Friday 27 March 2020

Our thoughts are with you as the whole country is in isolation as the best way to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Please stay home, read books and save lives.
Needless to say, our shop is shut until further notice. You can order books from our website ( at any time. We will have these delivered to your door as soon as the emergency has been downgraded. We are available for queries, orders and advice via e-mail (, and by telephone (039700073) and text (0211970002) from the VOLUME isolation hub at home (pictured), Monday—Friday, 10 AM—2 PM; and present on FaceBook and instagram. Book orders coming from overseas are currently very uncertain due to flight disruptions, but we will get your books to you as soon as circumstances allow. Stay safe and stay in touch! Kia ora! Kia kaha!

BOOKS @ VOLUME #171 (27.3.20)

Sit down for our first lock-down newsletter!

We will be compiling a bulletin of book-related links, articles and amusements for you twice a week during the Level Four isolation period. You can read the first issue here. If you would like each issue to appear in your e-mail box as soon as it is published, subscribe hereAnd do send us links you think others may like!


Dead People I Have Known by Shane Carter    {Reviewed by STELLA}From the first lines in Shayne Carter’s music memoir, Dead People I Have Known, you are hooked. You are immediately asked to come along for the ride — no preamble or polite introduction. Carter draws you in with his writing — the words leap off the page. Carter, frontman for well-known bands Bored Games, Double HappysStraight Jacket Fits and Dimmer, takes us on a revealing tour from his childhood in Dunedin, through his musical development and various bands, to his later creative obsessions. Expecting a band-to-band, blow-by-blow account, it is a pleasant surprise to find a mix of chronological autobiography, commentary and creative contemplation. The music industry Carter talks about revolves around the Flying Nun phenomena and the branches that grew from this. The scene that circled around this was one of remarkable change and this memoir gives us a very personal view of this — a window — a wonderfully narrow frame that reveals a personal creative journey and reverberates something about growing up and pushing out in New Zealand, and into the world. While the book is particular in its look at a corner (a rather large corner, mind you) of the New Zealand music scene, and for fans this will be delightful, it is also many other things. It’s about growing up in small-town New Zealand — an experience which many of us share. Carter’s childhood was not a walk in the park. Here is the rough edge of precarity and the burden of alcohol and aggression — and also the flawed but human love and connection between family. Here you also see the results of cultural alienation and loss of language and connection with community. It reveals, through Carter’s own life and attitudes, the changing nature of our culture — what was relevant and okay in the 1970s, and how we have matured in our behaviours in regard to race and gender (although saying that, I did notice that the male musician colleagues are mentioned in full while some of the female band colleagues are quite often only ‘Jane’ — so still a way to go). It is also a fascinating look at what it means and feels like to be a creative obsessive — pushing towards perfection despite — and because of — addiction, oblivion, isolation and just plain pissing people off. For Shayne Carter has what many lead men have — an ego. Carter has an incredible belief in himself and also on the flip side, a doubtfulness or some such emotion, borne out of his rise up and his ride to the bottom. A bottom that is precarious and feels like it still beckons. Carter has a passion for his creative practice and he has applied this passion to Dead People I have Known. It feels like there are no brakes, but in fact, it is a well thought-out and superbly reflective book.   
 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Falling Awake by Alice Oswald  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
find a leaf and fasten the known to the unknown / with a quick cufflink / and then unfasten

