Forward Thinking

The shop is full of people buying books for Christmas presents, an excellent way, we think, of investing one’s hard-earned money! Talk in the staff room, when not about the festive treats and goodies given to us by reps and customers and bookshop friends (thank you!), is all about what we each intend to read in our precious time off.

Leading the pack are the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend, Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and Story of the Lost Child. There are about 4 or 5 of us curious to see what all the fuss Ferrante1is about, what with all theFerrante2 good reviews, and having watched customers come in to buy the first one and come back a couple of days later to buy the rest so that they are all set and ready to go when they finish the first. One of the interesting things we have discussed is how it seems to appeal to pretty much everyone, there is no typical reader. Watching someone reading them is kind of intense and the message is very clear: leave me alone, I have to read this!Ferrante4
Sadly for us though, customers have been Ferrante3buying up all our stock so we can’t buy it until the New Year when more stock arrives… frustrating but something to look forward to, and our booksellers’ hearts are v. pleased so many of our customers will be able to enjoy it…

So I will keep re-reading my way through Sophie Hannah’s Culver Ted HughesValley mystery series. There are 9 books in all and they are some of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read. They are utterly engrossing and mystifying – Sophie Hannah would have won all those lateral thinking quizzes at school – and very satisfying. Stuffed full of peculiar but ordinary people behaving strangely and with more than a touch of the gothics.
I also have the new Ted Hughes biography (Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate) to read – I woke in the House rising Sunnight and saw him staring one-eyed out from the cover in the gloom which was startling – and the new James Lee Burke, House of the Rising Sun. He is always lyrical and thought-provoking and I am really looking forward to Empire Cottonreading more of his beautiful writing.

My colleagues are planning on reading a wide range of books they’ve been saving for the break.
One is in the middle of Knausgaard’s fictional/biographical series so intenLittle Lifeds pushing forward with that and is also going to try and finish Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism  by Sven Beckert. Another has Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life lined up, along with Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light pbk.indd.

“everything and anything” by Isabel Allende is on another’s list – she hasn’t read any so wants to read them all, while one of our newest staffers is going to dive into The Kim Jong-Il Production: The
Brief Historycredible True Story of North Korea and the Most Audacious Kidnapping in History by Paul Fischer.
Tthis year’s Man Booker prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James is also on a couple of lists.

Whatever you are reading or planning to read, may your days be merry and bright and your books fabulous!



Strange Places

Two clever new atlases are keeping us amused here at the bottom of the world – there is probably a German word for the pleasure the geographically isolated take in reading of others who are more so.

The Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations by Olivier Le Carrer is an informative list of places you don’t want to visit before you die – if you try to, you’re likely to die along the way.
Really beautifully illustrated with detailed maps, this is a bizarre mix of scary, benighted locuses of paranormal activity, lawless badlands, places that have either had far too much political attention paid them – or far too little, and nasty environmental disaster zones. Interesting, thought-provoking and perfect for your local mapophile.

As is Nick Middleton’s  An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States which is oddly sad and a little strange. This is full of places that you may have been to, that you know people from, that you might trade with but which just don’t actually exist in the sense of being recognised diplomatically or by the UN or being regarded as a country – a slippery designation one discovers – by anyone outside of them. Once again there are maps and, cleverly, the shape of the territory under discussion is laser cut out of the page. Once again, another beautiful book.


Some of the books I have been reading…

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is all that you want if you are in the mood for a touch of coastal British gothic à la du Maurier’s Rebecca. There are precocious, enchanting children, a perfect dead parent, a weak live parent, an unspeakable step-parent, a too attractive step-brother, terrible tragedy, true love, a big, elegantly dilapidated house and an air of mystery. And that is just the bit set in the late 1960s. More than three decades later, Lorna and Jon are on the hunt for a special place to hold their wedding. Lorna is drawn to the now even-more falling down old pile, and starts ferreting about in its secrets and gloomy hallways – which makes all the rabbits run.  I liked it, it was just what I was in the mood for: light fiction with a dark undertow, not silly or stupid, with characters that are all just a bit too intense to be real yet are nonetheless worth caring about. 

The Edible Atlas: Around the World in 39 Cuisines by Mina Holland is very interesting. Holland discusses the history and development of each cuisine’s various stand-out ingredients, techniques and flavours, and follows each chapter up with a suggested larder list and a recipe or two that encapsulate the nature of the cuisine she has just introduced you to. She includes some interesting personal anecdotes and writes amiably and  straightforwardly, demystifying with good humour and sage advice. If you are interested in cooking this is really worth a read.

