Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The following comment from Roger Rabbit appeared on my blog earlier today:

Bookman Beattie, you seem to like everything you read? Don't you ever strike a dud? I do.

My response to to Roger Rabbit is as follows:

I have long made the practice of not reviewing books I don't like. There is not enough space given over to reviewing good books so why waste time and space and effort writing about inferior titles.
Likewise I follow Nick Hornby's advice and if I find myself not enjoying a book then I put it aside and start another. Life is too short to waste time on books one is not enjoying.
You will get criticism from me about aspects of books but if I do not like a book overall then I do not review it on my blog. End of story.

Is there a finer magazine in all the world? Not for me. I am an avid magazine reader, we subscribe to many, but the one that brings me most pleasure is The New Yorker.
My daughter and her family live in New York and whenever they are home, like this past Christmas, they kindly bring back for me a huge bundle of copies of The New Yorker. They subscribe to it and knowing my penchant for it repatriate to me the copies they have read.

From their covers to their cartoons to the advertisements and all the marvellous stories and reviews they contain I am in heaven with a pile of them.
Among this last batch - all copies from August 7 to November 20 - was this wonderful cover on the issue of November 6.It seems so appropriate as the New Yorker always has provided a vehicle for extensive and thoughtful book reviews as well as giving many interesting author interviews.

Some of my favourite pieces from these copies which might give you some idea why I get so much pleasure from this gem of a magazine included many book reviews by John Updike; a long piece on Samuel Beckett; a double page ad for Portland,Oregon promoting itself as a place to visit and for which the principal attraction was Powell's City of Books, claimed to be the world's largest bookstore; a critical story on the USA defense budget which made the point that the US now spends more on defense than every other country in the world combined (!); lots of excellent short fiction including pieces by Richard Ford and Roddy Doyle; and of course extensive listings for art and other events in New York as well as movie and CD reviews, comment on current affairs; a 24 page profile of Bill Clinton; Milan Kundera on what makes a novelist; a fascinating story on cyclists in New York - more than 120,000 ride bicycles every day with a smaller proportion of New Yorkers owning cars compared with any other large city in the western world; a long story on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; six pages on Leonard Woolf;and the last one I'll mention for now this piece on President Bush at his press conference the day after the mid-term elections in November when his Republican Party got thumped:

"Impressions are inherently subjective, of course, but he looked like a man who at that moment would much prefer to be commissioner of baseball, the job he longed for in 1993 before falling back on running for governor of Texas. It has been obvious for some time that , as President of the US, George W Bush is in very far over his head. He does not know how to use power wisely. He will now have a Democratic Congress to restrain him, and perhaps, to protect him - and us - from his unfettered impulses. This may not be the Thanksgiving he was looking forward to, but the rest of us have reasons to be grateful.

Yes indeed, this is my kind of magazine.

And as if all those back copies were not enough I arrived back from holiday to find a package from Amazon Books awaiting me. I thought this rather odd as I hadn't ordered anything from them in recent months.

When I opened it I found to my delight and astonishment that it contained THE COMPLETE NEW YORKER - a six CD rom set containing every issue of the New Yorker, more than 4000 issues from the very first issue in February 1925 through to April 2006. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
I immediately contacted my New York family and they conceded that they had indeed arranged for its delivery. How wonderful. How spoilt am I? The ultimate gift.
Gareth Shute - Random House NZ$30.00

Gareth Shute is the author of HIP HOP MUSIC IN AOTEAROA, for which he won an award at the 2005 Montana Awards, and MAKING MUSIC IN NEW ZEALAND. He is a musician, plays in two bands and runs an independent recording label. He's also a fiction writer, a freelance journalist and occasionally works as a librarian.

And with his new book he has given us a fascinating look at the creative lives of 110 New Zealand artists of all kinds - composers, musicians of every musical hue, film makers, authors, tattooists, playwrights, actors, photographers, dancers, choreographers, designers,poets, carvers, sculptors.

We have the well-known, the likes of Witi Ihimaera, Ans Westra,Dick Frizzell , Greer Twiss and Douglas Wright and the relatively obscure (to me anyway) like artist Simon Esling, photographer Blink (Ian Jorgensen), cartoonist Chris Stapp and comedian Bret McKenzie (see photo).

