Saturday 31 March 2018


BOOKS @ VOLUME #68 (31.3.18)

Read our latest NEWSLETTER. Find out what we've been reading. Browse the week's New Releases.  Learn about this week's Book of the Week and about the upcoming Poetry Course

In Ariana Harwicz's sensitive and brutal novel Die, My Love, a woman finds herself incapable of feeling anything other than displaced in every aspect of her life, both trapped by and excluded from the circumstances that have come to define her. This beautifully written, uncompromising book is this week's Book of the Week at VOLUME. 

>> Read Thomas's review

>> Read an excerpt

>> An actor reads an extract

>> Ariana Harwicz and her publisher Carolina Orloff in conversation at our shop in Paris

>> The author reads an extract in Spanish

>> What is it like to be listed for the Man Booker International Prize? 

>> Visit the website of Charco Press. The tiny Edinburgh-based press is run by two people (a New Zealander and an Argentinian) and is dedicated to publishing translations of contemporary Latin American literature. 

>> Have a look at the other books published by Charco Press

>> Read our reviews of other books were shortlisted for the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize

>> Find out which other books have been long-listed for this year's Man Booker International Prize

>> Follow the white rabbit. 


The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Channelling Doris Lessing, Ursula Le Guin and J.G. Ballard, Lidia Yuknavitch brings us The Book Of Joan, a startling portrayal of humanity devolved and earth decimated by warfare, lack of resources and an elite class who live on CIEL - a sub-orbital craft constructed from abandoned space stations. Here we meet Christine, living, if you can call it that, under the control of dictator Jean de Men. Christine is a narrator who scribes stories by burning them into flesh, her own and others'. The story she burns into her own is the Book of Joan, telling of Joan, the warrior who led the battle against Jean de Men and died heroically at the stake. On CIEL and on earth (where small clans of humans exist) there is an obsession with the body and the flesh. On CIEL they graft flesh and parade themselves ritualistically; on earth, they hark back to ritual stories of times before the geo-catastrophe.
Joan is a martyr, a warrior girl who at sixteen leads an army against the mighty forces of General Jean de Men. Joan at ten enters the forest, a wild ancient forest in France, and has an encounter with nature that changes her, giving her powers one with the natural environment and against the destructive impulses of humanity. A blue light glows from within her from her temple and she quickly becomes a symbol of resistance and rebellion. Her constant dream is of a planet on fire, of humans warring with each other until they are dehumanised, and the choice she makes at sixteen is devastating. Is she a martyr or has she martyred her people? Captured by the ruling powers and tied to the stake to be burnt alive, she is given iconic status and becomes the story by which rebels defy the elite, ritualised within this new world order.  Humanity is dying out - physical changes include the loss of hair, skin pigmentation and genitalia. On CIEL the physical appearance of the inhabitants is startling - they are porcelain white, smooth-skinned - hairless - decorated by obscene skin grafts and some by words burnt into their flesh - a ritual that keeps stories alive through pain and precision.
The geo-catastrophe on earth has left those that remain with few resources and a mistrust of their fellows. Most live in isolated clans underground, and as we see this world only through the eyes of Joan and her mate, Leone, we know only as much as they do - the odd person they meet or any who seek them out, and vague rumours of others. The world in 2049 is a blend of medieval practices and technology. CIEL draws what little resources are left from the earth through networks of tendril-like connections and has technology on its craft to stop it falling into the sun. At the heart of this novel is a fierce battle of morals. Jean de Men wants to draw Joan into his lair, into his reproduction laboratory, to harvest her for his own repopulation programme. He is mad and powerful. Christine, the narrator, driven by the desire to topple the overlord Jean de Men and by her obsession with Joan, wishes to raise Joan from myth through the power of words and thus create a rebellion on CIEL.
Lidia Yuknavitch's The Book of Joan includes themes of reproduction, competition for resources and power, gender ambiguity and sexual obsession. These are common across several feminist fictions: Alderman’sThe Power, Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and the revived The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Added to the dynamic plot is an intellectual layer - philosophical discussions about matter and the intertwining of history; the three main characters are drawn from French medieval personalities; warrior Jeanne d'Arc, early feminist authorChristine de Pizan and her nemesis, romantic poet and scholar Jean de Meun - and you have a compelling, strange and powerful book.


