Saturday, 30 November 2019
List #5: BIOGRAPHY, MEMOIR & ESSAYS
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.
The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes $45
Barnes brings his novelist's perspicacity and his deep interest in French history to the fore in this rich and rewarding portrait of Belle Epoque, its artists, libertines and narcissists, focused on the life of pioneering surgeon and free-thinker Samuel Pozzi.
Becoming Beauvoir by Kate Kirkpatrick $44
"One is not born, one rather becomes, a woman." Similarly, one is not born, one rather becomes, Simone de Beauvoir. In this important new biography, drawing on new primary sources. Kirkpatrick sheds light on some of the more complex corners of de Beauvoir's life and gives a remarkably lively reassessment of her relevance to modern feminism and autofiction (so to call it).
No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Island by Behrouz Boochani $25
Until his recent release to New Zealand, Kurdish jounralist Boochani has been held by the Australian government of Manus island in contravention of international law since 2013. While there he managed to surreptitiously write this book about his experiences.
Someone's Wife by Linda Burgess $37
A collection of very personal essays exploring childhood, marriage, life as an All Black wife, and a poignant and strikingly honest reflection on the death of her first born, Toby.
"Lind Burgess can make you laugh and break your heart, often in the same sentence. Clear-eyed and wise, these essays are the stories we share to survive." —Diana Wichtel
Confessions of a Bookseller by Sean Bythell $33
Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. With more than a mile of shelving, real log fires in the shop and the sea lapping nearby, the shop should be an idyll for bookworms. Unfortunately, Shaun also has to contend with bizarre requests from people who don't understand what a shop is, home invasions during the Wigtown Book Festival, and Granny, his neurotic Italian assistant, who likes digging for river mud to make poultices. It's all true. Follows the wildly successful The Diary of a Bookseller.
>>Sean shows us how to deal with a broken Kindle.
>>As it happens.
Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter $40
New Zealand musician Shayne Carter tells the story of a life in music, taking us deep behind the scenes and songs of his riotous teenage bands Bored Games and the Doublehappys and his best-known bands Straitjacket Fits and Dimmer.
"Life life life. Music music music. Girls girls girls. Funny, painful, reflective and raw." - Emily Perkins
>> DoubleHappys live, Dunedin, 1984.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee $25
The author of The Queen of the Night delivers a series of superb essays investigating his development as a person and as a writer and activist, intimating how we form our identities both in life and in art. New edition.
"Alexander Chee is the very best kind of essayist, a boon companion in good times and bad, whose confiding voice you'd follow anywhere, just for the wonderful feeling of being understood like never before." - Charles D'Ambrosio
"Masterful." - Roxanne Gay
"Wonderful." - Rebecca Solnit
Coventry by Rachel Cusk $37
Essays from one of today's sharpest writers on 'Driving as Metaphor', 'On Rudeness', on parenting, disintegrating relationships and the concept of 'home',on 'women's writing', on the insights that can be gained from a range of artists and writers, and on being sent to Coventry. We highly recommend Cusk's novels Outline, Transit and Kudos.
>>Read Thomas's review.
>>Read Thomas's reviews of Outline, Transit and Kudos.
Homesick: Why I live in a shed by Catrina Davies $45
Fed up with being on the suffering end of the British housing crisis, Davies left Bristol for a shack in the far west of Cornwall. Rebuilding the shack, and spending more time by herself, she found a greater sense of direction and appreciation of nature.
"You will marvel at the beauty of this book, and rage at the injustice it reveals." —George Monbiot
"Incredibly moving. To find peace and a sense of home after a life so profoundly affected by the housing crisis, is truly inspirational." —Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path
Essays by Lydia Davis $50
Lydia Davis's writing is a masterclass in control — wry, lucid, penetrating, every word placed deliberately. Here she presents a dazzling collection of literary essays, each one as beautifully formed, thought-provoking, playful and illuminating as her critically acclaimed short fiction.
Incidental Inventions by Elena Ferrante, illustrated by Andrea Ucini $35
For a year Ferrante (author of 'The Neapolitan Novels') wrote columns for The Guardian on a wide range of topics, from first love to climate change, from enmity among women to the adaptation of her novels to film and TV. These columns are collected here, each with a charming illustration by Andrea Ucini, in this attractive volume.
Te Rātaka a Tētahi Kōhine by Anne Frank, translated by Te Haumihiata Mason $25
The Diary of a Young Girl in te reo Māori.
>>Published by the New Zealand Holocaust Centre to mark what would have been Anne Frank's 90th birthday.
>>Why it's significant Anne Frank's diary has been translated into Te Reo Māori.
Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller $33
After her father's sudden death, Alexandra Fuller realizes that if she is going to weather his loss, she will need to become the parts of him she misses most. Tim Fuller was a self-exiled black sheep who moved to Africa to fight in the Rhodesian Bush War before settling as a banana farmer in Zambia. He was more afraid of getting bored than of anything else. What will Alexandra Fuller draw from his life?
