where he was required to pass a series of exams for which there were helpful “study guides “to aid the hapless alien. One example of the questions will suffice:

Manchester United is:

(a) a political party,
(b) a dance band,
(c) an English football team.

He passed, receiving certification as a intellectually fit for life in modern Britain.

Bryson has always been an advocate of nature and its preservation and he dearly loves the countryside he rambles through, bemoaning the disappearance of hedgerows, wild flowers, sheep roaming over fells, churches, barns, even village shops, swept aside on economic grounds. And he’s certainly not a fan of Britain’s National Trust, after some chunky sweater refused to let him take a photo of an old lighthouse.

The observation, the wit, the geniality of Bryson’s inimitable words illuminate every chapter. Our hero finds himself crossing a field with a friend, who mentioned that there was a bull about 50 feet away. After he and his friend had run to the safety of the other side of the fence, Bryson petulantly inquired why a bull is allowed in a field with a footpath. His complaint was dismissed: “The real danger is cows. Cows kill a lot more people than bulls.” Bryson pursues the fact that cow-trampling is rare enough, but always reported in British papers, and completely ignored in the States, where death by shooting takes precedence. He claims that if he asked a British friend about their chances of being attacked by a cow, the friend would be aware of the danger. An American would reply, “Why would I be in a field with cows?”

Bryson loves London. Not just for its green spaces, its history, its diversity, its startling new skyline, its museums and galleries, but its Underground, of all things. Thank heaven he drew the line at its buses and endless road works. At the pinnacle of the great metropolis is Boris Johnson, “a man whose bumbling manner, whose very hair, is a monument to disorder. And somehow, it works.”

Now I'm not entirely sure that this new view of Britain through Bryson’s now more rheumy lens is really going to meet with the same overwhelming wave of approval that greeted his Small Island but... The Brits are a phlegmatic people, stiff upper and all that, brushing off criticism confidently and easily, but there will be exception taken to the author’s scornful dismissal of such precious gems as Eastleigh, Bournemouth and Lyme Regis, although he was enraptured by Widecome-in-the-Moor. And then, there was Salcombe, fashionable gem in the diadem of Devon. Bit too smart and jaunty for Big Bill’s liking. In the deli there, he ordered Brie and asparagus tart, made with organic cider, which infuriated him.

Apparently, British food had gone from strange and unappetising full circle to strange and unappetising again – he wants a return to fish-and-chips, prawn cocktail and Black Forest gateau. Did Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Master Chef not exist?  What mirage happened?  Or was that only a TV fantasy? While you’re there, Bill has taken a violent dislike to the country’s bus shelters, the slow disappearance of the London black cab, policemen dressed in yellow vests that make them look like railway workers. And, what happened to policemen’s helmets?

Nobody around here is going to take particularly kindly, either, to Bryson’s ranting that people everywhere have abandoned whole elements of grammatical English, and correct punctuation is a thing of the past. He even has the nerve to drag the revered Sam Cam, wife of the prime minister, into it. She is reported as saying, “Me and the kids help to keep him grounded.”

The great road trip takes a fairly straight line from the blessed Bognor straight through Oxford with diversions to Cambridge and Norfolk, past Blenheim, Birmingham, deviating again to “bracing” (cold,windy) Skegness, where the little fisherman on the front cover hails from, and where that great British institution, the holiday camp, first blared out its welcome to happy campers.

It seems that Bill has grown a little tetchy with the passing years, a good man’s fault, but his altercations with barmen, Big Mac vendors and his outrage at a middle-class woman’s tiny tip to a waiter seem unworthy.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, swiftly past Liverpool, on through Manchester, the Peak District, Lancashire and the glories of Blackpool, the great Tower, the sparkling new Promenade. When Bryson first came there, 20 million happy holidaymakers visited Blackpool every year. Now, according to our guide, it’s depressed and derelict. Bryson wants a return to the old tradition of the seaside shows, and an end to the drunken violence. Who could argue?

The Lake District is beyond criticism and Bryson has a soft spot for Yorkshire, where “they speak as they find”. Although my own favourite Yorkshireism is “I’m only rude to people I like”.

Finally on, after 700 miles, to Cape Wrath, which involves a train journey, a car journey, a ferry ride and a minibus through an uncharted wilderness. And if you miss the last autumn ferry, you have to wait until the following spring.

At Cape Wrath, the long and weary trail no longer winding, Bill Bryson looks north to the polar ice-cap and reflects, with pardonable pride, that, for a few precious moments, he was “the most northwesterly person in Britain”.