Rebecca Solnit’s essays are always thought-provoking. A Field Guide to Getting Lost is an excellent selection of prose pieces on various aspects of being lost, losing and loss in its many forms. The writing is beautiful, personal with glimpses of Solnit’s life and memories, meandering backwards and forwards, as from these close and everyday reflections she illuminates certain big truths about humans and the world we have created.

…and finally, I read Liza Marklund’s new Scandi Noir crime novel, Without a Trace, featuring tabloid reporter Annika Bengtzon. You – and the police – think this is about one sort of crime, a well-worn motive, when radical politician Ingemar is found beaten almost to death, his wife missing and their children taken into care. In fact it is about another sort of crime altogether, an unexpected motive, which is a real surprise. This is very good crime writing, with tight plotting and timely political and social observations (the descriptions of working in the new 24-hour digital content news day are really interesting), it is nicely chilling and mysterious until the end.

Great Lives, Better Obits!

A good obituary is a joy to read and the ones that appear in The Telegraph are usually just that: famous, infamous, peculiar, witty, tragic, heroic and just interesting lives are written up with brio, blunt honesty, fantastic style and an appreciation of the human condition and what we make of it. The first paragraphs in particular are toe-curlingly good.

The new collection Thinker, Failure, Soldier, Jailer: An Anthology of Great Lives in 365 Days is just the ticket when you need a little something to trawl through to lighten your other reading, a few pages a day will set you up – and gives you lots of things to tell other people. Just fantastic as a gift for almost anyone, here are three of my favourites:

The 3rd Lord Moynihan, who has died in Manila aged 55, provided, through his character and career, ample ammunition for critics of the hereditary principle. His chief occupations were bongo-drummer, confidence trickster, brothel-keeper, drug-smuggler and police informer, but ‘Tony’ Moynihan also claimed other areas of expertise – as ‘professional negotiator’, ‘international diplomatic courier’, ‘currency manipulator’ and ‘authority on rock and roll’…”  as well as the supremely understated oddity of:
Frank Shackleton-Fergus, who has died aged 89, was the first man to X-ray a live duck-billed platypus...”
and the utterly intriguing
Jo Jo Laine, who died on Sunday aged 53 after falling down a flight of stairs, led a fast-paced life which bore witness to the dangers of too much beauty combined with an almost total lack of self-restraint…


Looking to the future……..

Feel like thinking about the future? SciFi master and (accidental) futurist William Gibson’s book of erudite, clever and charming essays is a good place to start. Distrust that Particular Flavor: Encounters with a Future that’s Already Here is a collection of a number of his non-fiction pieces, written in the past, about the future – some of which is now.
Famous for having written about the internet before there was an Internet (there was an internet in a sort of larval stage but not The Internet we know, love, hate and live in) in 1984’s Neuromancer, Gibson seems to be able to envision human/technology interaction, and to write about it, with a unique and exciting voice. He says he was not writing about the future, he was really writing about 1984, just as Orwell in 1948 was writing about 1948 in 1984. Tricksy, huh? And, as he stresses in this book of essays, he is often, spookily, accidentally right. Perhaps things work out the way they do because he has already imagined them, given people a way of relating and using technology before it happens, so that when it does happen they sort of follow a script.
Honestly, Star Trek communicators taught us how to use smartphones before such things existed or were dreamt of by most of us. When smartphones arrived, didn’t most of us think “Oh, of course, here they are! Where have they been?”, not nearly in the state of shock and marvel that we should be, because, really, they are sort of familiar. Personally, I am expecting to be beamed up any day now…
Gibson adds postscripts to the articles, reflecting on what has come to pass. I like his thinking, he worries about technology and how we are changing, and being changed by, it, and he is also excited by it, enjoying the ride. In the introduction he writes about how he gets asked to various labs and businesses to see what they are up to, and about how the people there are doing things, striving to create things, they can’t describe because they don’t actually have the language because the things – and their purpose – don’t exist yet, they are just ambiguous, misty thoughts – perhaps that is why they invite him to have a look, hoping he’ll create the narrative…

Humane, creative, thought-provoking and wryly knowing, this is a great introduction to both Gibson’s fiction and the burgeoning world of the futurists creating our brave new world…

