Thursday, November 30, 2006


Here are three very different titles each of which I have enjoyed this past week and am happy to recommend.

Final Approaches - a memoir - Gerald Hensley
Auckland University Press NZ$50.00

Do not be put off by the rather text book appearance of this insider's view from one of our most highly respected senior civil servants.
Among other things Hensley was our High Commissioner in Singapore 1976-80, Head of the Prime Minister's Department 1980-87, Head of Domestic & External Security 1987-89 and Secretary of Defence 1991-99. Quite an impressive record.

Then last year he was awarded The QE11 Army Memorial Museum Literary Award valued at $70,000.00 which he is going to use to write a history of NZ's military diplomacy during Word War 2.

In his memoir covering some 40 years he provides a fresh look for political junkies and others at contemporary NZ history, both internal and external. His two chapters, The Last Years of Muldoon and The Elusive David Lange I found absolutely fascinating.

Back in the 1970's NZ Jaycee ran an annual event called The Outstanding Young Man of the Year Award. David Lange and I were both shortlisted one year, probably 1971 or 72, along with eight others. We all spent a weekend together in Rotorua being interviewed by judges as well as sight-seeing and socialising and generally being treated as V.I.P's (which we certainly weren't!).
The contest was won by Dryden Spring, later to be knighted for his services to the dairy industry. Although Lange and I both cringed somewhat in later years at having been involved in the event,we did nevertheless get to know one another well over the weekend and I remained a steadfast admirer of his for the rest of his life.
So it was with huge interest then that I read of the times that Hensley was Head of his Department during his time as PM.

These were of course the days of The Rainbow Warrior ,the ANZUS row, the first coup in Fiji, Cyclone Bola, the Oxford Union debate,and the sinking of the Russian cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov in the Marlborough Sounds.

A fine piece of publishing which will be a most useful addition to the published records of our domestic and international affairs in the second half of the 20th century.

Picture from the blog archives shows the late Michael King, author, and myself, publisher, at the press conference held at the Hyatt Hotel, Auckland to launch The Death of the Rainbow Warrior in 1986.
I recall Warwick Rodger, Editor Metro, asking me at the time what we thought we were doing running a press conference for the launching of a book! I had the feeling he only attended out of respect for Michael King although as it transpired some press stories did arise from the book as a result of new information Michael provided about the case.

THE FAINTER Damien Wilkins Victoria University Press NZ $27.00

This is Wilkins' 5th novel, (it comes after a gap of four years), and it maintains the high standard he set with Chemistry,Nineteen Widows Under Ash,The Miserables and Little Masters.

Our protagonist, Luke, is a young and ambitious diplomat on his first overseas posting in New York where preparations are underway for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations,Jim Bolger was Prime Minister at the time.

One night Luke witnesses an horrific murder which leads to frequent fainting spells so he is sent home to New Zealand to recover living on the Canterbury farm owned by his sister and brother-in-law.

Here we meet an array of wonderfully drawn characters, salt-of-the-earth, decent rural folk on the face of it but with all sorts of uneasy relationships within their community. During this time Luke seems somewhat uncertain of his own sexuality which adds some confusion to his relationship with two of the characters but by the time we get to part two of the novel, set 10 years later, that seems to have been settled.

This is a big, solid and satisfying read although I felt left hanging somewhat at the end. Perhaps Wilkins will give us a sequel? I should welcome that.

And now, as someone once said, time for something different.

THE HOUSE OF PEINE Sarah-Kate Lynch Black Swan NZ $28.00

Ever since I read Lynch's third novel, By Bread Alone, I have been a fan and now with her fifth novel she again pleases. This is the story of 40 something Clementine's battle to save her family's Champagne house after her father dies and leaves the business to Clementine and her two estranged sisters.
As with her previous books Lynch has done her research thoroughly. She learned French then spent time in Champagne and Paris, (why wouldn't you?!), and then with that behind her has woven an intricate plot, developed interesting characters,employed her strength with dialogue, thrown in a few twists and hey presto another entertaining read that like her previous titles is bound to sell just as well in the U.K. and other markets as it does at home here in New Zealand.

Don't be fooled by some who classify Lynch's books as chick-lit. It ain't. Her characters are not in the right age group to start with! No, it's just good old fashioned entertaining reading.
P.S. If you like the occasional glass of Champange be sure to read the author's afterword where she talks of the research into this subject and of those who helped along the way..


A review of the new Sony Reader from the New York Times suggests that publishers, and book lovers, have little to worry about at this stage.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

Many thanks to Paul who brought this most interesting site to my attention during a productive session on blogging when we met Monday.
Here is the New York Times take on the Ian McEwan story, see blog from earlier today:

Here it is,from The Independent, the shortlist we have all been waiting for!
O.J.SIMPSON - this one will just not go away !

From Variety:

This from the Guardian. Interesting stuff.,,1957845,00.html
Confused as to which movie to see?

Then here are two excellent New Zealand sites that will help:

I can't believe punters are wasting their hard-earned money on Nicky Hager's latest diatribe, The Hollow Men.
This is tabloid journalism in book form, and in any case it has already been largely dissected by the weekend papers with any so-called juicy bits having already been well reported.
If you are a non-fiction reader save your money for a title that is worth reading, something for example from the entertaining GINGER SERIES published by Wellington's Awa Press.
My favourites so far are:

How to Look at a Painting by Justin Paton
How to Drink a Glass of Wine by John Saker
How to Catch a Fish by Kevin Ireland
How to Read a Book by Kelly Ana Morey

Another wonderful series of non-fiction titles come from Four Winds Press.

I refer to their Montana Estate Essay Series.

I particularly enjoyed Kevin Ireland's "helpful" On Getting Old, Lydia Wever's On Reading, Kate Camp On Kissing but there are loads of other gems too including essays by Harry Ricketts, Jack Lasenby, Simon Morris,Margret Mahy, Vincent O'Sullivan, Paula Boock, and Damien Wilkins.

This from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Monday, November 27, 2006

Friday, November 24, 2006


This from The Book Standard, yet another set of awards!

By Audrey Eagle, two hardbound volumes in slipcase, Te Papa Press NZ 200.00

Way back in 1975 William Collins (New Zealand) Ltd.,as they were then known, published a most stunning book, Eagle's Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand in Colour.

In those days I was a bookseller at Beattie & Forbes Bookshop in Napier and I was so taken with Audrey Eagle's glorious illustrations when the publishers sent me proof pages prior to publication that I immediately wrote to the author/illustrator in Ngaruawahia to offer my congratulations.

I was reminded of this last week when I read a review of the new edition in the November issue of Forest & Bird. I went and hunted out my copy of the original publication and was delighted to find that 31 years ago I had popped inside the book correspondence between my self and the author and the publishers.
In her letter to me dated 1 August 1975 writes -

Thank you for your enthusiastic letter about my book.Your comments are the first I have received from someone who has not "grown up" with the book and it is gratifying to know that you consider it so acceptable".

Subsequently I arranged for a second launch of the book, (the first was held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum),at the Hawkes Bay Art Gallery & Museum in Napier on 24 November accompanied by an exhibition of the original artwork from the book.

It was a very happy occasion with many copies of the book being sold at a special launch price of NZ $42.50, the post publication price was NZ$50.00, it seemed a huge price back in those days!

For the interest of book trade folk, those that were around in the 70's anyway, the people I corresponded with at Collins included David Mackie(Sales Director),Pat Kent(Publicity), Margaret Jones (Editorial),Larry Gordon (sales rep).Ted Ford was the publisher at the time,and David Bateman was the M.D.
And the Hawkes Bay Art Gallery & Museum was directed by James Munro who curated the exhibition.

Then in 1982 Collins published a second volume, Eagle's Trees & Shrubs of New Zealand Second Series.
Tucked inside my copy of this volume I found a review by Robyn Baker which appeared in the NZ Times 16 January 1983.
Robyn Baker writes, inter alia:

The text of the two volumes mentions all the species and varieties of trees and shrubs accepted in "H.H.Allan's Flora of New Zealand Vo.1", and in addition contains illustrations and descriptions of trees and shrubs discovered or recognised as species since the 1961 publication of that book.

