We hear about the problems of empty nesters, but seldom the difficulties of the bibliophile facing the downsizing of their book collections and the heartache that can ensue. Jane Westaway’s “Cohabiting Libraries” (NZRB Winter 2019) is an apt, amusing and empathetic exploration of this other experience of loss.
She perfectly outlines the imperatives and multiple difficulties of decision-making. What books do we keep and which do we jettison? How do we make these decisions and why? It is not just the content of the books we have to judge, but what the book represents in terms of memories and significance. Our libraries offer a personal and idiosyncratic journey through our lives.
My own reasons for retention – leaving aside content – are diverse: they include keeping an obese, battered, complete Shakespeare (awarded in 1901 by Rutland School for Ladies to my grandmother Olive Eyre-Coote) to Three Kittens In A Boat by Geraldine Robinson, my all-time favourite book, and one I learned to read from, to the books I may not even have liked, or perhaps even read, but which demand keeping because they were given to me by a person significant in my recollection; some even have a handwritten note on the flyleaf that is still as romantic and touching as it was 50 years ago. For migrant bibliophiles, like me, there is the added incentive to hang onto anything that came from “the other place”.
I was sad to read of Ray’s death and his obituary in New Zealand Review of Books Pukapuka Aotearoa (Winter 2019). My earliest memory of him dates from 1965 when he lectured at the New Zealand Library School. We students much admired his trendy paisley shirts and were sympathetic about his stammer. Two years later, I read and enjoyed his novel, Another Man’s Role. In the 1970s, I encountered Ray working at the Alexander Turnbull Library and in the 1980s we were both on the PEN (NZ) Council. Ray was always friendly and we sometimes compared notes about writing and its pitfalls. In 1994, Ray and I co-judged the non-fiction section of the New Zealand Book Awards and, although we had heated arguments about the various merits of the entries, we managed to work out a compromise and remain good friends.
In 2008, I was commissioned to write the centennial history of the New Zealand Library Association (now LIANZA), published under the title A Century Of Library Life In Aotearoa, Te Rau Herenga 1910-2010. It includes notes from my interview with Ray about his views on the formation of the National Library of New Zealand and its contentious consequences for the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Writing these brief notes has made me realise that, as well as his literary work, Ray Grover worked hard and made a great contribution to many aspects of New Zealand cultural life.
Interesting to read David Hill’s riff on young adult fiction, “Why Y” (NZRB Winter 2019), and why YA “is an elusive genre to define”.
I’m constantly surprised that YA should be a poor cousin to literary fiction and other “adult” genres. I remind myself of YA classics that have stood the test of time: The Catcher In The Rye, The Outsiders, The Pigman, Under The Mountain, Holes, Lord Of The Flies, The Hobbit … I suspect the issue is not so much whether YA has value as a genre, but whether the media and the reading public are willing to consider it so.
The other point I’d like to make is that as much effort goes into the writing and editing of a YA novel as does a literary novel. I’ve produced both, and have found that to be true.
I thought I’d share my thoughts about New Zealand Review Of Books Pukapuka Aotearoa … . I picked up the Summer and Autumn editions for 2018 at the Auckland Writers Festival, and have been browsing them on and off ever since I got home. It’s an impressive journal, entirely about Kiwi books….
This journal does exactly what it ought to do. It provides a guide for readers of Kiwi books. And it certainly made me want to buy quite a few books!