The images of nature in Falling Awake act not so much as metaphors for contents of the human mind but rather are points at which nature presses so hard upon the surface of the human that it ruptures that surface and breaks through, or, rather, nature wears away that surface and flows through, subsuming the human, the reverse flow of what is usual in that performance of language that we call metaphor. To observe is to become that which is observed, or, rather, to surrender oneself to the observed, to lose the idea of oneself, at least for that moment, but a moment from which there is in fact no return, and, similarly, in the reading of good poetry there is no defined border between interpretation and one’s own underlying thinking, so to call it, brought to the poem and brought away again altered in some way, not so much by the forces in the poem itself but by its own forces, catalysed in some way by the poem. In Oswald’s poems, water is language is life. Gravity pulls on all, and to surrender to falling, to the earthward pull, is the tendency of water towards the sea, of language towards silence, of life towards death. To resist this pull, to be some thing, to take names, to speak, is to weary and age oneself, to repeat oneself, to erase oneself by seeking to avoid erasure (“the eye is a white eraser rubbing them away”), to bring forward that point at which surrender is inevitable, even though the only alternative to struggle is surrender. And what remains after form has gone? How soon the pull-to-flow, ever present, however resisted, after a moment, a crucial reverse moment, “as if in a broken jug for one backwards moment / water might keep its shape”, tends everything towards its goal. In ‘Alongside Beans’, Oswald shows the vegetal profusion of the beans underscoring the human passage through illness towards death by travelling the path in reverse, progressing from the grave to ominous swellings, to vague symptoms, to widespread growth and profusion. This is time moving backwards, this is not resurrection or rebirth but their opposite, the compensatory movement of vegetal time to that which pulls always at us. It is possible, with great effort, to resist this gravity, this tendency towards death, but only with great effort. ‘Dunt: A poem for a dried-up river’ describes the repeated efforts of a lifeless Roman figurine to (re)produce water from dry rock, “try again”, “try again”, which not only enlivens her, into the groans and pains that are the symptom of enlivenment, but produces a trickle, “go on”, “yes go on”, then a stream, at least a mucky liquid flow, a “fish path with nearly no fish in”, an image of the poeting process of effort and release, some sort of release after some sort of effort. Is the effort to take a name, to make a word, to struggle, only of any sense when seen in the context of the release that succeeds it, the release into namelessness and into silence? Oswald allows her poems to tend towards that silence. She senses an affinity with the cooling, increasingly clumsy and stupid flies, losing, through the increasing cold of the season, their capacity to speak. But what would they say? “what dirt shall we visit today? / what shall we re-visit?” Meaning is worn away by repetition, but this wearing away is its own meaning. We are caught, it seems, in a moment of vertigo, a conflict between free will and gravity, being and release, words and silence. As we are thus disabled, or thus enabled, nature reaches its strangeness towards us more than we can push our ordinariness towards it, at these moments nature takes our humanness from us even to the extent of appropriating our human capacity for speech, though it be our speech, like Oswald’s eldritch image of the vixen who speaks, “it’s midnight / and my life / is laid beneath my children / like gold leaf”, a statement impervious to rational approach, yet somehow right and somehow essential. Nature is not so much wonderful or beautiful, not a reassurance but a threat, always seeking our erasure, to undo us, to bring time to bear upon us, although perhaps this is not something we should feel as a threat, this perhaps is what we long for, our release, our rest, our cessation, and we could perhaps welcome, and even seek, that moment “when something not quite anything changes its mind like me / and begins to fall”. The final, extended sequence, ‘Tithonus’, is marked out in seconds for the 46 minutes before dawn in midsummer, the sounds observed and voiced really more a patterning of silence, the words more a patterning of their absence, the meaninglessness that crumbles away the edges of words at all times, this onward pull of time. The poem is not a progress towards dawn as a moment of birth or rebirth, rather a progression into decrepitude, beyond decrepitude, beyond imbecility, losing the idea of the self, “very nearly anonymous now, to the point where dawn is a longed-for release, heralded with the final words, “may I stop please”.
Our Book of the Week is Weather by Jenny Offill. Very funny on top of an underlying anxiety, Offill's new novel is a record of the burdens and ironies of contemporary urban life — motherhood, sisterhood, wifehood, workerhood — exemplified in Lizzie's endless surges of underachievement and misdirection. 
>>Read Thomas's review.
>>Offill on "the subtraction of weight" and other interesting matters
>>Writing the perfect worry novel
>>Writing Weather turned Offill into an activist
>>"I no longer felt that it wasn't my fight."
>>Have we chosen to be a fearful society? 
>>Order your copy. We'll get this to you as soon as the emergency has been downgraded
>>Read Thomas's review of Offill's previous novel, Dept. of Speculation

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Our thoughts are with you in the rapidly developing Covid-19 situation. We urge you to stay home and stay safe. Consider the well-being of yourself, your family, your friends and your community. Wash your hands. Enjoy your books. Reading is absolutely recommended whatever your situation!
The shop is shut until further notice.
During the Level Four isolation period we will be at home but AVAILABLE FOR QUERIES, ORDERS, RECOMMENDATIONS AND ADVICE VIA E-MAIL (; and by TELEPHONE (039700073) and TEXT (0211970002) from Monday—Friday, 10 AM—2 PM.
Visit us on FaceBook and instagram. Anticipate our newsletter.
Kia ora! Kia kaha!

