Tag Archives: nadia reid

Poetry Shelf celebrates NZ Music Month: a comfort book list picked by musicians and music fans

 

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 12.35.15 PM

 

Two more lists after this one because I want to support New Zealand bookshops.

But today I want to celebrate NZ Music Month –  music has been such a go-to comfort for me in the past few months. I find myself awake listening to and loving Trevor Reekie’s world-music selection on RNZ in the middle of the night, or Nick Bollinger’s sweetly crafted music reviews along with Jeremy Taylor’s (also RNZ). I found myself playing Nadia Reid latest album over and over again when I was trying to meet an anthology deadline and work seemed impossible.

Earlier this year Michael and I sat on the slopes and listened to Don McGlashan and the Mutton Birds along with The Black Seeds at the Hunting Lodge in West Auckland and it was bliss. Another day and I popped over to Kumeu’s summer Folk Festival and loved everything about it. These outdoor / indoor music events seem like a miracle now, a mirage in my mind to which I keep returning. To hear live music is perhaps one of the most extraordinary human experiences because it transcends everything – all the toxic crap in the world and it brings us together. It makes you feel good: both physically and emotionally.

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 12.38.22 PM

 

Hard times for musicians, especially with live music events not on the calendar yet.

Just as we can support NZ books in NZ book shops, we can support our local musicians  and purchase their music. I am hanging out for Reb Fountain’s amazing new album (physical one due June).

 

This week I invited musicians and music fans to pick a book or two that has offered comfort or that they have loved, recently, or at any point in time!

Thanks to everyone who contributed. This a treasure house of books that sets me all aglow as a reader. Ruby Solly has assembled the most wonderful list of books ever and because I have read and loved all of them bar two – those two are now on my must-purchase list! I plan to keep buying books from local bookshops once a week and buying NZ music.

 

A list of books picked by musicians, music critics, music bookshops and music fans

 

 

 

invisible-women

 

Marysia Collins (Singer)

I’d like to recommend the book Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.

Why do I Iove it?

This book is PACKED with data and examples of biases (i.e. ways the world is way worse for women) which at first punch you in the chest and then make you feel armed with this new power of knowledge. Admittedly it comes with a heavy serving of frustration and sadness, but served in a clever and witty way that in itself reinforces the hope drawn from the good things we know happen when women take an equal place on the stage.

A musical reference from the book is the mention of the fact that a standard piano was designed around the average size of a man’s hands – which are larger than the standard size of a woman’s hands. The obvious implications of this being that it’s harder and more painful/injury-provoking for women to play the piano.

 

 

9780099800200

 

Victoria Kelly (Composer, performer and producer of music – and also the Director of NZ Member Services at APRA AMCOS)

Funny you should ask… just last week I was compelled to return to a book I have read more times than I can count. It’s my favourite book – Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut – and the only thing I’ve felt like reading during this entire lockdown period.

I think it comforts me because Vonnegut has the gift of being able to take the reader by the hand and lead them kindly and generously through the brutality and strangeness of humanity.

I love the fact that it changes as I get older, and that it still surprises and enlightens me.

Perhaps my favourite passage in the book is one I read aloud to my 13 year old daughter just the other night because she was worried about school and finding it hard to get things done at home.

“Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy’s wall told him that it helped them to keep going too. It went like this:

God grant me
the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
courage
to change the things I can
and wisdom always
to tell the
difference.

Among the things that Billy could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

That last sentence that gets me every time.

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 12.50.44 PM

 

Don McGlashan (Musician)

I’ve been reading a lot. First CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, a set of short stories by George Saunders, where grotesque but vivid characters scratch out lives in the wastelands and theme-parks of a post-apocalyptic America. I love how funny and bleak Saunders can be at the same time, and sometimes he just floors you with a piece of imagining so true and strong you have to put down the book and breathe deeply for a bit. Like that, for me, was a story called “Offloading for Mrs Schwartz”, about a man who is forced to sell memories to get by; first other peoples, then finally his own.

