Blog Archives

The games we play, Owen Mann

Sport and the New Zealanders: A History
Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson
Auckland University Press, $65.00,
ISBN 9781869408831

On Christmas Day last year, many people around the country would have ripped open a well-wrapped gift to discover a sportsperson’s biography in their hands. A popular genre in New Zealand for many decades, these publications often span the brief career of the sportsperson and the figures who have influenced their lives. This Christmas it was NBA basketball star Steven Adams and league veteran Simon Mannering that were amongst the bestsellers. These books can, at times, be interesting and perceptive, but rarely explore beyond the biographical. If they do delve into the nature of sport and why it plays such an important part in New Zealand’s culture, then it is only for the particular sport the individual has excelled at, rather than sporting activities more generally, or how sport ties into the fabric of our society and culture.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology, Sport

Private life and public record, Kate Hannah

The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell
Diana Brown
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781988531304

Perhaps some are surprised that a scientist whose impact on New Zealand’s health, particularly the health of women and children, could have been, up until now, overlooked – but even this well-written, timely biography reveals much about how women’s lives and careers in the past are hidden from view.

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Posted in Biography, Health, Non-fiction, Review

In the service of one’s country, Mary Varnham

Le Quesnoy 1918: New Zealand’s Last Battle
Christopher Pugsley
Oratia, $45.00,
ISBN 9780947506490

My father served on the Western Front, having signed up at the age of 17 or thereabouts. He came from a lonely farm in the Akatarawa Valley, so joining a bunch of other young men and sailing to the other side of the world must have seemed alluring and exciting. The use of the word “serve” is interesting, though. I’m sure he had no intention to serve anyone or anything other than himself. It was a great escape. Few of the estimated 74,000 New Zealanders who, like my father, found themselves stumbling through oozing mud, running across open ground under fire, or clambering for miles through torturous forest undergrowth, would have seen this as something they had wanted or expected to do.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, War

The good, the bad and the ugly, John O’Leary

Scoundrels and Eccentrics of the Pacific
John Dunmore
Upstart Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988516219

William Deans: The Passionate Pioneer
Louise Deans
Wily Publications, $35.00,
ISBN: 9781927167342

Just as Australia’s Outback has its “characters” (according to popular legend, at least), so that other vast open space near us in New Zealand, the Pacific, has or had its eccentrics – people who, for a variety of reasons, found their own settled societies too small, too tight, or too law-abiding, and who preferred the watery immensity of the planet’s largest ocean, dotted with its constellations of islands, as the stage set for their lives.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

Teenage territories, Barbara Else

Make a Hard Fist
Tina Shaw
One Tree House, $20.00,
ISBN 9780473421878

Ocean’s Kiss
Lani Wendt Young
One Tree House, $29.00,
ISBN 9780995106741

Legacy
Whiti Hereaka
Huia, $25.00,
ISBN 9781775503347

To state the obvious, one problem with writing young adult fiction, unless the author is a teenager, is that one no longer belongs to the demographic. The first YA novel, The Outsiders, was written by S E Hinton when she was only 16, observer and participant. It feels timeless, undated, as fresh and authentic now as when first published in 1967. It still illuminates the way teenagers must find their own way to adulthood across territory that is a combination of the world around them and their own explosive emotions.

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Posted in Literature, Review, Young adults

Boys’ own journey, Chris Szekely

The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty
Rhys Darby
Scholastic, $18.00,
ISBN 9781775434979

Between
Adele Broadbent
One Tree House, $20.00,
ISBN 9780995106420

Slice of Heaven
Des O’Leary
Mākaro Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780995109247

I reckon I had the best summer break in ages: lots of sunny days, lots of sleep-ins, and a trio of junior-fiction books to read for pure pleasure. At the beach, on the couch, under a shady tree, it felt like the school holidays for a grown-up.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

Believing not belonging, Mike Grimshaw

New World, New God: Rethinking Christianity for a Secular Age
Ian Harris
Mākaro Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780994137869

In 1967, Lloyd Geering, Principal of Knox Theological Hall and Old Testament lecturer, was tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand – and liberal, mainstream Christianity was never the same. Geering’s heresy was, in the language of the church, actually two different charges of doctrinal error, from two opponents (who did not agree on much). Geering was at this time, as he has told me, actually just “an old-fashioned liberal”, but one with a broad interest across many issues of science, religion, humanism and biblical studies.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review

Prior tense, Paul Morris

Arthur Prior: A “Young Progressive”: Letters to Ursula Bethell and to Hugh Teague 1936-1941
Mike Grimshaw (ed)
Canterbury University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927145593

A N Prior graduated from Otago University in philosophy and taught there and at the universities of Canterbury (1946-58), Manchester (1959-66) and Oxford (1966-69). At Canterbury, he developed a new form of logic, “tense logic” (1949-1954). Standard logic was atemporal, having no place for timed inferences.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review

Melody slithering through the misery, Martin Lodge

Good-bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand’s Great War
Chris Bourke
Auckland University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 978869408718

For both civilians and the soldiers alike on active service during WWI, music proved a significant and enduring element of New Zealand’s war effort and war experience. This was recognised at the time: a contributor to the onboard magazine of the Opawa, a ship carrying troops to Europe, wrote in 1917 that “A ship without a musical programme is like a dog without a tail.”

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Posted in Māori, Music, Non-fiction, Review

The light, fantastic toe, Jennifer Shennan

Limbs Dance Company – Dance for All People, 1977–1989 
Marianne Schultz
Marianne Schultz in conjunction with DANZ, $40.00
ISBN 9780473407698

This book about Limbs, New Zealand’s brightest modern dance troupe, in its heyday in 1980s Auckland, is dedicated “for Sue Paterson, a dear and true friend”. Sue was the long-term General Manager of the company. How poignant, then, to be reviewing this book in the same week that we have farewelled the lifelong visionary arts administrator, who died after a prolonged illness that devastated her body, but never extinguished her spirit. Quite like Limbs really. Schultz has told the company’s story well, setting it in the context of its times. History will thank her for that and we should, too.

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Posted in Art, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review
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