Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marie Arana Leaves The Washington Post's Book World

Long serving (15 years) editor of the Washington Post Book World section, Marie Arana departed with a final post at Short Stack, the book section's blog. She is leaving the Post to pursue a full-time writing career.

Here is what Jane Ciabattari writing on the excellent Critical Mass blog had to say about Marie's move:

To begin this last roundup of the old year, I note with sadness that as of this week, Marie Arana will no longer be at the helm of the Washington Post Book World, where her insights, intuitions, and sheer good matchmaking put reviewers and books together with consistent wizardry.
As an assigning editor Marie challenged me with a Stephen King short story collection, which made me understand why Hollywood can’t afford to miss a single word that man writes, and sent me an Oscar Hijuelos novel, “A Simple Habana Melody” without knowing I had spent time in Havana.
She kept a remarkable section going, adjusting as needed to the requirement of expanding into an online presence, launching a Podcast and a blog.Her contributions to book criticism and book culture, including her years on the National Book Critics Circle board, have been remarkable. (See one of her Critical Mass posts here.)

Now I look forward to her continuing incarnation as an author of remarkable books (her new novel, “Lima Nights,“ sits on the stack I will attack after finishing the year-end stint of reading for the NBCC awards, and I gather she’s working on a book about Simon Bolivar and will also continue to write for the Post).


I hope you have a happy and relaxing holiday season and that 2009 proves to be a lot better than the doomsayers are suggesting.

To quote the editorial in Spectator Australia ( (my current favourite magazine) when writing about the international financial woes:

....these problems remain fundamentally superficial. Happiness arises from good relations with family and friends; real despondence emerges only when these fray, not from transient material developments.
And Bookman Beattie says amen to that!


This pic of Sebastian Faulks, author of the new James Bond book, Devil May Care, and Tuuli Shipster, the model on its cover, at a press launch for the book on board HMS Exeter, London is but one of a photographic essay of the year in books.

Do check it out at the Guardian online., it is well worth a look.

Publisher pulls children's book based on discredited Holocaust story
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 11:08 AM ET
CBC News

The publisher of a children's book inspired by a Holocaust survivor's now discredited love story is pulling the title from store shelves.
Lerner Publishing Group has announced it is recalling all copies of Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman from the market. The company has cancelled all future print runs of the title and will offer refunds on returned copies of the book.

Friedman's book, which was published by Lerner in the fall, was based on Herman Rosenblat's tale of meeting his future wife as a child while he was held at a concentration camp in Germany.
Over the past decade, the Miami man gained renown for his story: about how his wife lived on a farm nearby and helped sustain him with food passed through a fence.

According to Rosenblat, they eventually met again as adults in the U.S. and married. The couple's story was carried widely by press and led to two appearances on Oprah Winfrey's popular talk show and speaking engagements at various literary and Holocaust-themed events.
On the weekend, Rosenblat said that while he had indeed been imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Second World War, he admitted fabricating the story about meeting his wife during that time.

Lerner president and publisher Adam Lerner and Angel Girl author Friedman expressed their disappointment at the fabrication in a statement issued Tuesday.
"While this tragic event in world history needs to be taught to children, it is imperative that it is done so in a factual way that doesn't sacrifice veracity for emotional impact," Lerner said.
"We have been misled by the Rosenblats, who gave us and our author what we believed to be an authentic and moving account of their lives."

Read the complete story at CBC Canada
Glory Days of Youth Culture, Revisited
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI writing in the New York Times, December 29, 2008

Mikal Gilmore’s devastating 1994 memoir, “Shot in the Heart,” was part “Brothers Karamazov,” part Johnny Cash ballad, and it was a remarkable bookend to Norman Mailer’s “true life novel” “The Executioner’s Song.” In recounting the story of how his brother, Gary, in a senseless act of anger murdered two men and in 1977 became the first American in a decade to be executed after a Supreme Court decision restored the death penalty, the author created a wrenching portrait of their family and its sad, violent history of “dark secrets and failed hopes,” which became part of his brother’s “impetus to murder.”

Mr. Gilmore’s experiences left him with a keen sense of the dark undertow of the American dream and a sympathy for the lost, the dispossessed and the dislocated, and this outlook informs both “Night Beat,” his 1998 collection of essays about rock ’n’ roll, and his new book of writings about the 1960s, “Stories Done.”

Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents
By Mikal GfULL PIECE BY nytilmore
391 pages. Free Press. US$27.
Full piece at NYT
First Memoirs
by Sheelah Kolhatkar writing in The New Yorker, January 5, 2009

Memoirs by First Ladies are often more hotly anticipated than those by their husbands. Once the Presidential wife is liberated from the White House and has access to a skilled ghostwriter, it is hoped, she will finally have her say. The results can be broken down by genre. There is the campaign-platform memoir—Hillary Clinton’s “Living History”; the score-settling version—Nancy Reagan’s “My Turn”; and the memoir of ambitious co-Presidency—Rosalynn Carter’s “First Lady from Plains.” And then there was Betty Ford, who blazed a (perhaps unfortunate) trail with “The Times of My Life”—the addiction memoir. The next installment in the First Lady canon is still to be written.

When Laura Bush stopped in at the Council on Foreign Relations for a chat the other day, the crowd contained, in addition to the usual bankers and Park Avenue types, a contingent of sharp-elbowed publishers. Sitting in the audience was her lawyer, Robert Barnett, as well as at least four editors from prominent publishing houses.

“I do think she has a story to tell,” said Tim Duggan, the executive editor of HarperCollins, who had come to hear Mrs. Bush. “It’s not a surprise that she’s going to be the first one out of the gate.”

Esther Newberg, an agent at International Creative Management, who was not at the council talk, agreed. “She’s the only one in the family who could get money now for a book,” she said. “Is his approval rating above twenty-five? There’s no question in my mind that she would get more money than him.” About twenty minutes late, Mrs. Bush emerged in a prim suit and pink blouse, and took her place at the podium.