Then I read Sea People – by Christina Thompson, an utterly engrossing investigation into the history of Pacific peoples, and their voyages of discovery. Thompson, a US/Australian who teaches writing at Harvard, examines what we know, through the work of greats like Dame Anne Salmond and Te Rangi Hiroa; what we are only just now learning, like the re-vitalisation of ancient navigational knowledge by such scholar-voyagers as Nainoa Thompson – and what we still don’t know, like what happened to the Lapita and Rapa Nui civilisations who left such striking footprints and little else. “Sea People” uses multiple lenses: Polynesian oral history, linguistics, archeology, anthropology, the uniquely Western knack of suggesting radical (and wrong) theories rather than ask the locals – and Thompson has skin in the game, too: she writes from the heart because she’s married to a Maori man, and their children carry Polynesian DNA. I picked it up because I wanted to understand more about the Pacific and its people, but after a while, I found that the timeless fog already brought on by the lock-down became even more hazy, as I missed appointments, meals and sleep so I could cram in another chapter.

 

 

 

51ocF2RwDRL._SX409_BO1,204,203,200_  9781877577833

 

Trevor Reekies (Musician, writer, Trip To The Moon member, Producer and Presenter of Worlds of Music RNZ)

These 2 gentlemen remain my favorite Poets

SAM HUNT is one of Aotearoa’s most loved and respected Poets. He has lived the life, walked the walk (usually downhill in his treasured Cuban heels) and entertained audiences from all walks of life with his unique perception of his world, his endearing humour and personality and, of course, his poetry. Living the life of an artist in Aotearoa takes considerable motivation in one’s own belief. Sam may give the perception that he arrived as a fully formed poet and that his work comes to him easily. But the reality is that he applies himself to his art every breathing moment of his day. He rehearses, he reads and writes daily. He chucks his creative line into the pool … sometimes he may get a nibble and other times he may arrive at a finished piece, but crucially, he chucks his line into the pool on a daily basis. Sam is equally a brilliant raconteur. He entertains. Sometimes his introductions to the poem are longer than the poem itself but that is part of his charm. I’ve seen him perform shows with bands like The Warratahs and just take command, such is his presence. This place would be the poorer without him. I don’t own many of his books but one title I enjoyed immensely is his book Backroads, Charting a Poet’s Life (2009). It’s a treasure of a book filled with a collection of yarns that reveal his integrity, eloquence, humour and unique charm.

 

PETER OLDS I met when I was a student at Otago University in the 70’s. From memory it was at a flat in Cumberland street where the Editor of Critic magazine lived. He is the first person I met who described himself as a poet. Peter’s poems are as appealing as many of the ‘Beat’ poets and City Lights’ fraternity. Peter is uniquely himself and writes the way he talks. He was always good company who was totally focused on his work and that is the sort of dedication I admire most. It’s hard work being a ‘poet’ in a country that for years has denied the arts as being ‘work’. .. more a case of being a ‘dole-bludger’ .. Peter Old writes a lot about Dunedin, the  city where I was born, walking the same streets that my parents once walked in their youth.

I can read Peter’s  work easily and relate to it with the same fondness that I have for the city itself. Peter Olds writes of relationships, hitch-hiking the country and nights at the Captain Cook Hotel with old friends and new, all the time collecting mental notes and anecdotes for future resource. Peter wrote intelligently to a cultural and generational divide. A working class poet blessed with a whimsical humour and a keen ear that (for me) gives his work a significant point of difference.

Favourite Collections: Beethoven’s Guitar (1980) and Under the Dundas Street Bridge (2012)

 

 

9780385480017-1

 

Nadia Reid (Musician, songwriter)

My recommendation would be a non-fiction book called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Something about her writing just gets me right where I need it. This book is a book about writing ultimately and also about Life. I found it quite relevant to songwriting too. She talks about ‘getting your butt in the chair’ and just turning up. My favourite quote from the book:

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.

O and this quote! This is actually my favourite:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

 

 

51R135txz-L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Will Ricketts (Musician, Phoenix Foundation)

A book that gave me some comfort …..

The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar Roald Dahl

Perfect little windows into ingenious scenarios, a collection of miniature mental holidays.

I find Roald Dahl’s style of writing transfers that essential spark or signal within the constant noise, something that is intangible if one tries to encapsulate it in essence.
The formula of doing, the gift of story telling, the gift of the imagination.

 

 

920x920

 

Grant Smithies (Music critic/ journalist/ broadcaster)

As a kid, I could often be found in my bedroom, touching my tongue to the terminals of a transistor battery. Ow!… Zzzt!… Ow…Zzzt…Ow!… Zzzt! Why? I grew up in Whanganui in the early 60s, where a cheap thrill was better than no thrill at all. And I like a good jolt.

