Off the shelf: January 2017

As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later shelf. Here are some more titles that have recently graduated to her Completed shelf.

Frieze A –  Z of Contemporary ArtCover for Frieze A - Z of Contemporary Art

Not so much a flick through as a pick through – each letter of the alphabet has an article from Frieze magazine. So you can pick and choose what you are interested in; the Factory accent as heard in Andy Warhol’s inner circle, the frosty gaze of fashion, Sophie Calle and the stuffed giraffe that reminds her of her mother.

Appetites by Anthony Bourdain

He calls this a recipe book for home cooks who are willing to put time into it. And he’s not kidding. Three days of preparing for Thanksgiving, featuring a stunt turkey and a business turkey. But those of us who have three days to spare just before Christmas and enough money to have two turkeys might like to give it a go. Despite it all being a bit of an impossible dream I like this book. It’s beautifully produced and it has great photos. Unless you’re a vegan, or even a vegetarian.

Cover for HoldingHolding by Graham Norton

I don’t normally approve of novels by celebrities, but it’s entirely possible that Graham wrote this himself and he didn’t make a bad job. It’s gentle, funny, the story is quite engrossing (at least I wanted to know what happened) and it’s got a lovely sense of Ireland.

Reading Poetry Around the World

All the seats were taken and the truly dedicated stood for an hour to listen to people talk about poetry at Scorpio Books on Thursday the 26th of January.

The chance to hear poet and world renowned poetry scholar Stephen Burt in a conversation with Victoria University Press editor Fergus Barrowman, chaired by University of Canterbury Professor of English Paul Millar, explained the impressive turnout and they did not disappoint.

Cover for New Selected Poems by James K BaxterIf you couldn’t make it these are the poets Burt read and rated before arriving in New Zealand: James K. Baxter – “one of the great poets of the 20th century”, Michelle Leggott, Bill Manhire, Andrew Johnston, Ian Wedde.

Those discovered after arriving: Bernadette Hall, Joanna Margaret Paul, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

Millar’s relaxed chairing – “I’m going to ask you a question and you can say whatever you like” –  let the conversation range freely and some interesting stuff emerged. The visits of American poet Robert Creeley influenced New Zealand poetry markedly; ” an accident of history that had unforeseen consequences”. I am ashamed to say I had never heard of him.

Cover for Hera Lindsay BirdSo how much does the Internet change poetry and reading? A lot. Burt and Barrowman agreed that current sensation Hera Lindsay Bird would not exist without the Internet and its international no cost distribution. But Unity Books in Wellington has also sold large numbers of print copies of her book.

Where will the ‘not hip’ poets be read? No-one knows. Burt is sure that the Internet makes it easier for everyone in the room last night to access poetry from other countries.

Burt was off to the The Bats (New Zealand poetry, with its “agreement groups not large enough to live in”,  was compared to the Flying Nun bands earlier in proceedings) so there was time for just a couple of questions. In the event there was only one and I can report that Bob Dylan was not shaped by Minnesota literary culture.

Thanks to the University of Canterbury College of Arts and WORD Christchurch for a very stimulating event. I’ll be keeping an eye out for others.

For Later: Stephen Burt, visiting poet

Cover for BelmontPermissible and not mad to add two poetry books by Stephen Burt, The Poem is You and Belmont, to the For Later Shelf this week because I’m giddying up to see them at a WORD event at Scorpio Books on Thursday 26th January at 6pm.

Good poet (at least I think so after attending a reading last year – perhaps I’ll know how to tell for sure after this event), Harvard Professor of Poetry and an engaging speaker, Burt will be in conversation with Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press.

I love poetry events – people are passionate about it so the questions tend to be on the intense side, and even better can spin out into wildly inappropriate statements of opinion. Somehow opinions on poetry are so much more interesting than opinions on non-fiction, which mostly centre on how much more the ‘questioner’ knows than the author.

“A lively discussion” is promised, but I’m hoping for a bit more than that.

For Later: January 2017

For Later shelf is now more of a For Later library but somehow the Just Ordered list comes out and every week the shelves just grow.

These titles sneaked on recently:

Cover of Thug KitchenThug Kitchen (subtitle could cause offence). Gwyneth Paltrow loved it. Not sure if that’s a recommendation but I’m all for a bit of cursing with my cooking.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina. If Mina’s other books are anything to go by this stand-alone based on a real case in 1950s Glasgow should be good. Mina won the best-dressed and best hair competition held in my head at the Wellington Writers and Readers Week way back in 2012. I’ve followed her ever since and she’s never let me down.