Love your local…

Here is a smattering, nay, a plethora of books by local authors:
The Silver Gaucho by Jackie Ballantyne, Doby Press, $34.99: a surprising new novel ranging from Argentina to Dunedin and Otago. Dunedin’s Santa Parade features!
Oamaru: New Zealand’s Living Victorian Town ($49.99) and Peninsula: Exploring the Otago Peninsula (was$49.99 now $29.99) by Paul Sorrell & Graham
Warman, Penguin Books: Celebratory and informative, lovely to own and great gifts.
    Grahame Sydney: Paintings 1974-2014 from Craig Potton, $99.99; Deluxe Edition is $149.99: a major retrospective survey of paintings from Sydney’s 40-year career as an artist.
You Fit the Description: The Selected Poems of Peter Olds Cold Hub Press, $49.99: “In my mind’s bookshelf, this poet of the Dunedin I hold dear sits companionably between Baxter and Tuwhare.”  – Cilla McQueen.
MiStory by Philip Temple, Font Publishing, $34.99: both a dystopian thriller and a chilling warning, with believable characters who draw us into their (our??) story.
What Lies Beneath: A Memoir by Elspeth Sandys, Otago University Press, $34.99: a
searing, amusing, and never less than gripping tale of a difficult life, beautifully told.
Amisfield: Food and Wine from a Central Otago Winery Random House, $59.99: Fresh and sensational bistro food matched with gorgeous wines.
Kindness & Lies: Relationships That Make a Life by Lisa Scott, Bateman, $29.99: Funny, entertaining and thought-provoking insights into life’s pivotal relationships.
Reach by Laurence Fearnley, Penguin Books, $37.99: a brilliant novel about risk-taking and the ways in which creativity, struggle and danger empower individuals and enrich life.
Tuatara: Biology and Conservation of a Venerable Survivor by Alison Cree,
Canterbury University Press, $89.99: The evolution, natural history and conservation of
tuatara are covered in comprehensive detail in a style accessible to a wide readership.
Professor Penguin by Lloyd Spencer Davis, Random House, $39.99: a clever mix of scientific knowledge and anecdote, told with humour, hard-earned knowledge and insight.
Richard Seddon: King of God’s Own by Tom Brooking, Penguin Books, $64.99:
Premier from 1893 to his untimely death in 1906, Seddon held a clear vision for NZ; he was both the builder and the maintenance man – if not the architect – of our country.
Pewhairangi: Bay of Islands Missions and Maori 1814 to 1845 by Angela Middleton, Otago University Press, $49.99: the story of Ngapuhi and Pakeha engagement, as neighbours, over four decades, at Hohi, NZ’s first permanent European settlement.

We say, whether it is authors, books or bookshops:

On the Third Day of Christmas,…

…My True Love Sent to Me … Three solemn meditations on the transient nature of human existence.
Sometimes you want something a little dark to make the light shine brighter, you want to read something not so joyful, sometimes you just want to read about death.
One of our booksellers has been exploring some of these holiday-escapist books and polishing up her death puns… some of them are to die for.

“December is upon us, and for those Scrooges out there lamenting the sudden onset of Christmas, I have some books to take the (festive) edge off the season. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is a darkly funny & insightful book about Caitlin Doughty’s experience working as a mortician. Doughty, an ex-medieval scholar and death theorist became known for her popular YouTube advice column ‘Ask a Mortician’ where she answers people’s questions about death, with honesty & humour. Part memoir, part philosophy, this book attempts to lift the lid on the proverbial coffin and shed some light on one of our least talked about subjects.

Stiff was published in 2003 to great critical acclaim and a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list, but rigor mortis hasn’t set in yet. The book may be titled Stiff but the writing is anything but. This engaging scientific history of the cadaver covers the history of donating body parts to medical science, and the process of decomposition after death. This is essential reading for those with a strong stomach who want to learn a little more about body snatching, airplane crashes or post-mortem plastic surgery.

Atul Gawande’s latest offering, Being Mortal, once again bridges the gap between literature and medicine with incredible empathy and skill. Gawande’s first three books, about surgery and medical ethics, are critically acclaimed and

considered staples within the medical industry, and his latest offering is no different. In this book, Gawande takes issue with Western medicine’s focus on prolongment of life over quality, and asks how we can address our own mortality with greater empathy and care. With endorsements from literary luminaries such as Diana Athill, Oliver Sacks and Malcolm Gladwell, this is a book for doctors and laymen alike.”

So, when one has tired of the seasonal mince-pie-eating, ribbon tying and wrap selecting, carols ad nauseam and jollifications with all the (jingle) bells on, we suggest a little dip into one of these – you’ll appreciate all the festivities all the more afterwards – and probably have discovered the perfect book for that thoughtful friend or unusual relative! We all have someone one of these would be perfect for….