The second series also includes a number of plants which have not been illustrated before. Audrey Eagle relied on Tony Druce, a botanist with the DSIR, to identify these plants.

It took Audrey Eagle eight years to complete the second series. The last two years were involved with the text, which describes where the plants are found, the heights and general shapes.
Audrey Eagle has given the original paintings to the Turnbull Library.

In Audrey Eagle we have an inspiring example of a person who has made a 30 year commitment to produce these two volumes, and through her definitive work New Zealanders have a truly remarkable and invaluable inheritance.

And so to the two new volumes.
They contain every botanical artwork from the earlier books, with over 170 new paintings, depicting every presently known native tree and shrub in New Zealand.
They are, as the publisher says, the result of decades of skilled draughtmanship and loving, painstaking observation, as well as many years of field and laboratory research by New Zealand scientists.They represent Auydrey Eagle's life's work, but more than that, they are an outstanding contribution to the study of botany in New Zealand and an important addition to any library.

In her Preface the author says in part,
my aim has been always to help people learn about the wonderful and unique plants of this country, and to help them learn to love the forested and alpine areas as I do. So much pleasure comes from the natural beauty of the environment but it all needs protecting. Knowledge, as well as sentiment, is the key to conservation.

Amen Audrey I say.

Audrey Eagle was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to botanical art in June, 2001. I am sure all who view these new books will agree this was a richly deserved honour.

Michael Szabo reviewing the new Te Papa Press title in the November issue of Forest & Bird said:
The production values embodied in the two volumes and slipcases are second to none.
At $200 not everyone will want to buy it. If , however, you have a passion for botanical illustrations then you will be well served by this definitive book.

Personally I think it is a steal at $200 !!

Thursday, November 23, 2006


This from the New York Times today:

BOOKS, BAGUETTES & BEDBUGS - Jeremy Mercer - Phoenix NZ 30.00

We were at the top of Montmartre. Behind us were the chalk domes and stone horses of
Sacre- Coeur; before us lay Paris, block after block, until the buildings blurred into the horizon.You could play spot the monuments with the Pantheon, the Louvre, the Opera, and if you leaned out along the rails, the iron grid of the Eiffel Tower. Just 12 hours before, I'd been in the frigid snow and ice of Canada, thinking only of making it to the airport and away.Now I stood above one of the world's great cities with the sun on my face and my future a blank canvas.

This from early in the book when Jeremy Mercer, former Canadian crime reporter, has arrived in Paris seeking a new life. Fortuitously he lands up at Shakespeare & Co. which if you are a book person and have been to Paris you almost certainly will have visited.

Located on the Left Bank, near Notre Dame and with a perfect view across to the Ile de la Cite where despite its chaotic and ramshackle nature, perhaps because of it, this second-hand bookshop is like a magnet to visiting bibliophiles.
Jeremy Mercer didn't go looking for Shakespeare and Co, rather he wandered in to escape the rain.

Paris was at its festive best that late December. A rivalry had developed between world capitals to see who could throw the best millennial party, and the city had taken to the competition with passion. Shop windows teemed with bottles of champagne and year 2000 novelty items; the Eiffel Tower had been mounted with sparkling lights and fireworks; the Champ-Elysees was linde with Ferris wheels that had been decorated by artists and sat cloaked beneath canvas until the fateful midnight struck.The lusty glow of optimism was everywhere.

And so begins Mercer's memoir of his time living rent-free in the bookstore with other writers who were down on their luck. He provides us with an interesting history of Shakespeare and Co, the original store of this name owned by Sylvia Beach having been closed by the Nazis in 1941, the story of another eccentric ex-pat American ,George Whitman, who started the existing store in 1964, and the way he has run it as something of a secular wayside chapel.

I am grateful to Gillian at UBS Bookstore in Christchurch who brought this book to my attention.$30 well spent.
I recommend it as an intriguing weekend read.
Eleanor Farjeon Award
Carnegie Medal Long-list

Two major events in the world of children's books both announced in the Guardian today:,,1954268,00.html,,1953576,00.html


Random House NZ has announced that they are touring the hugely popular author
19 -23 February 2007.

He will be here to promote his September 06 publication, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,,NZ 55.00, as well as his quite significant backlist, all of which have been genuine best-sellers written over the past 10 years, amazing really, he must be a dream author for his publishers:

Notes From A Small Island 1996
Made In America 1998
Neither Here Nor There 1998
A Walk In The Woods 1998
The Lost Continent 1999
Notes From A Big Country 1999
Down Under 2000
Bill Bryson: The Complete Notes - Omnibus Edition 2000
Bill Bryson: Walkabout 2002
Bill Bryson's African Diary 2002
A Short History Of Nearly Everything 2003
Short History Of Nearly Everything: Illustrated 2005

Full details of Bryson's tour will be available on the Random House NZ website from on 29 November:

and if you want some fun, including an audio/visual entertaining excerpt from his latest title then visit this site:


Three weeks back I warmly reviewed Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, the namesake, on my blog.
Subsequently Per Henningsgaard posted the following comment:

Indeed 'The Namesake' was Jhumpa Lahiri's highly anticipated (at least in the U.S., where I was living at the time) follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Interpreter of Maladies'. And as much as you clearly enjoyed her second book, I would wager that you enjoy her previous collection of short stories even more. This is a risky bet, I realise, since there seems to be a predilection among readers to favour the first work they read by a given author, above and beyond the works of that same author they may subsequently be inspired to read. Nonetheless, I suspect you will favour 'Interpreter of Maladies', particularly as I found it revealed many of the (less than immediately obvious) flaws in Lahiri's subsequent work. Specifically, Lahiri is a brilliant writer in the short story form, and the sheer brilliance of her performance in 'Interpreter of Maladies' highlights the stuttering approach of 'The Namesake'. I found the novel to be little more than a series of connected short stories, each of which lacked the focus and perfect control of the story arc and pacing exhibited in Lahiri's earlier work. The victim, perhaps, of a publishing industry that favours the novel over a collection of short stories, as publishing wisdom would have it that the latter doesn't sell (though this wasn't the case with 'Interpreter of Maladies', which sold extraordinarily well).

Lucky for us (or me, at least), when I was fortunate enough to work briefly with Lahiri a few years ago (she was serving as Writer in Residence at the university where I did my first degree), she informed me that she had already begun work on a new collection of short stories. Perhaps she, too, felt that her foray into the novel had not been an entirely successful one. But I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this matter, when you get around to reading 'Interpreter of Maladies'. Perhaps this comment will have even inspired you to turn your attention to it sooner!

Well,Per's comments did inspire me to read interpreter of maladies and I readily agree with Per's assessment of her as a very fine exponent of the short story form.

There are nine stories in the collection and every one of them is a gem.No wonder then that she won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this title, and was also nominated for the O.Henry Award and Best American Short Stories Award. It also received the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New Yorker Debut of the Year Award, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and a nomination for the L.A.Times Book Prize.She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002. Whew!
Punch interpreter of maladies into Google and you'll find 167,000 entries ,many of them reviews, and those I read all singing the book's praises.

For the record Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London in 1967 of Indian parents but was raised from a young age in Rhode Island.She studied at Boston University where she was received a Ph.D in English.She lives in New York with her husband and son.

What more need I say? If you like short stories, and I do, then you will find these stories utterly satisfying. I was left wanting more,so fingers crossed that her next collection is not too far away.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


The Programme for 2007 is an exciting one, full details can be found at:

And then a somewhat tenuous link, but still on the subject of music, try this for fun:

Mozart On Wheels - VideosLegais (Media player required)

and Puccini to give you the shivers:

OJ's book withdrawn.

