Friday 30 October 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #202 (30.10.20)

Read our latest newsletter and find out what we are reading and recommending. 


Our Book of the Week, The Harpy by Megan Hunter, is an exploration of love, revenge and female rage drawing on mythology and the dark recesses of the psyche with precision and spine-chilling unease set in the normality of the suburban middle-class home.
>>Read Stella's review
>>Stella will also be reviewing the book on Radio NZ Monday after 10:30 AM
>>"Harpies symbolise the side of femininity that is often rejected or marginalised."
>>Meet the Harpies
>>Megan Hunter talks with Evie Wyld
>>Read Stella's review of The End We Start From.
>>"I've imagined disasters and catastrophes from an early age."
>>"I discovered my own rhythms and particular desires as I wrote."
>>Your copy of The Harpy


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Harpy by Megan Hunter     {Reviewed by STELLA}
A marriage, a betrayal and a punishment. Meet Lucy, wife and mother, mid-30s. She’s put her career on hold for the children — never finished her PhD — and works part-time editing on contract. It fits in with the children. Jake is her charming husband and life is good, even if they can’t afford their own home in the increasingly expensive suburbs. A message from David Holmes breaks the fairytale. Jake’s been having an affair with a work colleague (David’s wife Vanessa). Lucy is understandably shocked and an inner rage starts to build. To save the marriage Lucy and Jake make a deal. She can hurt him three times unexpectedly and without any discussion. Life carries on and the hurts are dealt out. Yet Lucy, despite her best intentions to play her roles, particularly for the boys, becomes incensed by the reactions of her husband, the other parties involved, and the neighbours. As she hosts the neighbourhood pre-Christmas party she becomes increasingly aware of the double standards of her community. Jake is as popular as ever, while she is either maligned or pitied by his actions. This would be another relationship drama about motherhood, wifedom and sacrifice if it wasn’t for Hunter’s superb writing style, which invites you into Lucy’s world in episodic fragments — rich and nuanced — and the mythical fascination that Lucy has with the harpy — that monstrous, powerful bird-woman, a creature she has been curious about since childhood. And her childhood, the impact of parental behaviour, is a pivotal aspect of this novel. Under Lucy’s skin claws a beast, a rage, adamant to be heard and seen. When the punishment crosses the line, her revenge tips out of control. Will she be consumed by her rage or will her rage avenge the wrongs perpetrated upon her? This is brilliant and, like her first book, The End We Start From, the language is pointed, sparse and beautiful — taut and finely tuned. The Harpy is an exploration of love, revenge and female rage, drawing on mythology and the dark recesses of the psyche with precision and spine-chilling unease, set in the normality of the suburban middle-class home.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey    {Reviewed by THOMAS}