There’s a list of the things he likes best about Britain, that includes cream teas, jam roly-poly with custard, country pubs, the shipping forecast and villages with names like Shellow Bowells and Nether Wallop.  All wonderful, but must have missed Little Dribbling . . . 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing - Edited by Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean

"I have known old eyes that have seen many more aspects of warfare than this man has seen - "
RAK Mason - 'Sonnet to MacArthur's Eyes' (1950)

For a little place, god forsake, at the bottom of the f''ing world we punch above weights when it comes to recording our selves in the theatre of war.  Agincourt, Battle of Britain, all of it - pah!  We were there, we did, and better than the rest huh?  A small country at the bottom of the world, we've managed to keep ourselves remarkably busy on the war front, even when travelling thousands of kilometres to find one.  We were idiots.  Lovers of Empire. Brainwashed fools.  We still trade commerce for sense.  Every time the world call, we go.  We are there first, before any one else.  We declared war on Hitler even before Chamberlain did.  This book is a chronicle of all the stupid, idiotic things we did, because we wanted to be counted when it would have been better to quietly wait it out.  The British F'ing Empire.  The reason we are all here.  Our origins.  And our near destruction.  This book documents all that.  The betrayals at Gallipoli and every other WWI battle.  The bullshit that spurred on every man to fight and the crappy justification for it.  All those who tried to escape Britain, they brought it with them and then tried to impose their crappy world on the local indigenous people.  The earliest chapters, written mostly from a British perspective document this.  New Zealand nearly lost an entire generation of men, thanks to the stupidity of its leaders.  Brits came here to avoid the pressures of Victorian Empire.  To escape the world.  But the baggage they brought trapped up all.  The Penguin Book of War Writing, edited by Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean is a chronicle of a country trying to find itself whilst being drawn by the apron strings of Britain back into her dirty kitchen .
So not surprisingly all this activity has been well reflected in the literature, both fictionally and in factual accounts. Famous-in-New Zealand names fill these chronologically-ordered pages--Poets like Allen Curnow, James K Baxter and novelists like Robin Hyde, Maurice Shadbolt and John Mulgan, ll warned against the perils of war but were forced to fight the Germans or experience the loss of loved ones and friends.  . 

Then, of course, there are also the historians, such as Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Ian McGibbon and Christopher Pugsley - all remind us of the tragedies our families went through. They study it and report like it's something to be gazed at in a glass jar

New Zealand's history, starting in the earliest days is a history of conflict.  Even the New Zealand Wars of the 1850's - 80's It is a rich tapestry of experience and reflection which weaves a complex picture that evokes a similarly complex response from the reader because there is much here that is unfamiliar, as well as the well-known.

Because of the astonishing variety of warlike experiences that New Zealanders have been through and because we have mainly gone looking for them rather than having had them imposed upon us, by invasion, for example, the range of literary responses is equally broad. It is this range which is so aptly captured here and why it is a collection best put down and pondered before being picked up again and digested some more.

Then there is the ultimate fiction of peace in our time, which would render the contents of this book as these historical curiosities.  But realistically, this is not the case. 

The editors say it is the quality of the writing, above all, which has determined this selection, thus accounting for the presence of the likes of Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame and Margaret Mahy-luminaries not usually regarded as "war" writers.  I have to wonder what they meant by 'quality'.  Never once is there any postcards or diaries saying what the men on the front, or the soldiers at the trenches really thought.  They all write as if there's some sort of glorious outcome.  But reality: This one ignores the real truth.  We were betrayed. 

Brewed: A Guide To The Craft Beer Of New Zealand by Jules Van Cruysen

The New Zealand beer industry is a dynamic one – full of larger-than-life, passionate characters; from loveable rogues through to budding mad scientists. Our beers are just as diverse. And the variety is growing exponentially. Jules van Cruysen brings together a selection from the current market.  They range from small time brewers to big players with brewing traditions from all over the world and combining these with Kiwi ingredients, ingenuity and creativity, we have a beer culture unlike any other.

In the last five years the New Zealand beer industry has grown from virtually nothing to totally owning everything. there are craft ale bars everywhere, like they were always there.  And punters are loving it.  Like Mike Cooper the wine aficionado, Van Cruysen details the brewer, their background, their art, style, and their philosophy.  Like wine they all have some point of difference.  Crouchers, of Rotorua, for example, is all about Pilsners and American hops, bold and gutsy flavours.  Tuatara has a quest to make an ale that is totally about the region. They also invented the Aotearoa Pale Ale (AP).  Or did they? 

Ok, so this book, which acknowledges the craft beers and brewers of New Zealand, is well overdue. Brewed will always be a snapshot of an industry creating beers that are full of character. Beers range from classical to crazy (Lamb Chopper anyone?), refined to quintessentially Kiwi (fancy a CHUR?) and aggressive (Sauvignon Bomb) to the suggestive (Morning Glory).