Perhaps that’s why I read mostly short stories, to the extent that whenever I make my way into a novel, it feels like an interminable journey with far too many people to meet along the way. Give me short, surprising, vivid, weird. Give me Denis Johnson and Joy Williams.

Joy Williams: The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (2015) is a ripping comfort read, assuming you’d find comfort in visiting a succession of skew-whiff worlds rendered by a preacher’s daughter who believes everything, no matter how mundane, has deep cosmic undercurrents.

So many qualities I love in other writers are there in Williams, plus more besides. She is Anton Chekhov in dark glasses and wraparound skirt; a rural Grace Paley; John Cheever stuck fast in the surrealistic groove that gave us The Swimmer and The Enormous Radio. She cops the minimalism of Ray Carver and Lydia Davis, then blows it all sideways with a humid waft of Flannery O’Conner gothic.

She’s a compassionate misanthropist with bold comedic chops, welding rage and despair to belly laughs within sentences so elegant, you sometimes have to read them twice before moving on with the story.

“What a story is, is devious,” Williams once told an interviewer from The Paris Review. “It pretends transparency, forthrightness. It engages with ordinary people, ordinary matters, recognizable stuff. But this is all a masquerade. What good stories deal with is the horror and incomprehensibility of time, the dark encroachment of old catastrophes.”

Her subject is American failure and its repercussions. She’s interested in the way people deal with loneliness, and regularly sets up occasions in which her characters are forced to confront their own insignificance, facing the fact that they are just another anxious critter struggling to find safety within nature.

Animals provide a mystical non-human dimension to many of her best stories- members of some secret parallel society, bearing witness, hanging out at our side while living in an utterly different world.

And Denis? Let’s just say that Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (1992) is a book every aspiring short story writer worth their salt reads and rereads like a sacred text, eager to unlock its mysteries.

Again, funny and bleak are bedfellows throughout these eleven interlinked tales of lost souls crashing cars, breaking into houses, shooting up, committing murder, hanging out in bars where some drinkers are still clad in wee plastic bootees and hospital gowns after going “over the wall” from rehab.

The action moves between 1970s Iowa, Chicago, Seattle and Phoenix. Someone gets stabbed in the eye by his wife. Bad things happen to bunnies. A naked woman with long red hair hovers above a speedboat while two men strip electrical wire from the walls of a house to sell for drug money.

Leaps in logic, time, focus and tone mirror the addled mental state of the central protagonist: shaky memories/ wishful thinking/ drug hallucinations/ obsessions/ pathologies/ outright lies are all rolled together into sentences so poetically compressed, I sometimes finish a story and go straight back to the start.

Johnson once described his own writing as a “zoo of wild utterances”, and it’s a zoo worth visiting. Jesus’ Son makes you either want to become a better writer or give up writing altogether. And it will give you more pleasure than putting your tongue on a transistor battery.

 

 

 

 

Ruby Solly (Musician, poet, performer)

Curating this book list was super interesting as I realised books are not really something I turn to much for comfort nowadays. Mostly I turn to books to challenge myself and turn to other things like music for comfort which makes sense as I work with both fields so listen and read a lot. But when I need comfort, there are a few favorites I return too. All of these books are set in strange otherworldly places in one way or another. Be that 1970s New York, or a land stuck in perpetual winter. They also help us to answer big questions, or at least to add a little bit more to what we already know so we can live with not knowing all the answers. They show us parts of who we are, and parts of who we can be. I hope you pick up one or two, and I hope you enjoy them as much as me.

 

9780143117780

 

Light Boxes by Shane Jones

I bought this beautiful little poetic novel on a whim when I was about fourteen before a car trip home, and it lasted me the exact space from Hamilton to Turangi. Shane Jones is an excellent writer in the alt-lit scene and this, his first book, looks at a close-knit town that is perpetually stuck in winter, which is personified as a man called ‘February’ who lives in the sky beyond the clouds. Jones weaves together poetry, drawings, prose and a sea of surreal characters and scenes to make a book that takes you from the depths of depression into a new world. I use this book almost medicinally when I’m feeling really low.

