Foreign crimes…

New crime just in from Iceland and Venice is refreshing and bright, full of interesting glimpses of very different cultures and countries – the contrast between them, an Italian police procedural and an Icelandic psycho thriller, made for interesting reading…

Donna Leon’s Earthly Remains, is the 26th in her Commissario Brunetti series, set in his beautiful, beloved Venice, bursting with tourists, swathed in political corruption. Brunetti, fed up with his job, and the overwhelming heat of a Venetian summer, leaves his family at home to spend two weeks on an island in the lagoon, spending every day rowing on the mysterious waters with a waterman who tends beehives on tiny, remote islets. When Davide disappears, Brunetti follows the trail to discover what has happened – and why. This series increasingly addresses the very big problems that Venice faces, so beautiful, so unusual, it is being loved to death by the hordes that come to see and be amazed; and polluted to death by years of active disregard and then politically bound-up inaction. Leon’s Brunetti is a pleasure to read – he is humane, sardonic, food and book-loving, flawed but ultimately happy, with a family he likes and loves; a really refreshing change from the more common sad, traumatised, substance-abusing, family-estranging homicide detectives. Venice, as usual, is a lovely and interesting place to set a mystery, its unusual watery setting flavouring both the crime and its solving – this is not a series that is waning.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Legacy is the first in a new series featuring the Children’s House, a centre that treats traumatised young people. Freya works at the centre, and is asked to help with the police interviewing of a 7-year-old who hid under the bed while her mother was killed. Sigurdardottir’s thrillers are also informed by the environment her characters move through: spare, huge, very cold. She writes children really well, there have been a few of them in her thrillers, and her characters move within a society where both politics and social institutions are more overtly organised and efficient than say, Italy. From NZ, this feels more familiar.
People are very small here, and, in this book at least, which is dark and nasty and just what you want in a thriller, none of them seem to be enjoying life’s pleasures quite like the Italians are – but really, who does?



NZ Bookshop Day, Saturday, 29 October 2016

Come celebrate with us!
You, your family and friends are warmly invited to celebrate the magic of bookshops and books with us on NZ Bookshop Day.

  • Booksellers will be dressed up as book fairies, helping bookshop magic happen – anyone else who wants to dress up is welcome to do so too…
  • We’ll have live local writers writing in store at the Brasch table. They are happy to have a chat about the writing life, and you can give them a kiss for their hard work, a chocolate kiss that is, from the big bowl on the counter – and remember, when you buy a book you are feeding an author – and a publisher, and a designer, and a bookseller… Thank You – you deserve a kiss or two as well! Or perhaps just…
  • Enjoy a bookishly-decorated red velvet cupcake for morning tea, and collect…
  • A free postcard of the lovely Annie Baird painting of the University Book Shop Otago – pre-stamped so you can send it to a bookish friend.
  • Enter the draw for a signed copy of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold.
  • 10.30am is Story-time in the Children’s Room – free, fun, all are welcome, no need to book – and then at…
  • 11am -12noon, renowned illustrator Robyn Belton (the Greedy Cat books, The Christmas Caravan, The Bantam and the Soldier, Herbert the Brave Sea Dog…) will be here, pencils sharpened, and ready to draw!
  • Enter a nationwide booklovers’ competition to win $500 Booksellers tokens! Just fill in the special postcard in-store on NZ Bookshop Day with your reason(s!) why you love your bookshop, and hand it to a bookseller. Every bookshop in the nation will send their own 20 favourite comments to Wellington where the best one will be chosen – will it be yours? What books would you buy? Dream about it while you…
  • Enjoy browsing the shelves with like-minded booklovers and friends, celebrating NZ Bookshop Day
    When: pop in anytime between 10am – 4pm, Saturday 29 October 2016
    Where: University Book Shop, 378 Great King St

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

…wrapped in cloth.