This is a book that should encourage experimentation among engaged beer consumers.  Help them to discover new breweries and, with the use of these amazing and comprehensive tasting notes, benchmark them against our old favourites. It'll help emerging beer drinkers to identify beers they will enjoy, starting them on a journey of discovery.

Jules is a professional beer, wine and food writer with over ten years’ experience in the liquor and hospitality industries. Having worked at Oamaru’s Riverstone Kitchen as a sommelier, Jules fell in love with great beer, and continued this affair working at Wellington’s craft beer bar, Hashigo Zake. With experience selling some of the world’s finest wines at some of New Zealand’s finest restaurants, Jules brings a unique perspective to writing about beer and is especially passionate about matching beer and food. He currently edits Eat New Zealand, and writes for a number of other publications including maintaining his own websites, XYEats and XYDrinks.

Historic Churches by Linda Burgess

This somewhat a journey and a guide to some of the most famous and interesting churches in Aotearoa.  Even if you're a non believer you have to acknowledge the power of the collective congregation.  If you head in to Karori's Futuna chapel, you'll know that although architecturally designed, it was build by the parish.  It shows how congregations can summon resources beyond any imagined, traditional methods.  Interestingly, Futuna is not an historical church.  But St John's, Taranaki St Methodist and The Karori Crematorium, all creations of Turnbull, are architectural marvels in a new colony.  They, too were built by the people.  Sure many favours were pulled.  God's phone list includes some very talented craftsmen. 

But this guide gives each church its due, strongly if plainly photographed without much ornamentation, with sometimes interiors and exteriors, each one taking a chapter.
The striking cover features St Gabriel’s, Pawarenga, in the historic Hokianga. 

 Not all the churches are registered as Category 1 by Heritage New Zealand, but many are strikingly pretty and feature strong aspects of Maori art and architecture.

A little dotting and patronising at times, author Linda Burgess points out many interesting facts of her subjects.  You got to admire the amount of work and travel to produce such a comprehensive work.  This is a great work to have on the backseat when exploring by car.  With photographer husband Robert, they've produced a pretty good glossy coffee table book to dip into when motoring about from Northland to Otago to Southland. 

Seriously, though this is a hard book to review.  Because you cant fault the research or the photography.  It's honest and lack the airbrush pretence.  It has some credibility, if not the glamour of a more up market effort.  Which you gotta like.  these are churches.  they are honest, too.
*Note to self - go see Hiona (Zion) St Stephen's Opotiki - at least for the tuki tuki panels which are stunning!

King Rich - Joe Bennett (Harper Collins)

The haunting story of two people linked by disaster and a desire for the truth, set amid the physical and emotional devastation of a post-earthquake Christchurch.  It's a love story.  Of sorts.
"At dusk he lights the candelabrum, creating an island of light in the centre of the room, animating the faces of the two dressed mannequins, glinting off the cutlery, the long array of glasses, the cellophane wrappers on the biscuits, the chocolate's silver foil. And the margins of the room are lost in the murk, might as well not exist. Richard smiles at the effect, at the little oasis of festivity and commemoration in a wide dark world."
Christchurch, days after the February 2011 earthquake. Richard hides, with a lost dog, in an abandoned, leaning hotel. Annie returns from England, seeking a lost father in her battered home town. Vince relives the most significant emotional experience of his life. What binds these lives together, and what tore them apart?  The novel traces two reasons of existence, as it were; Rich's plight to stay undetected in the hotel and Annie's quest to find him.  A stray labelled 'Friday' is Rich's canine companion.  Annie recruits friends and a growing list of her dad's mates and in so doing begins to understand who her father was.  Now, it's no Sherlock who'll reveal that Rich isn't  Annie's father. Not the point.  That's obvious from the get go.  But what drives this narrative.  Why the f***k is Rich here at all?  That's the eternal, frustrating question. 

On RNZ's "The Panel" Joe Bennett refuses to reveal the specific reasons why Rich is there or exactly what the inspiration and purpose of all his is.  He likes the idea of displacement and how we handle that.  As a man who lives in a house that's been condemned in Christchurch he knows all about the threat of displacement.  And we know him; from his columns in the DomPost and his radio presence.  He has a, how do I put it, confronting turn of a phrase.  In King Rich his characters are obvious, and hilarious for it.  Take the toilet cleaning company, "Cleaner Butts" run by a 'Mr Butts' of course!  Very droll.  Not.  There's a great line in the book, on Rich's hotel bathrobe, which he swans around in, like a robe of coronet snobbery: it "reveals the sternum, sown with scrubby hair, like bleached bad lands".  A bit 'waffleee', but there you go.  Former teacher Mr Bennett is at his best when describing real events, like HRH Wills and his Kate at a Hagley Park service, and of course, real places, like the Christchurch suburbs in the aftermath of the quake - those ghosts that float about the subsiding rubble.   But where he's less sure is when he's building his characters and their motivation.  It drove me nuts thing "Why these people behave the way they do?"  Having a significant natural event is not enough.  I need a backstory.  Bennett, you bastard, you've strung me along!