Sphinx by Cat Woodward   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Each poem in this excellent collection pits its voice both against silence and against the deluge of other voices suspended above it, or surrounding it, waiting for an opportunity to smother it. Every force is met with an equal and opposite force, or a baffling of that force that absorbs and reconstitutes and reclaims the force as its own, and under its own terms, terms that repudiate even the concept of force. The poems press against their surfaces, either bursting their forms or turning back upon themselves, entering the spaces they have left, increasing their weight and, concomitantly, the depth of their approach, increasing their intensity and also the release that that intensity enables through spaces opened up under pressure. The words and the impact of the words seldom occur simultaneously, the impact coming later, or, shockingly, somehow preceding the words. Similarly, the poems are often somehow geared so that the humour and the blades rotate in opposite directions, each impacting when least expected and from behind. The poems often create or explore a breach in the habits of subject/object relations: to be aware of something is to be that thing, to be swamped, overwhelmed, possessed by that thing, to think something is likewise to be that thing, to be swamped, overwhelmed, possessed. But somehow, through facing the threat directly, we find release enough through the heart of the image, to find emptiness and loss where the presence of the subject is most intense, to find release at the core of presence. Associative leaps leave behind the experience that induced them, pushing experience back into the past by the force of the leap, both retaining and denying the experience that induced them. Often drawing on folkloric elements and pulling at a strand of poetic animism that runs back through English nature poetry to medieval times, Woodward creates poems that have a referential hum of ambiguous valency, either mock-pagan and mock-transpersonal or pagan and transpersonal, only to have these polarities continually and playfully reversed. Each symbol outweighs its referent and replaces it, becoming a non-symbol. Each part replaces the whole and becomes no longer a surrogate for that whole but a whole in its own right, casting the body from which it has wrested itself free into a horizon, a backdrop, a context. There are hurts behind these works, whether of  personal or existential nature it is irrelevant to speculate, and the poems reach out to cruelty, but often tenderly, with the tenderness with which one would deliberately and sustainedly press one’s hand or soft flesh down upon a knifeblade. At other times an anger surprises an image and draws a weapon unexpectedly from an idyll. Wherever an image comes from, it quickly becomes a source of fascination and also problematic, a threat to exactly the extent that it commands attention. It is necessary to face and enter the image, to turn the image inside out by passing through it, to overthrow and recalibrate (and Woodward does this so well) the lazy associations upon which poetry so often founders. Here dirty is neat and clean is messy and the bad thing is the neatest thing of all. The poems are aurally tight, at once exactly too much and just enough. There are no unnecessary words: each does its work of anger or of tenderness, of clarity and the disavowal of clarity. The poems simultaneously tighten and release, invite and repel, speak (and silence speech) with both tenderness and hatred. The reader (or hearer) is rewarded with a mixture of certainty and rejection, of wonderment and mockery. These poems are “an instruction guide to obtainable sobbing”, a shortcut to the bottom of the lake, a communing that will not be trivialised as communication.  

Cat will be teaching a five-session poetry course at VOLUME, commencing on 10 April. I think this will be excellent, both for beginning poets and for all poets wanting both to consider their craft and to explore the ways in which ideas can be achieved (in other words, for all poets). >> Find out more here


Thursday 29 March 2018


Sphinx by Cat Woodward      $20
Each poem in this excellent collection pits its voice both against silence and against the deluge of other voices suspended above it, waiting for an opportunity to smother it. Every word is effective and surprising, the whole geared so that the humour and the blades rotate in opposite directions. A form-bursting collection from a poet recently moved to Nelson from the UK.
>> Find out about the 5-week poetry course Cat will be teaching at VOLUME in April. 