After word spread, in late November, that the First Lady’s memoir was on offer, Mrs. Bush became more visible than usual, popping up on “Meet the Press” to talk about her humanitarian efforts (“Kabul is in much better shape than it has been”), making the rounds of the morning programs to discuss the White House Christmas decorations (“The theme this year is ‘A Red, White and Blue Holiday’ ”), and even speaking with Mary Hart on “Entertainment Tonight” (“I think the bunting looks so pretty!”). And she and Barnett have been inviting publishers to the White House for meetings.
“We met with her in what seemed like an office in the Laura Bush Wing,” one publisher, who flew down to Washington with several colleagues, said. “It was an hour-long meeting. I think there were at least eight of them scheduled.”
Read the full piece at the New Yorker online.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What books not to miss in 2009
Claire Armitstead writing in The Guardian, Tuesday 30 December 2008

Set 2666 by Roberto Bolano
The first big hitter of 2009 is large in every sense: it's a 900-page, five-part epic set in a fictional city on the US-Mexico border where hundreds of young female factory workers have mysteriously disappeared. Bolano, from Chile, has long been recognised as one of the greats of late 20th- and early 21st-century fiction, but it's only now, five years after his death, that he's getting his full due in the UK. Hailed by the New York Times as "a landmark in what's possible for the novel", this sweeping book makes a triumphant finale to his career.
• Picador, Jan.

Darwin's Island by Steve Jones, Darwin's Sacred Cause by Adrian Desmond and James Moore
The bicentenary of Darwin's birth looks set to spawn a pondful of reassessments. First in is Jones who, not content with updating The Origin of Species, now sets himself the task of looking at the great biologist in his native habitat - the Kent countryside. Meanwhile, Desmond and Moore have turned detective to track down the origins of Darwin's belief in evolution from a common ancestor. They argue that the answer, which they tracked through a lifetime of correspondence, lies in his passionate hatred for the slave trade.
• Both Allen Lane, Jan.

Hackney, That Rose-red Empire by Iain Sinclair
You don't have to live in east London to be a fan of Sinclair. So influential has his "psycho-geography" movement been that you could say we are all psycho-geographers now. His shtick is to regard the cultural and physical history of places as one and the same - in this spirit he has given us a pedestrian's view of modern Britain from the M25, and an impression of the 19th-century poet John Clare based on his walk from a lunatic asylum in Epping Forest back to his home near Peterborough. In a book he describes in typically genre-busting style as "documentary fiction", he recounts the history of the London borough he has lived in for the last 40 years - a hothouse of non-conformism, on the point of being forced into line for the 2012 London Olympics.
• Hamish Hamilton, March.

Journey Into Space by Toby Litt
Having set himself the challenge of working from A-Z with the titles of his books, at the age of 40, Litt has arrived at J. He is one of the most versatile novelists writing today and this 10th novel promises to be purer science fiction than we have seen from him before. It's set aboard a vast spaceship carrying humanity from an exhausted Earth to a new planet many generations away. In this limbo of perpetual travel, people are born, procreate and die, until one day two of them rebel.
• Hamish Hamilton, March.

In the Kitchen by Monica Ali
Ali's Brick Lane was one of the most sensational debuts so far this decade, which achieved the tricky double plaudit of being both longlisted for the Booker and feted by Richard and Judy. After the relative disappointment of her second novel, set in a Portuguese village, all eyes are on this third, which takes her back to her home turf, London. The location this time is a classy international hotel, where a mysterious death in the cellars throws a plumb line down from the cosmopolitan clientele all the way to the shifting population of casual workers on whom their comfortable lives depend.
• Doubleday, April.

There are more - go to The Guardian online.

Sad to note in the NZ Herald today that Colin James' popular column, which has run in the Herald the past ten years, makes its final appearance "as this slot as been resassigned".

Thanks Colin for your thoughtful,fair, entertaining and sometimes provocative columns these past 10 years.

James notes that his column will still be available by writing to:

And Veteran Publisher Writes Letter to the Editor, NZ Herald

Think Again

Colin James tells us that his weekly Herald column slot "has been reassigned". This is very bad news indeed for thousands of readers.

His replacement may also be outstanding but we still need James too. Just as the Listener thought again when readers deluged it with protests after the announcement that it would no longer publish poetry, so the Herald is asked to reconsider, and quickly.

Christine Cole Catley, Devonport.
The art of prize-fighting
January 2009 - Prospect

Prizes are a vital part of the modern market for serious literature, but they're also increasingly flawed and compromised. At their best, however, they can still be an important mechanism for ensuring literature's future as a public art
Tom Chatfield
Tom Chatfield is Prospect's arts and books editor

Discuss this article at First Drafts, Prospect's blog
It is a central paradox of writing that true greatness only becomes apparent over time, and yet that the judgements of the future are substantially dependent on what the present chooses to publish, publicise and preserve. Viewed from the pinnacles of hindsight, literary history looks like a stately procession of great texts.

A snapshot taken at any particular moment, however, reveals a far messier business; one clogged with readers, writers, commercial obligations, prejudices and misconceptions. Everything we might call the canon of literature those enduring works that collectively form a standard we judge others by is busily being forged or maintained within that snapshot. And somewhere close to the heart of this business lies one of the most ancient and contentious of all artistic institutions: the literary prize. Prizes are an attempt to mould, and to pre-empt, posterity. Their answers rarely satisfy; they seem, sometimes, to possess an astonishing capacity for ignoring talent. Yet they occupy an increasingly crucial, and volatile, position amid those imperfect processes by which writing is turned into literature.

Link here for more.
Poem of the week: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
If only we could all learn the spirit of Edward FitzGerald's wonderfully unfaithful translation
An early-20th-century illustration of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Photograph: Corbis

The coming year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edward FitzGerald; so, as the year turns, what better celebration than some stanzas from his great meditation on life's transience, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám?
FitzGerald was a friend of Thackeray and Tennyson, but initially had few writerly ambitions of his own. Scruffy, eccentric, a bit of recluse and very rich, he was drawn to younger men, and it was from one of these, Edward Cowell, he began learning Persian in 1853. Cowell also passed on his discovery in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, of verses written by Khayyám, a Persian polymath whose life spanned the 11th and 12th centuries. FitzGerald was enthralled and declared that the poems had "the ring of true metal".

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics quotes the tradition that the Persian quatrain-form, the ruba'i, originated in the gleeful shouts of a child, overheard and imitated by a passing poet. "Succinctness, spontaneity and wit" are its essence, the encyclopaedist writes, coolly noting FitzGerald's "venial infidelity to his Persian model". FitzGerald got the rhyme-scheme right but missed the rhythmic subtlety of the original prosodic pattern; some of the quatrains are paraphrased, some mashed together, others invented. Furthermore, Khayyám's 750-plus quatrains certainly did not constitute one long poem.

The 101-verse semi-narrative FitzGerald finally assembled is the product of a ruthless editorial job – but how much poorer English poetry would be without it. His endeavour might more generously be termed "transcreation". Khayyám, an agnostic famed during his lifetime as a mathematician and astronomer rather than a poet, and his mediator, a nineteenth-century English sceptic who believed that "science unrolls a greater epic than the Iliad", may not meet in a true linguistic union, but there seems to be a "marriage of true minds" nevertheless (and, yes, you'll note a passing trace of Shakespeare in FitzGerald's diction).