 

9780099461814

 

How To Live Forever by Colin Thompson

As part of my job, I spend a lot of time with kids and books. This one has stuck with me for life and comes as both a picture book (with Colin’s detailed and otherworldly illustrations) and a children’s novel. Colin Thompson is my favorite children’s author / illustrator as he managed to weave these incredible worlds filled with magic, and humor; all while examining some really heavy questions around topics such as purpose, greed, and death and dying. But don’t let that put you off. This book is full of magical characters, homes that pop up in books, and helps children (and let’s be honest, adults) understand that good things need to come to an end for us to truly appreciate them.

 

x300

 

 

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I’m a huge Patti Smith fan, and this book sums up a such a specific and special relationship that young artists starting out have with each other. It reminds me in part of the girls and gays essay by Tayi Tibble, and describes this beautiful (in Patti’s case, mostly) platonic love and how that support and nourishing of each other creates such beautiful work because both parties feel so loved and supported. In typical Patti fashion, the book is littered with beat celebrities and includes her first encounters with Allen Ginsberg (who initially thought she was a handsome boy) and William Burroughs to name a few. The book has this rich sense of wonder at the size and magic of 1970s New York and feels full of hope.

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.43.26 AM

 

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

This book is described as an American post-modern post-apocalyptic novel; which I admit does not sound comforting from the get-go. Richard Brautigan is also described as being one of the grandfathers of alternative literature, and his influenced can be seen in many other writers including Shane Jones. In this book, he creates a commune in a village that has its own bizarre way of being where nearly everything is made from different colored watermelons, more specifically, the sugar that comes from them. The sky changes color each day of the week and the different colored watermelons must be harvested on the day that the sky matches them. One of the days is a ‘black soundless day’ which is when the black watermelons are harvested. This book is a sensory treat and can take you away from anything with the strength of its imagery and bizarre scenes that can feel almost animated or film like.

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.46.28 AM

 

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

Written by the first Native American poet Laurette of the United States, this book is filled with wisdom and hope in the face of so many impossible things. Joy’s voice has this incredible way of looking at difficult and awful situations through love and ancestral wisdom in order to survive and honor those who have brought her there. She talks in this book of ‘the knowing’ which is a powerful thing to bring into one’s life during times that comfort is needed. Anything by Joy is a real comfort book for me.

 

Kan_Under-Glass__69211.1551041390

 

Under Glass by Gregory Kan

I love poetry books that are bigger than just the individual poems. This book is a journey into a strange world with two suns (which light boxes has as well!) and gives us a winding path to follow through the new places we find ourselves in. There’s this subtle percolating, calm sort of insistence in this book. Willing you to read on. The pacing in this is beautiful and always leaves me feeling like if been on a journey and now am ready for a gentle sleep and wherever dreams may take me, I can handle it.

 

9781101965122

Ruby-Fruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

This was my big, queer, coming out read and what a way to start. The story follows Molly Bolt and her life, starting with her in primary school scheming with her best friend getting him to ‘show himself’ to girls for a price that they then split 50/50. Molly is a bulshy, queer little grifter who makes her way around America making friends, art, and discovering herself and the dangers that being yourself can have for someone like her. It’s light, beautiful, and hilarious.

 

Marsh_Mophead__57230.1564365823

 

Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh

My Mum bought me this book after we read it together in a bookstore and she cried saying “It’s so like you!”. I felt very embarrassed to be compared to Selina even by my Mum, but I’ve returned to this book again and again when I’ve had a rough day. Selina’s writing has a vivaciousness that’s infectious, it’s impossible not to feel powerful and special reading this book. It shows you that no matter where you are at in your journey, you’re exactly where you need to be.

 

large_9780140295610

Wāhine Toa by Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa

This book outlines the female whakapapa of ngā tangata Māori with the deepest words and illustrations. Pūrākau show us how to live our lives, and all of them are filled with multitudes of lessons where we take what we need at the time and leave the rest for others or for when we may need it in future. This is a book to be read again and again, and to discover something new every time.

 

(Paula: Thanks Ruby! This list was like a comfort blanket to me! I so loved being taken back to books that have meant a lot to me too.)