      What are you looking at?
       Nothing. I’m not looking at anything.
       Up there in the corner? 
       No, I’m concentrating. Trying to.
       What on?
       I’m writing a review of this book by Catherine Chidgey book.
       You’re writing a review on a Wednesday? But your deadline's Friday. You've never written a review before Friday before. I like the cover.
       It’s by Fiona Pardington. The photograph.
       What is it?
       A moth’s wing, or a butterfly’s. It’s probably some reference to Nabokov. He was a lepidopterist. I don’t know what reference, though. Nabokov not being a writer I particularly appreciate. 
       Why is it called The Beat of the Pendulum?
       That’s a reference to Proust. Something he wrote about writing novels. It’s in the epigraph. The writer as the manipulator of the reader’s experience of time. The writer as able to make the reader experience time as such, by speeding it up. Or by slowing it down, I suppose. Proust might be mistaken on this, though. 
       I am more interested in the differential of the reader’s and the characters’ experience of time. The writer’s inclusion or exclusion of detail controls the reader’s awareness and makes the book move at a varying pace, that’s what detail is for, really that is all it's for, slowing down, speeding up, leaping over swathes of time that would have been experienced by the characters, if they weren’t fictional, a kind of hypothetical time, so to call it, but inaccessible to the reader because those moments are one step deeper into fiction than the text reaches. 
       Sounds more like a concertina than a pendulum. 
       Yes. The book should be called The Squeeze of the Concertina. I’m not sure readers are necessarily aware, consciously, of the difference between text time and narrative time, notwithstanding Proust, though they might well be.
       What has this got to do with the book? It’s just a transcript of all the conversations the author overheard or that she was involved in. Is it even a novel? 
       Just? Have you read this book? 
       No. But [N.] read it. Or read some of it. Or a review. Or talked to someone who had read it.
       Or some of it. Or a review. 
       And said? 
       That it was self-indulgent. 
       I don’t agree with that. At least, it is less self-indulgent than most novels. I mean, what kind of person, other than a novelist, would be so presumptuous as to expect others to spend hours of their time witnessing their make-believe? 
       But people like doing that. 
       That’s beside the point.
       And the point is? 
       The point is that this book turns the tables on the author, subjects her to the very kinds of scrutiny that most novels are constructed to deflect, if I can damn all writers with one blow, or at least the kinds of writers that write the kind of make-believe that the ‘people’ you referred to earlier like to indulge in. 
       There are other kinds? 
       So in a way this novel is a kind of literary gutting inflicted upon the author by the rigours of the constraint she has chosen, Knausgaard without the interiority. 
       It’s like Knausgaard?
       No. It’s more a kind of extension of the Nouveau roman project outlined by Robbe-Grillet: a turning-away from the tired novelistic props of plot, character, meaning, a verbal ‘inner life’, inside-out, and all that.
       Robbe-Grillet wanted a novel made only of objects, surfaces, objective description. This book doesn’t have any of those.
       Hmm. Yes. This book has cast off all those. Perhaps it’s even more rigorous. There are only words, spoken by people about whom we know nothing but what the words tell us, or imply. We are immersed in language, it is our medium, or the medium of one strand of our awareness. Our sensory awareness and our verbal awareness are very different things.
       Are you giving a lecture here?
       I suppose this book, by removing both the referents for language and the matrix of interpretation, or context, the conceptual plinths that weigh down novels, is testing to what extent speech is any good at conveying anything by itself. 
       Conceptual plinths? 
       There aren’t any. The book reminds me, a little, of Nathalie Sarraute, The Planetarium perhaps, where the novel is comprised only of voices. In this book the reader does the same sort of work to ‘build’ the novel around the words.
       Is that fun?
       Fun? Well, actually, yes, this book is enjoyable to read. I thought I would read a bit, get the idea, and then take some pretty large running stitches through it, so to speak, but, even though nothing much happens in the way of plot, it is just an ordinary life, after all, the book is hugely enjoyable, and frequently very funny, you want to read every bit, because it so perfectly captures the way people say things, the way thought and language stutter on through time. The book is takes place entirely in the present moment, a present moment regulated by language. By the beat of the sentence. What is said is unimportant. Relatively unimportant.
       It doesn’t matter what happens?
       Why should anyone care about that? Apart from the characters, so to call them.
       She spent a year spying on people and writing down whatever they said, whether she was in the conversation, probably quite private conversations, or things she overheard people saying? How could she do that?
       How could she not do that? A novelist is always spying on other people, not to overhear what people say but how they say it, not to find out information but to find out how people approach or are affected by or transfer information.
       You don’t think a novelist is predatory of plot, then? Or scavenging for plot?
       You can’t hear or see plot. There’s no such thing, objectively. So I suppose you can’t steal one, only impose one. The realist novel, or the so-called realist novel, as a form, makes the most outrageous of its fantasies, its fallacies, in the area of plot. I think that’s unjustified.
       But people like plot.
       Yes, I suppose plot has little to do with objective reality.