The Moving Finger writes;and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
For more comment and more verse link to the Guardian online.
Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It
By DAVID STREITFELD writing in the NYT, December 27, 2008

Book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.
In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them.
This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they’re lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds.
Read his full story online.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Steinbeck Returns
Jules Older waxes lyrical in San Francisco.

I WAS INVITED to Monterey as a travel writer. Taste the food, savor the wine, meet the mountains and the sea.

I went to Monterey as a Steinbeck devotee. Smell and taste and wallow in the places he grew up, lived and wrote about. Find his inspiration. Honor the writer, the observer, the man.From age 13 or 14 on, John Steinbeck was the writer I most loved, the writer who most shaped my life, my values, and I hope, my own writing. He showed me that writing could have a conscience and still stir the blood. That it could describe a tide pool and a stinking fisheries town and still be poetry. That writing could take risks, chart unknown territory, lead the way to a better literature and a better world.

So, after I returned from Monterey, I returned to Steinbeck. Not to the big books, East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath; I’d re-read both in the past decade. This time I went small. Sweet Thursday, 1954. In Dubious Battle, 1936. His 1942 WW2 propaganda novel, The Moon Is Down. Sweetly charming Tortilla Flat, 1935. The 1957 French bonbon, The Short Reign of Pippin IV. And the book that made a man of me, Steinbeck’s slim 1945 novel, Cannery Row.

I remember when I first read it: Camp Aliquippa, coast of Maine, 14 years old. When my folks picked me up at summer’s end, while driving through Bath, Maine on the way south to Baltimore, I told them: “I think I'm growing up. I just read a book where nothing happens, and I liked it.” Cannery Row.

Every Steinbeck book I read still works, and some of them are still great. Sweet Thursday is perfectly named — it’s a delight. The Moon Is Down, denounced in its day for being soft on Nazis, is about the best call-to-arms a novel can be. Proof: It was secretly translated, printed and distributed from one end of Nazi-occupied Europe to the other. In Dubious Battle has action and history, but it’s too polemical and given to a speechifying I've never heard outside a book or old movie.

Ah, but Cannery Row — now, that’s a national treasure. Here's the poetry with which it opens:Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.

And later, in Chapter 10, with the possible exception of Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea, Steinbeck writes the best description of a tidal pool, ever. Science and poetry.But it’s not just poetry. Back at Aliquippa, I almost bumped my head on the bunk above me, so amazed was I by the audacity, the bravery, the flaunting of the unwritten rules of law and literature in this brief sentence:“Why don’t you go take a flying fuggud the moon,” he said kindly and he turned back to look at the girl. P. 84 Both Sweet Thursday and Cannery Row build, ever so slowly, to a climactic party at Doc’s Cannery Row laboratory. Here's how the big party chapter ends in Cannery Row:The party had all the best qualities of a riot and a night on the barricades… A woman five blocks away called the police to complain about the noise and couldn't get anyone. The cops reported their own car stolen and found it later on the beach. Doc sitting cross-legged on the table smiled and tapped his fingers gently on his knee. Mack and Phyllis Mae were doing Indian wrestling on the floor. And the cool bay wind blew in through the broken windows. It was then that someone lighted the twenty-five-foot string of firecrackers.
P 178 Dunno precisely why that swells me with inner tears, but it does, it does.—

PS This just in: “Netflix rentals of the Depression-era classic The Grapes of Wrath rose 10 percent from September to October this year.” - Business Week

PPS Steinbeck isn't the only GAW (great American writer) who’s making a comeback.
Hawaii-now-California-based travel writer Bob Bone spotted this in the Sacramento Bee:
Return of the storytellers
After a year dominated by non-fiction, 2009 will see an abundance of eagerly awaited big-name novels.

William Skidelsky, writing in The Observer, scans the field
The Observer, Sunday 28 December 2008

By any reckoning, 2008 was a poor year for fiction and an exceedingly good one for non-fiction. Few really exceptional novels were published (a fact illustrated by the drabness of the Booker shortlist), whereas some outstanding non-fiction titles appeared.

Moreover, it was non-fiction that did the better job of getting people talking. We know all about "outliers" and "nudges", about Cherie Blair's hairdresser and Dylan Jones's boycrush on David Cameron. By contrast, practically the only work of fiction to generate any chatter was Sebastian Faulks's Devil May Care.

This pattern, it is safe to say, is not going to repeat itself next year. In 2009, it won't be works of non-fiction, but novels that command the majority of attention. This is because an unusual number of high-profile (and therefore newsworthy) novelists publish new books - and lots of those books are going to be unusually interesting.

A bewilderingly large proportion of literary gossip in this country seems to attach itself to Martin Amis, and so it seems appropriate to begin with him. Next autumn, he publishes The Pregnant Widow, a loosely autobiographical novel that (so the gossip has it) will include lots of stuff about his old girlfriends and a sensational "revelation" about the identity of his father. Expect frantic speculation about who the girlfriends really are, as well as the perennial "Has Martin Amis lost his mojo?" debate.
If Amis's new novel looks designed to be provocative, then the same is true of the forthcoming one by Philip Roth, The Humbling (also out in September). The extraordinary sexual attractiveness of Roth's venerable male characters has long been a discussion point; in this new novel, Roth surpasses himself by having his ageing hero embark on a fantastically kinky relationship with - wait for it - a ravishing young lesbian.

Any new book from Thomas Pynchon is a seismic literary event; his next, Inherent Vice (August), following with unprecedented speed on the heels of Against the Day, is a noirish detective caper set in Sixties California with a characteristically wacky line-up of characters.
There isare lots more authors and their forthcoming works discussed, read the full story at The Observer online.
Radio program today on how to co-create a book

Adam Hyde is a former New Zealand radio DJ and station manager who has gone on to become an expert in co-authoring online books, especially instruction manuals.

And he will be one of the guests on Gordon Dryden's first Radio Live programme this afternoon to "reinvent New Zealand—and perhaps the world".

Fellow Auckland author and historian Gordon McLauchlan will be Dryden's first guest, from 2 p.m.—acting as judge of a phone-in competition to name "the ten innovations that have created New Zealand's unique economy".

And he will stay on to discuss with Dryden what is more important: creating a an economy, or creating a community.

Hyde will be a studio guest after the 4 o'clock news. Among the issues they will be discussing is Nicholas Negroponte's program to provide "One Laptop Per child" for children in the developing world—and the way Hyde and a group of keen fans have co-created the laptop guide to go with it: available free on the Web and for purchase as a book.
Hyde will argue that this new form of co-creative publishing is about to revolutionize the book-distribution industry.

