Buzzzzzz Buzzzzzzz

We all know honey bees are in a precarious position, which is awful, not just for them, but for humans, who depend on them for the polllination of so much of what we eat. So the new book by Piotr Socha, The Book of Bees, from art book publisher Thames & Hudson is truly a delight. Gorgeous to look at, stuffed full as a hive with honey, with facts and fables about bees and their lives with – and before – humans, it fairly hums with life. Whether your thing is bees or beautifully designed books, this book hits the sweet spot.


And, while we are on the topic, hooray for the lovely new jacket (the original, right, is not bad either…), from Vintage Classics, of The Sting in the Tale, Dave Goulson’s story of his passionate drive to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee, once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, and driven to extinction in Britain by intensive farming practices, to its native land. The cover is designed by Timorous Beasties, the Scottish studio famous for their designs inspired by the natural world, Vintage has got them to do several in their Birds & Bees range of natural history classics… bees01



Feathered Things

The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley is a rather lovely novel based on the life of Elizabeth Gould, wife of the 19th century British ornithologist and bird artist, John Gould. Being a good Victorian scientist, he killed and collected thousands of specimens – and Elizabeth, an outstanding artist, gave them rather wondrous life in a number of monographs and plates.
The purpose of her work was to show the scientific points of difference and interest between all the ‘new’ bird carcasses – and occasional live specimens –  flooding into England from collectors in South America and Australasia, all engaged in the great project to name and catalogue the world – exciting stuff at a moment when Darwin’s preposterous theory was beginning to be taken seriously. But Elizabeth’s birds also have a liveliness and charm that lifts them above scientific usefulness. The novel explores what her life may have been like, engaged fully with the great project but still expected to take a backseat to the great men and be a proper Victorian lady, stoically birthing and losing children, and creating a family life, while deeply enjoying her art.
Beautifully written, this is a quiet but fascinating book, and Elizabeth springs from the page like one of her pretty birds. Have to say, this may be the most exquisite cover on a novel this Christmas – the palest blue dust jacket is attracting people in the shop and then, when you show them what is on the cream cover underneath the dust jacket… and the endpages also feature her work… it makes you feel all fluttery!




We love book covers, and to be honest, often judge a book by them, despite the warnings not to… Publlishers spend a lot of time and money working out just what to put on the cover to let you know very quickly if it is something you want to read, or even pick up.
Two of our favourite books at the moment are all about the covers – not their own, but the ones they detail inside.

Writer, artist and designer Audrey Niffennegger has written a foreword to Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, edited by Paul Buckley, a lovely book of iconic Penguin covers that have inveigled their way into popular culture. It is amazing how many of them are familiar even if you haven’t read the book. Penguin Classics started in 1946 and they have always been known for their clever and innovative book design – it is a real pleasure to see the best of them collected here, so that you can compare and observe and work out what you like and why things work.

Arthur Gackley, meanwhile, has taken the idea of cover art, and one’s attachment to it,  and run with it: Bad Little Children’s Books: Kidlit Parodies, Shameless Spoofs, and Offensively Tweaked Covers is clever, nasty, very funny and deeply satisfying. It is fun to spot the classic children’s book covers you know and love and enjoy the irreverent but affectionate tweaking. I like the book’s own cover – look at the skulls, guns, nooses and bats (rather than flowers, chicks and teddy bears) in the iconic Little Golden Books-like gold spine strip.
Some of these tweaked covers give you quite a shock which often makes you laugh out loud, and makes you realise how the books you read as a child are deeply embedded and attached to all sorts of emotions and memories – messing with them is clever and funny but also has a slight edge; you might not appreciate the fiddling about with your own favourite book, in a way that could surprise you.



What is better than Beatrix Potter?

Beatrix Potter with special new covers by five British fashion designers!

Miss Potter

These are really gorgeous, and make the range feel fresh and very modern – and lets be honest, when you read them again as an adult some of these stories are startlingly modern in their sensibility, some are rather odd, often violent (those two bad mice!) and most have an often overlooked anarchism and a touch of sinister, macabre delight in the various scrapes their protagonists get into – there is no sugar coating for delicate littlies the fact that Peter Rabbit (check out his slouchy bad-boy self on the new cover) could just as easily be in a pie, or that Squirrel Nutkin loses his lovely tail for being cheeky. In the manuscript that was discovered last year, which has just been published, Kitty-In-Boots, Kitty’s owner is worried that Kitty has been taken to be turned into a muff. Ugh.

So far they have only done five covers (the publishers haven’t fiddled with the insides, which would be a step too far, they’d all lose their tails) but I hope they do more… bpde03bpdebpde04

The inaugural University Book Shop and Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage Trust Summer Writer in Residence!

Congratulations to Hannah Bulloch

Hannah is an emerging narrative nonfiction writer, with a background in Social Anthropology. She is currently finishing an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.  Her proposal centres around her grandfather, Dunedin farmer Alan Macleod, and his family’s 1963 adventure in a bespoke caravan built from the chassis of a WWII armoured scout car, the cab of a city bus and the engine of a Bren Gun Carrier, from Malaya to the Isle of Skye.

The residency is a joint initiative between the University Book Shop Otago and the Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage Trust. The residency, which includes full accommodation and a stipend, begins in early January and goes through until February. It is intended the residency becomes an annual award and is designed to enable an emerging writer to complete a work or body of work, finalise a manuscript through to publication submission, or work without distraction on a new or original work. Generously, through the University of Otago Summer School, the recipient will also become an honorary student of the University for the duration of their time here with all the research, recreational and community support this affords.

Applications are open 20 July – 20 August each year.

Tumbleweeding at Shakespeare & Co

Three Weeks a Weed… an ex-UBS Otago staffer in a Paris bookshop…

For a Tumbleweed, the day usually begins at 8:00am.