Saturday 21 March 2020

Interesting times

Our thoughts are with you in the rapidly developing Covid-19 situation. We encourage you to avoid non-essential travel and public contact; consider the well-being of yourself, your family and your friends; wash your hands; and enjoy your books. Reading is absolutely recommended whatever your situation. 
Next week (from Monday 23 March) we will be OPEN ONLINE ( at all times, we will be AVAILABLE FOR QUERIES, SALES AND ADVICE VIA E-MAIL (, and by TELEPHONE (039700073) and TEXT (0211970002) during normal shop hours, and present on FaceBook and instagramLet us help you choose your books and have them delivered to your doorNot only will we dispatch by courier daily, we will also be trialling free bicycle delivery to inner Nelson city on the flat. We will NOT be admitting customers to the shop until further notice (we will constantly be reassessing this until the situation becomes clearer) BUT we will be there daily between 9 AM and 11 AM, packing orders and receiving deliveries. Paid orders may be collected from the door during those hours. Contact us for all other arrangementsWe are committed to continuing to provide you with good books in difficult timesKia ora! Kia kaha!

BOOKS @ VOLUME #170 (21.3.20)

Read our newsletter and be part of a community of readers


Nicotine by Nell Zink    {Reviewed by Stella}
I had recently read Mislaid by Nell Zink, the story of Peggy who assumes a new identity for herself and her daughter after her very unsuitable marriage breaks apart. Moving to an abandoned hut on the fringe of a small community Peggy, now Meg, plays out her new role in life without a misfire until it all implodes. Mislaid explored what makes a family, what constitutes a relationship and what is real and what is pretentious. Zink’s writing, with its overtones and undertones (plenty of sly digs at cultural norms and hilarious metaphors about relationships), was appealing, fresh and surprising. And I’ve also read Nicotine. Again, here, she explores family and relationships in her own surprising way putting her characters through the paces, not letting up on them and playing with society’s concepts of capitalism, pragmatism and ‘spirituality’. Enter Penny, the unemployed business school graduate, daughter of Norm, the Jewish shaman who is famous for his healing clinics and extreme spiritualism, and Amalia, a Kogi, the young second wife rescued from the poverty of South America, who has become a very successful corporate banker. With parents like this, you know from the beginning that Penny carries some baggage. When her aged father dies, Penny is distraught and is left with more questions than answers about her family. Needing distraction, her family decide that she needs something to do and send her to rescue her grandparents’ long-abandoned home in a dodgy suburb of New Jersey. So, we enter Nicotine, the home of squatter activists whose common cause is the right to smoke. Penny is intrigued by the squatters and attracted to Rob, the very good-looking bicycle mechanic. Rather than throw them out of the house, she finds herself part of their group, developing relationships with all the home dwellers that will change not only her life, but theirs too. Penny, despite her seeming uselessness, becomes the catalyst for change for all, with many hilarious machinations and sly digs at social conformity on all sides along the way. Zink is a ‘naughty’ writer – toying with her reader and her characters, constantly making fun of both in a very appealing and clever way. If you like to look at life a bit sideways then you’ll enjoy her style, playfulness and reflections on people – their gullibility, as well as their backbone.


Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed.” Gargoyles (first published in 1967 as Verstörung (“Disturbance”)) is the book in which Bernhard laid claim both thematically and stylistically to the particular literary territory developed in all his subsequent novels. In the first part of the book, set entirely within one day, the narrator, a somewhat vapid student accompanying his father, a country doctor, on his rounds, tells us of the sufferings of various patients due to their mental and physical isolation: the wealthy industrialist withdrawn to his dungeon-like hunting lodge to write a book he will never achieve (“'Even though I have destroyed everything I have written up to now,’ he said, ‘I have still made enormous progress.’”), and his sister-companion, the passive victim of his obsessions whom he is obviously and obliviously destroying; the workers systematically strangling the birds in an aviary following the death of their owner; the musical prodigy suffering from a degenerative condition and kept in a cage, tended by his long-suffering sister. The oppressive landscape mirrors the isolation and despair of its inhabitants: we feel isolated, we reach out, we fail to reach others in a meaningful way, our isolation is made more acute. “No human being could continue to exist in such total isolation without doing severe damage to his intellect and psyche.” Bernhard’s nihilistic survey of the inescapable harm suffered and inflicted by continuing to exist is, however, threaded onto the doctor’s round: although the doctor is incapable of ‘saving’ his patients, his compassion as a witness to their anguish mirrors that of the author (whose role is similar). In the second half of the novel, the doctor’s son narrates their arrival at Hochgobernitz, the castle of Prince Saurau, whose breathlessly neurotic rant blots out everything else, delays the doctor’s return home and fills the rest of the book. This desperate monologue is Bernhard suddenly discovering (and swept off his feet by) his full capacities: an obsessively looping railing against existence and all its particulars. At one stage, when the son reports the prince reporting his dream of discovering a manuscript in which his son expresses his intention to destroy the vast Hochgobernitz estate by neglect after his father’s death, the ventriloquism is many layers deep, paranoid and claustrophobic to the point of panic. The prince’s monologue, like so much of Bernhard’s best writing, is riven by ambivalence, undermined (or underscored) by projection and transference, and structured by crazed but irrefutable logic: “‘Among the special abilities I was early able to observe in myself,’ he said, ‘is the ruthlessness to lead anyone through his own brain until he is nauseated by this cerebral mechanism.’” Although the prince’s monologue is stated to be (and clearly is) the position of someone insane, this does not exactly invalidate it: “Inside every human head is the human catastrophe corresponding to this particular head, the prince said. It is not necessary to open up men’s heads in order to know that there is nothing inside them but a human catastrophe. ‘Without this human catastrophe, man does not exist at all.'”
Sophy Roberts's The Lost Pianos of Siberiaour Book of the Week this week, is a fascinating history of Siberia as told through the stories of the pianos that have made their ways into houses there over the centuries. Pianos have had a special place in Russian culture since the time of Catherine the Great, and since then both grand pianos and humble uprights have made their way to even the furthest and most inhospitable regions of Siberia. Roberts is delightful company as she journeys into the snowbound wastes and meets villagers and city dwellers who are heirs not only to pianos and their remnants but also to the weight of (often surprising) history. 
>>Hear Sophy Roberts talk about the book and how she came to write it
>>'Another Siberia.'
>>Listen to the author's collaboration with Mongolian pianist Odgerel Sampilnorov.
>>The book has a website (with a short film by Michael Turek). 
>>"Original and compelling."
>>More about Sophy Roberts.
>>Your copy of The Lost Pianos of Siberia: softcover or hardback

Friday 20 March 2020

Fate by Jorge Consiglio          $34
"They inhabited a present that was weightless, fickle even, and yet at the same time effortlessly assembled; it was the very embodiment of something sound, something firm and tangible: a space of utter certainty."
This novel focuses on a group of characters who are all in different ways endeavouring to take control of their fate. Their desire to lead a genuine existence forces them to confront difficult decisions, and to break out of comfortable routines.
Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac          $37
"Dark Constellations is a grand saga of the anthropocene fever dream, spanning numerous continents, centuries, and species. With the technophilic, psychedelic flair of Thomas Pynchon and William Gibson, Pola Oloixarac tacks up miles of red yarn between 19th-century explorers, Argentinian cryptographers, secluded island tribes, computational biologists, and more. A novel of high style and heavyweight ideas, Dark Constellations charts a sublime order through the ritualistic carnage of science. Also, sex." —Tony Tulathimutte
"What constitutes the originality of Oloixarac's work is her representation of daily life, with a richness and color only hinted at by either Borges or Baudrillard. Her novels do more than allegorise the pursuit of knowledge or theorize the ontological status of the real in an age of unreality. Her multifaceted characters show something of what it's like to inhabit a fleshy body in a world awash in representations—which is to say, our own world." —Public Books
>>Also on the shelf: Savage Theories
The Mathematics of the Gods and the Algorithms of Men by Paolo Zellini         $40
Is mathematics a discovery or an invention? Have we invented numbers or do they truly exist? What sort of reality should we attribute to them? Mathematics has always been a way of understanding and ordering the world: from sacred ancient texts and pre-Socratic philosophers to twentieth-century logicians such as Russell and Frege and beyond.
Three Brothers: Memories of my family by Yan Lianke             $38
From his childhood in rural Henan Province in the 1960s and early 70s, to his escape to a writing life via joining the army to earn money for his family, Yan Lianke tells not only his story but those of his parents and uncles, conveying life under the Cultural Revolution and beyond.

