Monday, December 31, 2007

From student rag to literary riches

Launched in 1979 under the inspired 'lunacy' of Bill Buford, Granta magazine became the home of vital new writing and launched the careers of some of our greatest novelists. As it celebrates its 100th issue, we ask editors past and present how a tiny Cambridge journal rose to conquer the literary world

Simon Garfield writing on Sunday December 30, 2007 in The Observer
Afew minutes after lunching with Ian Jack, who departed as editor of Granta earlier this year after 12 years and 48 issues, I dropped into Quinto, the second-hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Granta was about to celebrate its 100th edition, and I wanted some early copies - those classic ones with writing by Richard Ford, John Berger, Martin Amis and Angela Carter. The man at the counter wasn't impressed. 'What's Granta?'

I could have given him the usual: about how it was a river in Cambridge, or the upper part
of one, and its name spawned a student magazine that began in 1889 and was
revived in the late 1970s. I could have said that this magazine became home to
some of the best writing in the English language, and was edited for half its
life by a man, Bill Buford, described to me as 'a crazy, inspiring, absolutely
absurd lunatic'. But instead I said: 'It's a literary magazine, but it looks
like a book.'

'Our literary magazines are in the far corner,' the man said, pointing. He was in his mid-twenties, with a week-old beard. He made me feel uncomfortable, as if I had asked for a
spanking magazine. I went to the far corner, and there were several issues in
fair condition, at £2 each.

One was a reprint of Issue 1 from 1979, which carried a manifesto. Granta, its two editors William Buford and Peter de Bolla wrote, was to be 'devoted to the idea of the dialogue in prose about prose', which was enough to get the reader hurling their new purchase through a
window. Was there ever a more deathly proposal? How could a magazine possibly
get to 100 issues with this as its starting point?

As it turned out, a browser in Quinto unfamiliar with the subsequent Granta pedigree would be amazed and delighted.
Here is Issue 13, with stories by Milan Kundera and Doris Lessing,
and here is number 17, with ruminations by Graham Greene.
Here is Granta 5 from the early Eighties, with a prescient fate-of-the-earth scenario from
Jonathan Schell. Next to it is Granta 12, dominated by Stanley Booth's account
of his high and terrible times with the Rolling Stones at Altamont. And then
there is a more recent one, number 80, with writers looking at old photographs
and remembering old friends, and Granta 65, with Hanif Kureishi and Ian Parker
writing knowingly and enticingly about London.

What distinguishes these random issues from the other magazines on the shelves around them? And what sets them apart from the Paris Review, Harvard Review, the London Magazine and
all the other boutique stars in the literary firmament with their fictions,
poetry, woodcuts, interviews and reviews? Consistency, surprise, self-belief,
originality and, thankfully, the complete absence of a dialogue about prose in
prose. But beyond that: Granta is almost always an exciting and rewarding and
illuminating thing to read. And beyond that: our world would be much the
poorer without it.

I took the first issue to the counter, and on the journey home struggled with a long unbearable piece with no punctuation. And it could have been worse: 'Pete had thought about an
issue called The Theory of the Subject,' Bill Buford tells me when I speak to
him later. 'These were heady times.'
In truth, the first issue wasn't bad, with pieces from Joyce Carol Oates and Susan Sontag, and a superb foretaste of The Tunnel by William Gass. 'It was my way of discovering all
these writers I hadn't read yet,' Buford says (he is American, and his first
editorial wasted no time in dismissing all British writers in favour of his
compatriots). 'I wrote to them all, basically promising them a whole issue of
the magazine. My assumption was that no one would reply, and if anyone did I'd
do anything, because we had nothing."
Buford sounds calm and thoughtful, not at all the lunatic some writers had told me about. But the lunacy lay in the future. In the first weeks in which the two editors
scrambled for material, others took to the streets in search of advertising.
They got some: Woolworths, the Coffee Mill, Sweeney Todds restaurant, Laker
Skytrain, Transalpino. One advert, from the Arts Cinema, listed film times:
Picnic at Hanging Rock was playing on Sunday at 3pm.


There are more than 60 museums in New York and so far we have visited three of them.

First up, and a first time visit for me, was the Queens Museum of Art which came to my attention while reading the just-released New York 2008 in the Time Out Shortlist guidebook series.

This is a handy pocket-sized guide packed with most everything you need to know when visiting the city, including subway and street maps. There are of course loads of NY guides, many of them with much more detail than this one, but for me this is the one to have in your pocket at all times. Price in the US $11.95, UK pds.6.99.

Queens Museum of Art is located in the grounds of the 1939 & 1964 World’s Fairs, adjacent to Flushing Meadows tennis stadium and Shea Stadium. The premiere attraction is the quite amazing 9335 sq.ft scale model of New York City accurate down to the square inch. It is reputed to be the world’s largest scale model and was the reason for our visit.
It was built for New York City’s display at the 1964-65 World’s Fair and later served as a urban planning tool. It took 100 fulltime workers three years to build and is updated every few years. There are approximately 865,000 buildings featured.
The model occupies a former inside ice-skating rink and you view it by walking around an elevated path. Very impressive indeed.

As was the next museum. The just-opened New Museum of Contemporary Art. The building itself is quite sensational and looks like a pile of large silver blocks stacked unevenly on top of one another.(Sorry about the poor quality of my photo). The exterior surface is made up of corrugated-aluminium panels painted silver grey with an aluminium mesh suspended an inch and a half in front of them. It is on the Bowery just south of East Houston, has 60,000 square feet of floor space, and was designed by a Japanese architectural team who have not worked in New York previously. I read somewhere where it is the first purpose built museum to have been built south of 14th street.

The Museum’s first exhibition is “Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century”, which I have to say held no appeal for me, (but I loved the building!), and features sculpture mostly made from junk and all either freestanding or hanging.

Since we were last at The Morgan Library & Museum it has undergone a huge expansion and renovation at the hands of architectural genius Renzo Piano and the previous dark entry is now a light filled space with glass walls everywhere.
This is an inspiring place with an awe-inspiring collection of books and maps, prints and other treasures. I was most interested to view Charles Dickens’ original A Christmas Carol manuscript, one of their three (!!) Gutenberg Bibles, one of the 15 original copies of The Declaration of Independence, a number of spectacular illuminated manuscripts, a self-portrait by Henri Matisse, and an exhibition of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Emile Bernard which acted by way of illustration for an exhibition "Painted with Words", a large collection of letters sent between the two artists.
One of my favourite places in NYC, and on a scale you can manage.

Escaping into the future
Justine Jordan picks the highlights among forthcoming novels

Saturday December 29, 2007The Guardian

Autumn was a thin season for fiction, publishers fearing that novels would be drowned in the ever-swelling tide of zany stocking fillers and celebrity biographies; so it's a welcome relief to look beyond the Christmas turkeys to find the 2008 schedules full of good things.