Go Girl: A storybook of epic New Zealand women by Barbara Else      $45
New Zealand's answer to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls! Inspiring stories and wonderful illustrations. Includes Whina Cooper, Janet Frame, Beatrice Tinsley, Frances Hodgkins, Georgina Beyer, Huria Matenga, Jane Campion, Joan Wiffen, Karen Walker, Kate Edger, Katherine Mansfield, Mai Chen, Merata Mita, Mojo Mathers, Patricia Grace, Suzie Moncrieff, Farah Palmer, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Lucy Lawless, Kate Sheppard, Nancy Wake, Sophie Pascoe, Margaret Mahy, Lydia Ko, Merata Mita, Lorde, Rita Angus and Te Puea Herangi. Illustrations by Sarah Laing, Sarah Wilkins, Fifi Coulston, Ali Teo, Helen Taylor, Phoebe Morris, Sophie Watkins, Rebecca ter Borg and Vasanti Unka. 
The Cemetery in Barnes by Gabriel Josipovici      $28
How do lives and the narratives that impart these lives converge and overlay each other, and how is a translator able to correlate narratives not only across languages but across time? Beautifully constructed and written, a triple narrative both pulled towards and avoiding the darkness at its centre. 
"One of the very best writers now at work in the English language, and a man whose writing, both in fiction and in critical studies, displays a unity of sensibility and intelligence and deep feeling difficult to overvalue at any time." - Guardian
>> Visit the cemetery
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman       $37

Born in Rome during his artist father's sojourn there, Pinch grows up desperate to emulate him, both artistically and otherwise. Moving to London to teach Italian, Pinch begins to write a biography of his father, but when his father dies, he sees the opportunity to receive more from him than the father, when alive, was prepared to give. Subtle and perceptive. 
Mazarine by Charlotte Grimshaw        $38
When her daughter vanishes during a heatwave in Europe, writer Frances Sinclair embarks on a hunt that takes her across continents and into her own past. What clues can Frances find in her own history, and who is the mysterious Mazarine? 
>> What are the possibilities of fiction in a post-truth world? 

Census by Jesse Ball       $37
A widower cares for his adult son, who has Down Syndrome. When he learns that he hasn't long to live the man takes a job as a census taker for a mysterious government agency and takes to the road with his son. 
"Census is a vital testament to selfless love; a psalm to commonplace miracles; and a mysterious evolving metaphor. So kind, it aches." - David Mitchell
"Census is Ball's most personal and best to date. Think The Road by Cormac McCarthy with Ball’s signature surreal flourishes." - New York Times
"A poet by trade, Ball understands the economy of language better than most fiction writers today." - Huffington Post
"A devastatingly powerful call for understanding and compassion." - Publishers Weekly
The Friendly Ones by Philip Hensher          $40
Family life in Sheffield meets the brutal history of Bangladesh in this thoughtful, perceptive and uncompromising novel. 
"Hensher is one of our most gifted novelists and this is certainly his best novel yet." - Guardian

The World's Din: Listening to records, radio and films in New Zealand, 1880-1940 by Peter Hoar       $45
An excellent history of social and private audiophilia and the societal changes concomitant with developments in recording technologies.
A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A guide to capitalism, nature and the future of the planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore      $40
Nature, Money, Work, Care, Food, Energy and Lives are the seven things that have made our world and will continue to shape its future. By making these things cheap, modern commerce has controlled, transformed, and devastated the Earth.
Granta 142: Animalia         $28
We love and care for animals as pets, we weave them into our myths and fables, and then we breed them under conditions of terrible cruelty just so we can eat them cheaply. As new developments in research into animal cognition force us to concede fewer characteristics separating us from our neighbouring species, this issue of Granta asks writers, poets and photographers to consider the complex ways we interact with the animal kingdom. Includes contributions from Han Kang, Nell Zink and Yoko Tawada. 