The Girl in The Spider's Web by David Lagercratz

The Girl in The Spider's Web

The fourth book, commissioned by the Larsson estate and written by David Lagercrantz, turns out to be a respectful and affectionate homage

One of the best jokes of the late Douglas Adams was the cover-line that announced “the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker trilogy”.  The Millennium Trilogy – the three books by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, discovered after his early death in 2004 – has now also become a questionable designation, having been fattened into a quartet through a sequel commissioned by Larsson’s estate from the Swedish writer David Lagercrantz.

Because the three originals were for several years as common a sight on beaches as sun umbrellas – an estimated 80m copies have been sold globally – an extension was probably economically inevitable.  Due to the high risk of piracy and spoiler publicity, it has been written and published amid the sort of precautions – webless computers, encrypted emails, embargoed copies stamped with a legal warning on each of the 432 pages.  This release had the kind of conspiratorial plot that lurks itself within its own pages.

The appearance of novels that a character’s creator didn’t write still tends to generate heated articles and tweets, but any ethical worries about posthumous continuation are challenged by the pile-up of precedents.  As publishing increasingly adopts the Hollywood model of handing over hit books to other hands, James Bond and Jeeves, among others, have experienced adventures that their creators would be surprised to find in a bookshop. Adams’s gag about his expanding trilogy has itself had an afterlife, with the addition of a sixth story by Eoin Colfer.

I guess for non-Swedish readers, Larsson through an intermediary is an already familiar thing because a translator was always been there between us and his original text.  Even so, this particular project has been more controversial than other posthumous literary works because of a dispute between Larsson’s blood family and his former girlfriend, who possesses a laptop that reputedly contains all the original drafts and notes, in the way that the author would have directed his next books.  For legal reasons, Lagercrantz had no access to this material and so started with a blank sheet after reading the published Larssons.  is the second most anticipated novel of the year, after Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. But, whereas Lee’s precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird offered a radically revisionist image of its central character Atticus Finch, Lagercrantz, a tenant rather than a freeholder on the premises, sticks closely to the existing design.

There's no argument that Lisbeth Salander is one of the great modern crime characters.  She's damaged, twisted and not entirely on the side of evil or good.  Best of all, her flaws are her strengths.  Revenge and personal agendas seem to be her motivation. This time, through a highly convoluted set of relationships she's set on tracking down her criminal mastermind father.  Also in the trail Lagercratz has his work cut out for him.  Not so much a  ghost writer or a replacement to Stieg Larsson, he's definitely got his work cut out for him,  He did an excellent job on Fall of a man in Wilmslow (about the tragic British computer pioneer, Alan Turing), an likewise has performed with excellence here, too.  This one builds slowly, smouldering away with a series of fragments, loosely tied together by the relationship of Salander and Millenium's star journo Mikael Blomkvist, who's back to play detective, albeit a clueless one until the end.  The story, in part seems to follow a victim, a professor of artificial intelligence, Balder who's brutally murdered in front of his estranged, autistic son, August.  August is not only the only witness to his father's death but is a living computer, able to manipulate numbers and draw anything with immaculate detail.  He unwittingly holding all the clues to the professor's work, which is highly sought after by industrial spies. 

In a bleak setting of the Swedish wintery ice and snow a plot slowly unfolds like a peeling onion, each layer becomes even more stinging.  Salander, on her own quest, is recruited to find out why Balder was murdered, but in turn she learns who really has masterminded all this. 

Sure, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is back but even more, she's the wasp on the spider's back.  Lagercratz's respect for Larsson means that he has, in some ways, grown the writer's work.  I can safely say it never becomes pastiche.  It's a book that pays respectful and affectionate homage to the originals.  Two of the new characters are a deliberate nod to the Pippi Longstocking books, Larsson’s inspiration for Salander; and the Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women, of the first Millennium book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:  referenced in a number of places - misogyny, maltreatment of women. There may still be arguments about whether continuation novels should be written at all but Lagercrantz could not have fulfilled the commission any more efficiently.  Hey, why not. If Bond can be remade by the Brocolli empire then why should the legacy of Salander die with Larsson? 

The novel leaves much to be said between Salander and Blomkvist and so surely increases the chances of the sequence continuing on towards the 10 books that Larsson is said to have originally imagined.  This book is as enjoyable, compelling and readable as the original trilogy and I would be surprised if there is another trilogy in train.  His skill simply adds even more to the cannon of Nordic skulduggery already available and invites you to seek out the next instalment.     

