List #5: BIOGRAPHY
Have a look through this selection of books we are recommending for summer reading and as seasonal gifts. Click through to read our reviews. Use the 'click and collect' function on our website to reserve your copies.
If you don't find what you're looking for here, come and talk to us: we have many other interesting books on our shelves.
Josef Albers: Life and work by Charles Darwent $55
The first full biography of this pivotal artist, educator and theorist, from his Bauhaus beginnings through his Black Mountain College years to Yale. Is colour more important than form?
>> Search vs research.
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A tyranny of truth by Ken Krimstein $33
A nuanced and perceptive graphic novel biography of the nuanced and perceptive thinker.
"Incredible." - Deborah Levy
“Ken Krimstein's deeply moving graphic memoir about the life and thoughts of philosopher Hannah Arendt is not only about Hannah Arendt. It's also, through her words, about how to live in the world, the meaning of freedom, the perils of totalitarianism, and our power as human beings to think about things and not just act blindly. Krimstein explains Arendt's ideas with clarity, wit, and enormous erudition, and they still resonate.” – Roz Chast
>> Who was Hannah Arendt?
>> On drawing the graphic novel.
Headlands: New stories of anxiety edited by Naomi Arnold $30
What is the topography of anxiety in Godzone? This excellent collection of essays, personal accounts and stories, from Ashleigh Young, Sarah Lin Wilson, Kirsten McDougall, Anthony Birt, Hinemoana Baker, Bonny Etherington, Kate Kennedy, Holly Walker, Kerry Sunderland, Eamonn Marra, Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Rebecca Priestly, Donna McLeod and others, reveals both the breadth and the depth of New Zealand's anxiety epidemic - and suggests that there are veins of light to be found in that darkness.
>>Naomi talks on Radio NZ.
Brazen: Rebel ladies who rocked the world by Pénélope Bagieu $40
Fascinating graphic biographies of thirty remarkable women, most of whom have been largely 'forgotten' by history. Includes Tove Jansson, Josephine Baker, Temple Grandin, Wu Zetian and Peggy Guggenheim.
"A modern classic." - Guardian
>> See some spreads.
A Writer of Our Time: The life and work of John Berger by Joshua Sperling $43
Berger was one of the most influential thinkers and writers of postwar Europe. As a novelist, he won the Booker prize in 1972, donating half his prize money to the Black Panthers. As a TV presenter, he changed the way we looked at art with Ways of Seeing. As a storyteller and political activist, he defended the rights and dignity of workers, migrants, and the oppressed around the world. "Far from dragging politics into art," he wrote in 1953, "art has dragged me into politics." He remained a revolutionary up to his death in January 2017. Built around a series of watersheds, at once personal and historical, A Writer of Our Time traces Berger's development from his roots as a postwar art student and polemicist in the Cold War battles of 1950s London, through the heady days of the 1960s to Berger's reinvention as a rural storyteller and the long hangover that followed the rise and fall of the New Left.
>> Ali Smith on John Berger.
Welcome Home by Lucia Berlin $40
When Berlin died in 2004 she was working on a set of autobiographical sketches. These are now published for the first time.
>> Click through to find out more about our Books of the Week.
Borges in Sicily: Journey with a blind guide by Alejandro Luque $40
When Alejandro Luque received a set of photographs taken of Jorge Luis Borges on his visit to Sicily in 1984 (two years before his death) in the company of Maria Kodama (his PA and, eventually, wife and literary executor), he decided to trace Borges' steps, see the sights that Borges did not see due to his blindness, and discover what he could learn about his literary hero and about other literary visitors to Sicily. An interesting, very Borgesian travelogue (illustrated with the photographs). Includes a brief appearance by the Mediterranean's most slovenly gorilla.
Now, Now, Louison by Jean Frémon $36
A remarkable 'fictional autobiography' of Louise Bourgeois, in the form of a self-addressing interior monologue.
"A truly wonderful book. Jean Frémon knew Louise Bourgeois, and in his words that are also her words I discovered her adain in all her bitter, tender, heroic, violent creativity. There is something uncanmny at play in this small book, something I don't fully grasp. but I suspect that elusive, haunted excess may be exactly why I love it. " - Siri Hustvedt
>> Read Thomas's review.
>>"Louise Bourgeois as I knew her."
>>Something like a portrait of Louise Bourgeois.
The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a global world by Maya Jasanoff $28
Migration, terrorism, the tensions between global capitalism and nationalism, and a communications revolution: Conrad's portrayal of these forces the dawn of the twentieth century make him, in this new interpretation, a prophet of globalisation.