Within minutes of birth, throughout life and even into the grave, we are wrapped in cloth. All of our public lives are spent within this envelope of meaning, this visual and material expression of a self within its own context of culture and history.” Dr Elaine Webster, at the opening of the Fashion Rules OK! exhibition at Special Collections at the University of Otago Library, 11 March 2016.
One of the exhibits is the stunningly beautiful and remarkable Le Costume Historique by Auguste Racinet, published in 1888. I was really frustrated at only being able to see two jewel-like pages, under the glass of the vitrine…

So how excited was I to find this on the shelves the other day:


Hooray, Taschen, publishers of spectacular art and design books at prices that radically democratise both those notoriously expensive cultural pastimes, has published an edited version of the 6-volume original as Racinet: The Costume History, in their Bibliotheca Universalis range.
An extremely pleasing hardback just 19.5cm high by 14cm, its 768 pages are full of beautiful reproductions of all 500 plates of the orginal. As the editor, Francoise Tetart-Vittu, says, there wasn’t any sensible way to include all of Racinet’s detailed, surprisingly witty, commentary – the original has over 1300 pages of writing. Racinet attempted to survey all the modes of dress in the known world from antiquity to the end of the 19th-century, to understand what the cloth or hide or feathers or bark meant to, and about, the people wearing them.
Yes, he is a man of his time, with attitudes towards other cultures that reflect the great colonial projects being undertaken by the European powers of the day, but he is also genuinely interested in the clothing worn by people in Oceania, in Africa and Asia, and in the Americas, and in what that clothing, and its variations mean in those cultures from the chiefiest Chiefs and most imperial Emperors to the slaves and peasants under their feet. He casts just such an exacting, anthropological eye at the frills, corsets and finery of his own time and place.

So reader, I bought it immediately, tout suite as it were (which happens less often than you’d think or else I couldn’t feed the cat, but honestly, at $40 it feels like a gift, a gift,  from Taschen) and told several people about it over the weekend who came and got one too, so now we are out of it, but do not fuss, more are on their way…

In the meantime, look at these images from the inside, and consider the cloth you are wearing right now…




The Man Without a Shadow is by the extremely prolific Joyce Carol Oates. It is an extraordinary novel about an amnesiac man who can only create memories for about 70 seconds, and the people who study him. Based loosely on the famous real-life patient known as H.M, Elihu Hoopes wakes from a fever in his 37th year unable to form and retain new memories. Margot Sharpe meets him in 1965 when she begins the experiments into memory deficits that will make her career. Oates cleverly and quite subtly investigates what life a person has who is always in the present, and how the people around such a person have to respond. Margot responds by not just crossing ethical lines between researcher and subject but galloping merrily off over the horizon, as she becomes obsessed with Elihu and hopes that somewhere, he remembers her.
I enjoyed Oates’ cool observations of academic triumphs and treacheries, and the way women scientists had to scrabble, not too long ago, to do their work and then to claim it. Oates explores how Elihu deals with day-to-day interactions, always polite, smiling, ingratiating, always trying to work out who is who and what dangers lurk in the brave new worlds he encounters multiple times every day.
It is quite an uncomfortable book, Elihu’s misfortune is hard to comprehend and his utter solitude in the world becomes more and more obvious. Margot is fascinating if a little unlikeable which is sort of how people respond to her in the book. There are questions about how Elihu is able to consent to take part in the constant tests and experiments he is part of, and whether he is being exploited, as there is no hope of ameliorating let alone curing his condition – he is just very very useful. Like H.M was – we owe him a huge debt.




ggm1Just re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and it ggm2was fabulous as always. Hadn’t read it for several years and was surprised a couple of times as details and characters differed from what I remembered – which just adds to the slightly hallucinatory whizz and rush of the tale of a single multi-generational family in an isolated small village in the steamy marshes of a tumultuous South American country, riven by bloody civil war and soaked with religion and superstition. If you haven’t tried this, do. Garcia Marquez sent the book to his publisher’s 50 years ago this year – the rest is magic-realist and Nobel history…

Eye-popping in a different way is the new thriller from L.Hilton, Maestra. Julia works in an imporMaestratant London auction house but can’t make ends meet so also moonlights as a hostess at a Soho club. She discovers a con at the auction house, ends up fired and takes a job offered by one of the habitues of the club. She tries to leverage the situation with him, he ends up dead and the story rockets from there as Julia has to survive on the run using her art-world knowledge and her native cunning and determination to cut a swathe through the wallets of Europe’s seriously wealthy. She is slightly feral, very clever and utterly amoral. There is a lot of sex and violence and you kind of like her stroppy, practical and clear sighted anti-heroine while also being a bit scared. Great entertainment and good writing which is what carries it off in all its slightly mental mix of money, revenge and power. Wanna bet they make a movie of it? And a sequel is already planned…