Blog Archives

Brave writing, Charlotte Simmonds

The Walking Stick Tree
Trish Harris
Escalator Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994118646

A Small Blue Thing
Julie Hanify
Submarine, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994123770

The Case of the Missing Body
Jenny Powell
Otago University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781877578311

What Does the Sea Sound Like?
Evie Mahoney
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473367718

My friend Uther once called a play A Show About Superheroes, partly as a ploy to get non-theatre people into theatres, under the logic that there are people who will go to anything if it is about superheroes. Similarly, there are people who will read any book on certain topics.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

A place on my bookshelf, Helen Anderson

Disobedient Teaching: Surviving and Creating Change in Education
Welby Ings
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927322666

One of the marvellous inventions found in my favourite libraries is the software that locates the book you are looking for and shows you the other books sitting on either side on the shelf. The notion of every book having its companions is a compelling one for the reader who enjoys building a “string” of connected and related books. Welby Ings’s Disobedient Teaching certainly caught my attention with its provocative title, and I was promptly on a hunt for books that were in its lineage.

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Posted in Education, Non-fiction and Review

Revisiting the 1930s, Tony Simpson

The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand 1928–1939
Malcolm McKinnon
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322260

In 1968, I left my home town of Christchurch and came to Wellington to work as a producer in radio in what was then the NZBC. I mostly spent the next three years writing and producing talks and historical radio documentaries. One thing that struck me as curious in retrospect was that, although I had spent six years at Canterbury University studying history (among other things), no-one had ever mentioned the 1930s Depression or WWII. It was only when I began talking to older New Zealanders that these two sets of events came into focus as the principal markers by which they measured the significance of their own lives. I therefore began collecting both written and oral recollections of the 1930s (mostly the latter); in 1974, these were published as The Sugarbag Years. I then waited for someone to follow my lead and publish a narrative history of the same events which placed the lives I had recorded in their economic and political context, but no-one did and so I did it myself, as The Slump in 1990. This second book made little impact, the world moved on, and those with personal experience of the 1930s have now almost all passed away.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Turning a blind eye, Rae Varcoe

Doctors in Denial: The Forgotten Women in the “Unfortunate Experiment”
Ronald W Jones
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522438

My first acquaintance with National Women’s Hospital was as a final-year medical student in 1968. It was an unpleasant experience of an utterly alien culture, disturbingly hostile to women in general, with women medical students being no exception. Just how indifferent the hospital medical profession was to the wellbeing of those in its care did not become publicly apparent until the publication of Sandra Coney’s and Phillida Bunkle’s Metro piece “Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s” in 1987, which led to the Cartwright enquiry the following year.

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Posted in Health, Non-fiction and Review

Poetic truths, Helen Heath

In a Slant Light: A Poet’s Memoir Cilla McQueen Otago University Press, $35.00, ISBN 9781877578717 When I read Elizabeth Knox’s personal essays The Love School, in 2008, I finally realised that a writer’s past is whatever they say it is.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Gold-panning history, Paul Moon

Rushing for Gold: Life and Commerce on the Goldfields of New Zealand and Australia Lloyd Carpenter and Lyndon Fraser (eds) Otago University Press, $45.00 ISBN 9781877578540 Since 1887, when Vincent Pyke’s History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago was

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Behind bars, Roger Robinson

The Prison Diary of A C Barrington: Dissent and Conformity in Wartime New Zealand John Pratt (with an introduction by John Barrington) Otago University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781927322314 When did you last think about being in prison? Not the theory

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and War

Tales from the colonial crypt, Jock Phillips

Unearthly Landscapes: New Zealand’s Early Cemeteries, Churchyards and Urupa¯ 
Stephen Deed
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322185

A confession: I am a cemetery buff. On arriving at any New Zealand settlement, it is not long before I find the local burial ground and spend an hour or so walking slowly along the lines of headstones perusing and reading every one. This is not some ghoulish addiction. It is because there is no quicker or more intense way to encounter our history. You learn intriguing personal stories, you confront tragic drownings or the loss of infants in epidemics. Unusual family relationships are suggested which leave you yearning to know more; and you wonder at the moral values inscribed in stone in tributes to leading citizens. The design of headstones offers insights into architectural history and bears a fascinating relationship to domestic styles. Cemeteries are beautiful, peculiarly peaceful places.

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Posted in History and Non-fiction

Tipping points, Sylvan Thomson

First Lady – From Boyhood to Womanhood: The Incredible Story of New Zealand’s Sex-change Pioneer 
Liz Roberts with Alison Mau
Upstart Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781927262375

Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand Education
Alexandra C Gunn and Lee A Smith (eds)
Otago University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781877578687

2014 was the transgender tipping point. At least that’s what Time Magazine declared, with its front cover featuring the transgender actress Laverne Cox poised mid-step, svelte and powerful, beside the subheading “Men cannot become women. Women cannot become men”. This heading  – possibly perplexing to those unfamiliar with transgender issues – is part of the media’s growing sensitivity towards trans identities: if someone born male wants to be a woman, then they always were a woman; it is society that categorised them as a man.

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Posted in Gender, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Prodding the boundaries, Janet Hughes

Work 
Sarah Jane Barnett,
Hue & Cry Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780473333331

Tender Machines 
Emma Neale
Otago University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9781927322345

Soundings of Hellas 
John Davidson,
Steele Roberts, $20.00, ISBN 9781927242957

Looking out to Sea
Kevin Ireland
Steele Roberts, $20.00, ISBN 9781927242926

I’m looking at another pile of rich, rewarding collections of poetry, looking for commonalities so that I can do them some kind of justice in the allotted space. I see that Emma Neale glosses her title by quoting two poets who likened a poem to a machine. Don Paterson is deprecatory: a poem is “just a little machine for remembering itself”; while William Carlos Williams throws the possibilities wide open with another craftily small claim: “A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words”.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review
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