"An extraordinary and profoundly ambitious book, little short of a masterpiece." - Guardian
Fashion Climbing: A New York life by Bill Cunningham $40
Drawn to fashion despite his family's opposition, Cunningham moved to New York and made a name for himself as a photographer, personality and designer. He remained, however, a secretive man, and this memoir was not available for publication until after his death.
>>Have you seen the film about Cunningham?
The Years by Annie Ernaux $40
Considered by many to be the iconic French memoirist’s defining work, The Years is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present, cultural habits, language, photos, books, songs, radio, television, advertising and news headlines. Ernaux invents a form that is subjective and impersonal, private and communal, and a new genre – the collective autobiography – in order to capture the passing of time.
"A Remembrance of Things Past for our age of media domination and consumerism." - New York Times
"The Years is a revolution, not only in the art of autobiography but in art itself. Annie Ernaux’s book blends memories, dreams, facts and meditations into a unique evocation of the times in which we lived, and live." — John Banville
"One of the best books you’ll ever read." — Deborah Levy
"Ravishing and almost oracular with insight, Ernaux’s prose performs an extraordinary dance between collective and intimate, 'big' history and private experience. The Years is a philosophical meditation paced as a rollercoaster ride through the decades. How we spend ourselves too quickly, how we reach for meaning but evade it, how to live, how to remember – these are Ernaux’s themes. I am desperate for more." — Kapka Kassabova
"A book of memory, of a life and world, staggeringly and brilliantly original." — Philippe Sands
>> Read Thomas's review.
The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen $35
The essayist, according to Franzen, is like "a firefighter, whose job, when everyone else is fleeing the flames of shame, is to run straight into them." These essays address Franzen's great loves, literature and birds, and much else beyond and thereby. Where the new media tend to confirm one's prejudices, he writes, literature "invites you to ask whether you might be wrong, maybe even entirely wrong, and to imagine why someone else might hate you." The cumulative effect of the essays is strangely hopeful, however. Includes a meditation on New Zealand seabirds.
Joining the Dots: A woman in her time by Juliet Gardiner $25
A fascinating account of the social, political and cultural changes in Britain since World War 2, especially for women, as focused on the life of a particularly keen and involved observer.
"Refreshingly unconcerned with self-excavation, the beauty of it is in its flow from the particular to the general. The vast consolation and pleasure of this generous book is its conviction that we are all more than one life allows." - Times Literary Supplement
Memory Pieces by Maurice Gee $35
A memoir in three parts. `Double Unit' tells the story of Maurice Gee's parents - Lyndahl Chapple Gee, a talented writer who for reasons that become clear never went on with a writing career, and Len Gee, a boxer, builder, and man's man. `Blind Road' is Gee's story up to the age of eighteen, when his apprenticeship as a writer began. `Running on the Stairs' tells the story of Margaretha Garden, beginning in 1940, the year of her birth, when she travelled with her mother Greta from Nazi-sympathising Sweden to New Zealand, through to her meeting Maurice Gee when they were working together in the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1967.
Born to Be Posthumous: The eccentric genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery $40
who was this man, who lived with over twenty thousand books and six cats, who roomed with Frank O'Hara at Harvard, and was known to traipse around in full-length fur coats, clanking bracelets, and an Edwardian beard? An eccentric, a gregarious recluse, an enigmatic auteur of whimsically morbid masterpieces, yes, but who was the real Edward Gorey behind the Oscar Wildean pose? He published over a hundred books and illustrated works by Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Edward Lear, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Hilaire Belloc, Muriel Spark, Bram Stoker, Gilbert & Sullivan, and others. At the same time, he was a deeply complicated and conflicted individual, a man whose art reflected his obsessions with the disquieting and the darkly hilarious.
>> Some books by Gorey.
>> The Gashlycrumb Tinies.
Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The making of a psychologist by Edward M. Hallowell $40
When Edward M. Hallowell was eleven, a voice out of nowhere told him he should become a psychiatrist. Hmm.
We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry $35
Hours after the 2011 Christchuch Earthquake, Kaikoura-based doctor Chris Henry crawled through the burning CTV building to rescue those who were trapped. Six years later, his daughter Chessie interviews him in an attempt to understand the trauma that led her father to burnout, in the process unravelling stories and memories from her own remarkable family history. A remarkable interrogation of the personal fractures wrought by trauma.
>> The other side of bravery.