       So to call it. Yes. In fact, coming back to what you said before about objectivity. Dialogue is the only objective form of writing. Description is prone to error, to the interposition of the viewer to the viewed, and no-one would pretend that interiority was anything but an unreliable guide to the actual…
       No-one as in not even you?
       …which is its richness, I suppose. But no-one would dispute the saying of what is said.
       No-one as in not even you?
       Verbatim is actuality, or, I mean, resembles actuality, at least structurally. Verbatim creates an indubitable immediacy for the reader, which is very seductive, and clocks time against speech.
       Why write conversation?
       Conversation is propulsion. It is rocket fuel for a stuck writer, for any writer. It gets the writer out of the way of the text and lets the characters take responsibility for its progression. Conversation gives at least the illusion of objectivity. Conversation draws the reader into the illusion of ‘real time’.
       Even if it’s not.
       No. Irrelevant, though.
       But this novel, The Beat of the Pendulum, purports to be a record of things actually said, in the real world.
       Yes, I believe it.
       How is that a novel?
       All novels are a kind of edited actuality, some more swingeingly edited than others. Otherwise they wouldn’t be believable.
       She’s edited this?
       Well, obviously there’s been some sort of selecting process going on, some choosing. A year’s worth of “I’m putting on some washing. Is there anything you want to add to the load”/”There are some socks on the floor in the bedroom, if you wouldn’t mind.” might get a bit tedious.
       But is not out of keeping with the project.
       Well, no. I suppose not. But then it wouldn’t be a novel. Literature is potentised by exclusion rather than by inclusion. What makes this book a novel is the rigour of its form. It is an experiment in form. A laboratory experiment, if you like.
       You said this book is funny. I don’t remember The Wish Child being funny, and her new book, Remote Sympathy, doesn't seem remotely funny. Where does the humour come from?
       Scientific rigour is indistinguishable from humour.
       The world is a relentless funfair?
       If you look at it dispassionately. And a relentless tragedy. There are some rather memorable and enjoyable passages, revelatory, even, you could say.
       Such as?
       There is a long passage, maybe a dozen pages, which just records the sales pitch of a sales assistant showing Catherine and her husband a carpet shampooing machine. The use, or misuse, of language is just so well observed, it’s hilarious and tragic. Likewise the patter used by Fiona Pardington when taking Chidgey’s portrait, or there’s the compound pretension and insecurity of the conversations in the creative writing classes Chidgey tutors, or the attempt to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to an inattentive child. Humour often comes from the simultaneous impact of multiple contexts upon language.
       I thought humour comes from noticing the world as it actually is. That’s why humour is often cruel.
       Or all the medical appointments, or the woman overheard in a waiting room talking about her jewellery. “I’m a silver person but my three daughters are gold people,” or something like that. Chidgey reveals the distortions, the structural flaws and inconsistent texture of the verbal topographies we wander through.
       Hark at him.
       And the way words act as hooks or burrs that accrete details to entities in ways sufficiently idiosyncratic to make them specific.
       So you get to know the characters in this book? Even though nobody’s named.
       No, not really. At least, not closely. Surprisingly, perhaps. But then an overdefined personality, or ‘character’ is a definite flaw that fiction, even—sometimes—good fiction, but certainly—always—bad fiction, is prone to fall into. What we call identity is really just a grab-bag or accretion of impressions and tendencies, and multiple voices, including incompatible impressions and contradictory tendencies and conflicting voices. We are much less ourselves than we pretend we are.
       Speak for yourself.
       Attachment to what we, for convenience, call persons, is something imposed upon actuality and is not something inherent in it. Chidgey’s book is not involving in the way we sometimes expect novels to be involving, there’s no story, or any of those other appurtenances, but there is both a fascination and a shared poignancy that comes with this cumulative evidence of the feeling that actual life is slipping away, with each beat of the pendulum, its loss measured out in words.
       Each squeeze of the concertina.
       The moments whose residue is on these pages will never return. The words both immortalise them and mark their evanescence. It’s both an anxiety and a release from anxiety.
       So our anxiety about our vulnerability magnifies our vulnerability?
       That’s a fairly accurate observation. That’s what we use words for.
       Ha. The book is arranged on a day-by-day basis through the year.
       You’re supposed to read only what’s on today’s date, then, for a year.
       Haha. That would be a bit religious. Yes, you could.
       That would be an experiment in reading.
       It’s been done.
       But not in a novel.
       I don’t know.
       What are you doing?
       I’m putting my computer away.
       You’re not going to write the review?
       All this talking has used up the time I was going to write it in.
       You can always write it on Friday. Deadline day.
       I suppose. I was hoping to at least make a start.
       Don’t say that.
       It’s ironic, isn’t it, our situation, two fictional characters engaged in a fictional conversation about an objective novel comprising only actual, ‘real-life’, material.
       What are you saying?
       We’re both fictional, authorial conceits if you like. Mind you, you are rather more fictional than I am. Someone might mistake me for an actual person.
       But you’re not?
       Not on the evidence of our conversation.