Dragman by Steven Appleby          $40
A beautifully drawn graphic novel about a man who finds he has superpowers when he puts on women's clothing. What will he tell his wife? 
"Funny, sweet and emotionally true, it doesn’t so much tip toe on to fraught cultural territory as dance wildly across it." —Rachel Cooke, Observer
Vegan Japaneasy by Tim Anderson       $45
Over 80 delicious plant-based authentic Japanese recipes, clearly presented and easy to achieve. From the author of Japaneasy
>>Miso-glazed aubergine.
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry        $37
Barry adds another gem to his cluster of novels based around the fictional Dunne and McNulty families. A Thousand Moons is narrated by Winona, a Lakota orphan adopted by Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and living with them on their farm in 1970s Tennessee following their Civil War experiences recounted in Days Without End
"Nobody writes like, nobody takes lyrical risks like, nobody pushes the language, and the heart, and the two together, quite like Sebastian Barry does, so that you come out of whatever he writes like you've been away, in another climate." —Ali Smith 

Wayfinding: The art and science of how we find and lose our way by Michael Bond         $38
How do our brains make cognitive maps that keep us orientated, even in places we don't know? How does our understanding of and relationship to place help us to understand our world and our relationship to it? How does physical space affect the way we think?

The Road to Conscious Machines: The story of A.I. by Michael Woolridge            $40
The ultimate dream of artificial intelligence is to build machines that are like us: conscious and self-aware. While this remains a remote possibility, rapid progress on AI in this century is already profoundly changing our world. Yet the public debate and media hype is still largely centred on unlikely prospects from sentient machines to dystopian robot takeovers.These anxieties distract us from the more immediate risks that this transformative technology poses — from algorithmic bias to fake news. 

'Cherry' Ingram: The Englishman who saved Japan's blossoms by Naoko Abe          $24
Collingwood Ingram, known as 'Cherry' for his defining obsession, was born in 1880 and lived until he was a hundred, witnessing a fraught century of conflict and change. After visiting Japan in 1902 and 1907 and discovering two magnificent cherry trees in the garden of his family home in Kent in 1919, Ingram fell in love with cherry blossoms, or sakura, and dedicated much of his life to their cultivation and preservation. On a 1926 trip to Japan to search for new specimens, Ingram was shocked to see the loss of local cherry diversity, driven by modernisation, neglect and a dangerous and creeping ideology. A cloned cherry, the Somei-yoshino, was taking over the landscape and becoming the symbol of Japan's expansionist ambitions. The most striking absence from the Japanese cherry scene, for Ingram, was that of Taihaku, a brilliant 'great white' cherry tree. A proud example of this tree grew in his English garden and he swore to return it to its native home. Multiple attempts to send Taihaku scions back to Japan ended in failure, but Ingram persisted. Over decades, Ingram became one of the world's leading cherry experts and shared the joy of sakura internationally.
Warhol: A life as art by Blake Gopnik          $65
"Warhol has overtaken Picasso as the most important and influential artist of the 20th century.” This masterful and deeply researched book reassesses many labels and myths and suggests that it was Warhol's very eschewing of the possibility of meaning that comprises his work's meaning.

English Monsters by James Scudamore       $40
The horribleness of life at an English private schools ha a complicated effect on the later lives of students, explored in this deftly written novel by the author of Heliopolis.