The year begins with a notable follow-up: 12 years after the international smash The Reader, in Homecoming (Weidenfeld, January) Bernhard Schlink again wrestles with Germany's wartime demons. As a child, his narrator becomes obsessed with an incomplete manuscript about a German POW; as an adult, he goes in search of the missing ending - and his own father, also apparently killed in the war. It's a quest for identity, forgiveness and love.

It's been a long wait, too, for Adam Mars-Jones's epic Pilcrow (Faber, April),
investigating the rich internal life of a boy confined to bed, and for Manil
Suri's The Age of Shiva (Bloomsbury, March): after 2001's acclaimed The
Death of Vishnu
, Suri now turns his gaze on India in the aftermath of
independence. Meanwhile, Siri Hustvedt follows the elegant What I Loved with The
Sorrows of An American (
Sceptre, May), an absorbing study of family secrets
handed down the generations. Hustvedt threads elements from a memoir written
by her father about growing up in depression-era Minnesota with a tale of
loneliness and love in modern-day New York, as a divorced analyst confronts
traumatic memories from his immigrant roots. We'll have to wait until November
for more Manhattan family secrets from Notes on a Scandal author Zoe Heller in
The Believers (Fig Tree).

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent (Canongate,February) is James Meek's follow-up to his acclaimed historical novel, The People's Act of Love. This is a contemporary tale of love, hubris and misunderstanding as a war reporter takes his own baggage to Afghanistan,
hoping to turn the elusive, unpredictable Astrid into girlfriend material, and
the turmoil of political events into material for a bestselling thriller. The
world, needless to say, will not bend to his will, but the resulting novel is
as gripping and acute as its predecessor.

There's fabulous escapism to be had as Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence (Cape, April) transports the reader to the 16th-century Mughal court, where a visitor from
the Florentine world of Machiavelli wins the attention of the emperor himself.
Rushdie sets up symmetries between east and west in a bejewelled extravaganza
with shades of Borges.

Meanwhile, the dissident writer Ma Jian has written an epic novel about China's recent history in Beijing Coma (Chatto, May), in which a Tiananmen Square protester wakes from the 10-year coma caused by a soldier's bullet to find his country transformed.
In what looks set to be one of spring's most interesting novels, Gordon Burn is rushing the very recent past into print. From his award-winning debut novel Alma Cogan to his Fred
West biography Happy Like Murderers, Burn has long blended fact and fiction,
and in Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel (Faber, April) he finds his
natural subject: the news as entertainment. Twenty-four-hour rolling news, the
blogosphere and digital interactivity feed our culture of speculation and
spin. Burn takes a few highly charged weeks in 2007 - the summer of floods,
terror attacks, the Blair/Brown changeover and the disappearance of Madeleine
McCann - to investigate media manipulation and the boundaries between fact and
The article continues..........

Classical Music
A Patience to Listen, Alive and Well

Published New York Times: December 30, 2007

REPORTS about the diminishing relevance of classical music to new generations of Americans addled by pop culture keep coming. Yet in my experience classical music seems in the midst of an unmistakable rebound. Most of the concerts and operas I attended this year drew large, eager and appreciative audiences.

Consider this: On Dec. 15 the Metropolitan Opera’s first high-definition broadcast of the season, a Saturday matinee of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” played on more than 600 movie screens around the world to 97,000 people, a new record for attendance in this bold Met venture. O.K., the total doesn’t match the millions who watch rock videos. For all her popularity, Anna Netrebko, who sang Juliette, is not Mariah Carey. But classical music always was and always will be of interest to relatively modest numbers of people.

In recent years a spate of articles and books have lamented classical music’s tenuous hold on the popular imagination and defended its richness, complexity and communicative power. I’m thinking especially of the book “Why Classical Music Still Matters” (University of California Press, 2007) by Lawrence Kramer, a professor of English and music at Fordham University.
Just this month classical music emerged as pivotal to international relations. With the blessing of the State Department, the New York Philharmonic announced that it would present a concert in North Korea during its Asian tour in February. Some consider this plan an outrage that will allow a totalitarian regime to use the Philharmonic musicians as puppets for propaganda. Others see it as at least a chance to pry open a door and share Western culture with a closed society, which is pretty much my view.

Either way, implicit in this plan is the idea that classical music matters. It’s not a sports team or pop group that has been enlisted to begin a thaw with the government in Pyongyang. It’s the musicians of a premier American orchestra.
What effect might this concert have on an audience in a repressive society? To Professor Kramer, as he recently told The New York Times, classical music by definition “is addressed to someone who has a certain independence of mind.” It “almost posits for its audience a certain degree of Western identity, which includes that sense of individual capacity to think, to sense, to imagine.”
Classical music invites listeners to focus, to take in, to follow what is almost a narrative that unfolds over a relatively long period of time. Length itself is one of the genre’s defining elements. I do not contend that classical music is weightier than other types of music. Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony is no more profound than “Eleanor Rigby.” But it’s a whole lot longer.

From The Times
December 28, 2007
’Tis the season for respecting copyright, fa la la ...

Cast an eye over the family stash of Christmas presents and the odds are that there will be more than a few books, CDs and films dotted around the room. Given how much Britons spend on entertainment in the run-up to the festive season, it can be argued that Christmas, the time of giving, of receiving and of cruelty to turkeys, is also the time when people most respect copyright, simply by buying so much creative intellectual property.

Not that most of us think like that when buying Mothership by Led Zeppelin, or another unused cookery book - even if, when it comes to copyright, the subject is never far from the minds of entertainment companies (they have lawyers and lobbyists to amuse) and sometimes occurs to politicans, too. But do the rest of us benefit?

Here is a thought experiment worth considering the next time that there is ill-considered talk about tightening copyright law. Battered and not properly loved, the public library is an outrageous attempt to encourage its infringement. These are taxpayer-funded institutions that buy books in large numbers and encourage people to share them, thereby denying repeat sales to book publishers who are fighting to deliver growth in a market that can be described as mature.
Not outraged yet? Think of this: remember that libraries were set up using the technologies of the time. What would Andrew Carnegie, the Lakshmi Mittal of his day, do if he was around today? Well, he would probably buy a football club, but setting that aside, if he applied the thinking of the Carnegie libary programme to modern circumstances, he might have tried to set up a library of the goods that people value today - that’s music and films, as well as books – and would have used modern technology to share the knowledge. Carnegie surely would have wanted to use downloads to allow people to share entertainment of all sorts in a way that would prompt howls of complaint from the modern copyright lobby.

