New Zealand Books reviewers choose which book they’d most like to see in their Christmas stocking and why.
Owen Marshall: The Journals of John Cheever, unfortunately out of print; a wonderfully candid and elegant insight into the life of a gifted and troubled writer.
Brian Turner: An anthology containing the best work of Edward Hoagland, Aldo Leopold, Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, William Kittredge, Wendell Berry, Gretel Ehrlich, Peter Matthiessen, Jim Harrison, Jack Turner, Michael Pollan … for their profound and often moving understanding of the role and place of human beings in relation to other life-forms on this planet.
Linda Burgess: Shirley Hughes’s illustrated autobiography; she’s the most wonderful writer and illustrator of children’s books, and her autobiography has been out for several years but not in paperback.
Peter Wells: The biography of Denton Welch, an esoteric, perhaps rather precious, British author who enjoyed brief fame in the 1940s; his novels moulder away in second-hand bookshops, but the library no longer has his biography, such is the parlous state of contemporary library practices.
Rosemary McLeod: The Penguin/Allen Lane translations of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; I’ve decided this is all the fiction I ever need to read – and re-read – and I want to see how it compares with the Scott Moncrieff translation.
Gregory O’Brien: Other Planets, the definitive biography and study of the work of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen by Robin Maconie, the Stockhausen world expert who lives in Dannevirke; this has to be a victory for small-town New Zealand over the cosmopolitan centres of the world.
Gordon McLauchlan: Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare by Brenda James and William Rubenstein, who have apparently produced the most credible alternative Shakespeare yet but will have to overcome my conviction that the search for one is inspired by English class snobbery – they can’t stand it that the greatest writer in the language came from a country town, and was young and relatively uneducated, with no blue blood at all.
Martin Edmond: The book of which it is written: Er lässt sich nicht lesen … to restore my faith in the infinite.
Sue McCauley: Wild Daisies: The Best of Bub Bridger, because there’s this hole in the heart of my bookcase that only Bub can fill.
Tony Simpson: Painter Barbara Strathdee’s first novel Café Wars, which deals with the bewildered response of a New Zealander in Trieste to the complexities associated with the break-up of former Yugoslavia in the early 90s, thereby reminding us of the complexities of our own bi-cultural circumstances.
Linley Boniface: A subscription to Hello! magazine, but if it has to be a book, Ngareta Gabel’s glorious Oh Hogwash, Sweet Pea!; the amusing text and funky illustrations make bedtime story sessions almost tolerable.
Anna Rogers: George Eliot’s Middlemarch, because I never tire of it, because it is rich and wise and funny and understanding of human foibles and frailties, and because the covers are falling off my 30-year-old Penguin edition.
Bernadette Hall: Douglas Wright’s autobiography Ghost Dance, poetry in motion being not only dance but the heart and soul of the dancer; it’s the kind of poetry I adore: passionate, generous, dangerous, full of desire and wisdom, leaving me hungry for more words from him.
David Hill: Blindsight by Maurice Gee; after all, no other fiction writer does untrendy, unprepossessing, un-judging, undeniably authentic New Zealand life as well as he does.
Anna Jackson: the sequel to Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter, not just because of Dreamhunter’s ending, which isn’t as cliff-hanging as I thought it might be (though I’m endlessly curious about the lives of Laura, Rose, Sandy and Mamie), but more because I want to re-enter that world and Knox’s way of writing and thinking about it.
Brigid Lowry: The Lonely Planet Guide to the Menopause.
C K Stead: Lawrence Durrell’s masterpiece the Alexandria Quartet, since I am 1160 pages into the 1300-plus of his Avignon quintet; Durrell is an uneven writer, and alcohol had done its worst by the time he was writing the Avignon novels, but he has great fictional intelligence; I recently visited Sommieres, where Durrell lived for many years, and where he is remembered fondly and publicly commemorated.
Elspeth Sandys: All the volumes of Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, because even though I still may never read it (I’ve read Book One), I can at least tell myself I will, one day, when life slows down.
Garth Baker: All Black and Blue: a collection of rugby players’ favourite BBQ recipes that would mutate into a thriller when the hero’s flippant remarks on the food poisoning of the All Blacks at the ‘95 World Cup unleash the dark, greasy forces controlling fast food sold at games; the mysteries are not resolved until the climactic car chase to the first Super 14 final (won by the Hurricanes), during which the hero riffs on the deadly nature of sports, food, humour and life.
Christine Johnston: I’m experiencing a season of funerals, so I’d like Laughing in London by Anita Brookner, an uplifting and at times hilarious tale of happy and fulfilled people enjoying life in the big city.
Eirlys Hunter: Whim Wham’s New Zealand: The Best of Whim Wham 1937-1988 edited by Terry Sturm; Curnow’s satires on current events are a wonderful peephole into our recent past: intelligent, funny – perfect post-pudding poetry.
Philip Temple: Maurice Gee’s Blindsight, because I know I will be guaranteed satisfaction and pleasure with both content and form; Gee is – bar none – the best New Zealand fiction writer of the last 50 years.
Renée: Thomas Lynch’s Booked Passage – his wonderful stories about death and other mysteries would be just right to read over Christmas.