The Old Man and the Sand Eel by Will Millard       $40
“My whole life has been one surrounded by water and my happiness can be accurately measured by proximity to it.” So begins Will Millard’s absorbing memoir about a lifetime’s obsession with fishing, in which he was joined by his grandfather. An evocation of British waterways and connections across generations. 
Dear Fahrenheit 451: A librarian's love letters and break-up notes to her books by Annie Spence       $28
Read this with a pencil at the ready: not only will you be making yourself a reading list, you'll be wanting to start writing love letters and break-up notes to the books that you love or that have disappointed you. 
The Traitor's Niche by Ismail Kadare       $24
In the main square of Constantinople, a niche is carved into ancient stone. Here, the Ottoman sultan displays the severed heads of his adversaries. Tundj Hata, the imperial courier, is charged with transporting heads to the capital - a task he relishes and performs with fervour. But as he travels through obscure and impoverished territories, he makes money from illicit side-shows, offering villagers the spectacle of death. The head of the rebellious Albanian governor would fetch a very high price. 
"The narrative unfurls with the shifting intensity of a dream, enriched by unsettlingly surreal details. It is a brilliant examination of the way that authoritarian structures operate: Kafka on a grander political scale." - Sunday Times
"Kadare is inevitably likened to Orwell and Kundera, but he is a far deeper ironist than the first, and a better storyteller than the second. He is a compellingly ironic storyteller because he so brilliantly summons details that explode with symbolic reality." - James Wood, The New Yorker 
Essays on World Literature by Ismail Kadare       $35
What can Aeschylus, Dante and Shakespeare teach us about resisting totalitarianism? 
"Ismail Kadare's first and only collection of essays translated into English offers profound and highly personal meditations on 'great' writers in the world literary tradition. Kadare conceives of literature as art that 'cries with the world', seeking through letters to understand the uniquely and most deeply human: tragedy, violence, pain. The 'world' of Kadare's essays on 'world literature' is a reflection of his native Albania's 'impossible drama' on the global scale of human history, an observation at once parochial and profound, like the greatness of great art." - Sean Guynes-Vishniac, World Literature Today
The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis       $30
It is an ordinary Tuesday morning in April when bored, lonely Charlie Fisher witnesses something incredible. Right before his eyes, in a busy square in Marseille, a group of pickpockets pulls off an amazing robbery. As the young bandits appear to melt into the crowd, Charlie realizes with a start that he himself was one of their marks. Yet Charlie is less alarmed than intrigued. This is the most thrilling thing that's happened to him since he came to France with his father, an American diplomat. So instead of reporting the thieves, Charlie defends one of them to the police, under one condition: he teach Charlie the tricks of the trade. 
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton       $28
When the witch Rona Blackburn took vengeance against the men of Anathema Island, she also cursed her descendants to heartbreak, diminished magic, and an intrinsic bond to that remote northwestern locale. Now, ninth-generation Blackburn daughter Nor wants only to reach her 17th birthday leaving “the slightest mark humanly possible on the world. Despite physical and emotional scars, can she find the strength to stand against her villainous mother?
"An atmospheric, blood-drenched dark fantasy for a cold and stormy night." - Kirkus Reviews
Barcelona Cult Recipes by Stephan Mitsch        $55

Visit Catalonia's buzzing metropolis through its local dishes. An exciting addition to the excellent 'Cult Recipes' series

Book Towns by Alex Johnson         $33
Visit 45 towns around the world (including Featherston in New Zealand) that celebrate the printed word.
The Periodic Table of Feminism by Marisa Bate      $30
The history of feminism told through its individual active elements. What sorts of molecules could we construct from them? 

One Knife, One Pot, One Dish: Simple French cooking at home by Stéphane Reynaud         $45
Every short-cut that can be made, and every simplification, without compromising the authenticity or the deliciousness of these 160 classic recipes. 
I Am Sasha by Anita Selzer        $23
To elude the Nazi round-up of Polish Jews, a mother purchases fake Aryan ID papers, dresses her son as a girl (so his circumcision won't be discovered) and moves across Europe through displaced persons camps. The true story of the author's father and grandmother. 

The Orange Balloon Dog: Bubbles, turmoil and avarice in the contemporary art market by Don Thompson        $33
What, beyond aesthetics, is at play in the vast prices paid at auctions for contemporary art? 
The Eye of the North by Sinead O'Hart       $20
When Emmeline's scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. On board she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer. Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn't the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too. Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world?

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary by Nonieqa Ramos       $28
Macy's school officially classifies her as "disturbed," but Macy isn't interested in how others define her. She's got more pressing problems: her mother can't move off the couch, her father's in prison, her brother's been taken by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn't speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms.
The Lost War Horses of Cairo: The passion of Dorothy Brooke by Grant Hayter-Menzies      $37
At the end of the First World War, thousands of British war horses were left behind in the Middle East. Dorothy Brooke, a wealthy Scottish socialite, visited Cairo in 1930 and was appalled at their fate. She founded the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital, dedicated the welfare of these and other animals.
With the End in Mind: Dying, death and denial in an age of denial by Kathryn Mannix        $30
Our cultural fear of death has blinded us the very things that are most important in the last days of a life. 
>> "We need to talk about dying." (Mannix on Radio NZ)
Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare series) by Jo Nesbo        $37
The Elizabethan tragedy rewritten as a blood-soaked police drama set in a rainy northern town in the 1970s.other animals. 