Anyway, in the real 21st century, despite the attractions of the scenario just outlined, libraries do exist. Most have music and DVDs, too, but the real point is that, despite the existence of the lending library up the road, the books industry still exists and is in pretty healthy shape, even if it is not growing much. You don’t often hear about the damage that public borrowing is doing, or, indeed, the impact of digital on the literary market.
Survey the collection of books in the lounge, mostly half-read or read once and now forgotten, it would seem that publishers are doing quite alright, thank you. It is, of course, possible to read a book on a computer screen – it can be scanned in easily enough, or even typed in – but somehow the packaging and the paper make it compelling, which is partly why so many people read the last Harry Potter in hardback, rather than wait until it was available for free online. And don’t forget that most decent literature is out of copyright in any case – and yet still people like Penguin Classics’ latest design with the black covers.

If this were the music or film business, the state of affairs would be a crisis. Libraries freely giving away books; no encryption technology to prevent online copying; readers routinely lending their favourites to their friends; and the literary equivalents of Mickey Mouse and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are already out of copyright anyway.
All of which suggests that it is too easy to worry about tightening up copyright rules, forgetting that large media companies already have ingrained advantages, whether in marketing, packaging or the experience. It’s more fun to go for a date in the cinema, rather than sit at home and watch a pirate video.

Should you really like this article, it can be found in full online, and copied and pasted and sent to any number of people via the internet. Remarkably, perhaps, this risk has yet to disrupt sales of The Times (even if you give the whole thing away online, daily sales of all newspapers decline only gently). Yet, more to the point, nobody is calling for Microsoft to ban or criminalise vigorous use of Control-C and Control-V; nor is anybody demanding that scanner manufacturers pay a tax on sales to help fund bursaries for up-and-coming writers and journalists.
Now, consider the latest straws in the wind on the subject of copyright enforcement. Spend too much time doing illegal downloading? Bad boy – we’ll cut the internet off. That’ll do it. Well, only until the serial downloader finds somebody else’s account to use. Enforcing it will be interesting, though: that could require a lot more monitoring of personal use of the internet, compelling in a democracy; and, given that the Government has just lost 25 million sets of bank details, what’s to say that internet providers’ storage of surfing records will be better. Do something worse, such as camcording the latest blockbuster while it is still playing in the cinema, and perhaps a jail sentence should follow. Never mind that the prisons are overcrowded and that there are civil penalties in place.

Yes, music is having a tough time, but some of that is to do with the fact that for years consumers had a poor product – the album with loads of filler tracks – foisted on them rather than the songs they wanted. Isn’t the real challenge for film dealing with a national desire for locally produced movies, rather than battling the pirates with more draconian rules.
After all, it’s obvious how music and film companies – and stars – gain from suppressing piracy. For consumers who are used to swapping CDs and DVDs as well as books, new rules seem excessive. Copyright has always been a bargain between the rights of creators and consumers: corporates and politicans wanting to tighten the law to save supposedly stricken industries ought to look at publishing to see that today’s problem may not be so severe after all.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Love the illustration by MK Mabry, also from NYT.
“Diary of a Bad Year” is not the first among J. M. Coetzee works of fiction to force readers to consider the friable boundary between fiction and nonfiction. “Elizabeth Costello” reveals its eponymous heroine, a literary celebrity, through a series of lectures given by Costello, their content familiar from essays published previously — by J. M. Coetzee.
Thus instructed to conflate Costello with her creator, Coetzee’s readers encounter her again, in his following novel, “Slow Man,” which finds Costello taking up residence in the home of the protagonist, Paul Rayment, as he examines his life in the wake of a crippling accident. “Like it or not, I will be with you a while yet,” Costello informs her reluctant host. She’s brought a “hefty typescript” with her, and it appears she is the author of Paul’s fate, nudging him toward fulfillment.
Or is she a product of his imagination? Certain of Costello’s exasperated comments to Paul — “I did not ask for you” — imply she has no more control over their peculiar pairing than does he.

“Diary of a Bad Year” forgoes the conceit of a perfunctorily named and differentiated alter ego by following the late career of Señor C, who, like Coetzee, is a South African writer transplanted to Australia and the author of a novel titled “Waiting for the Barbarians.”

By J. M. Coetzee. 231 pp.
Viking. $24.95.

Published in UK by Harvelii Secker pds.16.99

For the full NYT review
For a UK review

This has huge implications for independent booksellers.

Online Shopping Raises Ethical Dilemma

My friend Nader Iskandar, co-owner of the Book Cellar & Café bookstore in Plymouth, Mich., was recently complaining to me about the customers who browse his shelves, especially the political section, which he spends hours arranging, only to leave the store without buying anything. They often write down titles as they walk around, and Iskandar assumes that they go home and order the books off the Internet.

To him, this behavior is unfair and takes advantage of him and his hardworking staff. I have to admit that I have been guilty of doing it in the past and never gave it a second thought. After all, I want to buy what I need at the cheapest price possible, and if that means browsing in person only to buy online, why not? But speaking with Iskandar made me question the ethics of that approach.

I asked him more about his views and would love to hear your own take on the subject as well.

Is it wrong to glean information from local stores and then buy online? Please post your comments below.

Does it bother you when you see customers come into your store and write down titles that you have displayed, only to go buy them online later?

I can't help but be bothered by it, but I definitely don't let it frustrate me. Part of me wishes that these people would see the value in my bookstore and understand [the impact] of their actions.

What can you do to prevent this from happening?

I view my business in terms of the value of my product and services. If my customers are not purchasing my product, that means they don't see the value—at which point I would have to reduce prices or improve the service. So I simply continuously improve the service and the "convenience factor" for my customers.
For example, I maintain an excellent selection, deliver special orders within two business days and free of charge, provide a comforting atmosphere, and, most importantly, provide friendly, helpful service. In addition, I always stress the role that the bookstore plays to prop the image of downtown Plymouth in an effort to induce loyalty.

How can independent bookstores like yours survive when so many people buy books online? We are increasingly becoming selfish, cultureless, bargain shoppers. Independent bookstores may only be able to thrive in high-income areas with culture and tradition. Also, independent bookstores have to offer a high [level of] service in addition to selling books. Offering a cafe is one of these services.

Are books usually cheaper online? If so, why is this?

Books are cheaper online if they are bought in volume. Buying one book at a time online could be costly because of shipping costs, but most online retailers offer free shipping when purchasing multiple books. The biggest reason that online retailers can sell books more cheaply is because of their volume. They can order directly from the publisher in bulk and stock the books in warehouses. A small, independent bookstore has to go through a middle vendor and has a 7 to 10 percent disadvantage due to the lower volume.

Before you owned a bookstore, were you guilty of using stores to do research before making online purchases? Would you ever do it today?