 

 

9780142181584

 

Simon Sweetman (music journalist, music blogger, short story writer and poet

Greil Marcus Mystery Train (1975)

I have a few non-fiction books I return to – some to just dip in and out of, others where you read it again from cover to cover – Mystery Train by Griel Marcus is both. I’ve read this book start to finish a half-dozen times but I’ve dipped in to it for just a few pages in one gulp on so many occasions. It’s a history of rock’n’roll through four essays – four artists mark the development of American music, are the signposts. The Band, Sly Stone, Randy Newman and Elvis Presley. But with Marcus it’s all about the links and distractions – the way he uses these artists to also tell the story of many other musical acts and cultural moments. The writing is brilliant – and the final chapter is the best writing on Elvis Presley that you’ll ever find. And by extension it’s some of the best writing about America. “Mystery Train” is that rare music book where you could read it without having too much interest in reading about music – it is worth it for the journey and the language and the command of writing. But it would be impossible to close the book not being curious about so much of the music discussed in its pages. One of my all-time favourite books and easily one of my favourite volumes of music journalism.

 

 

51Quf-LdBpL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Jeremy Taylor (Slow Boat Records, RNZ music reviewer)

If I were to name one book that I have genuinely loved, and that has stood up to continued re-readings, it would be Luke Haines’ Bad Vibes: Britpop, and my part in its downfall.

It is alternately hilariously funny, bleak, cruel, tender, and self-aware, and has the best anecdotes (returning home to his dingy flat in Camden to find Metallica sitting on his couch!). The history of Britpop as told by someone smart enough to realise it was all, actually, bullshit. Thoroughly recommended!

 

 

9780143790754

 

Ariana Tikao (Taonga puoro musician, singer & composer )

Death of a River Guide, by Richard Flanagan. Penguin Books, 1994.

I’ve just started reading this book again. It was a birthday gift from my then boyfriend, who wrote a beautiful mihi to me on the inside cover. We were about to go our separate ways while he went off on his OE, and I headed back to New Zealand after living together in Sydney for a year. It was February 1998, and we’d just finished the Overland Track, an epic seven day tramp through the mountainous heart of Tasmania, down to its lush West Coast. The book is set in Tasmania, and includes not only the drowning river guide Aljaz Cosini’s personal and family history, but touches upon the wider history of Tasmania. It starts with a description of his traumatic birth, which has certain similarities to his pending death. By the way, the boyfriend didn’t stay away on his OE all that long, and now we have two adult children. Our youngest is planning his own OE – once borders open again. Things tend to have a cyclic nature, and in the meantime I will enjoy ‘returning’ to Tasmania via this beautifully told story.

 

 

Thank you!

Long may we support and cherish NZ music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: 17 New Zealanders pick a book of comfort

 

 

This week I decided to invite a variety of New Zealanders to pick a book that has given comfort or solace during lockdown or at any point in their lives.

I do this but I feel like a butterfly adrift in my home – alighting here, stalling there, resting here. It is hard to settle. Writing gives me continued comfort, keeping both my blogs up, as does my stack of books. I have found Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 has given immense solace as I linger upon  poems, essays, reviews. The whole issue is a tonic, so much so I invited a handful of poets to read one of their poems for a virtual reading. I am also reading Richard Powers’s The Overstory – a mammoth book! – but I am reading it slower than a snail’s pace because I am so in love with the sentences. A single sentence fills me with joy. Then there is the thematic and crucial presence of trees. I can walk through this book like I am walking through the track on our land. Again it is just so restoring. I love what Bryan Crump says below about discovering his pick in a London bookshop and falling into the joy of the book in a cafe. You can just loose yourself in the bush tracks of your reading. Just what we need at the moment, like little cafe breaks.

Thank heavens for books. And thank you everyone who responded in these challenging times with a book and some thoughts, when all we might want is to drift like the clouds.

 

Tara Black (comic maker)

Poetry-shelf-book-recommendationsquare.png

 

 

9780995122949.jpg

 

Juliet Blyth (CEO ReadNZ)

My early reading in the lockdown was erratic, I found it hard to settle on one thing so to get me started I read Damien Wilkin’s new novel for young adults Aspiring (Massey University Press). Damien has so much empathy for his male characters and I thought this book portrayed with heart and humour the inner workings of the male teenage brain. That led me to reread his novel from 2016 Dad Art. Again the male characters are sensitively told and this book is both laugh out loud funny and really sad! Damien writes so tenderly about the relationship between his main character and his elderly father. Finally I liked Lloyd Jones comment in a previous post of yours about reading not for comfort but preferring something that rattles his cage. For me this book has been Halibut on the Moon by David Vann. This is a powerful and moving book but proceed with caution – this is a book about suicide and may be challenging for some readers. Despite the subject matter the author makes room for some dark humour and the utterly frank conversations between the main character and his parents were artful, making for some very uncomfortable but necessary reading.