But regardless of their fame or otherwise Shute has pulled together an intriguing look at how local artists go about creating their work in the tiny market that is New Zealand/Aotearoa.
As he says in his introduction this aspect of the local arts culture is nicely summarised by Witi Ihimaera:

I actually think that New Zealand is fortunate to have artists, writers, musicians and film-makers of such a high calibre, because most of our work is created on the smell of an oily rag, while working other cite an example, it took 10 years for my friend John Barnett to raise the money to make Whale Rider; Niki Caro was making commercials at the same time she was making the movie, and its budget was only NZ$10 million. When the movie became successful internationally, all I could think of was how grateful I was that everybody had stuck to the project.

I rank Gareth Shute as an increasingly important social historian. Have a look at this latest work by him and be inspired as I was.

Among my holiday reading were the following titles:

The Greatest Game Ever Played - Mark Frost Time Warner NZ$32.00

The Passion - Jeanette Winterson Vintage NZ$23.00

Big Sky – A collection of Canterbury Poems – Ed. Bernadette Hall, James Norcliffe
Shoal Bay Press

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne David Fickling Books NZ$34.95

Cook with Jamie - Jamie Oliver – Michael Joseph

Daily Italian - Tobie Puttock Lantern

Kitchen Garden Cooking with Kids – Stephanie Alexander Lantern

A brief comment on each follows:


This is an interesting one because I am not a golfer and this book is entirely about golf. However a friend said to me that this was a great book, one of the best he has ever read, and that even if you were not a golfer then you would enjoy it.
The other thing that intrigued me is that Mark Frost was the executive story writer on the celebrated television series “Hill Street Blues” and was the creator and executive director of “Twin Peaks”. Not a bad record. And as well he had three novels published in the 1990’s.
The book I am talking about here was first published in 2002 and was subsequently made into a movie with the same name in 2005 by the author for Disney Studios. So you golfers out there may care to hire the DVD.
The Greatest Game Ever Played is largely about the US Open championship of 1913 which was a defining moment in golf history. It was the first time an American golfer had defeated a British golfer, Harry Vardon, who at the time was rated the best player in the game.
Sounds boring? Well as I said I am not a golfer but I was totally drawn into this story, it reads like a thriller, it is brilliantly told by Frost, (he must have done a huge amount of research), and I would warmly recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in golf. Almost 500 pages so a big read.


This slender volume, I guess you could call it a novella, was first published in 1987 but has more recently been published as a Vintage paperback.

This is how it starts:

It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock. What a kitchen that was, with birds in every state of undress; some still cold and slung over hooks, some slowly turning on the spit, but most in wasted piles because the Emperor was busy.
It was my first commission. I started as a neck wringer and before long I was the one who carried the platter through inches of mud to his tent.

The Passion is the story of Henri, a young Frenchman who has gone to fight in the Napoleonic wars, and of Villanelle, a cross dressing Venetian woman born with webbed feet and of the intertwining of their lives.

In a brief introduction to the book the author says “The Passion is not history, except so much as all our lives are history. The Passion is not romance, except in so much as all our lives are marked by men and women with whom we fell in love………..”

An unusual but brilliantly imaginative piece of writing. Read it in a few hours.

Great pity about the appalling quality of the printing and production. Random House should be ashamed to treat one of the great modern authors in this way. And $23.00 seems to me to be a lot for such a small book.

BIG SKY – a collection of Canterbury poems

A delightful anthology of Canterbury poems published in 2002 but has only just come my way. The poets included, almost 70 of them, range from the very well known to previously unpublished and collectively represent a celebration of the long slender province that is Canterbury.

Whenever I am in Christchurch I stay across at Governors Bay and the view of the city in the morning as one comes down from the hills is one of my favourites.

Here is Arnold Wall on the subject:

The City from the Hills

There lies our city folded in the mist,
Like a great meadow in the early morn
Flinging her spears of grass up through the white films,
Each with its thousand thousand-tinted globes.

Above us such an air as poets dream,
The clean and vast wing-winnowed clime of Heaven.

Each of her streets is closed with shining Alps.
Like Heaven at the end of long plain lives.