I never did that and never will. My favorite bookstore was Borders on State Street in Ann Arbor. Of course, that was before Borders became corporate. At the time, it was operated as independently owned store.
One thing for sure is that now I have immense distaste for corporate retailers, specifically in the coffee, restaurant, and book industry. Corporations might provide cheaper service, but it comes at the expense of service diversity, culture, and economy. The position of an independent business owner, who might be middle class, own a house, and spend his money locally, has been replaced by a manager who earns $10 an hour, who can barely afford a living. Profits only benefit a central corporation and savvy investors. Imagine if every Starbucks was independently owned or franchised. There would be thousands of new millionaires in the United States.
For readers replies on US News go to this link.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Included among my gifts were:

Poems of New York
Selected & Edited by Elizabeth Scmidt
Knopf US$12.50

Another in the 50-odd strong Knopf's Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series. More than 80 poets are represented from Walt Whitman, born 1819 and the city's first flaneur and lyric poet, through to Nathaniel Bellows, born 1972, and in between including such luminaries as Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Parker, E.E.Cummings, W.H.Auden, Grace Paley , Gerald Stern, Erica Jong, and Allen Ginsberg.

Here's my favourite so far, it says so much about the significant and very obvious multi-ethnicity of this great city. It is by Grace Paley, who died earlier this year:

Children walking with their grandmothers
talk foreign languages
that is the nature of this city
and also this country

Talk is cheap but comes in variety
and witnessing dialect
there is a rule for all
and in each sentence a perfect grammar

50 Adventures on Foot
Chronicle Books $14.95

Bustling and vibrant, New York City is a great walking city. The cards in this boxed set guide you through 50 walking adventures, offering detailed maps and insider information. From Battery Park and the Finabcial District to Nolita's quaint boutiques and the art galleries of Chelsea to the vast Central Park and the vaulted ceilings of Grand Central Station, to the Brooklyn Heights Esplanade with its superb Manhattan skyline views. They are all here plus a lot more. We are having fun by picking a card at random and then heading off to visit that area.

Grandama Moses/Clement Moore
Universe $17.95

This is a most beautifully illustrated version of this most famous of American Christmas stories for children. On Boxing Day while looking about the Tribeca branch of Barnes & Noble I located no fewer than 17 versions of this book, differing only in format and illustration. Grandma Moses is for me the stand-out in a crowded field.

Grandma Moses (1860-1961) is one of the most important self-taught artists of the 20th century, achieving a celebrity that transcended the normal boundaries of the folk-art movement. In the post-WWII years, Moses (born Anna Mary Robertson) was one of the most successful and famous artists in America.There are over 269,000 Google entries for her.

Clement Clarke Moore was an academic, author, and poet who lived and worked in New York City. He is best known for writing this classic Christmas poem, first published anonymously, in 1823. He died in 1863.

Richard Shephard & Nick Rennison
A&C Black UK pds5.99
If you are keen on crime fiction, like me, or don't read it at all, and wonder why others are so keen on the genre, then this little book is for you.
More than 100 titles are reviewed, alphabetically by author, and a further 500 recommended. One of the very positive features is that both UK and US crime writers are featured.
I immediately picked out all my favourite authors - Sara Paretsky, James Ellroy, Sue Grafton, P.D.James, Minette Walters, Lawrence Block - and was pleased to find them all there.

A Year of Books Worth Curling Up With

Published: December 28, 2007

Full-time book critics approach recreational reading with a head start. We’re already reading for pleasure. We are immersed in books we find appealing, since the nearly 300 books chosen for the daily reviews in The New York Times have been culled from tens of thousands of volumes published each year. Some are chosen for their self-evident importance. Some are terrific sleepers. Even if a book’s foremost quality is its awfulness, a review in these pages means there’s something about it that one of us found noteworthy.

But we have favorites. And they meet criteria that any reader will recognize. These are the books that are disappointing only because they have to end. They’re the ones we mention to friends. They’re the ones worth taking on vacation, and they are well executed, whatever their genre or subject matter. They are what we’d read even if Michiko Kakutani, William Grimes and I weren’t designated readers.

The 10-favorite lists that follow are not 10-best lists. They’re not based strictly on merit. They don’t cite books we admired in the abstract but didn’t particularly like. Nor are they based on comprehensiveness; with so many books afoot, none of us can hope to have a complete overview. Each of us has stayed within the confines of our own reviews published in 2007 and picked the 10 books we covered most avidly — though there is one exception. Because Times critics do not review the work of their Times colleagues, Michiko Kakutani did not review Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes.” She recommends it nonetheless.

Think of these as lists that leave off the broccoli, figuratively speaking — though we have nothing against broccoli at all. (Michael Pollan’s new pro-vegetable manifesto, “In Defense of Food,” might be on my list were it not for a technicality: Its publication date is Jan. 1, 2008.)
Our tastes and interests are sufficiently different for there to be only one point on which we readily agree: As it becomes possible to rush books into print ever more hastily, editing ain’t what it used to be. “Finding Faith Without Fanatacism” is a misspelled subtitle that actually found its way onto the front cover of a hardbound 2007 book (“You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right,” by Brad Hirschfield, published by Harmony Books; it has since been corrected). Though there are many candidates for the honor of Year’s Sloppiest Book, the wall-to-wall bloopers in “Pearl Harbor,” a novel by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forschten, warrant special “wretching noises” from us all. The books that follow, in alphabetical order by author, were, in the “Pearl Harbor” vernacular, “all ladened with” better things. —JANET MASLIN

HOUSE OF MEETINGS by Martin Amis. This harrowing, deeply affecting novel recounts the story of two brothers interned at one of Stalin’s slave labor camps, taking the reader on a frightening journey deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag.
THE SECOND CIVIL WAR: HOW EXTREME PARTISANSHIP HAS PARALYZED WASHINGTON AND POLARIZED AMERICA by Ronald Brownstein. A veteran political reporter provides a shrewd election-year assessment of the growing partisanship in American politics, looking at the roots of this polarization and its alarming consequences for the country at large.
THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION by Michael Chabon. A clever, engaging and fully imagined epic cum detective story based on this historical what if: What if a temporary safe haven for Jews had been created in Alaska in the wake of the Holocaust?
NIXON AND KISSINGER: PARTNERS IN POWER by Robert Dallek. A fascinating portrait of President Richard M. Nixon and his chief foreign policy honcho, Henry A. Kissinger, a book that not only deftly deconstructs their emotionally fraught relationship and their policy making on Vietnam, the Middle East and China, but also underscores the historical lessons of their decisions and missteps.
THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Díaz. A dazzling debut novel that unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into an unnerving meditation on Dominican history and the relationship between political and personal dreams and losses.
THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST by Richard Flanagan. This Tasmanian novelist has written a dark, unsparing thriller about a case of mistaken identity, using his Hitchcockian heroine’s plight as a launching pad for an examination of a post-9/11 world in which fear is a valued commodity for terrorists and governments alike.
WHEN A CROCODILE EATS THE SUN: A MEMOIR OF AFRICA by Peter Godwin. A haunting and deeply evocative memoir about a writer’s discoveries about his father’s hidden past and his family’s life in Zimbabwe, a country that has seen its bright post-revolution dreams of a multiracial society give way to violent hatred and strife.
SCHULZ AND PEANUTS by David Michaelis. A revealing and sympathetic new biography of the creator of “Peanuts,” which highlights the autobiographical sources of the cartoonist’s art: how Charles M. Schulz gave his own wishy-washiness and determination to Charlie Brown, his sarcasm and anger to Lucy, his dignity and “weird little thoughts” to Linus and his frustrations and daydreams to Snoopy.
THE NINE: INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF THE SUPREME COURT by Jeffrey Toobin. A vivid narrative of the Supreme Court’s recent history and an intimate portrait of the individual justices that shows how personality, judicial philosophy and personal alliances can inform decisions that affect the entire country.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Partners & Crime stopped me in my tracks as we walked along Greenwich Avenue in the near freezing temperatures. First off it was after 11.00pm on Friday night and the store was lit up like a Christmas tree and still open! Second it was a store specilaising in crime and mystery fiction.