I only have to twist an inch to fall off my narrow mattress onto the stone floor, my legs are covered in subtle mosquito bites because it is summer and my eyes are a little dark from burning the candle at both ends, but there is no better feeling than waking to a room full of books with the bells of Notre Dame chiming next door. Romantic, I know.

I stuff my bedding into one of the benches, heave the mattress back onto it’s seat and tumbleweedgo through the doors into the studio to have a quick, cramped shower. Then my fellow Tumbleweeds and I will pack a bag of food and go upstairs to binge on muesli and coffee in the old studio of George Whitman.

Shakespeare and Company is a dusty, vibrant old bookstore nestled in the very heart of Paris. Opened first in 1951, the building, once a monastery, was named after the bard on the four-hundredth anniversary of his death in 1964 by Mr. George Whitman. The name, inspired by the original Shakespeare and Co. owned by Sylvia Beach, has become somewhat a beacon of hope and refuge for dreamers. Beach’s store attracted such writers as Hemingway, Joyce and Eliot.  Whitman’s attracted Ginsberg, Nin and Burroughs. Something in the water I suspect.

paris_shakespeareco_portraitsofeleganceSince the beginning writers and readers have been tumbling in and since the beginning they have been welcomed with open arms and a great benefit-of-the-doubt nature by Whitman to sleep in the shop on the little beds that perform as benches by day, in exchange for two hours of work. Thus, a community was established. Today the shop is run by the incredibly kind Sylvia Whitman, daughter of George and all around Queen of multi tasking. If you are lucky you might catch her in the early morning drifting through like a fairy with a coffee, or in the afternoon performing tasks that involve heavy lifting, taking the dirty work that would normally be thrust upon fresh employees. I believe Sylvia is how the shop has remained so true to its spirit, avoiding corruption and keeping it’s mind and doors open to new folks who pass through, such as myself. The staff also are incredibly patient, considering the many tourists who dash in only for a quick photo, not even pausing to browse, and they have done a wonderful job of not murdering any Tumbles who have come to stay, considering it can’t be easy training new employees almost every week.

The job of the Tumbleweed is to help with opening up the shop (this includes the café next door also), then hang around to fold a few bags if necessary. It is then normal to disperse for reading or writing until the obligatory two hour shift, in which the Tumble will either shelve books, help customers, work in the storage store down the street or assist Sylvia with some heavy lifting (my speciality). To work as hard as one can affirms a place to sleep, whether it be on the floor of the library or in the poetry corner. After the shift, one is free to read, write or enjoy Paris. The final job is to be back at the shop by 10:45 to help with closing up, then after 11:00 it is only natural to spend the rest of the night beside the Seine drinking three euro wine. I came to Paris with one intention: to Tumbleweed at this infamous store. And here I now sit, in the studio graced by Shakespeare-and-Co.-Paris-Bookstorehundreds of others like me, and while if I think about this for too long, it is disheartening, there is also something inexplicably magical in that which makes me think… do I really need to go?

While the concept of dropping out of Uni to remain in the Garden of Eden is far fetched, I can’t help but play with the idea in my sleep. But no matter, the story goes a Tumble always returns. The vital thing is to be grateful for what you are given and above all else: be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.

Jessica Thompson Carr, born in 1996, here in Dunedin is of Maori/NZ European descent, and is currently on a student exchange in Lyon, France, for one semester, taking weekend trips to Paris as well as other places for hiking. She aspires to be a writer and living at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop has stimulated that. She studied English and Art History and returns to New Zealand next year to complete her degree and begin the hunt for writing work.
Find her on Instagram: jesscat8484 or email her:
Paris, August 2016

Captivating twists and turns…

There are quite a few in Sarah Perry’s new novel The Essex Serpent which is being described as Dickens meets Stoker. It is a clever read, refreshing and unexpected and very satisfying.

In 1669, a pamphlet was published in Saffron Waldon. Strange News out of Essex or pamphlet_2The Winged Serpent informed the horrified public that a beast, wettish, serpentish, deathly – and with wings! – was on the prowl in the soggy and mysterious Essex marshlands. The pamphlet was re-printed in the late nineteenth-century by Robert MiIller Christie, when the snakey creature was once more rumoured to be abroad.
Truely. You can see the pages in the Saffron Walden Museum.

Starting her story in 1893, Sarah Perry sends her unusual heroine, her odd child and his socialist-activist nanny off to Essex to chase the beastie, after quickly dispatching her ill husband in the first couple of chapters. Cora is frankly relieved that he is dead (there are enough darkly alluded to sadistic and nasty moments between them that we are quite pleased too), and being a modern woman of enquiring mind, excited by the new ideas of Darwin and the discoveries of fossils on the English coasts, she is determined to see whether the animal is perhaps a living fossil, perhaps an ichthyosaur, or just a folktale frightening benighted marsh-dwelling peasants. There is a brilliant, envelope-pushing surgeon, in thrall to her since he was doctoring her husband and his wealthy doctor friend who fancies the socialist nanny and tries to impress her by crusading against London’s noisome slums. There is a fun member of parliament and his wife who introduce Cora to an Essex vicar and his fairy-like wife, and their charming children, who are all trying to live in a world threatened by both serpents and science.

There is lots of love, perhaps the most touching between the two medical friends, who support each other through thick and thin, a touch of desire and much sparkling playing with ideas and clever talk.The ending is not what you expect yet it is exactly right. Cora is great: charming, intelligent, fierce and real. Her son is unusual and fascinating. I do hope that there is a sequel sometime, I’d really like to see what happens to everyone.
It was lovely to read, it felt quite unusual and special, and it has the most beautiful cover, you can feel the embossed scales under your fingertips as you read…
Essex Serpent