It is very difficult to describe this astonishing book without giving away the story so instead I am going to quote the quite brief inside cover blurb which I believe best sums it up:

“The story is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it important that you start to read without knowing what is about.
If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this book isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) Anmd sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.
Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope that you will never have to encounter such a fence.”

I will just add a couple of things – the author was born in Ireland in 1971 and this is his 4th novel to be published. The publisher of the hard back edition of the book is David Fickling, a former colleague of mine, and one of Britain’s finest publishers of books for young adults.
The title is now available in paperback. I chose to buy the hardcover edition and I’m pleased I did so because this is a book I will keep and treasure. I do not exaggerate when I say that I was stunned by this piece of writing and it will be along time I suspect before I can get it out of my mind. Haunting.
Thanks to my barrister friend David for bringing it to my attention and then badgering me until I had read it. You were right David, it is a great piece of writing. And what a powerful message.


He is everywhere! On TV, publishing one or two new books each year, travelling the world, opening new restaurants, being a parent, making TV commercials, writing magazine articles, appearing on TV chat shows – the ubiquitous Jamie Oliver.

And in spite of all this exposure, and the negative stuff flying around about him being a pseudo Cockney etc, I remain a huge admirer of his talent, his humanity, his concern for the less fortunate and for his sheer ability to teach cooking while still gaining much pleasure himself and at the same time bringing joy to would-be chefs like me.
Bring it on Jamie!

I suspect I own every book he has published to date and I’m pleased to say I have cooked out of them all too. His recipes have straightforward instructions and the results are always pleasing. I even cooked a dish for 12 people out of “jamies’ italy” while in Italy last year celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday – grilled and roasted pork - page 214-5. And it went down a treat. The only slight problem was a language one, explaining to the butcher the meat required – 2 kg pork loin, boned with the skin removed.

This new book, his largest and most expensive to date, (not sure on the price as it was a gift but it looks like $70-$80 worth),(later - just beeen informed it is NZ$79.95), is a large hardcover edition sub-titled My Guide To Making You a Better Cook. It’s a book for all layperson cooks but I reckon it makes the ideal gift for children or grandchildren when they leave home to seek their way in the wider world and have to start cooking and catering for themselves and others rather than relying on having it done for them by other family members.

He starts with the basics of food, shopping, and cooking with great ingredients, utensils required and then come all the fabulous recipes under chapter headings such as salads, pasta, meat, fish, vegetables, desserts.
For New Zealand blog readers I would describe it as being like a sumptuous, beautifully designed and illustrated Edmonds Cookbook but with a whole lot more besides.


Because family and friends know I am an avid collector of cookbooks I tend to be given quite a few at Christmas. Like the Jamie Oliver title above this was also a gift.
And this has a very strong Jamie Oliver collection because the author, Tobie Puttock, met Jamie Oliver while they were both working at London’s famed River Café .
In 2001 Tobie became head chef at Jamie’s acclaimed Fifteen, a restaurant venture established to help disadvantaged youngsters become industry professionals.
Then late in 2006 Tobie opened Fifteen in Melbourne thus returning to the city of his birth and where he first entered the restaurant business at one of my all time favourite Melbourne hang outs , Café e Cucina.
This book, as one has come to expect with titles published under the Lantern imprint, is beautifully designed and profusely illustrated. Puttock’s recipes are easy to follow with straightforward instructions.
If you are lucky enough to be near the coast and have been collecting cockles, pipis, tuatuas or clams then his “Spaghetti cooked in a bag with clams, chilli and chardonnay” on pages 72-73 provides an interesting variation on the way you have probably prepared this sort of dish previously.


I promise this is the last cookbook I will mention today! Stephanie Alexander is of course one of the towering figures of the Australia gourmet scene and one of their most highly acclaimed food writers. For 21 years from 1976 she was the genius chef behind Stephanie’s Restaurant in Hawthorn. I once had the joy of eating at this landmark establishment which is credited with having revolutionized fine dining in Melbourne. From 1997 to 2005, along with several friends, she ran the Richmond Hill Café & Larder which was always a great place to have breakfast and to buy cheese. She has written 11 books but this one is very different from her previous books.
In 2001 she initiated the Kitchen Garden at Collingwood College, a large inner-city school. This is a garden and cooking programme whereby hundreds of children plant, grow, harvest, cook and eat the very best kind of food – freshly grown, organic, unprocessed and delicious.
The book contains 120 recipes all specially written for children, (this didn’t stop me making several of the dishes!), although the dishes are anything but standard children’s fare. Lovely gift for a special child in your life.