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The CoffeeBar Kid interviews Nadia Lim

For her fourth and latest book, "Nadia Lim's Fresh Start Cookbook", celebrity chef and co-founder of My Food Bag, Nadia Lim, wanted to take more holistic view to eating.  Playing hooky from her current bookshops/cooking events tour Nadia chatted to me at a Wellington Gastro Pub about her food philosophy and approach to food in general.  "I'm not into diets.  I like to think about changing mind-sets.  As a dietician, I was getting request from people to work out individual weekly diets and these were takes 6-7 hours each.  So I decided to wrap it all into a cookbook which also includes some dietary advice and, with the help of my good friend Michael McCormack, some simple exercise routines as well. Initially it’s for people to lose weight but it could apply to anyone who wants to eat healthier." 


Nadia's approach was originally born out of a concept she developed right back when she was an early teen - 'Food in the Nude' - using fresh ingredients, keeping the processed additives to a minimum.  That concept has always been the backbone of Nadia's recipes. So it's about stripping food back, I ask?  "No.  It’s the complete opposite.  It's about adding more - more vegetables, more fruit more, more fibre."  An example is her range of smoothies which ingredients like spinach, banana, lime and pineapple or Tamarillo, Berry, Vanilla and almond milk.  Yum.  Actually, as part of my research for this interview I got to try out a few smoothies and I can vouch for these recipes, personally.  The banana, berry and peanut butter smoothie is a particular favourite in our house hold.  I also took a crack at Nadia's banana pancakes - a nice alternative to the usual milk-based variety - lighter, and sweeter.  And that's another point Nadia emphasises.  "I you get regular servings of fruit and vegetables through the day (and her book does go into some technical details on this), then you're less likely to binge eat or snack on inappropriate foods like biscuits.  Her delicious version of Chicken Tikka Marsala with Spinach and Spiced Parsnip Soup are also healthy, moreish and simple to make.  My four year old and I both managed to whip these up for weekend lunches with minimal fuss. 
In her intro, Nadia offers some refreshing advice about key nutritional concepts like portion size, when to drink coffee and tea and appropriate levels of water you should drink to keep your kidneys healthy (plenty).  At the core is a series of interchangeable menus that lets you plan your eating for the week, without going to extremes.  Not a single celery leaf to be seen.

All new cookbooks offer some new discovery.  So what's new this time, I ask?  "Cauliflower 'rice' - broken down to the consistency of rice or couscous and steamed.  It's lighter than rice, less stodgy."  Also worth a crack are chia seeds, which Nadia claims "used instead of large quantities of sugar in jams.  The chia seeds have that gelatinous quality, like pectin.  So you don't need as much sugar."  They also work well as an alternative to tapioca in traditional puddings. 

I can't help asking this former Master Chef winner about the whole reality/competitive cookery culture.  After all, according to a New York Times article Americans  are blobbing out in front of the Food Network, choosing to watch rather than participate.  That's not helped by shows like 'Hell's Kitchen" and 'Cake Boss' that are more about personalities and ridiculous culinary goals than practical kitchen skills.  It seems more viewers are turning on, tuning in, and ordering out.  But was this the case here, in New Zealand?  "No," Nadia argues, "In fact, shows like Master Chef have encouraged everyone to get more creative.  And it's expanded their knowledge.  And it's really inspired children.  They want to be in the kitchen.  I know of schools where the kids have their own cooking competitions - like Master Chef."  Nadia also says that she knows of couples that are staging their own dinner parties based on a hybrid of the My Kitchen Rules TV show, where teams set up and operate a 'home' restaurant for a night.   It’s that thirst for food knowledge and participation that Nadia wants to tap into.  And along with a sound philosophy about food, nutrition and exercise she reckons you really can have your desert and eat it too.    

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Block Buster: Fergus Hume & the Mystery of the Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex, Text Publishing

Before there was Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, there was Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab—the biggest, and fastest-selling, detective novel of the 1800s, and Australia’s first literary blockbuster.
Fergus Hume was an aspiring playwright when he moved from Dunedin to Melbourne in 1885. He wrote The Mystery of a Hansom Cab with the humble hope of bringing his name to the attention of theatre managers. The book sold out its first run almost instantly and it became a runaway word-of-mouth phenomenon—but its author sold the copyright for a mere fifty pounds, missing out on a potential fortune.
Blockbuster! is the engrossing story of a book that would help define the genre of crime fiction, and a portrait of a great city in full bloom. Rigorously researched and full of arresting detail, this captivating book is a must-read for all fans of true crime, history and crime fiction alike.