This from the New York Times today:

This from the New York Times today:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

This from the Guardian about the reclusive author Thomas Harris, and the fourth title in the Hannibal Lecter series,
Hannibal Rising
which is to be released by Random House NZ on 5 December:,,1951745,00.html

Monday, November 20, 2006,,1947562,00.html

World's richest book prize announces longlist.

SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAIN-Why Nigel Cox's last book is a masterpiece.

Further to my blog review of 8 November you MUST see David Larsen's review of
The Cowboy Dog in the Listener of November 25. It's a sizzler!

Go to:

Then click on arts/books/music.


This is the opening sentence of Jill Paton Walsh's 1984 award-winning title,
A PARCEL OF PATTERNS, a book which made a huge impact on me when I first read it over 20 years ago.
In fact it affected me so strongly that a couple of years later, while in London on business,I took three days off and travelled up to Eyam in Derbyshire to visit the quiet village and all the now historic places that featured in the story of the plague reaching there in 1665 and the extraordinary measures the villagers took to prevent it spreading further - the tailor's house,the Plague cottages in Church Street, Mompesson's Well, the Riley graves and of course the Parish Church where all the 260 victims are listed and honoured.
To this day I remember my visit and all that I saw most vividly and recall how moved I was by the tragic events that took there 341 years ago.

Jill Paton Walsh's stunning children's book, and my visit to Eyam, all came to mind because a friend loaned Annie a copy ofYEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks (Harper Perennial) on Saturday evening and she spent much of Sunday reading it. It too is set in Eyam in the Spring of 1666.
I know nothing about Geraldine Brooks except that she is a former war journalist and has a number of non-fiction titles to her credit.

If Eyam and/or the Great Plague,as it was known,interest you then here are a couple of novels that may satisfy your appetite.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

AS THEY SAY IN ZANZIBAR - Proverbial Wisdom from Around the World
by David Crystal - Collins - NZ$35.00

What a great title.

Author David Crystal was at Victoria University in Wellington in September.
He came as the first Ian Gordon Lecturer. One of those attending told me that his three lectures were standing-room only events; and they were all delivered – word-and-grammar-perfect - without a single written note.
Now that is impressive.

Professor David Crystal is one the world's foremost experts on the
subject of language. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British
Empire for services to the English language.He is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor and these days divides his time between work on language and work on general reference publishing.

David Crystal's authored works are mainly in the field of language,
but he is perhaps best known for his two encyclopedias for Cambridge University Press, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Recent authored books (all 2006) include How Language Works,Words, Words, Words, The Fight for English, and the one we are looking at As They Say in Zanzibar.

He also has a great website if you'd like to know more about him:

I have quite a library of books of quotations and similar reference works that I have acquired over many years of working in the world of books and language.At last count I had around a hundred or so.
Included among those I use most are:

The Oxford Dictionay of Phrase,Saying,& Quotation O.U.P 2002
The Oxford Dictionary of 20th Century Quotations O.U.P 1998
The Forbes Book of Business Quotations Black Dog & Leventhal 1997
The Funniest Thing You Never Said Ebury Press 2004
The Quotable Wine Lover The Lyons Press 2000
The Quotable Book Lover The Lyons Press 1999
Keeping My Words- An Anthology of Quotations Hodder 2004

To these will now be added As They Say in Zanzibar.

One of the most important things about a book of quotations is the ease with which it can be used. The way in which the book is indexed - by author's name, theme,keywords etc - can determine how user-friendly it is. I have owned some that have been pretty much useless in this regard.

David Crystal's book however is exemplary in this regard.It is a huge and most comprehensive collection of proverbs from around the world in which he follows the most frequently used method of sorting - thematic classification. Following his useful introduction on the history and use of proverbs he then lists all the themes in the order that they appear through the book.BUT at the back of the book he then provides a further five indexes covering 120 pages.It is the most comprehensively indexed reference book I have ever come across.

Here are just a few favourites that I hadn't heard or read before from
As They Say in Zanzibar:

Better ask twice than go wrong once - Germany
An untouched drum does not speak - Liberia
New born calves don't fear tigers - China
The sun shines on both sides of the hedge - England
Eggs and vows are easily broken - Japan
A cask of wine works more miracles than a church full of saints - Italy
A north-easterly wind is heaven's broom - Estonia
If they do not open after three knocks, do not wait - Poland

It is a treasure trove, a great dipping book.

Here are two books I'll wager you'll not find in any New Zealand bookstore, you'll also probably have trouble finding them in your local library.
I bought them while in staying in London's East End recently and found them both so compelling and utterly fascinating,especially when read in comjunction with each other, that I felt I must share them even though they will be difficult to locate in New Zealand..
I should add that the second title is a book of photographs whereas the first title has no illustrations at all.

SALAAM BRICK LANE By Tarquin Hall - John Murray UK7.99


SPITALFIELDS 25 - Photographs by Phil Maxwell - Spitalfields Housing Association UK 10.00

Tarquin Hall's book tells of his return to Britain after several years working overseas and the year he spent living in Brick Lane, of the huge range of people he met and got to know, his experiences - good and bad,funny and sad, tender and harrowing - and in the course of his gritty but quite understated story we learn a great deal about what it must mean to be English.

This is a story about immigration,(there are 50,000 Bangladeshis living in this part of the East End), and its impact on an area, of the hardships and racism experienced by new immigrants, and of their adaptation to their new home.
Hall does it so well often by allowing those he meets to tell their own stories.

It is also about his own adjustment to living in a working class area and about the adjustment of his Indian fiancee, recently arrived from India, to a hugely different lifestyle to that to which she is accustomed.

The second book, featuring Phil Maxwell's brilliant photographs, colour and black and white,was commissioned by the Spitalfields Housing Association. This Asociation was set up 25 years ago by members of the Bengali community in response to poor housing and overcrowding in the Spitalfields area of East London. Brick Lane is part of this area.

These days Spitalfields is a vibrant multi-cultural area well-known and much visited for its market;

Phil Maxwell has been recording the inhabitants of Spitalfields and the changes that have been taking place for over 25 years and in his book he "uncovers the richness of it's recent history and the story beneath the spin and the areas "re-branding" through the tide of regeneration".

This book represents an important recording of recent social history which has witnessed the area become a trendy and chic place in which to be seen. It also, and quite unwittingly, superbly illustrates the people and places portrayed in Tarquin Hall's Salaam Brick Lane.

For more on Phil Maxwell, his exhibitions and this book go to:

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I "subscribe" to a number of on-line newspapers and e-zines, newsletters and the like in an attempt to keep abreast of what is happening in the world of books.
Two of my on-line newspaper favourites are the New York Times and The Guardian while the IIML e-mail newsletter is my favourite New Zealand inward communication.

These three "publications" all require registration but it is free.

Here is a piece from yesterday's IIML newsletter for your interest:

Evil advice (for tourists)
As we head towards our 100th newsletter, and towards the summer tourist season, we thought it might be fun to run our first ever competition – yes, with a prize, too. Some time back The New Statesman asked its readers to submit examples of ‘evil advice for tourists in Britain’. This yielded some wonderful recommendations, including the following:

* Be sure to try the famous echo in the British Museum Reading Room
* On entering an Underground train, it is customary to shake hands with every passenger.
* London barbers are delighted to shave patrons' armpits.
* Bus conductors like to be paid in 5 and 10 pound notes as they hate carrying heavy coins up and down the stairs.
* Never attempt to tip a taxi driver.

The four readers who send us the ‘best’ pieces of advice for tourists in New Zealand – as subjectively judged by a panel of IIML staff members – will each win a $50.00 book token. The competition is open only to subscribers to this newsletter, and the result will be announced in Newsletter 100, just before Christmas.

Entries to by 15 December, please.

To subscribe to the IIML newsletter, visit

Two of my favourite regular columns in the IIML Newsletter are Recent Web Reading and Great Lists of our Time.
Register now, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Bookman Beattie.

P.S. The drawing at the top of this item is by artist,poet,curator,and art historian Greg O'Brien. I love it.