Part Two of my holiday reading will follow shortly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Bill Manhire, poet, teacher, editor, publisher, and all round great New Zealander turned 60 on 27 December 2006 and to celebrate the occasion Fergus Barrowman and Damien Wilkins compiled and edited MANHIRE AT 60: A BOOK FOR BILL published by Victoria University Press and Sport in a limited edition of 500 copies with a retail price of $25.00.

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate gift and I imagine that Bill would have been elated at this surprise publication.

Near the end of his seven page tribute Fergus Barrowman says:

This book is intended to convey to Bill the love, gratitude and admiration of all the contributors.
In my mind MANHIRE AT 60 is based on two books I bought at about the time I first met Bill: LARKIN AT 60 (ed.Anthony Thwaite,Faber 1982) and POEMS FOR CHARLES CAUSLEY (ed.Michael Hanke 1982). The latter is a lovely collection of poems, including Bill’s “She Says” (‘Eventually, she says, you’re left alone, / and the place is a gap in conversation.’), and is perhaps the truer model. What MANHIRE AT 60 lacks in comparison with LARKIN AT 60 are the substantial essays evaluating the thing we love Bill for the most: his poetry. It would have been nice to have found someone with the courage; it would have been nicer to have found the courage oneself….We’ll save that for the next one.
Barrowman doesn’t have to apologise for what he and Wilkins have produced. It is a superb collection of original writing, both verse and prose, from many who have benefited from Bill’s guidance because as Ken Duncum says in his essay “ when it comes to the teaching of writing in New Zealand, Bill is basically both the Wright Brothers rolled into one. Or more patriocally, Richard Pearse without the hedge.”

Happy birthday Bill.

The nation’s JK Baxter expert is the convening judge for this year’s Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

Dr Paul Millar, a senior lecturer in New Zealand literature at Victoria University of Wellington is joined on the judging panel by reviewer, editor and writer, David Larsen and broadcaster Morrin Rout. Millar was also a judge for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2004.

Dr Millar says he agreed to be a judge for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards again this year because it is exhilarating to discover what our best writers are achieving, and see where our most innovative authors are taking us.

‘New Zealand publishing, at its very best, is something I’m immensely proud to be associated with. It’s impossible to be a judge and not learn something new about the craft of writing or become excited about the future of New Zealand publishing.’

Millar has produced five books and a number of articles on the poetry of James K. Baxter.

The judging of New Zealand’s best books published during the 2006 calendar year is carried out across eight categories – Fiction, Poetry, Biography, History, Reference & Anthology, Environment, Illustrative, and Lifestyle & Contemporary Culture – and follows strict guidelines.

This is the 11th year of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Judges take into account enduring literary merit and overall authorship; quality of illustration and graphic presentation; production values, general design and the standard of editing and the impact of the book on the community, with emphasis on issues such as topicality, public interest, commercial viability, entertainment, cultural and educational values and lifespan of the book.

Each category has a specialist advisor to assist the judging panel. This year’s advisors also boast strong writing and publishing credentials:

Fiction – Louise O’Brien, a book critic who has lectured in English literature at Victoria and Massey Universities.

Poetry – John Newton who is a widely published and critically acclaimed poet. Dr Newton is a lecturer of English literature at the University of Canterbury.

History – Peter Gibbons was senior lecturer in History, University of Waikato for many years. He has written on a number of historical subjects.

Biography – Elizabeth Alley, QSO, reviewer and renowned broadcaster and a previous convening judge of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards

Reference and Anthology – Peter Simpson, a writer, curator, editor and associate professor of English at the University of Auckland.

Environment - Kerry-Jayne Wilson, a senior lecturer in ecology at Lincoln University and author of Flight of the Huia, a 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards finalist.

Lifestyle and contemporary culture – A journalist, broadcaster and writer, Liz Grant has been involved on several occasions with the Montana New Zealand Book Awards; as a presenter and as co-judge of the Reviewer of the Year Award.