As well as touching on Hume’s own story, Sussex’s meticulous research examines lives, fortunes and ultimate fates of those involved in the writing, publication and marketing of Hanson Cab: readers, reviewers, investors, supporters and publishers, to name a few. The impersonations, scams and fraud that resulted from this publishing phenomenon are unbelievable.  A real Victorian scam to boot! And each chapter is an entre to the next scam with a relevant quote from one of Hume’s later works, showing how incidents in his life became inspiration for these elaborate tales.

And to give us a timeline flavour selection of reviews of the Hansom Cab, four pages of relevant colour plates, an extensive bibliography and comprehensive end-notes and index. She discusses the likely fate and provenance of the few remaining (and very valuable) copies of early editions. This is a book that will appeal to readers who like to get behind the story.

Sussex tells us just how important this book was: “Above all," he says, "the work consolidated detective fiction as a publishing genre, one with a mass readership of avid fans……others had shown that the market existed for tales of crime, but it took the blockbusting success of Hanson Cab, achieved by Trischler’s brilliant marketing, to prove how lucrative crime fiction crime fiction could be. Publishers took note and, over a century later, detective fiction is still a marker leader”. A very, very interesting read.

Rugby – A New Zealand History - Ron Palenski, Auckland University Press

To casual browser this could be yet another Rugby Book.  To me, Alex Veysey wrote the best books on the subject, 'Ebony and Ivory' being the greatest.  After that.  Nothing was as good.  Sure, there's  plenty of photos and many, many anecdotes of the game the administrators and the supporters, the game - the game of All Blacks and first XVs, this is more.  It's actually something of a parallel social history of a country's obsession and love of the game.  Many, this year will write of how WWI shaped NZ, but I wonder how much they think of the game.  Surely that, more than wars and economics shapes us - in small ways, long term ways.  Of course, he's still a geek, responsible for many previous works on the subject, Palenski has striven for details ta wont appear in most books, or on the web - details from the hooker's mouth, so to speak. Light blue pages cleverly utilised to draw the readers’ attention to some of the defining episodes in the evolution and emergence of New Zealand as a dominant rugby nation. The rugby myths and legends that have abounded for decades are given a thorough airing.

From the origins of the game at the legendary Rugby School we're led right through to the professional era of the game, with many insights from the early years of the game. Perhaps an interesting precursor of what was to come from New Zealand teams in later years occurred during the tour by the British team of 1888, who found that their opponents in the match against Wellington were ‘outrageously rugged’. as I learned from my BA Hons History, early Rugby players were a social mix of all classes.  The game was a great leveller.  Rugby was a gentleman’s game in these early times. Of course, the book would be dull with out a few riveting tales of the first New Zealand rugby team to tour overseas, the New Zealand Natives, and the vital role they played in establishing New Zealand as serious competition in the minds of the English.

Many of the periodic controversies that have been associated with the game are examined in detail; the grossly unfair dismissal of Maurice Brownlie in a test match at Twickenham in 1928, the expulsion of Keith Murdoch from the All Black tour of Great Britain in 1972, Colin Meads being ordered off at Murrayfield in 1967, the disastrous Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981, the very bad decision to send the Cavaliers to tour South Africa in 1986 and of course the enduring ‘did he or didn’t he?’ – Bob Deans scoring the try that would have given the All Blacks victory over Wales in 1905.

Early tours to NZ by overseas rugby teams and by our own sides touring overseas are addressed in the unique Palenski manner. They are never a statistical list of who won what, but a detailed account of some of the personal experiences of the team members, the personalities they encountered, the events they attended and the challenges they faced.

This book is an absolute ‘must’ for serious rugby fans but it's also a great read for social historians, too.   .

Other books by Palenski:

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Complete Alice, by Lewis Carroll

On a hot summer's day in July 1862, two reverend gentlemen rowed three little girls in a jolly boat down an Oxford river. To pass time one of the  gentlemen, mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, told the Liddell  girls a charmingly nonsensical tale about a young girl (he later called Alice) who fell down a rabbit hole and had the most amazing topsy-turvy adventures.  It was the middle girl, also called Alice, who was so taken with the story that she begged him to record it all for her. So, in 1864, Dodgson presented the girl with a handwritten copy entitled Alice's Adventures under Ground, of which he'd meticulously written and illustrated himself.

A year later, after adding two new episodes featuring the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, and with black-and-white illustrations by Punch cartoonist John Tenniel, the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published, with Dodgson using the pseudonym "Lewis Carroll" - the Latin forms of his Christian names.