Reporter: A memoir by Seymour Hersh $55
This book gives great insight into the mind of this outstanding journalist, and, through that, further insights into the people and stories he brought to the world's attention, including the Mai Lai massacre and the atrocities at Abu Graib.
"Reporter is just wonderful. Truly a great life, and what shines out of the book, amid the low cunning and tireless legwork, is Hersh's warmth and humanity. This book is essential reading for every journalist and aspiring journalist the world over." - John le Carré
200 Women by Ruth Hobday, Geoff Blackwell and Kieran Scott $50
A new edition with new women, in a pleasing smaller format. 200 women from around the world, famous or unknown, answer the same five questions, such as “What really matters to you?” and “What would you change in the world if you could?” New Zealand interviewees include, Jacinda Ardern, Louise Nicholas, Marilyn Waring, Damaris Coulter, Kimbra Johnson, Lydia Ko, Marama Fox, Eva McGauley and Karen Walker.
Hudson & Halls: The food of love by Joanne Drayton $50
The television chefs who were at the forefront of changing public attitudes towards homosexuality in 1970s and 1980s New Zealand.
>> Cheese grating.
Modern Nature by Derek Jarman $28
In 1986 Derek Jarman discovered he was HIV positive and decided to make a garden at his cottage on the barren coast of Dungeness. Facing an uncertain future, he nevertheless found solace in nature, growing all manner of plants. While some perished beneath wind and sea-spray others flourished, creating brilliant, unexpected beauty in the wilderness. Modern Nature is both a diary of the garden and a meditation by Jarman on his own life: his childhood, his time as a young gay man in the 1960s, his renowned career as an artist, writer and film-maker. It is at once a lament for a lost generation, an unabashed celebration of gay sexuality, and a devotion to all that is living. A new edition, with an introduction by Olivia Laing.
>> Visit the gardens at Prospect Cottage.
>> Meet Derek Jarman.
>> Some of Jarman's remarkable films.
>> Olivia Laing, Philip Hoare and Sarah Wood discuss Derek Jarman.
You Say Brick: The life of Louis Kahn by Wendy Lesser $28
Born to a Jewish family in Estonia in 1901 and brought to America in 1906, the architect Louis Kahn grew up in poverty in Philadelphia; by the time of his death in 1974, he was widely recognised as one of the greatest architects of his era. Yet this enormous reputation was based on only a handful of masterpieces built during the last fifteen years of his life.
>> Fisher House.
Inadvertent (Why I Write) by Karl Ove Knausgaard $35
Knausgaard writes "to erode his own notions of the world," but also, by exhausting his preconceptions through writing them, to allow himself stumble inadvertently upon knowledge that they had been concealing.
Heimat: A German family album by Nora Krug $55
Nora Krug grew up as a second-generation German after the end of the Second World War, struggling with a profound ambivalence towards her country's recent past. Travelling as a teenager, her accent alone evoked raw emotions in the people she met, an anger she understood, and shared. Seventeen years after leaving Germany for the US, Nora Krug decided she couldn't know who she was without confronting where she'd come from. In this outstanding graphic novel, she documents her journey investigating the lives of her family members under the Nazi regime, charting her way deep into a country still tainted by war.
>> A German in New York.
>> Watch Krug drawing the book.
>> What is left to say about Germany's Nazi past?
>> Krug's website.
The Timothy Leary Project: Inside the great counterculture experiment by Jennifer Ulrich $45
This collection of Timothy Leary's selected papers and correspondence opens a window on the ideas that inspired the counterculture of the 1960s and the fascination with LSD that continues to the present. The man who coined the phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out," Leary cultivated interests that ranged across experimentation with hallucinogens, social change and legal reform, and mysticism and spirituality. Includes much on Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, Marshall McLuhan, Aldous Huxley, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Carl Sagan.
>> A message to young people (1966).
Swim: A year of swimming outdoors in New Zealand by Annette Lees $40
Lees began this book with the intention of swimming in natural outdoor water in New Zealand every day for a year. Around her account of this she has written what amounts to a history of wild swimming in New Zealand and the social history surrounding it.
Free Woman: Life, liberation and Doris Lessing by Lara Feigel $37
Re-reading The Golden Notebook in her thirties, shortly after Doris Lessing's death, Lara Feigel discovered that Lessing spoke directly to her as a woman, a writer, and a mother in a way that no other novelist had done. At a time when she was dissatisfied with the conventions of her own life, Feigel was enticed by Lessing's vision of freedom. Studying Lessing further helped her to change her own life and to write this dazzling book of forensic intensity.