Illustrative – Lawrence McDonald is a writer, curator, editor, and tertiary lecturer. His publications include Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs, which won the Illustrative category of the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

The winner in each category receives a prize of $5,000. Each category winner is eligible for the Montana Medal for non fiction or poetry or fiction, both of which carry a prize of $10,000.

The finalists across all categories will be announced on Friday 1 June.

The winner of the poetry category will be announced on Montana Poetry Day on Friday 27 July. All other winners will be advised at a ceremony in Auckland on Monday 30 July 2007.

The principal sponsors of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards are Montana and Creative New Zealand. The awards are managed by Booksellers New Zealand and supported by Book Publishers Association of New Zealand, the New Zealand Society of Authors and Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd.

For further information:
Penny Hartill, publicity consultant, Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007 on 09 8150646, 021 721 424,

This sobering story, from UK book trade journalist/blogger Danuta Kean, should be compulsory reading for all authors and would-be authors.
Man Booker Prize Winner Kiran Desai among nominees for U.S. National Book Critics Circle Awards
TEXT MESSAGE NOVEL - I guess it was only a matter of time!
IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN by Hisham Matar Viking NZ$35.00

This from the back cover blurb:
Set in Libya during the late 1970’s Qaddafi regime this title takes you from a world rarely seen in fiction and brings it brilliantly and vividly to life.

This first novel sold in heated auctions across Europe and in the U.S. within a week of being submitted and will be published in 13 languages.

In the Country of Men is told from the point of view of a young boy growing up in a terrifying and bewildering world where his beat friend’s father disappears and is next seen on television at a public execution; where a mysterious man sits outside the house al day and asks stange questions; where his mother burns all their books when it seems his fatjer has disappeared,

Hisham Matar was born in 1970 in New York to Libyan parents and spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo. He has lived in London since 1986 and is currently at work on his second novel.

And this from me:

Suleiman is 9 years old when the story opens and most of the book details a few months in his life set against a background of widespread raids by secret police operating under instructions from the Revolutionay Committees. It was a time to keep your head down in Libya and to constantly praise Allah and the Guide, as Qaddafi was known.
This period is a time of drama for Suleiman and his parents and eventually Suleiman is sent to live with friends in Cairo.
This latter part of the book, amounting to less than 20 pages sees Suleiman educated and grow up to become a pharmacist and when the book closes he is 24 years of age.

An entertaining, eye-opening even work and the author is clearly an exciting new writing talent but I wish he had given us more of the adult life of his protagonist. Perhaps he will in his second novel?

Book reviewers are often given uncorrected proof copies of books for review purposes. This is so that we can read them in advance and hopefully have our reviews published on or around publication date.Likewise they are sometimes given to booksellers so they can read them in advance of publication and so be able to recommend them to customers on publication.

I read this book over this past holiday weekend while staying with a bookseller friend who had been given an uncorrected proof copy and I was interested to read the following clause which appeared at the front of his copy:

If you’ve been lucky enough to get your hands on this uncorrected proof copy, please read it and if you enjoy the book, do pass it along to your friends and colleagues. However, we request that you don’t sell or otherwise try to profit from this complimentary early copy as it remains the property of Penguin Books. We do number or proofs and we’d rather not be forced to name, shame and take further action against anyone who abuses our trust.

That’s the boring stuff out of the way – now simply turn the page and enjoy the book.

Fair enough. I did read and enjoy the book and then gave the proof copy back to my bookseller friend Philip, after all I didn’t want him to be named or shamed!

This from the New York Review of Books this weekend.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

HUMAN TRACES - Sebastian Faulks - Vintage Paperback NZ$28.00

A friend of mine in the U.K. e-mailed me to say that for him this was his best read in all of 2006 and so as I respect his judgement I got myself a copy and spent four or five days during the holidays buried within its more than 600 pages.

This is a huge book, both in size and in subject matter.It is a long serious novel that requires concentration, effort, and total immersion by the reader. It is something like a novel by Dickens or Tolstoy in the myriad of characters and the detailed and meticulous accounts of each character's life.

If you like long serious reads and are prepared to give yourself over to this book for long periods of sustained reading, then this is a book for you.

Faulks is of course best known for his haunting novels, Birdsong and Charlotte Grey. This most recent work is quite different in terms of subject matter but on the other hand is similar in that the intricate plots and intense focus on the lives of his characters is certainly present.