IIML website: Best New Zealand Poems: Turbine (electronic journal):
This from the New York Times November,15.

O.J.Simpson, who was acquitted 11 years ago in the 1994 death of his wife,Nicole Brown Simpson,and her friend Ronald L.Goldman has written a book to be published in the U.S. by Regan Books on Novemeber 30.
He is to appear on Fox TV telling "how he would have committed the murders if he were the one responsible".

For the full story visit:
Scroll down the page to Books and then click on the O.J.Simpson story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Books for booklovers - Quick flips - Brief bits - recently read

Please don't come back from the moon by Dean Bakopoulos - Black Swan - Paper

Michael Smolij is 17 years old and living in Maple Rock, a working class suburb of Detroit when his father and many of friend's fathers "go to the moon".
One by one they simply disappear into the night leaving families and friends behind.
A remarkable first novel, the author is a former bookseller.I found it utterly compelling, and was captivated from the opening line.

The friend who put me on to this novel said it had been recommended to her by Carl Nixon, himself a fine writer, and commented to me that days after she finished it "it is still echoing in my head". I know what she means.
She also said that if you enjoy a writer like Richard Ford,(he has a new title out too), then this will appeal.

Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey - Ebury Press - Paper

Sub-titled A Memoir of Childhood in India it is just that but of course this is no ordinary person's memoir. Madhur Jaffrey has had a stellar career in the film industry, has been a tv presenter and writer as well as being one of the world's best known chefs and food presenters.Now out in paperback this is the story of what made her who she is today.Descriptions usually reserved for food can be applied to her story - appertising, tasty, delicious.
Lots of photos, and at the back family recipes.

the book thief by Markus Zusak Picador $40

Janet Maslin writing in the New York Times back in March this year said "Zusak has not really written Harry Potter and the Holocaust it just feels that way".
Set during WW2 in Germany this is the story of Liesel Meminger who survives by stealing books.With the hellp of her accordion-playing foster father she learns to read and shares the stolen books with her neighbours and with the Jewish man hidden in their basement.
This is a very unusual book,initially it takes quite a lot of getting into but persevere because the effort is worth while.One friend told me it was perhaps the best book she had ever read, another said it was his best read this year.High praise.
By the way, the book is a whopper,door stopper material, and depending on how much time you have may take a week or two to complete.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai Hamish Hamilton (UK) Grove Press (US)

Since winning The Man Booker Prize last month this novel has received so much review attention and widespread praise that I am not going to say much more than I believe it is a truly worthy winner; it is only her second novel,(the first was Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard), and I rate Desai as a worthy addition to the already long line of wonderful contemporary Indian writers.Substantial, both in size and content, but briskly paced this is a MUST read.
The Man Booker Prize has an informative website which is worth a visit:

Italian Joy by Carla Coulson Lantern/Penguin $55.00 Hardback

Generous friends gave me this book for my birthday earlier this year before we headed off to Arezzo in Tuscany to attend the 50th birthday of a London-based kiwi friend.This is a lushly illustrated book that describes the adventures of a young Australian woman who left her comfortable life in Sydney and headed for Italy. It is full of laughter, warmth and passion and I guarantee reading it will make you want to pack up and follow Coulson's lead.Escapism

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

This is a site you must bookmark if you are a reader. They publish a regular most attractive and interesting e-zine and the one that arrived today included the Dublin longlist which includes three NZ titles,yay,

and its free !!


Publisher David Ling has done us all a favour by publishing TREVOR MOFFIT- a biography - Chris Ronayne

Being very much a layperson, albeit a keenly interested one, when it comes to the visual arts scene in New Zealand I had little idea of just how significant a player Trevor Moffitt is in this field.
The author for example quotes at some length long-time art collector and patron Dr.Bill Glass who regards the three greatest NZ painters as McCahon,Hotere and Moffitt, and he says why.

While leading NZ art collector and dealer Warwick Henderson says:

Trevor Moffitt is in my opinion one of NZ's greatest artists. I have been a collector and art dealer for over 20 years. Apart from personal taste and preference what dealers search for is a point of difference - the X factor - something unique. This is what puts leading artists above the millions of other artists practising and trying to break through throughout the world. Trevor's got the x-factor in spades.From a NZ art perspective Trevor is a stand-out artist.....(he) has indelibly portrayed and cast a "New Zealand way of life" in oils.

Only an authorised biography can gain the wide access to the subject's life that Ronayne has managed here. The book is profusely illustrated with both black & white photos from Moffitt's interesting life and with numerous reproductions of his distinctive art mostly in colour..
I was especially drawn to his No son of mine goes to University 1980 which reflects his father's view from years before that he should leave school as soon as he turned 15 years of age.

In a way this biography is a look at the NZ visual arts scene from the 50's to the present day.

Look at some of the participants in this photo,reproduced in the book with permission,from the Christchurch Art Gallery Collection,William Sutton Archive of Sutton,Hanly,Moffitt and Hotere -

Included among the numerous people from this era who are mentioned, or in some cases quoted, are ,in no particular order:

Rita Angus,Ralph Hotere, Roger Hicken,Ian Wedde,Louise Beale,Lew Summers,Warwick Henderson,Jim Geddes,Rodney Wilson,Leo Benseman,Toss Woolaston,Doris Lusk,John Summers,Pat Hanly,Gil Hanly,Philip Trustrum,John Coley,Gavin Bishop,Dick Frizell,Bill Sutton,Don Peebles,Terry McNamara,Gordon Brown, Bing Dawe,Clyde Scott,Ted Bracey,Rudi Gopas,Colin McCahon and Grahame Sydney.

At Labour Weekend we visited the Eastern Southland Gallery to view The John Money Collection (see my review of 30 October)and I was interested to observe that they had on display their five Moffitt's - three Hokonui Moonshine works,(from the Hokonui Moonshine Series exhibition held there in 1998, and covered in the book),a Southland Series Two work from 1988, and an earlier Rakaia River work which was bequested to the Gallery.

Trevor Moffitt, Master Painter, died in Christchurch 4 April, 2006.

In TREVOR MOFFIT - a biography Chris Ronayne has left him a fitting memorial to go alongside his significant body of wonderful paintings.Ronayne is also the author of a biography of another renowned artist and art teacher, Rudi Gopas.

In conclusion something about the publisher:

David Ling Publishing

The company was established in 1992 and publishes up to ten new books a year.
Pretty much everything is done in-house (literally, as David operates from home). He employs a regular freelance designer and, less frequently, an editor to assist with larger projects and a publicist to assist with marketing. Warehousing, sales and distribution are contracted out to David Bateman.

Main interests are history, biography, Maori and Pacific, maritime, aviation and fiction but he publishes outside these areas when something takes his fancy. Some of the significant books published under the company’s imprint are:

· One of Ben’s, by Maurice Shadbolt, Finalist Wattie Book Awards
· Dove on the Waters, by Maurice Shadbolt, Winner Fiction Honour Award Montana New Zealand Book Awards
· The Mask of Sanity: The Bain Murders, by James McNeish
· Ngapua: The Political Life of Hone Heke Ngapua MHR, by Paul Moon
· Pacific New Zealand, by Graeme Lay
· The New Zealand Wars Trilogy, by Maurice Shadbolt
· The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi, by Paul Moon
· Dark Sun: Te Rapunga and the Quest of George Dibbern, by Erika Grundmann
· Ronald Hugh Morrieson, by Julia Millen
· Tohunga: Hohepa Kereopa, by Paul Moon
· Kirsa: A Mother’s Story, by Robyn Jensen

The company website gives a more detailed view of the range of publications and activities.

From 1985 to 1992,David Ling was Publishing Director at Random Century/Random House New Zealand, where amongst other initiatives he created the Vintage NZ imprint and before that was Editorial Director at Heinemann Publishers from 1977 to 1985.
And even before that he and I worked in the same building in Wairau Road, Gelnfield when he was Senior Editor at Longman Paul and I was Sales & Marketing Director at Penguin Books NZ. And he regularly beat me at darts during our lunch break!

new novel review

The other night we went to the Bridgeway on Northcote Point, my favourite Auckland cinema, and saw a light and entertaining love story, an Italian movie. Manual of Love.Great fun by the way.