"The most intriguing and certainly the bravest work of literary scholarship I have ever read." - Deborah Levy
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy $35
Following Things I Don't Want to Know, this second installment of Levy's 'living autobiography' reveals a writer in radical flux, grappling with life and letters and re-establishing the positions of de Beauvoir's The Second Sex in a contemporary context.
>> Read Thomas's review.
Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li $28
“To read is to be with people who, unlike those around one, do not notice one’s existence.” A collection of essays titled after a line by Mansfield and addressing topics such as time, authenticity, intention, attachment, character, ambivalence and melodrama as they are mapped in literature, both for readers and for writers, and as demonstrable parts of mechanisms of the two years of intense depression that Li emerged from in writing this book.
>> Read Thomas's review.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood $28
In turns funny, angry and insightful, Lockwood's memoir of growing up with a father several times larger than life in a world several sizes too small for them both is not quite like anything else. Lockwood's Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals positioned her as an American approximation of Hera Lindsay Bird.
"Lockwood's prose is cute and dirty and innocent and experienced, Betty Boop in a pas de deux with David Sedaris." - The New York Times
>> "Anything that happens from here is not my fault." (Lockwood in Wellington.)
Room to Dream by David Lynch and Christine McKenna $40
Unprecedented insight into the creative life of one of the most consistently unsettling living film directors. Lynch's free-form memoir sections are interspersed with long-time close collaborator McKenna's more traditionally biographical (but no less fascinating) sections.
>> "I like to tell stories."
>> A trailer for Eraserhead (1977).
Birds, Art, Life, Death: A field guide to the small and significant by Kyo Maclear $35
Meeting an urban musician with a passion for birds, Maclear became fascinated by the relationship between creativity and nature. In the year that they spent together, Maclear began to apply the principles and approaches of birdwatching to other areas of life, and made some gently profound discoveries. What is the gift that the small and the particular can give us that we are usually too busy and too 'big picture' focused to see? A lovely book.
"Original, charming, a little eccentric even. The book is a delight." - Nigel Slater
I Am Dynamite: A life of Friedrich Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux $60
"I am not a man, I am dynamite," said Nietzsche. Over a century after his death, his assaults upon philosophy and society are still unassimilated and subject to often contradictory interpretations, though we live subject to concepts and anticoncepts heralded by him: the death of God, the Übermensch, slave morality, the will to power. Prideaux's book gets closer to the man behind both the words and the silence.
>>"What does not kill me makes me stronger."
Maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja $35
From Berlin to Warsaw to Moscow to Kiev, Petrowskaja's search for her family's twentieth-century history encompasses a great-uncle sentenced to death for shooting a German diplomat, a grandfather who disappeared during World War 2 and reappeared forty years later, and a great-gandmother, maybe named Esther, who, being too frail to leave Kiev when the Jews rewe being rounded up, was shot by the Nazis outside her home.
"Rarely is research into family history this exciting, this moving. If this were a novel it would seem exaggerated and unbelievable. This is great literature." - Der Spiegel
"There's a literary miracle on every page here. There's poetry and politics in this family memoir, but most of all there's the pleasure of being in the company of Petrowskaja's talent. A Proust for the Google age." - Peter Pomerantsev
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine $37
Startling essays on addiction, infertility, feminism, depression, rape and other 'unmentionable' subjects from a remarkable new Irish writer.
"I’ve never read anything quite like these essays. Pine’s fluent intelligence flows through each question, each dilemma, in its own inimitable way. It’s the kind of book you want to give to everyone, especially young women and men, so that we can learn together to take ourselves and each other more seriously." - Irish Times
"Do not read this book in public: it will make you cry." - Anne Enright
>> Emilie Pine on her father's alcoholism.
The Customer is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond $55
A lightly fictionalised graphic memoir describing a young artist's experiences working in a diner frequented by drunks, junkies, thieves and creeps.
Anything That Burns You: A portrait of Lola Ridge, radical poet by Terese Svoboda $45
"The woman artist had no place in New Zealand at the turn of the century." Living in Hokitika before leaving first for Sydney and then California, Ridge became both a modernist poet and a painter, and a tireless advocate for the working class. Comparisons are made with Mansfield, Bethell and Mander: "Short story writer Katherine Mansfield was the only contemporary New Zealander with international ambition equal to Ridge's," and, "Ridge's main competitor for 'New Zealand's best woman poet of the early 20th century' is another modernist, Ursula Bethell."
>> American anarchist with a New Zealand West Coast connection.
>> Some poems and a bio.