The story follows the lives of a Frenchman and an Englishman who paths cross in 1880 when both are university students and who both go on to become doctors working with the mentally ill. The author follows their long careers and their family lives in a most entertaining fashion.

I was astonished at the author's ability to write in such a brilliant fashion for over 600 pages, he is a huge talent and I salute him.And goodness knows how much research he must have done in the field of various branches of mental illness.

I went to the back of the book to look for acknowledgements and was disappointed to find this brief Author's Note:

A list of all the people and some of the books I consulted while writing this novel appeared in the hardback edition, published by Hutchinson in August 2005. I would like to reiterate my thanks to all those named.

To publishers Hutchinson and Vintage, and too to Mr.Faulks I say not good enough. The acknowledgements should have been repeated in the paperback edition.
Do they really expect me to now go and hunt down the hardback edition at my local library to gain this information?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


As promised here are some notes on the four titles I presented on National Radio yesterday as my best reads for 2006. Choosing 4 titles from around 200 read during the year was a difficult task and I reckon on reviewing the year that I probably could have listed almost 40 best reads. One title I read over the holidays, but since I advised National Radio of my selection before Christmas, would certainly have gone to the top of my list and that was Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage) and I will write at more length about that one in the next week.

So the four titles were:

The Murder Room and The Lighthouse by P.D.James (treated by me as one title for the purposes of the programme. Penguin paperbacks.

My French Life) by Vicki Archer . Lantern Hardcover.

Brief Lives by Chris Price . AUP.

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby - Viking Harcover.

So firstly the two P.D.James titles -

P.D.James will be 87 years of age this year and remarkably she is still writing one of her crime novels most years. She retired in 1979 from a senior position in the Police Department in London where she had worked in both the forensic science and criminal policy departments. No doubt this experience has stood her in good stead over the years as one of the great contemporary crime novelists.
She has been a widow for more than 40 years and I notice that one of these titles is dedicated to the memory of her late husband while the other is dedicated to her two sons-in-law.
I enjoy well-written crime fiction but I reckon it gets a raw deal from the literary community in the way it is snobbishly excluded from the major literary awards.
These two books, each around the 500 page mark,make great plane reading and in fact I read one while flying to Europe last September and the other on the way back.
Like all successful crime writers, (interesting that so many of the leading exponents are women),P.D.James has her own special character who is featured in all her 20 or so novels. He is Commander Adam Dalgliesh, a poetry writing cop who has had a long & distinguished police career and today is very senior indeed being a Assistant District Commander to the Commissioner of Police.
All of James' titles are good old-fashioned, complex whodunnits. Someone has been murdered, in these two case one on a remote Cornish island and the other in a museum on Hampstead Heath, the stories take place over several days,and there are always a dozen or so potential suspects - having read all of her books I don't believe I have ever correctly guessed the culprit.

My French Life by Vicki Archer

I think even if I hadn't actually read this book it would still be on my favourite list - that is because it is such an utterly gorgeous physical object, a book that is just a joy to hold and to own.
From its stunning dust jacket and padded cover to the beautiful,vibrant photographs throughout, (photos by Carla Coulson), it is a knockout!
It belongs in the genre started by Peter Mayle with his late 80's title A Year in Provence. I recall at the time being enchanted by that book and as the genre developed I became addicted to it! (Actually I have a number of book addictions including crime fiction, cookbooks,books of quotations, and books about books). I think I have over the intervening years read pretty much every book in this genre, some wonderful and some not. You know the plot - ex-pat Brits, Americans, Aussies and others writing about their experiences of heading off to some gorgeous place, usually in France or Italy, where they convert a ruined house or farmhouse or apartment into something wonderful and live happily ever after.
Vicki Archer and her husband are the latest ex-pats made good, they are Sydneysiders transferred to London and subsequently they fulfill a long held dream when they buy and restore a 17th century framhouse in St.Remy de Provence. They also restored abandoned orchards, planted an olive grove with more than 200 tress and along the way fell in love with all things French.
A breathtakingly beautiful book with an absorbing text that once you pick up you will not want to put down.
I previously reviewed this title on my blog in December.