"James Scudamore is now a force in the English novel." —Hilary Mantel
The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman         $37
On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work — Chernobyl — has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother's secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. 
Biased: Uncovering the hidden prejudices that shape our lives by Jennifer Eberhardt        $30
Eberhardt shows that unconscious bias affects the behaviour even of those who consider themselves fair-minded, and show us how to rectify these prejudices. 
"A critically important book." —David Olusoga
The Great Pretender: The undercover mission that changed our understanding of madness by Susannah Cahalan       $40
For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness. In the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people — sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society — went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd 'proven' themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis practices. But, as Cahalan's new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo       $33
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night. Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn't get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity. Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely. Kim Jiyoung is every woman in South Korea.
A Book of Friends: In honour of J.M. Coetzee on his 80th birthday edited by Dorothy Driver         $37
Coetzee's unrelenting literary rigour and essential humanity have gained him many admirers, and also quite a few friends, some of whom have contributed essays and stories and poems and images to this anthology. Includes Paul Auster, Mariana Dimopulos, Siri Hustvedt, David Malouf, Carrie Tiffany, Ivan Vladislavic, William Kentridge, and Samanta Schweblin. 
The Song of the Tree by Coralie Bickford-Smith          $37
Bird loves the towering tree that grows in the jungle, but when the season changes she must say goodbye until next year. Then one day Bird wonders: what happens to the tree when she flies away? Another beautifully drawn picture book from the author of The Fox and the Star and The Worm and the Bird
Virusphere: Ebola, AIDS, influenza and the hidden world of the virus by Frank Ryan         $25
Humans' relationship with viruses predated and in many ways resulted in our humanity. But what are viruses, how to they behave, what are their goals? 
Schrödinger's Dog by Martin Dumont          $30
A close relationship between a father and a son becomes a light on life's meaning following the son's sudden diagnosis of terminal disease.
"Dumont’s rich, somber debut plumbs a father-son relationship to meditate on the fictions people create to endure loss.  Dumont offers powerful philosophical insight into questions of what people owe one another and the value of subjective belief." —Publishers Weekly 

I Feel Bad About My Neck, And other thoughts on being a woman by Nora Ephron         $24
"Nora's exacting, precise, didactic, tried-and-tested, sophisticated-woman-wearing-all-black wisdom is a comfort and a relief. It's why I give this as a present more than other book. I buy it for people so often that I've been known to give girlfriends two copies, one birthday after another." —Dolly Alderton
Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather [Stella Gurney]           $30
In a bid to improve ever worsening relations between our two species, pigeon elder Speck Lee Tailfeather has been elected by his peers to reveal to human beings the truth about pigeons' finer sensibilities. It is already a little known fact that pigeons are amongst some of the most intelligent creatures in the world. However, Speck plans to divulge more. Namely that - far from the perceived pests who plague our buildings - pigeons are in fact great admirers and aficionados of architecture. It is of course for this reason that they can be found in great numbers around the most beautiful and significant buildings in the world.

Saturday 14 March 2020


Our 169th newsletter (14.3.20)

                                                        {Reviews by STELLA}
The very first books that entice young readers are bright, bold and robust — board books. We all have our favourites and some of the classics endure. The Ahlbergs' Peepo and Mem Fox's and Helen Oxenbury's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes come to mind. Here are a few new ones.
From the wonderful Gecko Press, The Wolf and the Fly by Antje Damm. The wolf is hungry. On each page, he chooses something to eat. Here is the wolf on one side of the page eyeing up the shelf on the facing page. There’s a duck, an apple, a fish, a cactus, a car, a fly, a bird and a cat. What will he choose? Turn the page and there is a gap for what has been devoured. Can you see which creature has been a snack? The wolf is licking his lips and he’s still hungry. He chooses again. Turn the page. Maybe the sleepy cat should have been paying more attention! The story carries on until the food shelves are depleted. Guess what is left at the end. The wolf has a rather odd expression on his face. This is a highly enjoyable and very playful book that will keep a child guessing and looking, with plenty of observations to be made and enough language for a tot who is keen on something a little bit humorous.
If you and your child like wordplay, Rhyme Cordial by Antonia Pesenti is superb. With its bold images and interactive pages, it is sure to please. Open the page to see the words ‘Fresh orange juice’ and a picture of a very fresh glass of juice complete with stripy straw and orange slice. Fold out the image page to reveal a goose in the glass ready to eat up that orange slice. Now the words are ‘Fresh orange goose’. This is definitely a read-aloud. And as you read on, the words and images together create a witty and absurd dialogue that is sure to delight your word hungry youngster.
If you want to introduce the world of art to a small mind, Art This Way by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford is a great first book of contemporary artists. Produced in conjunction with the Whitney Museum of American Art, it features works by several famous names, including Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Christo. This caught my eye because it is published by Phaidon (they produce excellent art books), and one of the contributors is Tamara Shopsin, author of Arbitrary Stupid Goal (which is an excellent family memoir and a portrait of a New York community). There are great examples of artworks (sculpture, painting and photography) that will appeal to children. It features interactive elements, lift-the-flap, look-through shapes and fold-out pages; and clear instructive language — look, look under, look in, and look again. 