Wow by Bill Manhire         $25
Excuse me if I laugh.
The roads are dark and large books block our path.
The air we breathe is made of evening air.
The world is longer than the road that brings us here.
Bill Manhire's new book begins with the song of an extinct bird — the huia —and journeys on into troubling futures. These poems reach for the possibilities of lyric, even as their worlds are being threatened in a range of agitating ways. In the title poem we hear a baby say Wow to life and to the astonishing prospect of language; but almost immediately we hear the world reply: Also. Along the way there are several desperate jokes.
>>4 poems
The Harpy by Megan Hunter         $38
A man calls one afternoon with a shattering message for Lucy: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy's husband, he wants her to know. The revelation marks a turning point. Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but in a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage: she will hurt him three times. Jake will not know when the hurt is coming, nor what form it will take. As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.
"The Harpy is brilliant. Hunter imbues the everyday with apocalyptic unease. A deeply unsettling, excellent read." —Daisy Johnson
Nouns, Verbs, etc: Selected poems by Fiona Farrell            $35
Farrell has published four collections of poetry over 25 years, from Cutting Out (1987) to The Broken Book (2011). Nouns, Verbs, etc. collects the best work from these books, and intersperses them with other poems thus far 'uncollected'. 
The Shapeless Unease: A year of not sleeping by Samantha Harvey           $35
Those who cannot sleep are the only ones who do not take sleep for granted. For the insomniac, every detail of their lives is seen in relation to their insomnia. Harvey's insomnia came upon her without warning. This is the poetic and insightful account of how she spent a year under its dominance. 