Brief Lives by Chris Price - Auckland University Press

Chris Price is a published poet, a former long-term director of the NZ Arts Festival Writers and Readers Week, a teacher of creative writing at Victoria University, a former editor of Landfall and as well she is a singer and musician and more besides.
I suppose with this sort of hugely varied professional background I shouldn't have been surprised at the eclectic nature of this collection of her writings. But dammit I was taken by surprise and I cannot ever recall reading any other book quite like this one. It is a real genre buster and goodness knows which category the publishers will submit it in for the Montana NZ Book Awards because you can put your last dollar on that they will be nominating it.
You see it is neither a collection of verse nor a collection of essays and yet it is both of these but also included are pieces of memoir and biography,perhaps also extracts from diaries and letters? Who knows? Only Chris Price. Sopme peices are written in the first person so you are never quite sure you are reading something from the author's life or a piece of contemplative fiction. Some pieces are only a few sentences long while the longest piece runs to more than 40 pages.
It is a great collection of writing, albeit at times quite capricious. I was entertained, mentally provoked, fascinated, occasionally confused, but delighted throughout.
And for a quite small paperback the design and production are superb, (hats off to A.U.P.), it might have been published a hundred years ago with its use of woodcuts, vintage prints and engravings.
It is the sort of eccentric and appealing book that I am proud to have on my shelves.

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.Sub-title - The diary of an occasionally exasperated but ever hopeful reader.

This reads like a blog but in book form and in fact it is a collection of all of Nick Hornby's Stuff I've Been Reading columns originally published in the rather special American literary magazine The Believer. Through 28 monthly accounts through to June 2006 he tells us of the books bought and the books read, of a trip to a literary festival, on becoming a father again along with his musings on Bob Dylan, Flaubert and others.
Largely he seems to have a dislike for book reviewers, and yet in this book he is indeed a book revewer himself. He suggests that "being paid to review a book and then write about it creates a dynamic which compromises the reviewer in all kinds of ways, very few of them being helpful".
This rather disingenuous criticism aside I have to say I greatly admire Hornby's writing - Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About A Boy ,all of which have been made into movies by the way, and I greatly enjoyed this latest one too which is of course very different to any of his other writing as it is a collection of essays. He clearly loves reading, one assumes he does little else apart from writing, and it is most interesting to read his coomments about various writers as well as his general comments on literature along the way.
His advice if you are reading abook and not enjoying it? Put it aside and read something else. I'm with him on that one.
Readable, entertaining with the occasional hearty laugh.

Monday, January 22, 2007

This positive news from Yahoo Friday last.

Back again at the office and another year is well underway.

Over the holidays I read heaps of books which I am going to share with you over coming days and weeks. This morning though I am off to Radio New Zealand's Auckland studios to present my pick of the bunch of last year's reading.Choosing three titles from the many wonderful books read during 2006 is an impossible task really so when the time came to selecting them it was just those that seemed to leap off the bookshelf at me.

And the winners are.............

The Lighthouse by P.D.James - Penguin

Brief Lives - Chris Price - Auckland University Press

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree - Nick Hornby - Viking

My French Life - Vicki Archer - Lantern

I'll write briefly about each of these later today once I have done the radio review.

I had an amazing experience over the holidays - walking the Milford Track. The Track is "the world's finest walk" according to National Geographic magazine some years ago and it certainly lived up to that experience for us.48 walkers from around the world - Japan, UK, Holland, Australia, Canada, Ireland, USA and of course NZ.I'll enclose a a few pics, the first shows us setting out on the first of the four days it takes to walk the Track,another shows us atop the McKinnon Pass (3000 feet),the highest point on the Track,, while the others are shots taken along the way.

The other hugely significant event for me over the holiday season was the death of my computer hard drive. I lost everything - files, photographs and my address book - an accumulation and record of my professional and personal life over the past 12 years.A devastating experience - the lesson is - make sure you back up your computer at least once a month ,better still weekly or daily. I will do so from now on but of course in the meantime I now have to attempt to rebuild my address book as a first task. So if any of you reading this have previoulsy communicated with me by e-mail could you please now e-mail me so I can restore your address to my address book. many thanks.

More from me later, I hope you have had an enjoyable holiday, those in the southen hemisphere anyway, and those in the north I hope the year has started well for you and that you are managing to keep warm and read some good books. Ciao.