My kind of store and if they are prepared to stay open that late then I tell myself the least I can do is to go in and have a look around.

Fifteen minutes later after a good chat to one of the co-owners, (who was there so late because she had a pile of parcels to open), I emerged with a copy of the latest in Sue Grafton's alphabetically titled novels, T is for Trespass, featuring one of my favourite all time fictional sleuths, Kinsey Millhone.More about that after I have read the book.

Partners & Crime is a great little store, do check it out if you are in the neighbourhood, otherwise go to:

Run for your lives
Why the kite runners had to flee Afghanistan

Interview by Stephanie Merritt in The Observer

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965 and left in 1976. Since 1980, he has lived in California where he studied medicine and worked as a doctor while writing his first novel, The Kite Runner. Published in 2003, the novel has now sold more than eight million copies worldwide in 34 languages. The film version is released on Boxing Day. Hosseini worked on the film as a cultural consultant.

The movie cast unknown schoolboys from Kabul in the lead roles and that decision has led to controversy as the boys' families recently claimed they feared reprisals because of the material - the story highlights ethnic conflict in Afghanistan
and features a brutal scene in which a boy is raped.
The release date was delayed in the US so that the young actors and their families could be
relocated to the United Arab Emirates.

Did you anticipate this degree of controversy over the subject matter?
I don't think anyone believed that the families would say their lives were in
danger. If anyone had thought that would be the case, they would never have
gone to Kabul to cast the actors and I would have advised them not to go to
Had you received adverse reactions to the book on the same grounds?
I have received some criticism. In the Afghan community, the reaction to my
novel has been overwhelmingly positive - I've received thousands of letters
from fellow Afghans who loved the book - but a smaller number of letters from
people who are critical. Not because they feel misrepresented but because I'm
talking about things that they would rather keep within the family. They feel
that revealing these truths will paint a negative picture of Afghanistan.
Because of the ethnic conflict or the rape scene?
The ethnic conflict is a big one. Every person who has criticised it
acknowledges the veracity of it but questions the wisdom of actually voicing
it, which to me doesn't make sense because I always thought the whole point of
writing books and making films was to talk about the things that shape
people's lives. I'm not going to shy away from things because it may upset a
few people. The rape scene is shot very suggestively, it's not graphic in any
sense. Nevertheless, for that actor and his father, his family, it was
problematic and they felt that the scene could lead to problems down the road.
I hope that's not the case, but for me, the whole experience has been very
You returned to Kabul for the first time in 2003 and went again this year
with the UN refugee agency. Has the country changed for the worse?
It has changed; I felt a lot safer in 2003. This time in Kabul, I definitely
felt an apprehension in people now that they didn't have in 2003. It's really
the suicide bombing. That has had a profound effect on people's psyches,
because it's a very terrifying and powerful weapon; it can strike at any time
and any place. Being in public places was definitely nerve-racking. So
actually having those kids out of there is a blessing in a way because Kabul
has become such a dangerous place.
Are you able to feel optimistic about the future of Afghanistan? Do you
think one day you would take your own children?
My optimism is very sober. Afghanistan has moved forward in some ways but has
regressed in others. But the one thing I heard universally when I spoke to
people there is that Afghanistan cannot afford to be abandoned, cannot afford
for the international community to weaken its commitment to the country. I'd
love to take my wife with me - she hasn't been back since the mid-Seventies -
but as a parent, no, I couldn't take my children with everything that's going
on in Kabul at the moment.

We went to the opera at the Met on Christmas Eve, here is the NY Times review.

Children were everywhere at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday afternoon for a special Christmas Eve matinee, the premiere of a new production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” As patrons entered the house, some children scurried up and down the stairs of the grand promenade, while others peered over the rim of the orchestra pit to watch the musicians warm up. As the house lights dimmed, and the Met’s low-hanging crystal chandeliers ascended to the ceiling, impressionable children applauded. Indeed, applause broke out all through the performance, especially when the plucky Hansel and Gretel pushed the glutinous Witch into the oven during the final scene.

This new production, a surreal, sometimes baffling yet intriguing staging by the British director Richard Jones, was created for the Welsh National Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It was brought to the Met by the general manager, Peter Gelb, as this season’s special family fare. Last season’s family offering was Julie Taymor’s production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” trimmed to 100 minutes and performed in English. Humperdinck’s compact opera needs no trimming; with an intermission the performance lasts just over two hours. It is performed in a very free English translation of the German by David Pountney, filled with clever rhymes and snappy vernacular.
The German soprano Christine Schäfer, whose only previous work at the Met was a string of shattering performances in the 2001-2 season as Berg’s voluptuous Lulu, makes a girlish and not-so-innocent Gretel. The dusky-voiced British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, who in the last two years has won admirers at the Met for her portrayals of Mozart’s Cherubino and Handel’s Sesto, sings Hansel, played as a boisterous, fidgety boy raging with hormones. In the pit is the brilliant young Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski. He conveys the lyricism of this 1893 opera while never letting us forget that Humperdinck was a Wagner protégé who filled this score with rich chromatic harmony and thick, dark orchestral colorings.

Though the opera was initially planned as a small-scale entertainment for children, it did not work out as envisioned. The libretto was written by Adelheid Wette, the composer’s sister, who was dismayed by the cruelty in the original story by the Brothers Grimm. So she softened the tale, removing some of its, well, grimness. The parents of the original, chronically poor and unable to feed their children, are driven to despair. Gertrude, the mother, persuades Peter, the father, to abandon the children in the forest, hoping they will be able to fend for themselves. The opera’s Gertrude, in a fit of anger over her lazy children, knocks over a jug of milk, the only nourishment in the family cupboard, and sends the siblings out to the forest to pick strawberries. There they become lost.

