4 3 2 1…

… GO!
Paul Auster’s new novel 4 3 2 1 is just fantastic – inventive and thought-provoking, just deeply pleasurable. It’s another big book – 866 pages – but there is a lightness of touch that makes it a surprisingly quick read. I had an advance copy to read, so I just started it, without reading any blurbs or reviews, and was deep into the 3rd chapter before I realised what was going on, what Auster was doing: Here are the four different lives of Archie Ferguson, born to Rose and Stanley, all significantly different yet eerily similar, as their protagonist reacts (or doesn’t) to important world events and domestic everyday life.

There are four versions of each chapter: 1.1; 1.2, 1.3 etc. I read the book right through, quite liking the confusion of having to remember who had died in which life, when so-and-so got kissed – and who by, and the growing sense of how tiny, tiny, tiny moments can change the course of a life, how exploring one path over another, or wanting to follow both, creates different histories, different people.

I did think I’d read it again, in about a year, and read all the first Ferguson chapters, 1.1, 2.1, 3.1… then maybe all the third Ferguson chapters, 1.3, 2.3, 3.3, 4.3… and see what that was like. I wonder if it will pack the same emotional punch as reading them in leapfrog format: you become more attached to some Fergusons than others and when devastating things happen to one and then immediately you are reading about the ‘same’ person carrying on with their life, it slightly tilts your world.

One of the charms of the book – beyond the enjoyably elegant and seemingly effortless writing – is that Auster resists getting all meta and too clever and having any characters in any of the lives be at all aware of the other lives. In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s wonderful reincarnation tale, Ursula also lives multiple lives but it is always her living them, and she becomes aware of the process and what she can do with it – which works in this book.
Auster’s four Fergusons resolutely live their own lives – or perhaps forms of Auster’s too, many of the incidents he describes are similar to those in his own life, some of which he has explored in earlier works. Perhaps he is playing as ‘what if?’, considering what paths another Auster may have taken or overlooked.



The eyes have it…


We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen is the third in his hilarious and edgy picture book series, that is a masterclass in humanistic ethics – and sharp lessons in crime and punishment – for three-year-olds. So funny you laugh until you cry, while at the same time poignant and deeply satisfying, it is the tale of two turtles who find a hat, together. They do everything together. They share. The hat is lovely. It looks good on both of them. But there is only one hat. There are two turtles. What to do? Is it fair to share? What if one doesn’t want to share?

The wanting and needing that ensue, the plotting and betrayal, the fantastic – and unexpectedly lovely ending (this series, including I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat has a very dark edge usually, so I was expecting retribution, if not death) – are all brilliantly conveyed by the expressive eyes of the otherwise impassive turtles.

Remember when you were very small and you wanted what you wanted so much you could burst? This taps right into those primitive MINE! feelings, and the clever plotting (and justifying of your bad actions) that you indulged in to achieve your aim.

At the moment, what I really, really want is this book – you will too, just look at the book trailer. Good thing there is more than one copy.


We have been enjoying the intricacy and skillful paper engineering of two new pop-up books:


Creatures of the Deep: The Pop-Up Book is a gorgeous exploration of images from Ernst Haeckel’s 1899 book Art Forms in Nature. It is a real treat, breathtaking and slightly impossible looking; perfect for scientists and artists…


The Walking Dead Pop-Up Survival Guide by David Hawcock is an essential guide for those planning to survive the zombie apocalyse; those of us just planning to give up at the beginning, due to not wanting to deal with all the various socio-political-ethical issues thrown up by mad-as-cut-snakes survivalist alive people, let alone the wandering dead ones, can just enjoy the cleverly made gore and horror…


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

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.