In the lobby before the movie I picked up a free A5 size 20 page booklet, on art paper and in full colour, called new novel review,November/December 2006 which I read with interest during the interval and then later at home.

On a little investigation on my part this proved to be the brainchild of Annaliese Prickett who has previously worked for BAM in Wellington, Women's Bookshop and Parsons Bookshop in Auckland as well as the fine vintage bookseller Jason Books.

This first edition contains reviews of the following ten titles:

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Aster - Faber NZ$39.99
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black - Picador NZ$33.00
The Cowboy Dog by Nigel Cox - Victoria University Press NZ$29.95
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - Hamish Hamilton NZ$37.00
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones - Penguin NZ%35.00
The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud - Picador NZ$33.00
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie - Fourth Estate NZ$36.99
Mother's Milk by Edward St.Aubyn - Picador NZ$35.00
Mothers and Sons by Colin Toibin - Picador NZ$38.00
The Fainter by Damien Wilkins - V.U.P. NZ$29.95

An interesting collection of serious fiction.

The reviews are by respected reviewers such as Carole Beu, Kiran Dass and Nicholas Reid.

A further six titles are dealt with under books in brief each containing a brief synopsis.

Prickett intends to publish new novel review every two months in 2007.

This is a bold new addition to our book review publications and deserves advertising support from publishers and others.
It is interesting to note that the advertisers in this first issue include four independent booksellers - Unity Books, Womens Booskop, Dear Reader and Jason Books as well as two cafes and a womens boutique fashion recycle store.

10,000 copies of the first issue of new novel review were printed and they were distributed widely throughout Auckland and Wellington. Prickett is operating this venture on shoe-string one suspects and I'll wager the reviewers are providing their services because of a love of literature rather than for any financial reward.
She would like to find some more male reviewers, and I'm sure if someone in the other main centres volunteered to distribute copies she would be pleased to hear from them.Obviously additonal advertisers would also be welcome.

If you would like to make contact with Annaliese Prickett then e-mail her at:

Sunday, November 12, 2006

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSTONE , AUTHOR OF LANDSCAPE PAINTINGS OF NEW ZEALAND, talks to Bookman Beattie following the book launch.

You told us in your address at the launch of your new book that you "visually repatriated John Gully's "Kaikoura Mountains", which was purchased from Gully in Nelson in 1869 by Prince
Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, when he was first a member of the Britsih Royal Family to visit New Zealand".
Can you expand a little on this?

The painting is in the Royal Collection. I was determined to at least
attempt to find unusual and relatively unknown paintings by the better known
artists to add something fresh to the book and to art history and of course
to better market the book - an New Zealand painting in the Royal Collection
would be of interest to a lot of people. I discovered the Gully (and a
Barraud which I did not include) while trawling through the UK collections.
However - and this applies to other questions too - it was not easy to tell
whether the work was good enough to include and in the end I had to take a
punt and committed to get the painting photographed - fortunately it turns
out to be an attractive painting with a great story - see below.
Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was the first member of the Royal family
to visit New Zealand when he visited as Captain of the HMS Galatea. The
Duke visited Nelson from 19 to 23 April 1869. There are no surviving records
in either Nelson or the Royal Collection which indicate how the painting
entered the Royal Collection but given Gully’s reputation it can safely be
assumed that the watercolour was acquired by the Duke on the visit. The
first mention of the painting in the Royal Collection is in the inventory of
the contents of Clarence House in 1900 where it is listed as "hanging on the
stairs with the Duke’s paintings by Brierly". Sir Oswald Brierly (dates)
accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh on HMS Galatea and was highly regarded as
a marine painter and ethnographic draughtsman.
The title of the painting is inscribed on the mount and the Royal Collection
catalogue describes it as "A mountain range at sunset, or sunrise". It would
appear to be a view up the Awatere Valley, with Mount Tapuaenuku on the
left. A similar view by Gully of the same date is called Awatere Valley from
Blairich, a station some 15km from Seddon.
Tapuaenuku is sacred to the Rangitane. At 2885m it is the highest peak in
the Inland Kaikoura Range between the valleys of the Awatere and the
Clarence Rivers. Captain James Cook sighted the peak in February 1770,
recording it in his log as "a prodigious high mountain".

Included in the book is what you call a "superb unknown Matthew Hodgkins of
Milford Sound for which I am beholden to its owner for bringing it ot my
Does this suggest that there are many more unknown superb pieces out there
hanging on thew walls of New Zealand homes?

Yes indeed.
There are a large number of fine paintings in private collections. A
careful review of the auction room picture catalogues will reveal that. But
one can only discover the current owners through great effort or luck if you
don't actually know them. I happened to know the owner of the Hodgkins but
had not been shown the painting and it came up when I approached him to
include something else from his collection.
At the very last minute - that is the last day before going to press - I was
able to revise the story about the Worsley of Ruanui Station because I
discovered the owner of the very large painting for which it was a study.

Following your extended and most useful and interesting introduction to the
book you provide readers with notes on the selection process you applied.
Selection must have been an especially challenging task with such a huge
number from which to select? Did you have any sleepless nights over

If not sleepless nights, very anxious long days and nights while it was
taking place - some two months at least before it was 80% done - and before
writing a word besides letters and emails - and waking in cold sweats when I
wondered if I had missed something.
In the end there were only a small number of other artists I would have
loved to have included but in all cases I could not find the appropriate
works for which photographs were available.
Having said that, I can't be happier with the selection, there isn't a dud
amongst them. However, there is one very much "out of policy" inclusion
which I challenge your readers to identify.

I can tell you that it is the Hoyte of Taupo and that's because, being
anxious to include a view of Taupo I was directed to this charming view. I
say in my biog of Hoyte that he couldn't possibly have visited all the
places that he painted. In the last days, having photographed and written
the text, I discovered that Hoyte had not only copied the view from the
published engraving after Hochstetter (1867) he had even made a mistake in
his copying and given Taupo a second island, despite the fact that the
Motuoapa Peninsula is identifed in the legend below the picture in the book.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Christopher Johnstone - Godwit. $70.00

Last Thursday evening at 6.00pm an unseasonal storm lashed Auckland with a ferocity that saw mature trees blown over, power lines down with electricity cut to over 20,000 homes, flooding and mayhem on the motorways as drivers battled the peak hour traffic and the elements.

It was an inauspicious time to be launching a book one would have thought. But the weather didn't prevent a large gathering at the splendid Parsons Bookshop below the New Gallery on the corner of Wellesley and Lorne Streets. Neither did the weather prevent a most enjoyable function.
Nicol Legat, commissioning editor at Godwit, introduced the author who spoke briefly,(further comment following this piece), and then the book was launched by John Coley, former long-time lecturer in art education, artist, art critic and former director of the Robert McDougall
Gallery in Christchurch.

Christopher Johnstone is a writer, art historian, curator and art consultant. He is well known in Auckland art circles from his time as Director of the Auckland Art Gallery 1988-1995 during which time he was responsible for a number of hugely successful exhibitions including Picasso in 1989 and Rembrandt to Renoir in 1993.

His extended and thoughtful introduction to his new book is a stylish essay on the history and development of New Zealand landscape art. I was especially interested in his comments on the controversial Kelliher Art Award, a "short-lived but important development" as in my younger days it was through the Kelliher that I first became interested in New Zealand art.

Over this past weekend I spent an instructive and enjoyable 13 hours reading and viewing Landscape Paintings in New Zealand. This may seem like a long time but in fact I later calculated that this meant I had spent only eight minutes on each painting and accompanying text.

The text accompanying each painting provides biographical notes on the artist and then a description and backgrounder of the painting. Each deserves at least eight minutes!

