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Biting wit, with an undertow of melancholy, Jim Mora

Drawn Out: A Seriously Funny Memoir
Tom Scott
Allen and Unwin, $45.00,
ISBN 9781877505911

 

We all store trivial moments that hang around in the hippocampus for some sort of reason. I remember the late Kenny Everett on Capitol Radio in London back-announcing the song “Suspicious Minds” once. “I could have been Elvis”, he mused, “if only I’d had the talent, the looks and the voice.” Many of us who observe politics professionally to any extent have this sort of feeling when we compare our contributions with Tom Scott’s.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

At a crossroads, Max Harris

Unquiet Time: Aotearoa/New Zealand in a Fast-changing World Colin James Fraser Books, $39.50, ISBN 9780994136015 Last year, Colin James published his final weekly column with the Otago Daily Times, after over 50 years of work as a journalist. In a

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

The dangers of absolutism, John Larkindale

Balancing Acts: Reflections of a New Zealand Diplomat
Gerald McGhie
Dunmore, $35.00
ISBN 978927212318

Friends and relations often suggest to diplomats following their retirement that they should write a book about their experiences. Not so, in my view; the world has little to gain from the reminiscences of run-of-the-mill former officials, no matter how personally interesting, quirky or even challenging their lives may have been. There are, of course, exceptions, especially in cases where the author was substantively involved in critical diplomatic events of the day. Into this category, I place memoirs such as Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation, Anatoly Dobrynin’s In Confidence and, in a New Zealand context, Gerald Hensley’s Final Approaches.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Posthumous vindication, David V Williams

After the Treaty: The Settler State, Race Relations and Power in Colonial New Zealand
Brad Patterson, Richard S Hill and Kathryn Patterson (eds)
Steele Roberts, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947493158

 

There was a time in New Zealand when university historians took umbrage if an historian employed in a government department ventured into territory that some academics felt was, or should be, their sole preserve. The panning by academics in 1968 of The Shadow of the Land, written by Ian Wards of the war history branch in the Department of Internal Affairs, was a striking example. Reflections on this study of British policy and racial conflict in New Zealand from 1832 to 1852 are central to this commemorative volume of essays exploring themes related to Wards’s interests in political, social, legal and military affairs in colonial New Zealand. An impressive gallery of historians, drawn from all sectors of the history profession, have contributed to the volume some fascinating chapters on a range of topics.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Colliding pasts, Lydia Wevers

Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds
Anne Salmond
Auckland University Press, $65.00,
ISBN 9781869408657

 

The cover blurb suggests Tears of Rangi is Anne Salmond’s “most ambitious book to date”, and in many respects this is the case, since in it Salmond tackles vast epistemological and ontological questions to do with the nature of reality and knowledge. Part of the sequence of books beginning with Two Worlds in 1991, Tears of Rangi is a hefty tome (509 pages), but, like her previous books, it is compellingly readable. Salmond has the gift of narrative, and it probably helps that she is also a superb orator. She has given a number of presentations on the material covered in this book and draws large and appreciative audiences.

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Posted in History, Māori and Non-fiction

Grudging nationalist, Mark Williams

Charles Brasch: Journals 1945-1957
Peter Simpson (ed)
Otago University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927322284

I approached this book rather in the spirit of someone visiting a civic monument to a figure august and admired, but obscurely known. In the late 1980s, as one of the many editors of Landfall in that period, I spent time in the Caxton Press checking proofs, following a tradition of care established by Charles Brasch 40 years earlier. But the strong ghosts I recall in a building filled with reminders of eminence were those of Janet Frame, whose visits and material remnants still held occult power, and Robin Dudding, veiled in a scandalous story that I gathered had more than one way of telling. Brasch’s presence was fainter somehow, less detectable in the busy workings of the printing house that had hosted him and sacked his heir, Dudding.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Consecrating Curnow, Simon During

Allen Curnow: Simply by Sailing in a New Direction
Terry Sturm (Linda Cassells (ed))
Auckland University Press, $70.00,
ISBN 9781869408527,

Allen Curnow’s first book, Valley of Decision, appeared as a “Phoenix Miscellany” under the Auckland University College Students’ Association Press imprint when he was very young, just 22. But Curnow’s abiding concerns were already in place.

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Posted in Biography, Literature, Non-fiction and Review

A story of story-telling, Miriam Meyerhoff

Michael C Corballis
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781869408633

Many people have remarked that, more than language itself, how we use language is what sets humans apart from other animals. Whales, elephants, birds, other apes, seem to be able to communicate a few things to each other, and we’re starting to find out that some animals can even tailor their communication to specific addressees (“I want food/sex from you; not you”). But we still have no evidence that any other animals tell stories. 

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Posted in Language, Non-fiction and Review

Championing indigenous art histories, Stella Ramage

Colonial Gothic to Māori Renaissance: Essays in Memory of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki
Conal McCarthy and Mark Stocker (eds)
Victoria University Press, $80.00,
ISBN 9781776561094

The Gedenkschrift – essays by colleagues collected in posthumous commemoration of an esteemed academic – is an uncommon genre in Aotearoa New Zealand. Partly, this is due to its logistical demands: contributors must produce new work that chimes with the honouree’s research interests within a Goldilocks time-frame, when loss is fresh but not too raw. Museologist Conal McCarthy and curator Mark Stocker, with the help of a small army, have achieved this feat, launching a substantial book within three years of the death of renowned art historian, curator and public speaker, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki.

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Posted in Art, History, Māori, Non-fiction and Review

“An area of increasing need”, Sylvan Thomson

Representing Trans: Linguistic, Legal and Everyday Perspectives 
Evan Hazenberg and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561759

 

The day before this review was due, my mother messaged me to say that she had heard an interview on RNZ featuring my former endocrinologist, Dr John Delahunt. Curious, I looked the segment up, and discovered that it was prompted by an article published the same day in the New Zealand Medical Journal. The article, snappily titled “Increasing rates of people identifying as transgender presenting to Endocrine Services in the Wellington region”, describes a marked jump in those seeking referrals for therapy related to gender-reassignment, and a particularly steep increase in referrals for those under the age of 30. The study claims that the climb in numbers is “likely to be related to the increasing societal awareness and acceptance of gender diversity”, and Dr Delahunt, one of the study’s authors, concluded that the article was largely directed at health professionals, intended to “highlight an area of increasing need”.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sociology
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