England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. Will one of the ultimate books on Punk be as good as it was in 1991? Or will it just be really sad? It’s fully updated and expanded so probably sad.

And there’s always room for a few “Friday night flickers”, good for a mindless page-through on a Friday night:

Cover of Fashion, art and rock and rollFashion, Art and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Jean-Charles De Castelbajac. Worth it for his name alone.

Domino Your Guide to a Stylish Home: Discovering your personal style and creating a space you love by Jessica Romm Perez. Sigh.

City House, Country House Contemporary New Zealand Homes by John Walsh.

Who likes what

Cover of ChristodoraA favourite end of year time-waster is looking at Best of lists compiled by writers I admire. If books appear on more than one list they must be really good. Surely.

Does the opinion of a Man Booker Prize winner count for more than a non-winner? Yes if it’s Anne Enright and the book is Christadora by Tim Murphy. Also counts that I’ve read it and liked it.

Does the opinion of a double Man Booker Prize winner count for double? Yes if it’s Hilary Mantel, not only because Mantel showed impeccable literary taste by loving the Cazalet Chronicles, but also because Maggie O’Farrell and Linda Grant, another two absolute faves, both had My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout on their lists.

Cover of The GirlsIs it worth moving a book from an insanely long For Later shelf to a Holds list? Yes if it’s Geoff Dyer, who is such a great writer he can make you read a book about a film you’ve never seen. In this case even more worth it because the book is The Girls and it’s a re-imagining of the perennially fascinating Manson cult.

Alan Hollinghurst needs to be getting on with writing his own books, not reading and opining about other people’s, but he liked The Return and so did Julian Barnes, who knows what he’s talking about, so that might be worth a go.

If you have a touching belief in writers knowing what’s good and you need to add to your For Later shelf (and who doesn’t?) you might also try:

Festival Faves – WORD Christchurch

A few of my favourite things at WORD:

  • Cover of His Whole LifeCanadians. Who would win the nicest people in the world smack down? Us or them? I think them. I’m going to read every book Elizabeth Hay ever wrote. And I might start reading a poem a day at breakfast time just because she does.
  • Ted Dawe’s shirt. Possibly Rata flowers and leaves, perhaps Pohutukawa. Either way very pleasing to look at.
  • The ‘question’ at the No Sex Please We’re Teenagers session that began “I’ve watched a lot of porno tapes…”
  • David Levithan’s inspirational Margaret Mahy Lecture. “We raise our voices, not shouting but singing”.
  • When writers I like like other writers I like. DCover for Another Dayavid Levithan likes Francesca Lia Block. And Feed is his favourite Young Adult novel.
  • When writers I like dislike writers I dislike (even better). Paula Morris just couldn’t get over kids reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven for school. I’m with you Paula; we’re going to Hell in a hand-basket.
  • Pondering on matters like why so many great writers are called Margaret: Atwood, DrabbleLaurence, Mahy,
  • Watching Toby Manhire have the measure of Bromhead at peak “I’m so loveably irascible” schtick.
  • Seeing Alex Casey who does The Real Housewives of Auckland power rankings for The Spinoff. A thrill. And good to resist the impulse to come on all fan-crone and tell her what a good writer she is.
  • Adding lots more books to my For Later shelf. 1108 and counting.

My least favourite thing at WORD:

Those who cannot tell the difference between a question and a statement. You know who you are. Or perhaps you don’t. Think about it people. Does the question take longer to ask than to answer? Then don’t ask it.

Off the Shelf (4)

As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later shelf. Here are some more titles that have recently graduated to her Completed shelf.

Cover for Maker & MuseMaker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry

This truly is a beauty. The pieces are breath-taking but the very best thing about it is the chance to read about  women as designers and makers as well as consumers.

Cover for Weeping BritanniaWeeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears by Thomas Dixon

Who knew that the British are actually quite emotional? Not me until I read this book. Turns out they’ve been giving free reign to their lachrymose tendencies for centuries, with a bit of time off for a more martial approach between 1870 and 1945. It’s full of fascinating facts such as Queen Elizabeth II crying in public (more accurately dabbing at the corners of her eyes) for the first time at the age of 71, when the royal yacht Britannia was  decommissioned . The author is the director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London so he knows what he’s talking about.