While Wette removed some grimness from the story, directors of the opera have just kept putting it back in. So does Mr. Jones in this high-concept production, with sets and costumes designed by John Macfarlane. To Mr. Jones hunger (and what it will drive people to do) is the work’s central theme. To achieve a kind of symmetry he sets all three acts in kitchens that combine modern imagery with expressionist touches.

The first act depicts the family’s depressing kitchen. With washed-out, peeling walls, an outmoded 1950s-style refrigerator and a wobbly table, the place looks like the Kramdens’ kitchen in “The Honeymooners.” The imagery is poignant, but there is a problem. Placed on the Met’s enormous proscenium stage, the kitchen is framed by blackness. The recessed set puts the singers to the back of the stage somewhat, which boxes in their voices. Though Ms. Coote and Ms. Schäfer sing with richness and sensitivity, they have trouble projecting. And their English diction is hopeless. Children who want to understand what is being sung will have to rely on their Met Titles.

Gertrude, played by the veteran mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright, is so distraught over her family’s poverty, her husband’s drinking and her own bursts of anger at the children that in a suicidal moment she nearly swallows a handful of pills, which seems a melodramatic touch. The raw power of her singing increases the harshness of the portrayal.
As Peter, the burnished baritone Alan Held has no trouble being heard. In this version he calls himself a “drunken sot,” and he looks the part of the burly tradesman who has finally had a run of luck in his brush maker business.

Before Act II begins there is a drop screen, all in garish red, that depicts a slurping mouth and jagged teeth; imagine a Francis Bacon painting of Mick Jagger’s tongue. When it lifts, the opera’s forest setting becomes a German Expressionist dining room, with leafy wallpaper and a long, empty banquet table. Trees are represented as surreal servants in black suits, with branches for heads.
After the starving children sing the well-known Evening Prayer (“When at Night I Go to Sleep”), they are visited, during the long Dream Pantomime for orchestra, not by 14 angels but by 14 fairy-tale chefs. These bulbous figures with huge masked heads, like characters out of a Maurice Sendak book, set the table with wondrous dishes. Surely Hansel and Gretel may have had dreams of food. But will children in the audience understand that this episode is a dream, or even that the scene takes place in a forest? Does that matter? Maybe not.

The Witch’s house in Act III is an industrial-size kitchen, with cinder-block walls and towering stainless-steel appliances, including a huge oven in which she bakes her child victims. In a casting coup, the Witch is sung by the British tenor Philip Langridge, who has a cackling laugh (like Mime the dwarf in “Siegfried”) and looks like a demented Julia Child, with a buxom build, bushy gray hair, a sleeveless black blouse and pearls. Like Child, the Witch is certainly willing to make a colossal mess on her kitchen table as she fattens up Hansel with cakes, puff pastries and gelatins.

Cannibalism runs through many fairy tales, this one especially. Still, it is a little unsettling at the end of this production, after the Witch is killed and the gingerbread children come back to life, to see the endearing youngsters of the Met’s wonderful children’s chorus take out crisply done witch bread from the oven, lay it on the table and ready their forks and knives to dig in.
Mr. Jurowski’s work is impressive. Humperdinck’s Wagnerian score abounds in singable, justly loved tunes, and Mr. Jurowski finds a judicious balance between weight and whimsy in his subtly paced performance, drawing rich textures and inner voices from the orchestra.

Though the production was befuddling to me, the twitters and applause from the children in the house suggested that Mr. Jones may have a good reading of the sensibilities of his target audience. During curtain calls the children especially cheered Mr. Langridge’s daffy Witch. Some things never change.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Revisiting the magic of pop-ups

Pop-up books have long captivated children, and for good reason, writes Jane Sullivan in The Age.

THAR SHE BLOWS! The great white whale rears up out of the sea, scuppers the Pequod and sets up a whirlpool that takes the sailors down to their watery graves. And to help them on their way, you can pull a tab that turns the whirlpool around.
Yes, it's Moby Dick: A Pop Up Book, Sam Ita's graphic novel based on the Herman Melville classic, bristling with old salts and Pacific gods and enough nautical detail to launch an entire fleet. What a splendid addition to a grand tradition that reaches its peak at Christmas time.
Like many adults, I've always had a soft spot for the pop-up book, and I joyously wrecked many of them as a child in the enterprising spirit of finding out how they worked.

One of my treasured possessions for many years was the Fungus the Bogeyman Plop Up Book, by Raymond Briggs, full of three-dimensional slimy things.
But pop-up books - or to use the wider term, moveable books - weren't always for children. The origins of books with moveable parts go back to medieval times, and they were used in astrology and anatomy. Alive, one of the pop-up books in the shops at the moment to illustrate the human body, is part of a very ancient tradition. A few modern writer/artists such as Barbara Hodgson carry on the form for adult readers.

Pop-ups began to instruct and entertain children in the 19th century, and the prolific and popular German pop-up artist Lothar Meggendorfer wrote a little rhyme gently warning his young readers to take care with the fragile parts "Lest Woe and Grief arise".
The most recent revival of the art was in the 1990s, and today, fairies, doll house theatres, dragons, sharks and dinosaurs are popping up everywhere, from the simplest to the most elaborate forms. But how can they hold their own against the allure of moving images on video games and DVDs?
One answer comes from Robert Sabuda, the king of the modern pop-up artists - or paper engineers, as they like to call themselves - who has created many books with his partner Matthew Reinhart in their New York studio. Parents like pop-up books, he says, precisely because they are not a part of the electronic world.
You can enjoy them anywhere and you don't need to plug them in.
People also love the surprise of not knowing what's going to be on the next page, he says. They turn the page and go "Wow!". They are really affected by the magic of a pop-up and amazed that they have the power to make it happen by turning the pages.
It's not always strictly pop-up, but another very popular kind of moveable book at present is full of flaps, doors, tabs, envelopes, paper scraps and foldouts.

These books often purport to be the journals of explorers or archaeologists discovering secret, wonderful and horrible things.

So you can discover the boy king's body in The Search for Tutankhamun, by Nikki Horin; or travel in time with Einstein's daughter and your own backward-running pocket watch in Ed Masessa's The Time Traveler's Journal; or give yourself nightmares with Edgar Wishbone's World of Monsters, which is as vivid, visceral and explosive as any grisly-minded child could desire.
Handle these books with care: a lot of craft has gone into them. Sabuda says the design of one of his books can take up to eight months, and creating the art to go onto the pop-up pieces can take up to a year. The hardest part? To get the book to pop shut.