As the book's sub-title suggests the journey takes us from north to south starting with Stanley Palmer's striking Cape Maria van Diemen - Waitapu 2002 and concluding, more than 100 paintings later, with Charles Howorth's rustic Mantle Grove, Wyndham, Southland.

In between much of New Zealand is covered with paintings that range in date from the days of early European settlement through to the present day. There are paintings that are both well known while others from private collections few would have seen previously.

Art critic and commentator John Daly-Peoples writing in NBR November 10, 2006 said "the book is full of useful comparisons and contrasts between the historical and contemporary and between the various stylistic approaches.
One can compare the three views of the west coast just out of Wellington with Robin White's Paramata Landscape, Cedric Savage's Titahi Coastline and Nugent Welch's The Coming Storm".

This is an interesting exercise and further comparisons can also be made with multiple works in the Otira Gorge area and in the Nelson district.

The selection policy and process, which I touch on with Christopher Johnstone in the interview that follows, is covered fully in "notes on selection" which follows the author's introduction to the book.
In these notes Johnstone writes, in part, "..... so one of the criteria for the selection of just 103 paintings from those available was that they should at least resonate with what viewers would see today if they were in the area".

With this in mind I was interested to read in the notes accompanying both Charles Blomfield's Evening Mahinapua Creek, Hokitika 1912, and Margaret Stoddart's An Otira Stream (Mountain rata) , a note to the affect that possum damage had since decimated many of the trees in the painting.

This is a most attractive piece of publishing,(it will be a most valuable addition to our growing library of books about NZ art and artists), it is beautifully designed, and I'm pleased to note French folds have been used which will serve to protect the cover featuring Don Binney's iconic 1984 work, Tiritiri Matangi from Whangaparaoa.
Included is a glossary, select bibliography,list of acknowledgements, and index, all of which are useful tools for readers and scholars alike.

My own favourite piece is Last Light on the Tukituki River, 2004
in which the artist presents us with a late afternoon shot of the slow-flowing river with the sun catching the hills in the background. This beautiful painting should really be on the walls of the Craggy Range Winery which is located nearby.
But being a true blue Aucklander I also have soft spot for Peter Siddell's Waitemata,1994 but truly the book is full of such appealing and captivating images.

Finally I must say something of the venue of the book's launch.

Parson's Bookshop is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Roger and Helen Parsons and what a very special bookstore it is. They are specialists in books on the arts, particularly visual arts, and New Zealand books, and the scale and range of their stock in these areas is astonishing. They have a significant mail-order business, particularly with schools and libraries, and in the last three months they've begun selling reproductions with an extensive range of both NZ and International works in stock.

I recall clearly when they started in a tiny shop in Victoria Street in the late 1970's and the excitement it created because now we Aucklanders had a Parson's Bookshop too.
Roger's late father Roy, was one of the senior and most respected booksellers in NZ for many years and his Lambton Quay,Wellington bookshop had been a magnet for book lovers from all over the country.
Today that shop is operated by Roger's siblings Julian and Beatrice.
When the New Gallery opened in Auckland in 1995 Roger and Helen secured their present site, and it is difficult to imagine a more appropriate location.
There could not have been a better place to launch a book on New Zealand landscapes.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Further to my piece via a Guardian newspaper blog a couple of days back on the trouble of finding books on your shelves I remembered overnight that Annie had given me a book a few years back relevant to this very subject and after a little
hunting (!)I have located it.

LIVING WITH BOOKS by Alan Powers , Mitchell Beazley 1999.

I can warmly recommend this title but I fear it will sadly be out of print by now but you may find a copy from an on-line bookseller who deals in pre-loved books or you may be able to borrow a copy from your local library?

Powers writes and lectures on architecture and applied art and at the time of writing his book he was Librarian of the Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture.He has contributed many pieces to various UK magazines and to books on modern interiors.He seems well qualified on the subject.

The following is a quote from the cover blurb which summarises the book quite nicely:

"Books are among the commonest but most treasured possessions in a home, and living with books is an art in itself, all the more necessary as the functions of home and workplace begin to merge. This book explores the many different ways in which books can not only be stored, but be made to play a full part in the character of a house or flat".

There are a vast range of ideas regarding storing books including in odd spaces like staircases, corridors and hallways as well as advice on planning and building bookshelves.
One of the ideas we got from the book was to create book stacks in different places around the house, perhaps in rooms where there are no bookshelves, or on an otherwise unused hall table or the like.Several of our freinds have copied this idea to good effect.

I love it when publishers make a special effort with end-papers and this book is a good example. Most appealing, congratulations to the publisher and their designers.
Rookie author Lam win prestigious Giller Prize
This is good news for the short story genre which seems to always be the poor relation in the creative writing field.
Bookman Beattie

Thursday, November 09, 2006

American writer wins prestigious French literary prize.

This will add further fuel to the fire over foreign writers winning their top literary prizes. This foreign author however was writing in French. Will that make a difference?

Use this link to the Guardian:,,1940883,00.html

How do you place books on your shelves?
Alphabetically,by genre or ???

This from The Guardian Online today:

If you have any suggestions on this subject, register (it is free) with Guardian Online and post your suggestions. I've made mine.
And/or click on comments below and add to my site for all to read.

On this subject can I invite you to comment on-line on any of my blogs. I have received more than 100 e-mails making comments but of course only I see those whereas if you post them on-line, by clicking on the Comments link below each blog then they are there for all to read and then perhaps attract further comments. Ciao.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


In the 60's I lived in Wellington and one of my favourite places to visit occasionally was the Alexander Turnbull Library in Bowen Street near Parliament House. It was then housed in the former of home of Alexander Turnbull who had gifted the property to the Crown upon his death in 1918 along with his huge collection of manuscripts,paintings,maps, rare books, early newspapers and much more besides.
Ii was there until 1973 when the collection was moved to the nearby National Library in Molesworth Street.

Today the cartographic collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library holds over 60,000 maps, a veritable treasure trove.

This week a very special book featuring 100 maps from the collection is being published by Random House New Zealand under their Godwit imprint.
100 Magnificent Maps from the Collection of the Alexander Turnbuull Library.

The introduction, and presumably the useful and extended commentary on each map, is written by Dave Small, the curator of the cartographic collection at the Turnbull.
The book is beautifully designed, full marks to Trevor Newman, and user-friendly with each double spread showing the map on one side faced by the accompany text on the other.

This is a big book and I found the best place for reading/viewing it is on the dining room table. I have been browsing/reading it for three days now and I am still not half way through it although I must admit to spending some hours on several of the maps that held particular interest for me.

The maps are arranged in chronological order starting with the Maris Pacifici from 1589 and coming right through to the 1980's and '90's.
There are maps of suburbs,towns and cities, regions,provinces and offshore islands, there are lighthouse and shipwreck charts, there are geological and topographical maps,tourism maps, early road maps and much much more besides.

One of the maps that most interested me was a New Zealand Breweries map c.1960.
NZ Breweries published these maps annually for a number of years. Each of their ten local breweries around the country,(and in Gisborne,where I was growing up in the 1950's, ours was Gold Top Ale), personalised them by adding their name, stapling a calendar and giving them away to their customers.
My Dad was a great consumer of Gold Top Ale and these calendars were always to be found on the wall of our kitchen/dining room.Once the year was over the calendar was removed but the maps remained and they were special favourites of mine. Of course I wish now I had kept them especially as my first student job was doing the filing in the office at that brewery
Today they would be seen as rather non-PC but they were great fun with their rather light-hearted look at our history and tourist attractions.

Other maps to particularly capture my attention included The Charles Haines Newspaper and Population Map of New Zealand 1936 - Auckland 211,913,Wellington 149,816,Christchurch 132,530 and Dunedin 81,983 but all towns and cities figures are included , and Borough of Gisborne 1934,the stunning Auckland 1886,and the interesting Proposed Waitemata-Manukau Canal 1907.
But truly the book is a veritable treasure trove in which I know I am going to spend many happy hours.