Dryden's national network series runs from today to Friday, each afternoon from 2 p.m. See for the frequency nearest you.
Publication of disputed Holocaust memoir canceled

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer Hillel Italie, Ap National Writer – Sat Dec 27, 9:57 - as reported on Yahoo News

NEW YORK – The publisher of a disputed Holocaust memoir has canceled the book, adding the name Herman Rosenblat to an increasingly long line of literary fakers and bringing down with a crash his story — embraced by Oprah Winfrey, among others — of meeting his future wife at a Nazi concentration camp.

Rosenblat's "Angel at the Fence" had been scheduled to come out in February, but Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), withdrew the memoir Saturday following allegations by scholars, friends and family members that his tale was untrue.
"Berkley Books is canceling publication of Angel at the Fence after receiving new information from Herman Rosenblat's agent, Andrea Hurst," the publisher said in a statement.
"Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work."
A couple of days earlier, Berkley had offered a qualified defense of the book, saying it was a work of memory, a story whose truth was known only to the author.
Read the full story here.
Thanks to novelist Chad Taylor for bringing this story to my attention.
From The Sunday Times
December 28, 2008
George W Bush’s $300m library in danger of becoming white elephant
His critics see it as a monument to a failed presidency that may not even hold all his key documents
by Sarah Baxter

As President George W Bush eyes his legacy, his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, threatens to be a white elephant.

Bush has bought a $3m (£2.05m) house in a Republican enclave 10 minutes away from his proposed library and hopes to play an active role in the policy institute that will be established there. With his approval ratings at a record low of 20%, according to a CBS poll, he is keenly interested in shaping the verdict of history.
“I’d like to be . . . known as somebody who liberated 50m people and helped achieve peace,” Bush said in a recent interview. Laura Bush said last week that she saw the policy institute as a “great vehicle” for continuing her support for women’s rights in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Work on the $300m library will begin in January, overseen by the architect Robert Stern, dean of the Yale school of architecture. The identity of donors has been kept secret from Bush, who established a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about their names after The Sunday Times revealed in July that a top Republican donor was touting access to senior administration officials in return for donations of up to $250,000.
Read the full story at The Sunday Times online.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Garrison Keillor is back in grumpy mode, and Jane Smiley finds herself shouting 'Hallelujah!'
Jane Smiley writing in The Guardian, Saturday 27 December 2008

In his 30 years of broadcasting and publishing fiction, Garrison Keillor has set the laugh bar pretty high. Lots of people can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing while listening to the Prairie Home Companion monologue in which, say, the Homecoming Queen riding on the fender of the tank comes face to face with the farmer hauling his filled-up septic tank (an old car) to the town dump, or the one where the guy next door keeps using his new TV remote to turn on his neighbour's TV.

Liberty : A Novel of Lake Wobegon
by Garrison Keillor

Keillor doesn't always meet his own standards, and has sometimes seemed (imagine!) to resent our demands. There's another Garrison Keillor trying to get out - a man with a more thoughtful take on things, who would like us not to be always waiting for the laugh. But too bad. We are.

It was the more thoughtful Keillor who was on display in his last Lake Wobegon novel, Pontoon, a meditation on death that was considerably less grumpy than, say, Keillor's first novel (and one of my favourites), WLT: A Radio Romance. The grumpy Garrison is back in Liberty, and I say, "Hallelujah!"
Read Jane Smiley's thoughtful review at The Guardian online.
I have just read this novel, laughed ut loud, funniest book I have read in many a long day and I agree with Jane Smiley's opinion. He is right back to his brilliant, entertaining best.
Tributes pour in for Pinter
Multi-award winning playwright lauded by dignitaries of theatrical and political worlds

Peter Walker, David Smith and Haroon Siddique writing in,

Tributes are being paid to the playwright Harold Pinter today from both the theatrical and political worlds after his death from cancer, aged 78.

This evening, the London stage will see the first performance of one of the Nobel Prize-winning writer's works since his death, as a cast including Sir Michael Gambon, David Walliams and David Bradley perform No Man's Land at the Duke of York's theatre.
"I'm very honoured to have known him personally and professionally over the past 10 years. It's a huge loss," Bradley said.
"People from Germany, Israel and China would come backstage saying Harold Pinter was so important to them. He wrote about oppression and people taking terrible advantage and oppressing each other on a personal level.
"Although he did not write the plays in an overtly political way they stood the test of time because they have universal themes. They meant so much to people in different ways."

Gambon, a veteran performer of Pinter's plays, led tributes to him yesterday, describing him as "our God".
He told "I had the privilege to know Harold well and was in many of his plays. I created a couple of parts for him in first productions. He was our God, Harold Pinter, for actors. He was the man who wrote the plays you wanted to be in."
Read the full report at The Guardian online.
A walk on the wild side
Sue Arnold writing in The Guardian, Saturday 27 December 2008

Nothing beats poetry read by the author him/ herself, even if, like Carol Ann Duffy or Andrew Motion, they don't have particularly strong voices.

Ted Hughes: Poems and Short Stories
by Ted Hughes
British Library,

The bonus with this recording is that Hughes has a marvellous voice — angry, gritty, macho, like his writing, but sensitive, too, with the sort of Yorkshire accent that puts you in mind of tough, laconic miners (the sort you glimpsed picketing in 1984) not dotty old "ee by gum" codgers in Last of the Summer Wine.

Hughes is sometimes described as a nature poet, a misleading description
if it makes you think of Wordsworth 's daffodils. The natural world observed
through Hughes's eyes — thistles, pike, foxes — is menacing, merciless, terrifying.

This, from his monologue spoken by a hawk in a wood, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up:
"I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed. / Inaction, no falsifying dream / Between my hooked head and hooked feet: / Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat . /... / My feet are locked upon the rough bark. /It took the whole of Creation / To produce my foot, my each feather : /Now I hold Creation in my foot / Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly — / I kill where I please because it is all mine. / There is no sophistry in my body: / My manners are tearing off heads — / The allotment of death . . ."

It was recorded at the Poetry Society's diamond jubilee in 1969 before an audience who gave him a standing ovation.

And from the BBC website:

The Spoken Word – Ted HughesPoems and Short Stories and Poetry in the Making
On 15 October 2008, the British Library released two new additions to its popular series of literary spoken word CDs, featuring rarely heard BBC broadcasts of the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (19301998), recorded 1960 – 1992.