Ngaio Marsh: her life in crime by Joanne Drayton        $30
A life split between her public and private personas, between crime and theatre, and between London and New Zealand.

Quantum Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie         $19
Meet electrons and learn about their energy and what they can and cannot do. A non-condescending board book. 

Saturday 24 March 2018

BOOKS @ VOLUME #67 (24.3.18)

Our latest NEWSLETTER.  Read our reviews and recommendations, and find out about the week's new releases. 

Feel Free by Zadie Smith {Reviewed by STELLA}
Zadie Smith’s collection of essays covers several years, from 2010 to early 2017. Most of that time she is based in America, with small forays back to England to visit family and attend speaking events. As such she is a British subject looking from the outside and an outsider looking within. This makes for an interesting perspective of American and British politics and culture. The first essay rests easily in her home neighbourhood and decries the closing of the public library and the rise of private, over public, space. She’s visiting North-West London with her daughter - a witness to the unravelling of community. In several other essays she draws on her childhood in London and her family’s cultural background to add richness to her arguments and musings. The essays are observations of a time and place that sometimes feels like ancient history, although many are just a few years ago: these are the years of the Obama administration in America, and Theresa May is yet to appear on anyone’s radar. Brexit is in its infancy - a situation that Smith sees from afar, yet she already has a nuanced view. It is her essay about FaceBook, 'Generation Why?'  - written in 2010 - which strikes home so succinctly, especially in light of the current Cambridge Analytica saga. Her focus isn’t so much about privacy issues - this is part and parcel of social media - but is an analytical breakdown of what FaceBook is, who Mark Zuckerberg is or represents, and the weirdly successful platform, so that once you read Smith’s essay you will be thinking about reaching for the disconnect button (if you haven’t already) or at least being aware of the strange, almost cult-like, philosophy that underpins FaceBook. The essays are divided into several clusters that cover politics, media, art and writing. While some of the essays refer to entertainment (television programmes), art or music that might be foreign to the reader, Smith is adept at contextualising these aspects into a broader discussion of race, cultural practice or social issues which help to bind the varied topics. And yet her essays are exceptionally personal: observations that can only come from her own experiences, her own world-view and where she stands in the world right now (or at the time of writing). Feel Free is an opportunity for Zadie Smith to explore - to mine her wealth of ideas - without the constraints of the novel form. The most successful explorations are areas where Smith is well-versed - in the writing section the essays about Ballard and Kureshi stand out - or has a layered personal history to draw from. Her essays on culture, race and social stratification (common themes in her novels) leave you with the most to think about.  


Lyla by Fleur Beale  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Fleur Beale is an exceptional writer and once again she gets into the head of a teenage girl. Lyla is thirteen, almost fourteen, when the Christchurch earthquake of February 22nd 2011 strikes. She’s in the city and a fog descends. “The white stuff in the air wasn’t fog, it was dust... So much dust. It swirled and lifted in great clouds.” She knows she has to get out. They all have an earthquake plan: go home. As she heads out of the city, she loses her friends, finds others she has to help, drawing on her ability to stay calm in a crisis - possibly having parents who are a police officer and a nurse might have helped. Once she’s home it’s not so easy. As the days go by, she feels helpless. Her mother is part of the emergency team in the city and her father, after not hearing from him for two days, is back at the hospital. Lyla is thirteen - too young for the student army, not allowed anywhere there is danger. Many of her friends have already left and her constant companion is her neighbour, Matt, a boy she really doesn’t have much time for. Yet Lyla and Matt find themselves working together to bring a sense of community back to their neighbourhood, to look after the younger children (the schools are closed and many of the adults are assisting with the crisis), helping their elderly neighbours and making friends as well as being actually quite helpful, in both practical and emotional ways, despite Lyla’s frustrations. However this is not merely a story about how communities come together, but a realistic account of the impact of the earthquake on Lyla - how trauma impacts you when you least expect it, and the anxiety that can’t be avoided when your whole world is tipped upside down and shaken (literally and figuratively). Lyla is part of the 'Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zones' series: the books enable children to understand the impact of a natural disaster and to empathise with a child in a crisis situation.