One hundred and fifty years later, Carroll's "little dream-child" and her companions have become a part of our cultural fabric. My daughters utterly love this book because of its whimsical nature and the sheer chaos of the ideas behind it.  Carroll makes no attempt to even construct his chapters - they just effortlessly exist.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has never been out of print, captivating generations of readers, child and adult alike. It has also apparently been translated into more languages than any other book except The Bible.

One of the reasons for the book's amazing success is that Carroll's main aim was to delight children rather than to educate them. So its awash with parodies of well-meaning cautionary verses, and the usually self-deprecating Carroll thumbs his nose at the moralising tone which was common in books for children at the time. His zany, over-the-top characters,  from the nervy White Rabbit, to the bombastic Queen of Hearts and the hyperactive Mad Hatter,  are all fantastically realised inventions of an obviously clever and creative mind.

The 150th anniversary is spurning a plethora of versions of this much-loved children's book, including the impressive The Complete Alice, published by Macmillan, the original publishers. From its elegantly embossed white front cover, to the shiny miniature hearts above the page numbers and the hand-coloured reproductions of John Tenniel's illustrations, this is a beautiful and highly collectable tome.  And I love the red gold leaves that give it a real sense of special.

As the title suggests, it's a collection of all the adventures : Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the sequel Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1872). The Complete Alice also includes an introduction by Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy series His Dark Materials, along with a selection of letters and introductory pieces written by Carroll for earlier editions. Also featured are the magnificent plates and vignettes of Tenniel's illustrations, coloured by Diz Wallis and Harry Theaker.

Artists been drawn to this classic tale, including surrealist Salvador Dali in 1969. His stylised silhouette Alice floats through a fittingly psychedelic interpretative landscape. But it is invariably John Tenniel's original illustrations, with his contemplative and beautifully drawn Alice, that most people see in their mind's eye when they think of Alice and her adventures. 

The book has also inspired some modern children's classics, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, Ethel Pedley's Dot and the Kangaroo and Norton Juster's highly imaginative The Phantom Tollbooth. It has been reinterpreted for stage, television and film, including a silent film in 1903, the classic animated Disney version in 1951, and Tim Burton's darkly exuberant 2010 film, starring Canberra's own Mia Wasikowska as Alice and the inimitable Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. No doubt there will be more.

So perhaps now is the perfect time to revisit this classic children's book, sing a verse or two of Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat or recite Jabberwocky, and help celebrate the wonderfully wacky, nonsensical, joyous world created by the sometimes controversial but ultimately enduring Lewis Carroll.  I know that my 6 year old has snapped up this edition and insists on reading a chapter a night, such that she treasures the pictures, the stories and the characters.  I asked he why she loves it and her only reply was - "because I might have thought of these".  Carroll definitely has found his way into the hearts and minds of children, unlike any other author.





The Lives of Colonial Objects - Edited by Annabel Cooper, Lachy Paterson and Angela Wanhalla

Around my house I have a selection of objects from my grandparents and my parents.  Like my mother's whistle.  She was a teacher who began her career in the outback of Australia.  The whistle was for a number of reasons, including if your were caught in a sand storm.  Blow the whistle to attract the rescuers attention. It's objects like that that have these amazing stories about real people, and their adventures that I love.  Historic objects invite us into the past through their very tangible and immediate presence.  What they have say sheds a thousand beams on how we lived, how we related to each other and how we respected and treated the natural environment.

This utterly brilliant book, The Lives of Colonial Objects, is a series of biographies, of fifty objects from our collective past.  They are explored, thought about and ultimately revealed.  At the very beginning we meet Te Haupapa, the last of 12 canons from the Maketu.  Paora Tapsell traces the history of this little cannon and the adventures of its materials, its brothers and the destruction it cause in the Maori wars, it also the legacy it leaves - including a park, now in memorial to the people of the region.  Also another early taonga, a putorino (nose flute) that currently resides in the US' Peabody Museum, is the possession of an early colonial trader who collected objects from all over the Pacific to take back to Salem, of all places  How it got there is the tale of the artefact, and only one example of the amazing stories in this sumptuously illustrated, and highly readable collection.

Each artefact receives its own chapter, written by a wide raft of historians and journalists and a companied by a full-page colour photograph and a short essay.  Every  author, historian, archivist, curator and Māori scholars has some kind of personal link to the object and that makes their writing both personal and alive. 

Apart from canons and cloaks, the more obvious choices, there are also everyday objects, like billies, children's toys, diaries and scrapbooks - all with histories quite distinctively different from their initial intended purpose.