The Spoken Word – Ted Hughes: Poems and Short Stories, the first of a pair of 2CD sets drawn from the BBC radio broadcasts of Ted Hughes, features live and studio recordings of the poet introducing and reading his own work. The recordings include his earliest surviving poetry broadcast, dated 12 August 1960, in which he reads ‘The Captain's Speech' from The House of Aries and ‘Thistles' from Wodwo. The collection also includes extensive selections from Remains of Elmet and Moortown Diary, plus two complete short stories, The Harvesting and Snow.
Notable extracts include a broadcast dated 6 July 1970, in which Hughes is interviewed on the background and meaning of The Life and Songs of Crow, which he called his masterpiece, ‘if I am capable of such a thing as a masterpiece'. In another excerpt from a ‘Poet of the Month' programme, broadcast on 5 April 1992, Hughes discusses his appointment as Poet Laureate.

The Spoken Word - Ted Hughes : Poetry in the Making, draws on the broadcasts Ted Hughes made for schools, particularly the highly praised Listening and Writing series, later published as Poetry in the Making, in which Hughes aimed to encourage an interest in imaginative writing in 10-14 year olds.
Hughes explains the origins and development of some of his most famous animal poems, such as The Thought-Fox and Pike, and suggests techniques of concentration for translating thoughts into poems. The set contains five complete Listening and Writing talks, all illustrated with Hughes's readings of his own and others' poetry, plus two complementary programmes of readings from the collection Season Songs.
Recordings include Capturing Animals (1961), in which Ted Hughes talks about how his early interest in animals turned into capturing and keeping animals in the form of poems, and Meet my Folks! (1965), in which Ted Hughes talks about his imaginary family and reads the poems he wrote about them.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guest reviewer Maggie Rainey-Smith, New Zealand author, (About Turns, Turbulence), poet, book-lover……….returns to one of her great favourites and discovers the passion still burns........

First, I must declare my bias. I am an adoring fan of Katherine Mansfield. I live “At the Bay”, and I covet every word she ever wrote, from the fledgling “In a German Pension” to the final triumphs when New Zealand takes centre stage, and where her loss (her brother), her craft (hard won), combine to enliven the page, and enlighten our hearts. My Classics Book Group recently read “Mansfield” by C.K. Stead. I had read it once before, in 2004 when first published, and indeed I have a signed copy from the man himself which I queued to get. I loved it then, and I loved it again.

I’ve read Joanna Woods’ Katerina which I can highly recommend, and I’ve read A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin, and as you’ve already most likely gathered, I think I’ve read most of KM’s short stories. And so, it is with extraordinary joy that I have twice read, C K Stead’s tribute to “our” girl.

The thrill of this book is the idea that quickly insinuates itself, that you are hearing KM, that you are inside her head, and although you know you are not, it is hard to shake and it is rewarding. We will never know the real Katherine, only people’s versions of her and I recommend Stead’s masterful, and at the same time, deliciously simple achievement.

In the Prologue, we have a delightful and revelatory encounter with T. S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield on a London Street with a view of the Hammersmith Bridge. They’ve escaped from a social occasion, their conversation is littered with literary highlights, Captain (Robert) Graves whom Katherine dislikes, Vivienne (Eliot’s wife), Lady Ottoline… and immediately you feel like an insider, as if the author knows you know.

The prose is tight, it is spare, and it concentrated. So much is revealed by so little.
And almost immediately we are in Paris, on a romantic rendezvous with Katherine visiting her French lover Carco and then virtually at the battlefront. We sense a woman who is testing life experience, rather than a woman passionately in love. Already we have so much information about her relationship with John Murray and it is only page 25. If you want to savour the simplicity and playfulness of Mr Stead’s writing, let me share. Katherine is in a café watching a pale woman, and ever the writer she has noted her down as “the Sometime Virgin, Mary. She laughed at that. What a difference a comma can make!”

Throughout the compact novel, artists and writers appear almost casually and yet with the full impact intended. We have Katherine’s friendship with Beatrice Hastings who just happens to have ended an affair with an Italian painter (Modigliani) and started one with a Spaniard (Pablo Picasso). For those who know, what fun to be reminded, and for those, like me who had no idea, what a gem, so neatly inserted.

This is what makes the book so satisfying. History reveals itself almost unobtrusively. Cleverly and looking as if it is ever so easy, Stead has used his knowledge and research to combine fact with his imagination. Sometimes (infrequently), the reader will recognise that the author is purposefully constructing history around a particular character, but it is so tight and so spare, that you don’t mind.

Atmosphere is not the main thrust of the novel, but suddenly we are in a bookshop where Yeats has read with Fred Goodyear 1915, “There was a fireplace and a coal fire burning with even a cat stretched out in front of it. Around the room, hanging from shelves and draped over the table were Rhyme sheets, each containing a single poem…” Fred is meeting Jack at the bookshop and they are going together to meet D.H. Lawrence. Casual, and yet so much history and atmosphere crammed into the bookshop.

Where the author really hits his straps for me is the chapter when D.H. Lawrence has invited Katherine and Jack to stay with him and Frieda in Cornwall. The build up to Katherine and Jack’s arrival, and then the bizarre culmination with D.H. Lawrence and Frieda, their physical fury with one another, the way in which it builds and is enacted, is extraordinary and the polite and confused detachment with which KM and Jack view this. I loved the conversation afterwards when Frieda and her Lorenzo (D. H. Lawrence) lie in bed and talk and agree that the Murrys won’t stay, that they will tell Ottoline that Lawrence has beat Frieda; the wonderful intimacy of the couple who have in public behaved appallingly but in private have a whole other understanding.

My other favourite bit (which comes before Cornwall), is Jack and Katherine travelling in Europe after the death of her brother Leslie when KM’s grief is so great that she cannot express it. Jack can’t console her and decides to read on the train. “But soon there came across to him, by means of that silent, subterranean communication which is a condition of being a couple, that he was being insensitive, neglecting her.”

Humour is there too, always and in particular when Carrington and KM discuss losing their virginity and Katherine’s response is “I didn’t lose it. I gifted it to the nation.”

But, finally, this is only “one” voice for Katherine and however insightful it is and however compelling the read, it is too, a very male perspective and this is not a criticism but an observation. I feel that Jack Murray is lent a sympathetic ear, and for me I feel enraged sometimes at how ineffectual he was, but then, what choice did the poor man have - he was but a bit player on the stage of the life of a woman ahead of her time. It seemed to my Classics Book Group, that perhaps she loved Jack when she wrote about it, or to him, but that living with him, was never quite enough. Perhaps it wasn’t his fault.

In the end, the terrible, tragic end, the thing that haunts me most and which Stead tactfully avoids, is the horrible idea of Katherine dying alone with the doctors as Jack, left the room, avoiding the last and most important responsibility – to be there with her.