Industrial Vintage Interiors by Maria Eugenia SilvaCover for Industrial Vintage Interiors

A biggie and almost a beauty, this is probably one for the true enthusiasts who can pore over page after page of metal stools. It’s a world where your cat has to be grey to (mono) tone in with your colour scheme.

A sum up of New Zealand Festival Writers Week

Observations from the 2016 New Zealand Festival Writers Week

  • Cover for CreationEvery person I sat beside had a fit bit thingy instead of a watch.
  • Science sells – by far the biggest attendance at any of the sessions I went to was at Adam Rutherford (no relation). The person I sat beside there went to sleep immediately and stayed that way for the entire hour. Perhaps her fit bit was able to tell her if it was REM sleep or not.
  • Some sessions featured Sleater-Kinney T-shirts and Lea DeLaria haircuts, most did not.

Things some of the writers love

Cover for A Little Life

Good things some of the writers said

The power of a story teller is to build a shelter. (Cornelia Funke)

 

A geneticist is a ‘gel jockey’ and origin of life research is a fractious field full of people who hate each other (Adam Rutherford)

 

There is nothing better than a painful childhood for a creative life (Mariko Tamaki)

Things resisted

  • Joe Bennett resisted the impulse to bow down before C K Stead, the Poet Laureate, when they shared a lift.
  • I resisted the urge to ask Joe Bennett “How did it go Joe?” when passing him as he left his sold out session.

Recommendations

  • When you ask a question, care about the answer – not how clever you are being when you ask it.

Off the shelf (3)

As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later shelf. This time she reports back on some of the titles that have graduated to her Completed shelf.

Some lovely books that have come off the For Later shelf recently.

Cover for Robert KimeRobert Kime by Alastair Langlands. Matthew Dennison, author of a great book about Vita Sackville-West, reviewed this in that madly aspirational magazine World of Interiors. He said that Kime can “claim to devise schemes that genuinely appear ‘undecorated’: stylish but lacking obvious contrivance, with nothing matchy-matchy and not too much strangulated coordination”. An irresistible recommendation and the book did not disappoint.

The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits by Simon Schama. Power, Love, Fame, the Mirror, the People – these themes are covered with Schama’s customary skill; matching great stories with images from the National Portrait Gallery in London. This book accompanies a television series of the same name.

Cover for Portrait of FashionA Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery by Aileen Ribeiro with Cally Blackman. A happy accident that two books featuring the collections of the National Portrait Gallery  arrived at the same time. Amazing that so few of the images overlap. The reproductions in this one are bigger and more colourful than in The Face of Britain but then they should be; clothes need detail.

“For Later” lately (5)

In an attempt to tame her ever-growing For Later list,  Robyn has decided to share with us on a regular basis the titles that she has recently added to her list. The theory being that, even if she doesn’t ever get round to reading them, she can perhaps do so vicariously through you… So please do share your opinions of her picks – are they worthy, do you think, of inclusion in that lofty list?

Added to the For Later shelf recently:

Pink Up Your Life: The World of Pink Design
Cover for Pink Up Your LifeEmbarrassing but irresistible. Who knew there was such a thing as Pink Design? I’m game though. “Pink for old and young. Pink for everyone!” Perhaps a pink feature wall is just what I need.

The Hollow of the Hand by P. J. Harvey
Polly’s poetry combines with the images of photographer/film-maker Seamus Murphy to tell the story of their travels around the world between 2011 and 2014. Harvey wanted to “smell the air, feel the soil and meet the people of the countries I was fascinated with”.  Should be interesting.

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Cover of City on FireOver 900 pages long – who am I kidding? But this highly hyped first novel is getting mentioned all over the show and the author looks to have good taste. He was in Vogue wearing a Comme de Garçons blazer; he likes Hilary Mantel and Patti Smith and he mentioned Philip Hensher‘s The Northern Clemency in an interview. And City on Fire has been called ‘a punk Bleak House‘.

The Face of Britain: The Nation Through Its Portraits by Simon Schama
Cover of The Face of BritainPortraits and Simon Schama seem like a good match; Schama has a lovely light touch with art and history. This book has been produced to accompany an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London where Schama considers what makes a successful portrait, grouping portraits from the gallery’s amazing collection into themes: Power, Love, Fame, Self and People. According to The Times reviewer Schama’s approach here is “not systematic but wonderfully compelling” and the book is “entertaining and idiosyncratic”. Let’s see about that.