Rebel Publisher: How Grove Press ended censorship of the written word in America by Loren Glass $32
Grove Press, and its house journal The Evergreen Review, revolutionized the publishing industry and radicalized the reading habits of the "paperback generation." Barney Rossett founded the company on a shoestring in 1951 and it became an important conduit through which avant-garde and European literature, and the works of Beckett, Burroughs, Brecht and Malcolm X became available in the US.
>> Rossett obituary (2012).
>> Much discussion in this institution.
This is M. Sasek: The extraordinary life and travels of the beloved children's book illustrator by Olga Cerna, Pavel Ryska and Martin Salisbury $60
Replete with documents, memories, and images from the life of Miroslav Sasek, this book is richly illustrated with material from Sasek's books as well as such archival material as previously unpublished illustrations, photographs, and vintage fan letters from children inspired by his books.
>> Sasek at VOLUME.
>> New York!
All the Devils Are Here by David Seabrook $28
Seabrook's accounts of his wanderings around the Kentish coast forces English culture to roll over and reveal its dark underbelly.
"I guess you'd call it psychogeography, though this doesn't begin to capture its intense interest, its uncanny spookiness, the way it ensnares you, turning your stomach, messing with your head. A fugitive sort of book, twitchy and mournful, All the Devils Are Here demands to be reread, picked over, endlessly discussed - and yet to know it is somehow not to know anything at all." - Observer "An alternate English history." - Iain Sinclair
Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin $28
An often hilarious pointillist time-travel trip to the Greenwich Village of Shopsin's bohemian 1970s childhood, a funky, tight-knit small town in the big city. Shopsin's father, Kenny, operated a dining cafe, with a notorious range of eccentric dishes, including 'Slutty Cakes' (pancakes with peanut butter in the middle), and Tamara's charming memoir is packed with her idiosyncratic drawings and anecdotal vignettes.
>> Visit Shopsin's.
>> "A huge event of incompetence." (a clip from the 2004 documentary on Shopsin's, I Like Killing Flies)
>> Tamara Shopsin in The New Yorker.
All Gates Open: The story of Can by Rob Young and Irwin Schmidt $55
Applying avant-garde approaches to popular musical forms, from 1968 onward, Can opened a sort of crack to the creative unconscious through which flowed enormous amounts of musically liberating energy. This book is in two parts: a biography of the band by Young, and a symposium on musical experimentation by founding member Schmidt, and a consideration of the tentacular reach of the band's influence.
>> 'Halleluhwah' (1971).
Theo Schoon: A biography by Damian Skinner $60
An insightful account of the life and importance of the émigré artist who, from his arrival in New Zealand in 1939, became an aperture through which international and indigenous heritages entered art discourse and practice.
The Writing Life: Twelve New Zealand writers by Deborah Shepard, with photographs by John McDermott $50
Thoughtful interviews with Patricia Grace, Tessa Duder, Owen Marshall, Philip Temple, David Hill, Joy Cowley, Vincent O'Sullivan, Albert Wendt, Marilyn Duckworth, Chris Else, Fiona Kidman and Witi Ihimaera, and excellent portraits and (even better) photographs of writing spaces by John McDermott.
Just Kids (Illustrated edition) by Patti Smith $78
Smith's revered account of living in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe as the 1960s pushed itself into the 1970s is here presented in a beautiful hardback edition, full of fascinating photographs and illustrations.
In the Days of Rain: A daughter, a father, a cult by Rebecca Stott $28
"I couldn't explain how I'd become a teenage mother, or shoplifted books for years, or why I was afraid of the dark and had a compulsion to rescue people, without explaining about the Brethren or the God they made for us, and the Rapture they told us was coming. But then I couldn't really begin to talk about the Brethren without explaining about my father..."
"Beautiful, dizzying, terrifying, Stott's memoir maps the unnerving hinterland where faith becomes cruelty and devotion turns into disaster. A brave, frightening and strangely hopeful book." - Olivia Laing, author of The Lonely City
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know: The fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce by Colm Tóibín $30
"A father is a necessary evil." - Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses. William Butler Yeats's father was an impoverished artist, an inveterate letter writer, and a man crippled by his inability to ever finish a painting. Oscar Wilde's father was a doctor, a statistician and amateur archaeologist who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange foreshadowing of events that would later befall his son. The father of James Joyce was a garrulous, hard-drinking man with a violent temper, unable or unwilling to provide for his large family, who eventually drove his son from Ireland. What do these men tell us about Ireland, about literary creation, even about fatherhood?