Unwanted Christmas gifts? Try this.

You have to hand it to those enterprising Americans..............

Friday, December 26, 2008

Charles Dickens - first published 1843

I have read two reviews of this seemingly timeless story in the past couple of days, both most enthusiastic.

The ‘little Christmas tale’ that has everything
Susan Hill reappraises Charles Dickens’s classic in The Spectator

This by Rob Woodard blogging in The Guardian.


This famous, long-published English magazine, one of my favourites, has set off on a great new adventure in recent weeks by publishing an Australian edition. Not only does this new magazine have 12 pages of exclusively Australian contributed material each week but we can now buy in it both Australia and here in New Zealand in the week of UK publication and at the bargain price of A$6.95/NZ$7.95. I am delighted and now instead of buying a copy once a month or so I am treating myself every week.

The story that follows by Aussie author Virginia Duigan, is from the absolutely splendid Christmas Special issue. Give yourself a post-Christmas gift and go out and buy a copy, I promise you will not be disappointed. To get a taste read on..........

Biographies by day, Scrabble by night
Virginia Duigan, (pic left), writing in The Spectator Australia
Special Christmas Issue 20-27 December 2008.

Virginia Duigan and two fellow ladies of letters turned a cottage in rural France into their own writers’ retreat
The single-storey ancient stone farmhouse is surrounded by rolling fields, several miles from the nearest town. It is long, narrow, charming, with more lamps than I have ever seen in one small house. The sleeping quarters are at one end: two bedrooms, and a third double bed in the sitting room. I must walk through Anne’s bedroom and past Caroline’s bed to the kitchen to reach the bathroom. But we are old friends, and this is the third successive year that the three of us have gathered in a wintry landscape to write.

We are in the heart of rural France. South-west of Paris, only 90 minutes away by train, it might as well be a far-flung province. The region is called le Perche; tourists come rarely and certainly not off-season. When de Gaulle spoke of la France profonde — provincial, quiet, inward-looking — he might have been describing le Perche, with its sleepy capital Nogent-le-Rotrou, our nearest, Internet café-free small town.
Writers are impractical. It is our first morning and we can’t get the stove to work. The name Monsieur Malherbe is on the fridge as wood carrier and general factotum. M. Malherbe is slight and taciturn. He adjusts the portable cylinder; a gas jet sputters into life. We have coffee, make a long list of supplies. But alas, it is Sunday in Nogent: the main supermarket closed at 11.45 a.m., the other one at 12 as we drive up. The streets are deserted.

But writers are imaginative and optimistic. We have the perfect, cosy auberge in mind for Sunday lunch. Its stone wall is covered in creeper, and it serves simple yet delicious food sourced from local farms. We scour several villages in search of it. The villages are pretty but deserted, the inns few, somewhat utilitarian and tout complet. Back in Nogent we locate the sole open shop, which is run by Arabs, and before it shuts grab whatever is to hand — bread and wine, lettuce, cheese, eggs, fresh figs. That evening we have tomato omelettes, figs, cheese, and rather a lot of wine.

Read the full and delightfully entertaining piece at The Spectator online.

Virginia Duigan's second novel, The Biographer was published earlier this year by Vintage,Random House.While in France she was working on her third novel, The Precipice.

Turning Page, E-Books Start to Take Hold
By BRAD STONE and MOTOKO RICH, New York Times,
Published: December 23, 2008

Could book lovers finally be willing to switch from paper to pixels?

For a decade, consumers mostly ignored electronic book devices, which were often hard to use and offered few popular items to read. But this year, in part because of the popularity of’s wireless Kindle device, the e-book has started to take hold.

The $359 Kindle, which is slim, white and about the size of a trade paperback, was introduced a year ago. Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures, the Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books. Now it is out of stock and unavailable until February. Analysts credit Oprah Winfrey, who praised the Kindle on her show in October, and blame Amazon for poor holiday planning.

The shortage is providing an opening for Sony, which embarked on an intense publicity campaign for its Reader device during the gift-buying season. The stepped-up competition may represent a coming of age for the entire idea of reading longer texts on a portable digital device.
“The perception is that e-books have been around for 10 years and haven’t done anything,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. “But it’s happening now. This is really starting to take off.”
Read the full piece - NYT
Harold Pinter, Nobel-Winning Playwright, Dies at 78

By MEL GUSSOW and BEN BRANTLEY writing in The New York Times,
Published: December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter, the British playwright whose gifts for finding the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence made him the most influential and imitated dramatist of his generation, died on Wednesday. He was 78 and lived in London.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, said Thursday.
Mr. Pinter learned he had cancer of the esophagus in 2002. In 2005, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm but delivered an acceptance speech from a wheelchair in a recorded video.

In more than 30 plays — written between 1957 and 2000 and including masterworks like “The Birthday Party,” “The Caretaker,” “The Homecoming” and “Betrayal” — Mr. Pinter captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence.
Along with another Nobel winner, Samuel Beckett, his friend and mentor, Mr. Pinter became one of the few modern playwrights whose names instantly evoke a sensibility. The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace.

An actor, essayist, screenwriter, poet and director as well as a dramatist, Mr. Pinter was also publicly outspoken in his views on repression and censorship, at home and abroad. He used his Nobel acceptance speech to denounce American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq, but that it had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.
Read the full piece at the NYT online.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kiwi poet with his eye on here and beyond
Review by Justin Clemens writing in The Australian, December 20, 2008

A Vampire in the Antipodes:

C.K. Stead, Collected Poems, 1951-2006
Auckland University Press, 548pp, A$69.95

CHRISTIAN Karlson Stead stares out from the dust jacket of this beautifully produced hardback like a well-fed antipodean Nosferatu.
As a best-selling academic, Stead is clearly some kind of "secular shaman", to use Stephen Greenblatt's phrase, communing with the spirits of the dead. As a novelist, he seems to have been more witchdoctor, casting dark spells against the phantasms of the present.An early New Zealand literary nationalist, a disciple of Allen Curnow and Frank Sargeson, Stead has been supported and celebrated by official organs of all kinds: he is a CBE, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a member of the Order of New Zealand, the recipient of honorary doctorates and other awards.
Yet reading the lifetime of work collected in this volume, it is clear he's essaying not to be a mouthpiece for anybody else. As a poet, it's more crucial to suck out the quintessence of the dead than simply transmit their wit or wisdom for future generations. Real poets need to vampirise others to enjoy a "life beyond life", as John Milton put it. Or, to use Stead's ambivalent terms in Play It Again, dedicated to Les Murray on the latter's 60th birthday, you have to be a "corporate raider/in the larder/of language".
This ancient poetic theme -- how to live in order to live beyond life -- runs throughout this massive book, unifying the staggering profusion of forms and contents and linguistic registers. Like an open secret, it emerges as ironic self-admonition in On Fame: "Who asks the gods for glory/and that his books may be read/throughout the world, should recall/the one whose prayer was answered".
And we find it, perhaps unsurprisingly, most nakedly in the poems that were written following Stead's recovery from his stroke in 2005. In Into Extra Time, we read: "A biographer's wanting your life?/You read her letter as a word of warning". Pleasure mingles with disappointment in self-deprecation, the recoil from the oblivion that menaces the self on all sides.
To be a real poet your words have to live in the hearts and minds of others, but poets today cannot really believe somebody else might learn their words by heart. If flabbergasting vanity is the sine qua non of the enterprise, Stead paradoxically expresses this through restraint, dignity and decency. So we find an ode at the grave of Stead's great-great-grandfather, with the striking lines: "And I, between the child who could not read/And the blind inscription, counted/The generations". Then, almost next door, in yet another Birthday Poem, Stead counsels himself: "No more grave poems". The pun here proffers a form of self-denying knowledge, a glister of reason squeezed from self-frustrating desire.
If you are already projecting your remains into the future while in the full flush of life, the problem of audience arises in an acute and tormented fashion. I can't believe Stead isn't ciphering his own nationalist literary dilemmas when he writes in his classic study, The New Poetic: "While Yeats continues to hope for a national literature and a national audience, his fundamental agreement with the judgment of the (1890s) on popular Victorian poetry does not allow him to hope for a wide audience."

Fit audience though few, as Milton again would have said; this seems, too, to be Stead's resolution to his poetic dilemmas. He wants to be an important national poet, not a popular one. So the necessary false modesty of the poet tends to refigure even political constitutions as just another (relatively) successful form of poetic legislation. We don't have to like our dead political masters to be affected by them: even if their legacies are not what they or we wanted, we remain in their debt.

As with the great modernists, Stead not only doesn't believe in any end to violence but affirms the dissensions that are its inevitable aftermath. In the final stanza of the extraordinary At the Grave of Governor Hobson (1990), a meditation on the British official who negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi, Stead proposes:

Let today be all the days we've lived in New Zealand:
stench of whale meat, a rat cooked on a spit,
morning boots frozen hard, the southern Maori
ravaged by measles, rum, Te Rauparaha;
wars in the north, gumfields, forests falling
to ruminant grassland, cities climbing like trees;
and everywhere this language both supple and strong.
You didn't start it, Governor. As we do, you fashioned
what time, and the times that live in us, required.
It doesn't finish. These verses have no end.

If Stead is prepared to sink his fangs into almost anything -- Sappho and Catullus, childhood memories, inadmissible desires, personal terrors, national bloodshed -- and suck out their vital essence to deposit as black letters in the vials of his book, he also ruminates on the fact that every great book is a tomb. If it is, it is one he will inhabit for some time to come, surviving life by means of his poetic powers.
Justin Clemens lectures in English at the University of Melbourne.
Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research
in recognition of exceptional achievement and signal contribution to the
advancement of knowledge of the history of recorded sound,
the Association for Recorded Sound Collections presents the
2008 Award for Best Research (Discography) in Recorded Popular Music to

Maurienne House
for the publication of

The Complete New Zealand Music Charts 1966-2006: Singles, Albums, DVDs, Compilations
For purchase details or to contact the publisher link here .
Big prediction for charity book
23.12.08 Victoria Gallagher writing in The Bookseller

An international charity book is predicted to sell over three million copies when it comes out in September 2009. Bombadil, a Swedish publishing group has worked alongside Norwegian Charity, Echo 2012 to create a book which portrays children's views on friendship. Children from 27 countries were part of the project to write and illustrate the theme of 'What does a friend do?'.
The book will be translated into 12 languages and will be released in September 2009. The proceeds for the book will go towards helping other charities work to improve understanding and communication around the world and help combat illiteracy.

Read more here.

Booker Prize Sponsor Caught in Madoff Web

Compiled by DAVE ITZKOFF writing in The New York Times, December 23, 2008

The Man Booker Prize said that the financial services company that sponsors the prize would continue to subsidize it even though it had about $360 million in funds linked to Bernard L. Madoff, Bloomberg News reported.
The Booker Prize, the prestigious annual British literary award, has been sponsored since 2002 by the Man Group, a publicly traded investment company and hedge fund, which increased the cash award accompanying the prize to about $73,000 from about $31,000.

The group said it had $360 million invested in two funds linked to Mr. Madoff, the former Wall Street executive accused of defrauding clients of more than $50 billion. But Jane Acton, a spokeswoman for the Man Booker Prize, told Bloomberg, “There’s absolutely no reason to suggest that there would be any difference to the sponsorship deal we have at the moment.”
Paolini, Pullman with books coming to iPhones
From Yahoo News

NEW YORK – Christopher Paolini's "Brisingr," Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy and Peter Matthiessen's award-winning "Shadow Country" are among the dozen-plus books coming to the iPhone and to iPod Touch, publisher Random House Inc. announced Monday
"We are pleased to be making this initial list of outstanding books by some of our top-selling authors available to a ground-breaking group of readers," Matt Shatz, Random House's vice president for digital books, said in a statement.

Random House recently announced it was adding thousands of books to its digital catalog and has said that e-sales more than tripled in 2008, although the electronic market remains a tiny part of the overall book market.
Several other publishers, including Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, have been making e-books available on iPhones.
And for more on the I-Phone/Kindle battle link here.
Thanks to London-based NZ novelist Chad Taylor for bringing these stories to my attention.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The New Zealand Photographs of Andris Apse
Craig Potton Publishing - $150

While opening the large carton delivered by the courier on Monday I thought to myself, gosh what have I got here? The crown jewels? Such was the care and thoroughness of the packing. And in a bookish sort of way it did turn out to be something like the crown jewels. A stunningly published large landscape format book containing some of the most glorious photographs of the New Zealand landscape that I have ever seen. Each photograph, expansive and oversized, glows on the page and one sees New Zealand through new eyes.

Apse, a resident of Okarito on the South Island’s West Coast is a photographer with an enormous international reputation whose commercial portfolio includes The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, and Newsweek. Unsurprisingly he has won numerous awards for his photography both in New Zealand and around the world. His earlier title published by Craig Potton Publishing in 1994, New Zealand Landscapes, has sold over 100,000 copies to date.