Autoportrait by Édouard Levé  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“I am inexhaustible on the subject of myself,” states Édouard Levé in this book which is nothing less than an attempt to exhaust everything that he can think of to say about himself, no matter how banal or embarrassing, with relentless objectivity. In one long string of seemingly random declarative statements without style or development or form (other than the form of the list, if a list can be said to be a form), the details accumulate with very fine grain, but the effect is disconcerting: the author comes no closer to exhausting his observations, and the idea that there is such a thing as a 'person' beyond the details seems more and more implausible. The list is not so much an accumulation as an obliteration: facts obscure that which they purport to represent. “I dream of an objective prose, but there is no such thing.” Levé’s style is deliberately and perfectly and admirably flat throughout (all perfect things should be admired (whatever that means)), like that of a police report. “I try to write prose that will be changed neither by translation nor by the passage of time.” The constructions often feel aphoristic but eschew the pretension of aphorisms to refer to anything other than the particulars of which they are constructed. There is no lens formed by these sentences to ‘see through’, no insight, no intimation of personality other than the jumbled bundling of details and tendencies assembled under the author’s name, no ‘self’ that expresses itself through these details or is approachable through these details, because we are none of us persons other than what we for convenience or comfort (or, rather, out of frustration and fear) bundle conceptually, mostly haphazardly, and treat as an entity or ‘person’. The more fact is compounded (or, rather, facts are compounded), the stronger the intimation that any attempt to exhaust the description of a person will never be approach we usually think of as a person. “If I look in mirrors for long enough, a moment comes when my face stops meaning anything.” As well as demonstrating the impossibility of the task which it attempts, description also cancels itself by implying for each positive statement a complementary negative statement. Each statement of the self-description of Édouard Levé functions to include those of us among his readers who are similar and to exclude those who are dissimilar. We find each statement either in accord or in disagreement with a statement we could similarly (or dissimilarly) make about ourselves. The reader is charted in the text as much as the author. The reader is continually comparing themselves to the author, finding accord or otherwise, exercising the kind of judgement concealed beneath all social interaction but typically hidden by content and mutuality. In Autoportrait, the author’s self-obsession is matched by our fascination with him, with the kinds of details that may or may not come to light in social interchange. Because the author is not aware of us and is not reciprocally interested in us, or feigning reciprocal interest in us, as would be the case in ‘real life’ social interaction, we feel no shame in our fascination, our fascination is dispassionate, clinical. He is likewise unaffected by our interest or otherwise in him. But as well as bundling together an open set of details that we may conveniently think of as facts (“Everything I write is true, but so what?”) about Édouard Levé (or ‘Édouard Levé’), the text also conjures an inverse Édouard Levé (or ‘Édouard Levé’) who is the opposite to him in every way, the person who nullifies him (in the way that all statements call into being their simple or compound opposites, their nullifiers). Levé’s obsession with identity, facsimile and the corrosive effects of representation reappear throughout the book, and towards the end he mentions the suicide of a friend from adolescence, which would form the basis for Levé’s final book, Suicide (after which Levé himself committed suicide). Édouard Levé was born on the same day as me, but on the other side of the planet. In Autoportrait he writes, “As a child I was convinced that I had a double on this earth, he and I were born on the same day, he had the same body, the same feelings I did, but not the same parents or the same background, for he lived on the other side of the planet, I knew that there was very little chance that I would meet him, but still I believed that this miracle would occur.” We never met and I am not that person.

Tōtara: A natural and cultural history by Philip Simpson is our Book of the Week this week at VOLUME. As well as profiling the tree and its habits, the well-illustrated book explores its significance to Maori and to settlers, and its plight in the modern era.

>> Simpson (who lives in Golden Bay) shares his love of tōtara.

>> An interview with Philip Simpson

>> Tōtara are easy to grow (hint).