Lo-TEK: Design by radical indigenism by Julia Watson            $110
In an era of high-tech and climate extremes, we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. Enter Lo-TEK, a design movement rebuilding indigenous philosophy and vernacular architecture to generate sustainable, resilient infrastructure and design solutions that are eco-positive.
"Can ancient fixes save our crisis-torn world? This book is the result of a decade of travelling to some of the most remote regions on the planet, interviewing anthropologists, scientists and tribe members. Watson carefully documented their indigenous innovations using the landscape architect's language of plans, cross-sections and exploded isometric diagrams to explain clearly how they work." —The Guardian

Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand edited by Michelle Elvy, Paula Morris and James Norcliffe        $40
An anthology of writing and art to celebrate the diversity of New Zealand's cultures, produced in response to the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attacks. 

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers: A treasury of 1000 Scottish words edited by Robin A Crawford            $23
Completely fascinating and occasionally useful. 
Stranger in the Shogun's City: A woman's life in nineteenth century Japan by Amy Stanley          $40
The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in 1804 in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a life much like her mother's. But after three divorces — and with a temperament much too strong-willed for her family's approval — she ran away to make a life for herself in one of the largest cities in the world: Edo (present-day Tokyo). This book intimates life in Edo just before the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet, which would open Japan up to trade and diplomacy with the West for the first time. During this pivotal moment in Japanese history, Tsuneno bounces from tenement to tenement, marries a masterless samurai and eventually ends up in the service of a famous city magistrate.
We Germans by Alexander Starritt             $30
When a young British man asks his German grandfather what it was like to fight on the wrong side of the war, the question is initially met with irritation and silence. But after the old man's death, a long letter to his grandson is found among his things. That letter is this book. In it, he relates the experiences of an unlikely few days on the Eastern Front — at a moment when he knows not only that Germany is going to lose the war, but that it deserves to. He writes about his everyday experience amid horror, confusion and bravery, and he asks himself what responsibility he bears for the circumstances he found himself in. As he tries to find an answer he can live with, we hear from his grandson what kind of man he became in the seventy years after the war.
"A remarkable and audacious novel that is harrowingly real and, at the same time, asks the most searching questions about men at war." —William Boyd
Young Heroes of the Soviet Union by Alex Halberstadt       $40
Can trauma be inherited? Halberstadt's travels into his own heritage to answer this question. In Ukraine he tracks down his paternal grandfather — apparently the last living bodyguard of Joseph Stalin — to reckon with the ways in which decades of Soviet totalitarianism shaped and fractured three generations of his family. He returns to Lithuania, his Jewish mother's home, to revisit the legacy of the Holocaust and the pernicious anti-Semitism that remains largely unaccounted for, learning that the boundary between history and biography is often fragile and indistinct. And he visits his birthplace, Moscow, where his glamorous grandmother designed homespun couture for Soviet ministers' wives, his mother dosed dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a living by selling black-market jazz and rock records. Finally, Halberstadt explores his own story — that of a fatherless immigrant who arrived in America, to a housing project in Queens, New York, as a ten-year-old boy struggling with identity, feelings of rootlessness and a yearning for home. He comes to learn that he was merely the latest in a lineage of sons who grew up alone, separated from their fathers by the tides of politics and history.
In January 2002, a group of suspected terrorists were transferred to a Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba. They were the first of hundreds of men who would be held there—and 40 still remain. These prisoners were characterized as the "worst of the worst" but many of them have never been properly charged or tried in a proper court, and have been denied due process. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a place that most Americans would rather not think about. But the stories of the people whose lives have been shaped by Guantanamo deserve to have their stories heard. In the graphic novel Guantanamo Voices, journalist Sarah Mirk and her team of diverse artists tell the stories of ten people who spent time at the prison, including service members, prisoners, lawyers, and journalists.
Bigger then History: Why archaeology matters by Brian Fagan and Nadia Durrai         $30
Why does archaeology matter? How does studying prehistory help us understand climate change? How can archaeological discoveries challenge contemporary assumptions about gender? How has archaeology been used and misused to support political and nationalist agendas — and how can it help build a more diverse and inclusive picture of our world by examining the people left out of written history?

Murder Maps: Crime scenes revisited by Drew Gray          $55
Awful, but fascinating. The book is filled with photographs (and maps!) giving insight into period crime and detection, from phrenology to fingerprints, 1811—1911. 
The Pōrangi Boy by Shilo Kino       $25
Twelve-year-old Niko lives in Pohe Bay, a small, rural town with a sacred hot spring and a taniwha named Taukere. The government wants to build a prison over the home of the taniwha, and Niko's grandfather is busy protesting. People call him pōrangi, crazy, but when he dies, it's up to Niko to convince his community that the taniwha is real and stop the prison from being built. With help from his friend Wai, Niko must unite his whanau, honour his grandfather and stand up to his childhood bully.
Fancy Dancing: New and selected poems, 2007—2020 by Bernadette Hall        $30
Her eleventh collection. "As close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography."
To Asia, With Love by Hetty McKinnon       $45
Community-positive large-flavoured vegetarian recipes drawing from McKinnon's Chinese-Australian heritage. 
>>Other cookbooks by Hetty McKinnon

Graham Bennett: Around Every Circle by Graham Bennett, Felicity Milburn, Rosa Shiels, John Freeman-Moir, Barbara Speedy        $85
This exquisite book from award-winning art publisher Ron Sang records the career to date of this important New Zealand sculptor and intimates his approaches, environmental concerns and working practices. 