Yellow Notebook: Diaries, 1978—1986 by Helen Garner $37
Helen Garner has kept a diary for almost all her life. But until now, those exercise books filled with her thoughts, observations, frustrations and joys have been locked away, out of bounds, in a laundry cupboard. Finally, Garner has opened her diaries and invited readers into the world behind her novels and works of non-fiction.
Constellations: Reflections from life by Sinéad Gleeson $38
"I have come to think of all the metal in my body as artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal. A map, a tracing of connections and a guide to looking at things from different angles. How do you tell the story of life that is no one thing? How do you tell the story of a life in a body, as it goes through sickness, health, motherhood? And how do you tell that story when you are not just a woman but a woman in Ireland?"
"Sinéad Gleeson has changed the Irish literary landscape, through her advocacy for the female voice. In Constellations, we finally hear her own voice, and it comes from the blood and bones of her body’s history. Sinéad Gleeson is an absolute force: if you want to know where passion and tenacity are born, read this book." - Anne Enright
”Constellations is a glitteringly brilliant book; daring in its voice, beautiful in its forms, challenging in its subjects. It dazzled me with its adventure and ambition. These essays stand as radiant single entities but also, over the book’s course, constellate into a larger structure of thought about what Gleeson calls ‘the story of a life in a body’. Political, poetic, tender and angry, this is a remarkable book." - Robert MacFarlane
"Utterly magnificent. Raw, thought-provoking and galvanising; this is a book every woman should read." - Eimear McBride
Native Son: The writer's memoir by Witi Ihimaera $40
The second volume of memoir from Ihimaera, following Maori Boy and telling of his experiences as a young writer making his way in a pakeha world, trying to find a place and a voice, exploring his identity and sexuality, and trying to put a secret in his past behind him.
Letters from Tove by Tove Jansson, edited by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson $45
Offers an almost seamless commentary on Tove Jansson's life as it unfolded within Helsinki's bohemian circles and her island home. Spanning fifty years between her art studies and the height of Moomin fame, the letters deal with the bleakness of war, the hopes for love that were dashed and renewed, and her determined attempts to establish herself as an artist.
Peat by Lynn Jenner $35
Lynn Jenner’s deeply thoughtful book enlists the help of deceased cultural eminence Charles Brasch to explore the tensions between words and land, and between society and ecology, as a response to the recent development of the Kāpiti Expressway, a so-called ‘Road of National Significance’.
>>Read Thomas's review.
Let Me Be Frank by Sarah Laing $35
Reading. Writing. Parenting. Angsting. A wonderful — quirkily funny and poignant — graphic memoir from the superb Sarah Laing, drawn between 2010 and 2019.
"Let Me Be Frank is a brilliant collection of anecdotes and observations. Sarah's stories of navigating daily life in all its absurdity and mundanity are told with alarming honesty and humour." —Art Sang
"Full of incidental and profound pleasure. Audaciously, addictively honest." —Anna Smaill
All Who Live on Islands by Rose Lu $30
In these intimate and entertaining essays, Rose Lu takes us through personal history a shopping trip with her Shanghai-born grandparents, her career in the Wellington tech industry, an epic hike through the Himalayas to explore friendship, the weight of stories told and not told about diverse cultures, and the reverberations of our parents' and grandparents' choices. Frank and compassionate, Rose Lu's stories illuminate the cultural and linguistic questions that migrants face, as well as what it is to be a young person living in 21st-century Aotearoa New Zealand.
>>Read the title essay.
Minor Monuments by Ian Maleney $37
Set around a small family farm on the edge of a bog, a few miles from the river Shannon, Minor Monuments is a collection of essays unfolding from the landscape of the Irish midlands. Taking in the physical and philosophical power of sound and music, and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on a family, Ian Maleney questions the nature of home, memory, and the complex nature of belonging.
"Minor Monuments is brilliant, pulsing with intellect and insight, with each observation composed so beautifully as to be deeply moving. This is the kind of book that changes its reader." – Lisa McInerney
See What Can Be Done by Lorrie Moore $28
Three decades of the application of Moore's sharp and quirky mind to every cultural manifestation from books to films to politics (and back to books) has left this marvelous residue of essays and criticism. Now in paperback.
>> "The route to truth and beauty is a toll road."
Strong Words, 2019: The best of the Landfall Essay Competition edited by Emma Neale $35
Excellent essays from 21 established or emerging writers. Includes Nelson's Justine Whitfield and Becky Manawatu.
Ministry of Truth: A biography of George Orwell's 1984 by Dorian Lynskey $38
Examines the epochal and cultural phenomenon that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Britain that Orwell drew on as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomena that the novel ignited at once upon publication and that far from subsiding, have only grown over the decades. The manifestations of its influence in contemporary popular culture and (gulp) politics are even wider than you may have suspected.