 

 

9780143771456.jpg

 

Paula Browning (CE of Copyright Licensing NZ & Chair of WeCreate)

Gabriel’s Bay, by Catherine Robertson (Penguin)

Our family of 4 came to New Zealand in the early 70’s and left the rest of the relatives back in the UK. This meant that holidays, particularly the long summer break, didn’t have to be spent staying with family, we could go anywhere we wanted, and we did. We spent those wonderful, carefree, childhood summers in small-town New Zealand – just like the setting for Gabriel’s Bay. Even though (according to the author) it’s a fictional town, there are hundreds like it all over the country and as you’re reading images of various places around the country will come to mind. The same is true of the characters. There’s a familiarity (stereotype is too harsh a word) with Mac, the GP’s militant receptionist who’s got a heart of gold she’s careful not to let too many people see. There’s Sidney, parenting alone (and doing a damn fine job) but beating herself up about what her boys might be missing out on. There’s lots of NZ-ism’s and glorious descriptive writing that takes you to another place – which is exactly what we need at the moment – to travel without traveling. Gabriel’s Bay will take you there and, when you’re ready to go back for more, What You Wish For (the second Gabriel’s Bay) is just the thing.

 

 

41Ibe3LxkYL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

Bryan Crump (Presenter Nights RNZ)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

I was living in London at the time (1994) and was in singing with the London Philharmonia Chorus. We’d been performing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony”; a setting of some of Whitman’s poems. The music drew me in first, but one day, with nothing to read, I wandered into a second-hand shop on Charing Cross Road and came across an 1897 edition of Leaves.

I wandered off to the Leicester Square McDonalds, or some cheap pizza joint. I can’t recall exactly now. I do remember sitting there, devouring the poetry; turning page after page, like no poetry I’d experience before. I heard this voice sing out like a secular preacher, celebrating the spiritual in everything “for every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you”.

Clumsy? Yes! Repetitive? Again and again! Cheer leader for the rapacious American dream? Yes. But that idea, linking the quantum to the cosmic, nothing else in poetry has moved me like Walt did then.

 

 

thecolourofmagic-paperback.jpg

 

Lynn Freeman  (Presenter Standing Room Only RNZ)

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

 

I once met British Fantasy writer of Discworld fame in person, clutching a stack of his books for signing.

“Thanks for Discworld,” I whispered. Remember, I interview famous people for a living.
“Thanks for the money,” he quipped. I mentioned this exchange to him the first time of several times I interviewed him for RNZ.

Terry and his occasional co-writer unleashed dozens of titles in this world. I’ve read most of them, but not in order. So during the lockdown, I’m starting with the Colour of Magic and laughing my way through his satirical fantasy series from start to finish.

 

 

Karyn Hay (author and broadcaster)

I have to confess I never read for solace or comfort unless it’s some sort of spur of the moment self-help book that I’ve picked up in an airport and generally regret spending money on before the plane’s even taken off. Twenty chapters telling me something I already know and didn’t need to part with $39.95 to confirm. It depends on the nature of one’s distress of course. Poetry is always good for heartache, and I quite like quotations centred on the topic of one’s despair but, as these can both be googled, I don’t really need the hard copy.

If I was reading for a child I would look for something to take their mind off things, but then you always tend to do that with children, virus or not. (Mostly you’re just trying to take their mind off the fact that you’re about to turn the light off at any second.)

My advice when needing solace or comfort is to write something yourself. This is the greatest consolation of all.

 

 

9781869797263.jpg

 

John Gow (Gow Langsford Gallery)

I just finished reading Witi Ihimaera’s Māori Boy – a memoir of childhood. Published by Random House in 2014, it is a book which I have been meaning to get to for quite some time.
In this strange isolation environment it was great to read a book so New Zealand focused, remind one of the treasures hidden in our country such as the amazing meeting house ‘Rongopai’ which is the Ihimaera house at Waituhi, Poverty Bay. I very much enjoyed feeling the Māori names of people and place rolling off the tongue and being mentally located in and around Gisbourne in the 1950’s 60’s. One is reminded that there is so much history to read about, Te Kooti, Rua Kēeana, Sir Āpirana Ngata, and the like and Witi, gives a great personal take on on Māori mythology and the importance of Whakapapa within Māoridom. He also reminds us of the many injustices, the racial prejudices and the hard road Māori have had since colonisation. All done in a way which is not confrontational, not offensive, but very much a reminder of our (the colonisers) less than auspicious roots in New Zealand Aotearoa.
Thoroughly enjoyed the read and now want to buzz off to the Gisborne regions and explore the landscape which was so beautifully laid out before me in this very personal biography.