The only regret is that these are pictures and the delight to be had from touching and holding these things, sucking in the power of their past, smelling their aura, is denied.  Alas, they are catalogued and off limits.  But not all, like the cannon, which lives with the elements in a park, for small boys to play with.  And I like that.  Like Rome's Black Peter hands and time will distort the shape and definition. 
Some of the objects featured are treasured family possessions such as a kahu kiwi, or a stunning music album or a grandmother’s travel diary.  I have my own mother's diary around somewhere, so I know how these collections a really special insights into such feats of travel.  Then, on a grander scale there's the tauihu of a Māori waka, a Samoan kilikiti bat and, believe it or not, a flying boat - all telling their secrets of travel, a common thread in the book.  Not housed in a museum are a cottage and a country road (yes, a road), Katherine Mansfield's Hei Tiki from her trip to the Urewera's, slippers with a Maori flax pattern and my favourite, a home made brass plaque of dog wonder Rin Tin Tin, crafted by a Japanese prisoner of war.  These artefacts are all poignant reminders of our unique past.  
I absolutely loved delving into this book.  The Lives of Colonial Objects offered me a creative, innovative approach to history and not only a rich resource but a brilliant conversation starter, too.
Annabel Cooper is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work at the University of Otago. Her edition of Mary Lee’s The Not So Poor and her contributions to Sites of Gender: Women, men and modernity in southern Dunedin explored gender, place and poverty in nineteenth-century New Zealand. 

Lachy Paterson is a Senior Lecturer at Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies, and a member of the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture at the University of Otago. He has published the only monograph on Māori-language newspapers, Colonial Discourses: Niupepa Māori 1855–1863

Angela Wanhalla teaches in the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago. Her most recent book, Matters of the Heart: A history of interracial marriage in New Zealand (Auckland University Press, 2013), won the Ernest Scott Prize for best book in Australian and New Zealand history in 2014.

Face to Face Paul Moon & Jane Ussher - Penguin

Historian Paul Moon is a regular at Groove, having written two fantastic books about early contact: Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand. A History. Auckland and The Voyagers: Remarkable European Explorations of New Zealand.
However, if you Wiki him, you'd learn that he's produced about 22 books coving topics as varied as Aussies Fitzroy and that tyrant bastard Rob Muldoon.  So for a photo biography book on prominent Kiwis he's the perfect person to take on the challenge.  In Face to Face, Moon accompanied by award-winning photographer Jane Ussher who takes very simple but iconic images.

The result is a stimulating, humorous and sometimes controversial, sometimes revealing set of portraits of twelve remarkable Kiwis.  Recently, I asked Paul why he chose these twelve instead of others.  No politicians currently in the House, he replied.  And no one who's already been covered - like Colin Meads - no disrespect.  The cover has Brian Timothy Finn staring vacantly out to space, a white top of his tousled trade mark locks trickling down his forehead.  It's any easy image to feature because it's so photogenic, and a little obvious.  More down to earth is Hone Harawira in his Warriors kit, or Michael Houston in his performance tux, or looking older but definitely in possession of a Lear Jet, Bob Jones smoking his pipe in defiance to his nay-sayers. 
Sir Richard Hadlee provides plenty of insides as an icon himself, on his life and where cricket is going.  Hone gives us a softer, more surprising view to his Warrior presence.  The Mother of our nation is really Alison Holst and she gives us what is perhaps her last candid interview,, to leaders in their fields such as public law specialist Mai Chen, concert pianist Michael Houston given her on setting Alzheimer's.  It's a gentle but fascinating reconstruction of a life in food and her ambitions to teach Kiwis to cook and appreciate food.  Sir Miles Warren has always been presented in architectural films as an underachiever but finally he gets to really expound his ideas and his visions - he is quite a visionary. 
Perhaps the best interview is of or most over achiever - Mae Chen, who is now all over the media, advocating for the Chinese Community and challenging constitutional law at all levels.  Her Taiwanese upbringing and Southern location was a real revelation, at least to me.  but a definite explanation to why she is who she is today.  And that is the lesson from this book.  in the context of these portraits, away from the one eyed spin of our daily assassinations we can learn what others have learned and why they are who they are.  That is the real taonga of this book.
Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology. Among his
twenty-five published books are This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional
Maori Cannibalism, New Zealand in the Twentieth Century: The Nation, The People,
biographies of Governors Hobson and FitzRoy, and the Ngapuhi chief Hone Heke, and
Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Ernest Scott
Prize in History.

Jane Ussher is one of New Zealand’s foremost portrait photographers. For 29 years she
was the chief photographer at the New Zealand Listener, after which she took up a career as a freelance photographer. Her work has featured in many books, including collections of her own photographs. Her landmark book Still Life, which documented Scott and Shackleton’s historic huts in Antarctica, was a finalist in the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Coast: A New Zealand Journey, which she co-produced with writer Bruce Ansley, won the Illustrated Non-fiction category of the same awards in 2014. In 2009 Ussher was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to photography.