Tropisms by Nathalie Sarraute   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
In biology, the directional response of a plant’s growth, either towards or away from an external stimulus that either benefits or harms it, is termed tropism. Nathalie Sarraute, in this subtly astounding book, first published in 1939, applies the term to her brief studies of ways in which humans are affected by other humans beneath the level of cognitive thought. In these twenty-four pieces she is interested in describing “certain inner ‘movements’, which are hidden under the commonplace, harmless appearances of every instant of our lives. These movements, of which we are hardly cognisant, slip through us on the frontiers of consciousness, in the form of undefinable, extremely rapid sensations. They hide behind our gestures, beneath the words we speak. They constitute the secret source of our existence.” We are either attracted or repulsed by the presence of others, though attraction and repulsion are indistinguishable at least in the degree of connection they effect, we are either benefitted or harmed by others, or both at once (which is much more harmful), but we cannot act upon or even acknowledge our impulses without making intolerable the life we have striven so hard to make tolerable in order to survive. Neurosis may be a sub-optimal functional mode, but it is a functional mode all the same. We wish to destroy but we fear, rightly, being also destroyed. We sublimate that which would overwhelm us, preferring inaction to action for fear of the reaction that action would attract, but we cannot be cognisant of the extent to which this process forms the basis of our existence for such awareness would be intolerable. We must deceive ourselves if we are to make the intolerable tolerable, and we must not be aware that we so deceive ourselves. Such devices as character and plot, which we both apply to ‘real life’ and practise in the reading and writing of novels, are “nothing but a conventional code that we apply to life” to make it liveable. Sarraute’s brilliance in this book, which is the key to her other novels, and which constitutes an object lesson for any writer, is to observe and convey the impulses “constantly emerging up to the surface of the appearances that both conceal and reveal them.” Subliminal both in its observations and in its effects, the book suggests the urges and responses that form the understructure of relationships, unseen beneath the effectively compulsive conventions, expectations and obligations that comprise our conscious quotidian lives. Many of the pieces suggest how children are subsumed, overwhelmed and harmed by adults: “They had always known how to possess him entirely, without leaving him an inch of breathing space, without a moment’s respite, how to devour him down to the last crumb.” Sarraute is not interested here in character or plot, but in the unacknowledged impulses and responses that underlie our habits, attitudes and actions. Each thing emerges from, or tends towards, its opposite. All that is beautiful moves towards the hideous. Against what is hideous, something inextinguishable moves to rebel, to survive. ‘Tropism’ also suggests the word ‘trop’ in French, in the sense of ‘too much’. The ideas we have of ourselves are flotsam on surging unconscious depths in which there is no individuality, only impulse and response. Sarraute’s tropisms give insight into the patterns, or clustering tendencies, of these impulses and responses, and are written in remarkable, beautiful sentences. “And he sensed, percolating from the kitchen, squalid human thought, shuffling, shuffling in one spot, going round and round, in circles, as if they were dizzy but couldn’t stop, as if they were nauseated but couldn’t stop, the way we bite our nails, the way we tear off dead skin when we’re peeling, the way we scratch ourselves when we have hives, the way we toss in our beds when we can’t sleep, to give ourselves pleasure and to make ourselves suffer, until we are exhausted, until we’ve taken our breath away.”