 

 

The_Absolute_Book__70471.1558649566.jpg

 

Claire Mabey (Director of Verb Wellington)

I have been re-reading The Absolute Book (Victoria University Press) by Elizabeth Knox lately. I felt a real urge to be back inside that world and I have loved every page of it. I think even more than the first time I read it because this time around I feel like I have more space to think about all of the aspects and layers of the characters, places and the happenings. While the book takes you off into other planes of existence, it also feels so real. I think that’s because Elizabeth has poured so much passion into the keystones of this story: Libraries, family, the environment, and our ability to figure all of the mysteries out and improve on ourselves.

 

 

IMG_0049.jpeg

 

Judy Millar (artist)

Be My Guest – Priya Basil

“The dinner table, among friends, is where the best conversations take place.” These are the opening lines on the inside jacket of a small book sent to me earlier this year by author Priya Basil.

And of course, it is true that conversations fuelled by the simple act of sharing a meal are always memorable, special. But here we are part of a global lockdown, separated one from another.

So reading Priya’s small book has taken on special meaning as she explores food, race and family – asking what the simple act of hospitality means for our culture focused on selfishness and greed.

A timely read for sure. And an engrossing one by an author who was born in London to Indian parents, grew up in Kenya and now lives in Berlin. Her book takes you on a hurtling ride across cultures – spices, hard to pronounce ingredients, familial love, loss and the strangeness of living in communities other than your own. A small book filled with generosity.

 

 

9781448114337.jpg

 

Jesse Mulligan (Host Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan RNZ, host of The Project, restaurant critic)

My favourite book is not even my book. It’s social suicide to admit this on a literary website but somebody gave it to me (Tim Wilson gave it to me) and I didn’t give it back. Not for the usual reasons – laziness or forgetfulness – but because I love the book so much I have convinced myself it’s mine.

The book is Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan – a collection of essays (my top ten books are all collections of essays) each of which is both factually dense and personal, vulnerable. After each piece you think “wow, how lucky was he, a writer, to be that closely associated with this remarkable thing/person/event” but of course that’s the trick of a great writer – she makes the commonplace urgent and the invisible luminescent. There’s a little celebrity in here too, as you’d expect from a guy who made his living writing essays for GQ, but even familiar, famous names are written about based on what’s interesting about them, not on what we already know. One profile begins “How do you talk about Michael Jackson except that you mention Prince Screws?” then gives you a brief history of the singer’s great great grandfather before concluding the opening section of the essay with this beautiful line: “so the ridiculous moniker given by a white man to his black slave, the way you might name a dog, was bestowed by a black king on his pale-skinned sons and heirs”. This sort of line is everywhere in the book and many nights, when I want something to read but don’t want to commit, I’ll pick up Pulphead and open it almost at random to remind myself how good writing can get and, more depressingly, how far I still have to go.

 

 

9781626723634.jpg

 

Sam Orchard (Queer and Trans Illustrator, Comic Creator and Designer)

A beautifully drawn graphic novel about a young dressmaker and her prince employer. It’s a refreshing story that takes the best elements of fairy tale storytelling (centering beauty and human kindness), and the best elements of queer storytelling (valuing ambiguity, fluidity, and queer relationships) and weaves them seamlessly together. It’s beautiful visually and emotionally.

 

 

9780385480017.jpg

 

Nadia Reid (musician, songwriter)

My recommendation would be a non-fiction book called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Something about her writing just gets me right where I need it. This book is a book about writing ultimately and also about Life. I found it quite relevant to songwriting too. She talks about ‘getting your butt in the chair’ and just turning up. My favourite quote from the book:

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.

O and this quote! This is actually my favourite:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

 

 

41OYjTKJ8eL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

Victor Rodger (journalist, actor, playwright)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road may seem like a strange choice.

It’s a pitch-black post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare which follows an unnamed father trying against seemingly insurmountable odds to get his young son to something resembling safety.