>> Threats to totara

>> Totara for the future

>> The book has been short-listed in the Illustrated Non-Fiction section of the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

Friday 23 March 2018

Lacking Character by Curtis White        $38
The story begins when a masked man with “a message both obscure and appalling” appears at the door of the Marquis claiming a matter of life and death, declaring, “I stand falsely accused of an atrocity!”
Dispatched by the Queen of Spells from the Outer Hebrides, the Masked Man’s message was really just a polite request for the Marquis (a video game-playing burnout) to help him enroll in some community college vocational classes. But the exchange gets botched… badly. And our masked man is now lost in America, encountering its absurdities at every turn, and cursing the author that created him.
"A profane wrestling match between high style and low comedy." - Kirkus 
“Curtis White is a master of the digressive, philosophical novel. His new work Lacking Character provides another excellent example of this tradition. Lacking Character is very funny, bursting with wit and generosity. It evokes Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, and the historical picaresque. There is Rabelais as well as the Soviet fairy tales of Kapek or Kharms, and the French symbolist films of Cocteau or Demy. Lacking Character is funny and heartbreaking.” — Entropy
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch         $33
In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet's now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. The changed world has turned evolution on its head: the surviving humans have become sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin. Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule - galvanised by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her.
"All my youth I gloried in the wild, exulting, rollercoaster prose and questing narratives of Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and Jack Kerouac, but cringed at the misogyny; couldn't we have the former without the latter? We can, because: Lidia Yuknavitch. Buckle your seat belts; it's gonna be a wild feminist ride." - Rebecca Solnit"A raucous celebration, a searing condemnation, and fiercely imaginative retelling of Joan of Arc's transcendent life." - Roxane Gay
>> This Joan's not for burning
>> The Small Backs of Children is also excellent. 
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. 
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi       $27
A monster created from human remains rampages around the streets of Baghdad. What qualifies as human in a city traumatised by war? 
"An extraordinary piece of work. With uncompromising focus, Ahmed Saadawi takes you right to the wounded heart of war's absurd and tragic wreckage. A devastating but essential read." - Kevin Powers
"There is no shortage of wonderful, literate Frankenstein reimaginings but few so viscerally mine Shelley's story for its metaphoric riches." - Booklist
Things That Bother Me: Death, freedom, the self, etc. by Galen Strawson      $38
A clear and enjoyable expression of Strawson's dismissal of free will, his avowal of the possibility of panpsychism and his consideration of the arbitrary and experiential characteristics of the self (so to call it). 

White Girls by Hilton Als          $28
"I see how we are all the same, that none of us are white women or black men; rather, we're a series of mouths, and that every mouth needs filling: with something wet or dry, like love, or unfamiliar and savoury, like love." Als traverses the last decades of the twentieth century, from Flannery O'Connor's rural South, through Michael Jackson in the Motown years, to Jean Michel Basquiat and the AIDS epidemic in nineties New York, in order to unravel the tangled notions of sexual and racial identity that have been so formative of contemporary culture
"White Girls is a book, a dream, an enemy, a friend, and, yes, the read of the year." - Junot Diaz
Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes        $38
An aging member of the once-vibrant youth culture of the 1980s finds himself increasingly at a loss in a society moving at a different pace and a different direction. 
"One of the books of the year, if not the decade. No review could do it justice. Seldom has a novel with so much vicious humour and political intent also included moments of beautifully choreographed, unexpected tragedy. Bold and sophisticated, this thrilling, magnificently audacious picaresque is about France and is also about all of us: how loudly we shout, how badly we hurt." - Irish Times
"This is not just a novel, it's an electrocardiogram." - Figaro 
Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize
>> On Despentes's 'hardcore feminism'. 
Culture as Weapon: The art of influence in everyday life by Nato Thompson       $38
The machinery of cultural production has been co-opted by institutions, corporations and governments in order to further their interests, maximise profits and suppress dissent. A perceptive account of how advertising, media and politics work today. 

My Sweet Orange Tree by José Mauro de Vasconcelos      $22
Zezé is Brazil’s naughtiest and most loveable boy. His talent for mischief matched only by his great kindness. When he grows up he wants to be a poet but for now he entertains himself playing pranks on the residents of his family’s poor Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood and inventing friends to play with. That is, until he meets a real friend, and his life begins to change. 

A Fiery and Furious People: A history of English violence by James Sharpe        $30
How has society's attitude to violence changed through history? Why are some activities frowned upon in some ages and lauded in others? Does a turbulent history make a people more violent or less so? 
"Wonderfully entertaining, comprehensive and astute." - The Times

The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton        $45
Fleeing his abusive father across the desert towards the only person he thinks will understand him, Jaxie comes across an old recluse living in an abandoned shepherd's hut and begins to re-examine the trajectory of his young life. 
"Austere, beautiful and compelling, brilliant and uncomfortable." - Sydney Morning Herald
Tane's War by Brendaniel Weir    $30
1953. In order to help protect two shearers whose relationship is exposed, will their foreman be forced to come out about his relationship with a fellow soldier in World War One? 