Monday, December 24, 2007

From Times Online
December 21, 2007

Susannah Herbert, the Sunday Times Literary Editor, suggests five books that will solve your present-buying problems

This week, all I can suggest is books you can't go wrong with. Any of these would be lovely last last last minute presents, if you could bear to give them away. They are books for sharing with others: a cookbook, a quiz book, an audio book, a catalogue of nostalgic illustrations from one of the best art shows in London. Oh, and a beautiful seasonal pop-up book which has to be read every year, just after the stockings have been hung up by the fireplace.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, with pop-up illustrations by Robert Sabuda (Simon & Schuster £19.99)
"Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." St Nicholas pops in and out of the chimney, beds fold out, a window shade rises and falls, and, in a clever nod to Moore's classic poem, it's a family of mice who are receiving St Nicholas's nighttime visit. Children will love the book's pop de résistance, in which the lead reindeer nearly fly up your nose. Or knock you off your stool, depending on how close you are to the page....

Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales (Frederick Warne £20)
The Tailor of Gloucester is the one to play now - it kicks off with wonderful carol singing and has a plot which should warm the heart of every over-worked wage slave. Be sure to buy the right version of the tales: this one, whose narrators include Patricia Routledge, Timothy West, Rosemary Leach and Michael Hordern, is complete and unabridged, containing every Potter tale, from The Tale of Tom Kitten to The Tale of Mr Tod. There are six CDs in the set, and all are beautifully produced, with wonderful music to accompany the words: hours of happiness.

The Prince of Wales (Highgate) Quiz Book by Marcus Berkmann (Hodder £8.99)
Simply the cleverest and most ingenious quiz compilation around. I took a scratch quiz team to the launch - at the Prince of Wales pub in Highgate, naturally - and was roundly humiliated. Could I name the first six Blue Peter presenters? Nope. Nor did I know what was surrendered to Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita on February 15, 1942. Please don't write in with the answers: it's bad enough being wrong without everyone else being right, too.

The Age of Enchantment: Beardsley, Dulac and their contemporaries 1890 -1930 (Scala £25)
If only I owned just one of the books featured in this catalogue, which accompanies the Dulwich Picture Gallery's dreamily gorgeous exhibition of the golden age of illustration. But even though originals of Edmund Dulac's The Sleeping Beauty and other Tales (1910) cost a king's ransom, we can still enjoy the beguiling beauty of his work, and that of Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen and their followers. This is not a catalogue which will appeal only to connoisseurs - though the text, by curator Rodney Engen, is good. It's one to spread out on your lap, with a small child next to you.

Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark (Ebury £25)
When cold sprouts are too depressing to contemplate, turn to the pictures in this ravishing cookbook instead. The authors use produce from their London allotment as the basis of their recipes. Everything is interesting and inspiring - and makes you long for spring, the feel of damp earth under the fingernails and the snap of a fresh peapod.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


The Mature Master.
By Sheldon M. Novick.
Illustrated. 616 pp. Random House. $35.

In the title essay of a collection published this year, the novelist and critic David Lodge declared 2004 to have been “The Year of Henry James.” This was because 2004 saw the publication of two major “biographical” novels about James — “The Master,” by Colm Toibin, and Lodge’s own “Author, Author” — as well as a novel by Alan Hollinghurst, “The Line of Beauty,” in which the hero is writing a thesis on James. Both Toibin’s and Lodge’s novels took as their starting points the facts of Henry James’s life, and while they shared certain material, each had a distinct focus: Lodge wrote primarily about James’s involvement in the theater and his friendship with the caricaturist and writer George du Maurier, whose novel “Trilby” was enjoying phenomenal success just as James’s own literary star was in eclipse, while Toibin focused on James’s close relationships with his cousin Minny Temple, the writer Constance Fenimore Woolson and the sculptor Hendrik Andersen. Toibin also dramatized a scene in which the young James sleeps naked in the same bed with Oliver Wendell Holmes — a scene, Lodge points out in his essay, probably derived from Sheldon M. Novick’s 1996 revisionist biography, “Henry James: The Young Master,” in which Novick suggested that James experienced his “initiation” into sex in 1865 and that his partner was very likely Holmes.

Novick is a law professor, and he likes making a case. In the preface to “The Young Master,” he challenged the received image of James as an effete, fussy figure; homosexual, if at all, only in spirit, and most likely celibate. Novick also criticized Leon Edel, the author of a canonical five-volume biography of James, for hewing too closely to “what now seems a rather old-fashioned, Freudian view of ‘homosexuality’ as a kind of failure.” Novick, on the other hand, intended to write a biography in which it would be shown “that Henry James underwent the ordinary experiences of life: that he separated himself from his enveloping family, that he fell in love with the wrong people, that his first sexual encounters were intense but not entirely happy.” If such a biography had not yet been written, Novick argued, it could be “attributed partly to James’s having loved young men.”

At the time of its publication, “The Young Master” provoked something of an uproar in James circles. Responding to Novick’s book on Slate, Edel objected strenuously to Novick’s claim that James had sexual relationships, writing that Novick “attempts to turn certain of his fancies into fact — but his data is simply too vague for him to get away with it.” Novick responded by defending his own biography, denouncing Edel’s — “For a modern reader,” Novick wrote, Edel’s biography “badly distorts the record of the novelist’s life” — and chiding the 89-year-old author for refusing to accept “that James, although his principal affections were for men, ever had sexual contact with a man.” Novick’s letter — which concludes “Lighten up, professor” — initiated an eight-part, on-the-record donnybrook that grew increasingly surreal and took an explicit turn when another James biographer, Fred Kaplan, entered the fray. The discourse now devolved into what Novick rightly characterized as “dirty” talk, reaching its apex when he wrote: “Least important of all, I think (but can’t be sure) that one evening in the spring of 1865,” James masturbated Oliver Wendell Holmes.

This debate over James’s sex life had the unfortunate effect of distracting attention from the many other aspects of Novick’s biography, among them his powerful evocation of James’s childhood, his portrayal of Henry James Sr. and his persuasive rereading of a crucial episode in James’s youth involving Minny Temple and Oliver Wendell Holmes. If reviews gave a lopsided impression of Novick’s book as a study of James’s sexuality, however, it was at least in part because Novick fanned the flame of debate by making — and defending — his case with such lawyerly gusto.
Read the full review from The New York Times, from where photo of James also taken.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Wilfrid Hansen Technical Scholarship - annual report

Dear Friends,

At some stage in the past few years all of you have contributed in some way towards the Wilfrid Hansen Technical Scholarship. This year, 2007, in March, Wilfrid would have turned 30. We thought it was a good time to update you on the Wilfrid Hansen Technical Scholarship Trust.

Since 2002 the Trust has awarded an annual scholarship of $2,000, increased to $2,500 in 2007, to a second year student at the Unitec School of and Screen Arts, Auckland. The recipient is also guaranteed summer holiday work with Oceania Lighting and Sound and at Maidment Theatre – Te Atamira. Oceania gives the scholarship winner experience on technical crews for events all over the country, and the Maidment provides a taste of the reality of work in the theatre.