Every Morning, So Far, I'm Alive by Wendy Parkins $35
A very well-written memoir of a descent from homesickness into depression, contamination phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and of Parkins's tentative road to recovery. This is a book about claiming the right to tell your own story.
It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track by Ian Penman $38
"Penman summons the lives and times of several extravagantly damaged musical geniuses and near-geniuses in (mainly) the brutal context of mid-century America – its racial atrocities, its venality, its murderous conformities. Penman writes an exact, evocative prose as surprising as improvised jazz in its fluid progress from music criticism to social commentary to biography and back. He’s found a way to be erudite without pedantry, entertaining without pandering. His ear for mesmerizing nuance is unmatched by any music critic alive." —Gary Indiana
"Ian Penman is popular music’s Hazlitt – its chief stylist – and his sound is often equal to what he writes about. Each of his essays is an event, so this book is indispensable." —Andrew O’Hagan
"Written with love and joy and squirt gunner’s accuracy with the adjective." —Nicholson Baker
>>Read an extract.
Rough Magic: Riding the world's wildest horse race by Lara Prior-Palmer $48
The Mongol Derby is the world's toughest horse race. A feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the people of Genghis Khan, competitors ride 25 horses across a distance of 1000km. Many riders don't make it to the finish line. In 2013 19-year-old Lara Prior-Palmer entered the race.
Everything In Its Place: First loves and last tales by Oliver Sacks $40
Essays covering everything from his passion for ferns, swimming, and horsetails, to his final case histories exploring schizophrenia, dementia, and Alzheimer's.
Will by Will Self $37
Will Self's adolescence and early adulthood were spent largely under the influence of or on the quest for drugs of some sort or other. It is also the period of his life in which his future directions in literature took form. This third-person memoir is self-excoriating and enjoyable to read.
Heiða: A shepherd at the edge of the world by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir and Heiða Guðný Ásgeirsdóttir $38
Why did Heiða Guðný Ásgeirsdóttir turn her back on a modelling career and become a sheep farmer and green activist in Iceland?
>> Meet an Icelandic shepherd.
Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith $33
Spend a year inside the head of this inspired and idiosyncratic thinker, writer and musician as she moves from performances towards the solitary places both outside and inside her head.
Sontag: Her life by Benjamin Moser $75
A unique, restless and wide-ranging intellect, unassimilable in her own time or since, Sontag continues to reward both close and not-so-close study. Moser is best known for his outstanding biography of Clarice Lispector.
Another Planet: A teenager in suburbia by Tracey Thorn $33
In a 1970s commuter town, Tracey Thorn's teenage life was forged from what failed to happen. Her diaries were packed with entries about not buying things, not going to the disco, the school coach not arriving. Before she was a bestselling musician and writer, Tracey Thorn was a typical teenager: bored and cynical, despairing of her aspirational parents. Her only comfort came from house parties, Meaningful Conversations and the female pop icons who hinted at a new kind of living.
>>'On My Mind' (1983).
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin $42
Fascinating and well-written investigations of the fraught interface between the personal and the collective, springing from an interrogation of five axioms: 'Give Me a Child Before the Age of 7 and I'll Give You the (Wo)Man', 'History Repeats Itself...', 'Those Who Forget the Past are Condemned to Repeat It', 'You Can't Enter The Same River Twice', and 'Time Heals All Wounds' - finding all to be both true and untrue, helpful and unhelpful, liberating and restricting.
>>The drowned and the saved.
The Political Years by Marilyn Waring $40
From her entry into parliament in 1975 at age 23 until the epoch-changing 1984 general election that was triggered by her telling Robert Muldoon that she intended to cross the floor to vote against the National government on nuclear- free legislation.
>>Muldoon calls the snap election after consulting the Governor General and the bottle.
Selfies by Sylvie Weill $38
"A beguiling series of vignettes, by turns wry, amusing and disturbing, inspired by self-portraits by women artists and reflecting on the images they provoke. An illuminating survey of the author's various identities, in a fractured world, as mother, lover and writer." —Michèle Roberts
"A new genre is born: the short selfie collection! Lively, inventive, compassionate, aching, morally complex and troubling, I loved these self-portraits more than anything I’ve read lately." — Lauren Elkin
>>Read Thomas's review.
The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths and their year of marvels by Adam Nicholson $60
From June 1797 to the autumn of 1798, while Britain was at war with revolutionary France, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Dorothy Wordsworth lived on the edge of the Quantock Hills in Somerset and began to explore a new way of looking at the world — and their place in it — as devotees of nature and of the unfettered mind, effectively inventing the Romantic movement.
"The perfect marriage of poetry and place." —Robert McCrum, Guardian
>>Return to the GIFT SELECTOR.