The Book Thieves: The Nazi looting of European libraries and the race to return a literary inheritance by Anders Rydell     $35
"An erudite exploration of the systematic plundering of libraries and book collections by Nazi invaders. Looting books by mainly Jewish owners, collections, and libraries was an effective way of stealing Jewish memory and history, as this thorough work of research by Swedish journalist and editor Rydell attests. An Engrossing, haunting journey for bibliophiles and World War II historians alike." - Kirkus 

In Search of Mary Shelley, The girl who wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Simpson      $40
"We all know the life, but what do we know of the woman who lived it?" The story of a the teenager who eloped with a poet and wrote a book that brought into existence a modern archetype
>> Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's own hand. 

The Sea Takes No Prisoners: Offshore voyages in an open dinghy by Peter Clutterbuck         $33
Calypso was a Wayfarer, a small and very popular class of open dinghy, a boat designed for pottering around coastlines and estuaries during the day. But along with the occasional brave crewmate, Clutterbuck managed to sail her across the English Channel, through the Bay of Biscay, down the French canals and into the Mediterranean, then up into the North Sea and the Baltic to Oslo, living aboard for three months at a time. A real-life Swallows and Amazons
Earth Verse: Haiku from the ground up by Sally Walker and William Grill      $30
Fossilisation, rocks, the water cycle, volcanoes, glaciers, thunderstorms, geology, ecology - a beautifully illustrated introduction to earth science. 

Ordinary People by Diana Evans       $38
"A novel that lays bare the normality of black family life in suburban London, while revealing its deepest psyche, its tragedies, its hopes and its magic. A wondrous book." - Afua Hirsch
>> The author on losing her twin
In the Shadows of the American Century: The rise and decline of US global power by Alfred W. McCoy       $38
As the dust settled after World War II, America controlled half the world's manufacturing capacity. By the end of the Cold War it possessed nearly half the planet's military forces, spread across eight hundred bases, and much of its wealth. Beyond what was on display, the United States had also built a formidable diplomatic and clandestine apparatus. Indeed, more than anything else, it is this secretive tier of global surveillance and covert operations that distinguishes the US from the great empires of the past. But recent years have seen America's share of the global economy diminish, its diplomatic alliances falter and its claim to moral leadership abandoned. Will China become the dominant nation this century? 
Vonney Ball Ceramics by Helen Schamroth         $45
The work of the leading contemporary ceramicist, resident in New Zealand since 1995, displays a breadth of influence, from the Bloomsbury Group's Omega Workshop, old English pottery, Memphis and Wedgewood to New Zealand and Pacific indigenous and traditional aesthetics. 
>> Visit Vonney Ball's website
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi       $20
Zelie remembers when the soil of Orisha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie's Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zelie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zelie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. YA fantasy steeped in Nigerian folklore. 
"The best sort of book: a hugely enjoyable escapist story that makes you re-examine the world around you. It is a miraculous achievement." - The Guardian
Rust by Jean-Michel Rabate         $22
Rust never sleeps, it is working away all the time, converting what we though was solid and permanent into something organic and mutable. Rabate's exploration of the meanings of rust ranges from science into psychology, from investigations of the rust belts in China and the US to the use of rust by artists and architects, to strange ruminations on the connections between rust and blood.
Luggage by Susan Harlan      $22
What we carry about with us when every gram counts are carefully curated portraits of the selves we want to be and of the selves we are anxious to escape. 
Souvenir by Rolf Potts      $22
A souvenir certifies a journey but also distorts our memory of it. What has been the changing nature of travel relics, and how do they reflect the traveller more than the place in which it was acquired? 
Burger by Carol J. Adams        $22
The burger, long the All-American meal, is undergoing an identity crisis. From its shifting place in popular culture to efforts by investors such as Bill Gates to create the non-animal burger that can feed the world, the burger's identity has become as malleable as that patty of protein itself, before it is thrown on a grill.