We have found that the benefits go wider than the winner because most applicants find work in the industry over the summer break through contacts made during interviews for the scholarship. An unforeseen, but happy consequence of the scholarship process.

So, herewith the update on recipients for your information. Keep an eye open for these names when you open a theatre or other performance programme. You’re bound to come across their work.

Paul Nicoll won the scholarship in 2002-3. In the past year he has worked as Technical & Tour Manager with 'Strange Resting Places' performing in New Zealand and overseas. Paul has also been working as an Assistant Production Manager at Unitec and he sees this as an area that he wishes to move into over the next few years. Most recently he has been Assistant Stage Manager for the ATC Christmas show, ‘End of the Rainbow’.

Charlotte Shuker, 2003-4 winner, is back in her hometown of Hastings, where she is working as Event Manager at TC systems and runs the crew for events all over the Hawkes Bay.

Matthew Lamb won the scholarship in 2004-5. He has taken up a full-time contract with the Edge where he has worked since he graduated. He has recently returned from touring with 'The Woman in Black' as Head LX. Prior to that he toured with Auckland Theatre Company's production of 'Hatch' as Technical Manager and board operator.

Joshua Haw, 2005-6, is working full-time for Spotlight Systems as a technician
on a variety of theatre, corporate and concert events and also in the
management of the hire department and workshop.

Michael Bowerman, winner in 2006-7, is currently completing his second year at Unitec. Michael has undertaken a number of industry-based secondments.He has recently been the lighting operator for Auckland Theatre Company's 'The Next Stage', has supported David Eversfield as an assistant lighting director on Auckland Theatre Company's 'The Crucible' as well as working in many events for Spotlight Systems as both a technician and a trainee lighting director.

This year, 2007-8, the Trust members made a decision to award two scholarships. The applicants forced us into this situation by their sheer
quality and potential. We also thought it would be a good way of celebrating Wilfrid’s 30th birthday and the scholarship’s 6th year!

Those awards were made to Stuart Phillips from Avondale and Richard Wilson from Manurewa. Both young men are studying at Unitec and, like all this year’s candidates, had a variety of organizational and work experiences that impressed the interviewing panel. It was their passion for theatre and what technicians bring to it which won them the scholarship this year.

Wherever you go in Auckland’s theatre world watch out for our scholarship winners. They are there, making a difference.

We wish you a very safe and happy Christmas and a successful New Year filled with enjoyable theatrical experiences! First though, enjoy your holidays.

Warm regards from the Trust board members

Paul Minifie (Chair)
Simon Garrett
Penny Hansen
Paul Jeffery
Steve Marshall
Newly Released

By Amy Virshup
Published in The New York Times: December 20, 2007

Anyone looking through publishers’ catalogs might be convinced that the book industry has dispensed with December, as many companies go straight from the blockbusters of November to the take-a-chance books of January. Still, a small group of authors (including a Nobel Prize winner and a couple of perennial best-seller writers) dare to hit the shelves this month. In a couple of cases the books listed below aren’t officially published until January, but they’ll be in the stores before the new year.

By Sue Grafton
387 pages. A Marian Wood Book/G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $26.95.

The 20th installment in Sue Grafton’s abecedarian series starring the private investigator Kinsey Millhone has a newly single Kinsey filling her days with the routine chores of the private-eye world: serving deadbeat tenants with eviction notices, trying to find witnesses to an automobile accident. But when her elderly neighbor Gus Vronsky falls and dislocates his shoulder, she gets drawn into the machinations of his new caregiver, who goes by the name Solana Rojas. And why won’t that man with the white hair come forward to tell what he knows about the car crash? Despite much evidence to the contrary (in this and the previous 19 books), Kinsey notes at the tale’s end that “I prefer to focus on the best in human nature: compassion, generosity, a willingness to come to the aid of those in need.”

By Nadine Gordimer
178 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $21.

In this slender volume of stories, history is the uninvited guest. Whether it is an aging white academic and former anti-apartheid activist searching for his relatives, who may be black, or a widow trying to fill in the blanks of her dead husband’s life, Nadine Gordimer’s characters are haunted by what has come before. As Frederick Morris notes to himself in the title story, “History’s never over; any more than biology, functioning within every being.” (Ms. Gordimer’s biology point is perhaps made in the book’s second tale, which is told by a tapeworm.) Ms. Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991; this is her 11th volume of stories.

By Eric Weiner
329 pages. Twelve. $25.99.
Eric Weiner, a correspondent for National Public Radio, has spent most of his professional life (including several years at The New York Times) covering misery: war, natural disasters and the like. For this book, his first, Mr. Weiner tried something different — happiness. “With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness,” he writes in the introduction. “We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills.” Mr. Weiner’s own navigational skills took him to places as far-flung as Qatar (living proof that money doesn’t buy happiness), Iceland and Bhutan in search of joy.

By Steve Berry
473 pages. Ballantine Books. $25.95.

In his previous Cotton Malone thrillers Steve Berry has done Knights Templar (“The Templar Legacy”) and ancient Egypt (“The Alexandria Link”). This time around Malone, the former government operative turned antiquarian bookseller, gets drawn into a plot involving the evil leader of the Central Asian Federation (Supreme Minister Irina Zovastina, who likes to wear a hat made from the pelt of a wolf she killed) and the lost tomb of Alexander the Great. For history buffs here’s one clue as to how Ms. Zovastina sees herself: She’s named her favorite horse Bucephalas.

By Cornelia Read
328 pages. Grand Central Publishing. $23.99.

At the start of Cornelia Read’s new novel Madeline Dare is teaching at the Santangelo Academy, a “therapeutic boarding school” for troubled teenagers run by the charismatic if more than a bit loony Dr. David Santangelo. Madeline is not without troubles of her own, as she tells readers early on: “I wanted to believe Santangelo could fix me, while he was at it. Who among us does not want to be shriven, to confess all, in the hope of being made clean and whole and new?” But when two of her students reveal their secret to her, Madeline gets drawn into a whole new set of complications.

By James Grippando
326 pages. Harper. $24.95.

After taking a break from his Jack Swyteck series, James Grippando returns with another tale featuring Swyteck, a defense lawyer in Miami, and his best friend, Theo Knight, a former gang member, falsely convicted death-row inmate and now owner of Sparky’s Tavern (“a true dive, but it was his dive,” as Theo thinks to himself). Theo’s life seems to be on track, until Isaac Reems, one of his former gang compatriots, shows up at Sparky’s, fresh out of prison. (“I put myself on the early-release plan,” he tells Theo in the course of robbing him.) But who is going to believe that Theo had nothing to do with the jailbreak? Certainly not Andie Henning, the F.B.I. agent who just happens to be Jack’s former girlfriend. Both Mr. Grippando and Cornelia Read are members of the Naked Authors blog group.