As mentioned earlier Godwit is an imprint of Random House N.Z. but it didn't start life that way.
It was founded in 1991 by Jane Connor and Andrew Campbell, both former employees of larger publishing companies. In 1994 Campbell's share was bought by Brian Phillips, a former Managing Director of two of NZ's multi-national publishing subsidiaries.
Connor and Phillips developed Godwit as one of the leading boutique publishers in New Zealand specialising in illustrated non-fiction particularly horticulture,(Jane had special skills in this field),natural history and art.They were also very successful publishers of poetry.
In 1999 the company was sold to Random House N.Z. with Phillips becoming Managing Director of that company amd Jane Connor Publishing Director.
These days Jane Connor is Publisher at Timber Press in Portland,Oregon, Brian Phillips is semi-retired in Christchurch where he runs an on-line bookselling business, and Andrew Campbell is Commissioning Editor for CCH NZ Ltd.(and sings and plays harmonica in several bands).

It is most encouraging to observe that Random House have preserved both the Godwit imprint and their publishing philosophy as is seen with this new title.
I contacted the Godwit commissioning editor Nicola Legat and asked her how she saw the Godwit imprint today.Her response:

"What I could say is that Godwit's remit is wide.It has traditionally covered the fields of gardening,art,history,biography,design and poetry and continues to do so while also having a fairly elastic range.Its benchmarks are high-end design and packaging and making a worthwhile contribution to the cultural conversation".

So here is a stunning coffee table book and the publishers can be assured that it indeed makes a worthwhile contribution to the cultural conversation.
Publication date is tomorrow, 10 November, do be sure to see it at your favourite bookstore, you will not be disappointed.

The only slight quibble I have is that a work of this size and exceptional quality deserved French folds, a trade term to describe the doubling of the paper cover which stops the paper cover (or dust jacket) from curling away from the hardcover and from becoming torn around its edges.


In "Tarzan Presley" (V.U.P.2004) Nigel Cox had Tarzan and the apes living in an isolated tract of bush in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand.
In his latest, and final work,"The Cowboy Dog" he has turned the North Island's volcanic plateau,(I recall learning about this in fifth form geography many years ago!),into great tracts of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Earlier this year we had been given a taste of this in SPORT 34 ( where an excerpt appeared, the whole of chapter one in fact, along with a fascinating 44 page interview with Cox by fellow author Damien Wilkins.
Cox died in July this year just a few months after that issue of SPORT was published.

A mixture of courage, determination and stubborness saw him complete the final draft of "The Cowboy Dog" as well as put in a wheelchair appearance at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in Auckland, where his previous title, "Responsibility", was runner up in the Deutz Medal.He made a gallant acceptance speech which was received with a standing ovation from all present. He died a week later and is widely mourned by the New Zealand literary community, his many friends and his family.

Earlier today I talked to his publisher at Victoria University Press,Fergus Barrowman:

One of the noticeable things about the six Cox novels is that everyone
of them is totally different to the other, each one a totally original idea
I agree. But at the same time, the opposite is true: there are strong
continuities and connections between the novels. The characters of Hendy in
Dirty Work and Henry Stroud in The Cowboy Dog. The wild child cast out of
paradise and into the civilised world in Tarzan Presley and The Cowboy Dog.
The love of cheap music in all his books.
Nigel was a very tough self-editor, with a horror of repeating himself
and of boring his readers. There are five or six completed novels he never
tried to get published: three early works, a sequel to Dirty Work, a long
and ambitious novel called Atlas Walker, rumours of a private eye novel...
Perhaps the published novels should be seen as distinct islands joined in a
submerged continent?

In the Sunday Star Times last week Iain Sharp suggested that Nigel would have
polished the narrative considerably had he been granted more time, and that
as a result the work feels more like a draft than a finished work. Is this
fair comment?
Nigel gave this book everything he had, which is all any author can do at
any time. Possibly if he had had a bit more time it might have been a bit
longer and more polished, but then it might have been a bit less elemental
and urgent too. Rather than speculating, I'd prefer to read it as the book
it is, the book Nigel meant it to be.

In spite of its western theme and the many "bad men" that people the
story I found Nigel's style to be more lyrical and poetic than in previous
novels. e,g, "A highway vehicle collected me from the white stripe of the
roadside and carried me away" and "if ever I was to leave these lands it
would be to the great highway that I would go, to ride the mighty vehicles
and chase the bunny rabbit's tail of the broken white line" and "That night
as I lay under the stars my head tilted and rocked, as though inside it the
events of the evening were sloshing from side to side" and "Like a dark bird speeding low over the lands towards the sun, his eyes went away from me".
Yes, for a sometimes brutal and shocking book, there is a great deal of
poetic writing and tender feeling. A great deal of wisdom, I would go so far
as to say.

Those of us fortunate enough to have known Nigel know that he loved life,
he loved books and reading, and popular music,and that he loved talking about all of these things, and of course he loved his family and his mates.
At the beginning of The Cowboy Dog our 12 year old protagonist's father is killed leaving his son to fend in the world on his own.Is Nigel saying something to us here
about his own death at 54, leaving a young family behind?
Nigel's family was at the centre of his thoughts, and knowing that he
wouldn't be there to both assist and witness his children's lives was one of
the hardest things to deal with.

So here it is, "The Cowboy Dog", the final work of a New Zealand writer who had a unique style and a dedicated bunch of admirers.

The story is set in both the wild west of the volcanic plateau, with much poetic licence exercised, and in the "badlands of urban Auckland" which I guess is the book's Dodge City?

Cox skilfully uses the voice of a boy as his narrator.Chester Farlowe is only 12 years old when the story opens with the death of his Daddy and is not yet 20 when the book ends.
He has lived a sheltered and isolated life in the "west" with only his beloved Daddy for company. He has never visited a town or city, knows nothing about the opposite sex or in fact anything very much apart from the life of a cowboy.
When his Daddy dies he walks off the red-dirt family ranch and heads for Auckland by way of hitching a ride with a truckie as far as Huntly and then by jumping a train. His sense of wonderment on arrival in the city is Cox at his very best.
After many adventures and new experiences, welcome and unwelcome, Chester, by now known to his associates as Mr.Dog, decides its time to go back to the "west" and seek revenge for his father's murder.

"When I was eighteen I turned from the city and the evil that had been done to me there, and rode State Highway One down the throat of the island".

And so begins part two of the story where Chester joins a group of cowboys herding a mob of cattle in search of feed across the great desert lands of the "west".
Cox takes a considerable literary gamble here requiring his readers to believe that is is possible for the characters to move between a sort of generalised wild west of a previous time, complete with wolves, cacti, coyotes, buzzards, mesas,gunfights and much more,and the New Zealand of today.

This is both an entertaining and a challenging read.It is perhaps his most lyrical writing and it is indeed a fine final work.
I have to say that for me the Auckland pieces are quite outstanding and work better than those set in the "west" but read it yourself and see what you think.I will be interested in your comments.

I will be honoured to have it on my bookshelf along with his earlier five novels, which are:


Tarzan Presley

Skylark Lounge

Dirty Work

Waiting for Einstein

Picture of Nigel Cox courtesy New Zealand Herald.

For the record Nigel Cox's publisher, and close friend, Fergus Barrowman has been the Publisher at Victoria University Press for over 21 years .Writers whose first book were published by VUP in his time include Elizabeth Knox, Barbara Anderson, Emily Perkins, Catherine Chidgey, William Brandt, Tim Corballis, Kate Duignan, Jenny Bornholdt, Dinah Hawken, Kate Camp, James Brown, Andrew Johnston, Hinemoana Baker, Tusiata Avia and many others.
He is also the Editor and Publisher of SPORT , New Zealand's premier literary journal,(in my view),which he founded in 1988.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This sobering (for publishers anyway) reading from The Independent 0nline Edition today,7 November.

Go to

Will New Zealand publishers be paying attention?