But for all the unspeakable horrors that father and son must endure throughout The Road – and there are many –  the father never gives up on his quest.  As per Churchill’s edict, even though he knows he’s going through hell, he keeps on going, fuelled by the love he has for his son.

As bleak as much of The Road is, I ultimately find this to be one of the most moving books I have ever read.

 

51zoSEFir8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

David Slack (Auckland writer, columnist at large)

Postcards by Annie Proulx

I find comfort and solace in a book about a man whose life dwindles away to nothing. Postcards was Annie Proulx’s first novel. I love them all but this one is special to me. I’ve read and reread it more than any other book I can think of. Why would I take comfort from a book about a man who makes a mistake and in living with it leaves his home and family behind, makes his way across America, now and then gains some purchase but always eventually is moving again and just when he’s down to almost nothing people back their truck up to the trailer that contain what’s left of his worldly life and tow it away?

I don’t read it to punish myself. I do it to delight in her writing. She can draw the arc of a life in a single paragraph, sometimes even a single sentence. She will find the interior life of a character in a name and a few words and you will sense their foibles, their sound, the tilt of their head, the smell of their clothes. So much vividily familiar humanity: the failings; the inconsistencies; the recognisable in life that is not so often set out in a sentence.

There’s a vividness and power to episodes she will set up, a kind of set piece that comes upon you unheralded; his mother in a car on a hill getting into trouble that escalates in the most astonishing and dismaying way. And even at this astonishing pace you find yourself resigned to the truth of it, the inevitability of misfortune in life in the smallest and largest ways.

The dwindling away is a metaphor for Vermont, his home state – her home state too – a commentary on the dwindling of American life. I know this because I asked her the stupidest of questions at a writers session in Auckland. Did it have to be that way, could she see another fate for him? No, she said, this was tracing the fate of the state. I said it was just so sad to see it happen. She smiled kindly.

 

 

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 1.09.26 PM.png

 

Nicola Strawbridge (Programme Manager AWF)

I’ve found consolation in the trees in my neighbourhood since Level 4 kicked in, looking forward to passing certain trees on my daily walks, lingering in the shade of a copse of Puriri and Pohutukawa in my local park. And by extension, writing that explores the natural world has provided much needed ballast in these uncertain times. Emergence magazine and their February ‘Trees’ issue has been one of my lockdown discoveries. There I found British writer David George Haskell’s Eleven Ways of Smelling a Tree – both in written form and as a podcast complete with short original violin compositions. The magazine also introduced me to American poets Wendell Berry and WS Merwin and has whet my appetite for work by our nature writers. I’m on the lookout!

 

 

 

9780995122956.jpg

 

Jennifer Ward-Lealand (actor and director )

One Minute Crying Time by Barabra Ewing (actress, novelist and playwright)

(Massey University Press)

I’ve been a fan of Barbara’s writing for a long time – The Actresses being my favourite. Her new book is a vivid memoir of growing up in late 50s early 60s Wellington. What touched me so profoundly was her discovering a window into te ao Māori through her studying of te reo Māori – something I have experienced too. She worked alongside people at the Māori Affairs Dept that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been taught by – and of course through all of this was pursuing her love for the theatre, again a great love of mine. There were so many “YES!” moments for me as I read this book – and that has been comforting when a lot of doors have been closing for those of us working in the arts.

 

9781784708245.jpg

 

Catherine Woulfe (Books Editor, The Spinoff)

When I’m scared or sad or shocked I like to read about plants. I read Richard Powers’ The Overstory late last year and it is an enduring comfort. It is a book about trees, and it works like a centrifuge, spinning your perspective out by a few millennia, until everything happening now seems somehow fine and minor. This too shall pass; life will find a way, etc. It also made me get back into the vege garden properly. (Bokashi is the way, the truth and the light.)

Xanthe White’s The Natural Garden (Random House) is another backstop. Beautiful photographs and very doable NZ gardens, even on horrible old clay. As a kid I used to spend hours pottering through Mum’s gardening books and watching Maggie’s Garden Show with her, so it’s very much a nostalgia thing.

Last weekend I read Wendyl Nissen’s upcoming A Natural Year: Living Simply Through the Seasons (Allen & Unwin) and I swear I could breathe more deeply after about 10 pages.

 

 

 

kia kaha

keep well

keep imagining