This new title is a fine piece of design and production, it comes in a sturdy slipcase, duplicating the book itself, and each copy has an author-signed book plate.
The ultimate gift book.
Polanski to make Robert Harris film
22.12.08 Katie Allen writing in The Bookseller

Oscar-winning film-maker Roman Polanski is to make Robert Harris’ The Ghost (Hutchinson), with Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams to star.The Ghost is the story of a recently retired prime minister (Brosnan) writing his memoirs, with the help of a professional ghost-writer (McGregor). It was published in 2007, and won the International Thriller Writers’ Award for best novel of 2008. Hutchinson is to publish a tie-in edition as an Arrow paperback.

Harris said: “After working for a year with Roman Polanski on the screenplay, it is very exciting that the film is set to be made with such a great cast.”Filming will begin in Berlin on February 2nd 2009.
Harris’ previous novels Enigma, Fatherland and Archangel have all been filmed.
Gordon Dryden on air five days next week

Auckland author Gordon Dryden has chosen an unusual way to promote his new book over the holiday break.

He’s signed up a deal to host a national debate on the future, on the RadioLive network from next Monday through Friday from 2 p.m.And non-fiction books on aspects of the future will get some strong publicity—along with UNLIMITED: The new learning revolution and the seven keys to unlock it, his newly-published book co-authored with Jeannette Vos.
RadioLive is promoting the programs as “Gordon Dryden’s future”. But Dryden paraphrases Barack Obama when he says: “They’re not about me, but about unleashing everyone’s talents”—the theme of his new book.

Dryden was one of the main pioneers of talk radio in the 1970s and 80s: first for three and a half years on Radio I’s nine to noon show where (in a much less congested radio market) he quickly grabbed a 35 percent share of Auckland’s daytime radio audience.

For half that time he broadcast each weekday from his own bookstore, on the mezzanine floor of what is today’s main Whitcoulls store in Auckland. During that time dozens of books soared to popularity through talkshow interviews.
Lyall Watson’s Supernature sold a record 40,000 copies in New Zealand in the month after appearing on Dryden’s talkshow in Auckland and Brian Edwards’ similar show on Radio Windy in Wellington.

In 1979 Dryden founded Radio Pacific as New Zealand’s first 24-hours-a-day all-talk station, when he led and continued his morning talkshow there for three years. Pacific has since morphed into RadioLive, with Pacific now concentrating on horse-racing.RadioLive broadcasts on a variety of frequencies around New Zealand—all listed on its website:
Next week’s show runs from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and 2 to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. It will be mixture of interviews and phone-ins to 0800 RADIOLIVE.
Bumper sales for book shops
KATHERINE NEWTON - The Dominion Post Tuesday, 23 December 2008

READING BETWEEN THE LINES: John McIntyre, (pic left), owner of The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, says his biggest day of sales in 16 years was due to people taking greater care with how they were spending money.
Forget video games, parents are opting for old-fashioned picture books as one Wellington store turns a new page in bumper Christmas sales.
The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie had a record day of sales on Saturday. "It was the biggest day in 16 years of business," said owner John McIntyre.
"Saturday was bigger than any Harry Potter [launch] day."
He credited the upturn to people taking greater care with how they were spending money.
"A lot of them are saying that they are much more cautious about what they're buying. People are not buying 'stuff' this year. I think people are looking at value gifts."
Mr McIntyre would not divulge Saturday's actual take, but said sales were up by at least 10 per cent on the weekend before Christmas last year.
The Children's Bookshop was not the only bookshop experiencing increased sales.
Unity Books assistant manager Marion Castree said the shop had overflowed with customers at the weekend. "We're still going strong today," she said.

I am a great admirer of Steve Braunias’ weekly column in the Sunday Star-Times magazine. Usually hilarious, sometimes political, and every now and again a real personal gem about the love of his life, his tiny daughter.
Last Sunday he talked about her and the magic of Christmas, daycare and daycare staff, and politicians.
He has kindly agreed to let me reproduce a couple of excerpts here which I was very keen to do because Christmas is such a magical time for children especially when they live in a loving family and for me Braunias really captures this magic when he talks about this little one whom it seems to me has brought such huge change to his life.

xmas baby

She is going to love Thursday. Family, presents, meat, a tree with lights. Also, she will be able to put her feet up, and slop around the house. Christmas marks a special event in her 2008 calendar. She started her first job back in February; at nearly two years old, she is about to experience the joys of annual leave.
Three days every week, she trudges into work. I go with her; three days every week, I step inside an enchanted forest. Where the wild things are, small, furry, random, spouting cheerful nonsense – the predictable adult world evaporates, is left behind the moment I tap out the security code at the door. Abandon rational thought, all ye who enter. It makes no difference to most of the inmates. They have never owned a rational thought in their lives. I love daycare.

I never want to leave. I stick around for about half an hour while my rampant and round-bellied daughter settles in for the day. She is already a seasoned campaigner, wise to the ways of the sandpit.

My daughter got lucky. I hold her teachers in awe.
Gentle, attentive, smart, they swoop down on violent offenders, and pass a coded message to each other: “No language.” It seems to be a form of preventive justice, and it works. They sing, they cuddle, they instruct; they talk about the need for privacy, the importance of respecting one another; they are holding the fort of political correctness. Good. I once heard a teacher asked a truculent boy, “Are you making the right decisions?” I always regard such questions as a form of torture, but it stopped him in his tracks. The children do the madness; the staff do the method.
But the children are the stars. Their company is dazzling. I love their intent faces, the workings of their ridiculous and beautiful minds. A serious little boy sat next to me one afternoon, and began to ask a question. “” He was pointing at my daughter. I stroked his hair, and waited for him to find the words. It was worth it. He asked, “Is she your darling?”
In 2008, she has learned to talk and walk, often at the same time. She flew to Nelson for a wedding, and saw a peacock. She rode a bus to Karangahape Road. She asked to sleep with a photo of her cousins. She worried that tigers might climb trees. She fell off a trampoline. She fell in love with every baby she saw. She fell into early childhood. And she went to work, where she took down names, and brought them out at midnight, sitting on the living room couch in darkness with her mother and father - every day with her is Christmas Day.

Thanks Steve, may you and your family have the happiest of Christmases, I look forward to more of your writing in 2009.

Steve Braunias is the author of three books published by Awa Press:

Fish of the Week, Roosters I have Known, and How to Watch a Bird.
Paragraph breaks in the piece above indicate sections I have not run for reasons of space. The full piece appeared in the Sundays Star-Times magazine 21 December, 2008.


This story from Very Short List today.

And a review from the New York Times last year.