Monday, November 06, 2006


This from The Guardian last Friday (Nov.3):

From Madonna to Kylie, from Ricky Gervais to Paul McCartney,
A-list actors, comics and singers are reinventing themselves as children's authors. Most make a terrible job of it - so why do the books keep coming and the tills keep ringing? Ed Pilkington investigates and rates the best and the worst.

Well worth reading if you have an interest in children's books.

Go to and under search enter Ed Pilkington and his last few columns, including this one will appear

These two titles were published back in the mid-70's by Jonathan Cape Ltd in the days when this great publishing company was not part of a huge multi-national and I was a young bookseller in Napier.If I hadn't been a bookseller I doubt whether I would ever have come across them.They did not cause a great splash in New Zealand!They did however cause me to chuckle.

They were long poems, Felicty Fark for example ran to 1800 lines, composed in rhyming couplets, and they were written by someone of whom in those days I had never heard, but went on to become internationally known as a writer of books and for radio and television, and then to become a televison presenter and comic,in fact later he became a media star by any definition, I write of Clive James.

I thought about these books the other day ,and remarkably was able to find them on my bookshelves, because I have been reading the latest title in Clive James autobiographical sequence, NORTH FACE OF SOHO - Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV (Picador).

Each of the earlier volumes has sold around a million copies, a pretty remarkable sales achievement,and while there can be no doubt that his televison fame would have hugely boosted sales, one must also acknowledge that behind the face of the clown, (and I did get sick of his corniness on TV in the end),there is a very bright, sometimes serious guy who can write in a most entertaining and apparently effortless style.

He has more than 40 books to his credit, works of fiction, poetry,criticism, travel as well as the memoirs. He is no slug. And if you Google him you'll find he has 3.8 million entries.

He was born in Sydney and after graduation from the University of Sydney worked on the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1961 he moved to England which he made his home and while widely travelled and with countless trips back to his homeland he has remained in England ever since.He has been married to a Cambridge academic for 38 years and they have two daughters.He lives in an apartment near the Thames in London in a converted warehouse which not surprisingly is full of books.

This new volume is as funny and entertaining as its predecessors. It starts in London in 1968 with his arrival as a frelance journalist, recently married, reviewing books for the New Statesman and New Society.

James is remarkably frank in this new work and while he keeps away from writing of his wife and daughters,(this is a no go area,and you can't help but wonder how he has managed to keep his private life private while being such a high profile celebrity, I'm sure he's the envy of many other celebs),he does speak candidly on many subjects e.g here he is on marriage and the concept of monogamy quite early in the book:

"Marriage to a beauty had done nothing to blind me to the beauty of all the women I had not married:far from it.If my libido could have been given a face, it would have been the face of Robbie Williams singing a one-night date at a training camp for cheerleaders".

He speaks warmly and admiringly of Spike Milligan. Here he is describing the night that Spike asked him out to dinner in South Kensington:

"His Australian wife told me, on the way into the deeply fashionable restaurant, that Spike was currently on a plane of psychological equlibrium, held there by various carefully matched antidepressant pills. She thought she could promise me a relatively uneventful evening.'Just tell hime your stories about Auatralia, he loves that'.
So I did my numbers about the snakes and spiders, and the great man did seem to enjoy himself, effortlessly topping my yarns with his vivid memories of Woy Woy. But he tempered his laughter to the dignified ambience of the restaurant, and when he told stories of his own they were accompanied only by a small range of gesture, even when he was evoking a Messerschmitt 109 that had strafed him in North Africa.He drank water and made no fuss.
Only the famous Italian actress,surrounded by a protective retinue at a corner table, needed to be told who he was.Everyone else including the Foreign Secretary knew that a giant was present, and behaving beautifully".

Musing about writing his autobiography he says:

"In Cambridge I would sit in the Copper Kettle, writing down my memories of being a failure at high school while Stephen Hawkins hummed past outside with equations for the birth of the universe spinning in his head.In the Barbican I would sit in the sill-free window and conjure the kookaburras of childhood while ducks came in to land on the lake for the next round of their world crapping championship".

This volume ends in 1982 by which time he is certainly something of a media star and enjoying one of the highest profiles of the many famous ex-pat Aussies scattered around the globe.

Entertaining, thoughtful, engaging, NORTH FACE OF SOHO is all of these things, and more.It will undoubtedly be another best-seller, sure to find its way into many Christmas stockings, especially for Dads and Grandads.

I have one criticism - I reckon he should have kept writing for another year or so, doubled the size of this book and brought us into the current century.There is a significant element of frustration at being left back in the early 80's!

The four of us were sitting in the lounge of the beach cottage last Saturday night each totally engrossed in what we were reading when Rob decided it was time for a cup of tea.
When she returned she suggested each of us should introduce the book we were reading and read aloud an excerpt. This proved to be quite fun and an idea I would recommend.

The books being read were:

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards - Penguin

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - Picador

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl - Penguin

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri - Flamingo UK,Harper Perennial US

Having listened to each other we decided we all wanted to read the other three titles.

"The Namesake" is the title I was reading and which I finished later that evening.

One day last week I was in the Auckland suburb of Remuera for a meeting and having arrived somewhat early I went to the long-established Poppies bookshop to spend my spare time browsing. Rarely do I leave a bookshop without making a purchase and this day was no exception.

I hate remainders but the remainder table outside Poppies also carried new stock so I stopped to look and there amongst the new and the old was a copy of "The Namesake".
Over the years I have been hugely a attracted to Indian writers; one immediately thinks of Vikram Seth,Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, R.K.Narayan, Amit Chaudhuri, Arundhati Roy,Rohinton Mistry and there are many many more. I have often wondered how it is that these writers can write so brilliantly in English when it is not their first language,not the language of their parents, not the language that was used in their homes as they grew up.

"The Namesake" immediately caught my attention because of the name of the author and so after a quick read of the author information and the back cover blurb I was striding to my meeting clutching the one copy of the book that had been lying on the remainder table.

Having now read the novel I wonder how it is that I could have not known about Jhumpa Lahiri previously because she won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize with her first book, a short-story collection entitled "Interpreter of Maladies", a book by the way I now have on order.

As a result of that win her first novel must have been much anticipated.
"The Namesake" was published in 2003 and without going overboard I must say it is a knockout. I was captivated from the opening sentences - "On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chili pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima had been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India".

The story begins in 1968, Ashima and her husband Ashoke, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering at MIT, are living in Cambridge, Massachusetts following their arranged marriage.For Ashima it is a time of utter wretchedness and homesickness, she is pregnant and far from home and family, while for Ashoke it is a time of promise and liberation as he studies in one of the world's great educationbal institutions. So it initially it is a story of exile, displacement, loneliness, language difficulties and cultural shock.

But as time passes the Gangulis have two children, they adjust to the American way of life, they prosper and move to their own home in the suburbs,and of course their two childern grow up American not Bengali.

Their first born, a son, is named Gogol, this name coming about almost accidentally because the hospital needed a name for the birth certificate and without family input he was so named for his father's favourite author, the Russian Nikolai Gogol.
From this comes the title of the novel.

So essentially the novel is the story of two generations of the Ganguli family with the first chapter set in 1968 and the last in 2000.
It is an appealing, poignant and intimate family story, dealing with the ups and downs of generational and cultural differences spread across two continents.

But it is much more than that, it is a wonderful piece of writing in which I found myself totally absorbed and I reckon to that earlier list of great Indian writers you can add the name Jhumpha Lahiri.

And I reckon she ends her first novel in a way that calls out for a sequel. I hope she is writing that now.............

It occurs to me as I write this that had Vikram Seth or Rohinton Mistry written this novel, then it would not have ended here, rather it would probably have covered another two generations of the Ganguli family.
Seth's "A Suitable Boy", one of my all-time favourites, at 1400 pages is one of the longest novels ever published in English.

Another Indian writer I have not yet read is the 2006 Man Booker Prize winner, KIran Desai, but I have bought a copy of "The Inheritance of Loss" and it is in the pile next to my bed. Watch this space!