Friday 23 October 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #201 (23.10.20)

Read our latest newsletter and find out what we are reading and recommending.



>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi    {Reviewed by STELLA}
With the quotation, “Does the wound of daughter turn into something else if left unattended?” from Linda Yuknavitch opening this novel, you are, from the start of this Booker finalist, set on a course. Burnt Sugar is a sharp-edged portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship that has love, revenge and confusion at its core. Antara, the daughter, is in the throes of her mother’s madness. A madness that has invaded her life from the outset, in one sense or the other. A madness of selfishness and obsession leads Tara, as a young mother, to gather her baby, leave her husband, and follow the guru at the local ashram. Her sexual relationship with the guru leaves her young child to the whims of communal life and, fortunately, the hands of an older woman, Kali Mata. Antara’s memories of this time are fragmented and, at times, frightening, and these early years of abandonment mark her interactions with both her parents as well as making her wary of close relationships with others. When Tara does leave the ashram, her relationship with the guru in tatters, it does nothing to heal the wound for Antara — the daughter is never good enough — a burden who is endured rather than loved, and later a competitor for attention as Tara ages. While Doshi does not overstate the interactions of Antara with her husband, friends and, later, her own baby, it is clear by her behaviour that she has difficulty finding emotional security in her everyday life. Antara is an artist and her artworks focus on memory and obsession. She has a daily project — drawing and redrawing the same face each day — the small changes recorded over time reflect the way in which actions are rewritten incrementally. This project in itself reveals the complex relationship between mother and daughter — one of misguided love and obsession. While it is easy to see this novel as a story of a poisonous mother, this would do Avni Doshi’s novel an injustice. Yes, Antara at times sees her mother’s dementia as a penance for her bad behaviour and for her failure as a parent, and Tara does still inflict destruction in her present incarnation — habitually as much as anything, but there is also an empathy here for her mother’s state, if not forgiveness, especially as she deals with her own sense of entrapment by marriage and motherhood. Doshi explores these themes, along with the expectations of women’s roles in contemporary India, with a honed eye and acid wit. Revenge comes in spoon-fed sugar mouthfuls, and love is elusive, yet hovering at the edges, for Antara. She is not your average heroine nor villain — a victim but also a perpetrator of deceit: Doshi’s portrayal of a young woman at odds with the world she lives in — middle-class India — and at odds with her mother — “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure” — is searingly honest.  


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Lost Writings by Franz Kafka   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“People are individuals and fully entitled to their individuality, though they first must be brought into an acceptance of it.” If I write more of this it will mean nothing, but this does not stop me sitting at my little desk, here in the hall of our apartment, writing away each night after the others have gone to sleep. The clock in the sitting room slices away the seconds with each swing of its pendulum; the seconds, the minutes, the hours, each moment a decapitation of all that I have written, these sentences just as deserving of being considered shavings from my pencil as the shavings that accumulate at my page-side. Which is the better monument to my labour? It is hard to begin to write, but I am one who believes that beginning to write is possible, perhaps with superhuman effort, or with effort that is human if superhuman effort is not attainable by humans, but I do not believe that it is possible to bring writing to completion, and so I complete nothing. Not that it is not easy to stop; nothing could be easier. Anyone who writes has an equal ability to stop writing; though the ability to write may be very unequally distributed, to stop writing is within the reach of all. Why then, if stopping is so easy, do so many writers not improve the quality of their work by availing themselves more often of this common ability? If a good writer is one who manages not to write bad books, a reasonable definition, then, and I state this without conceit, though I complete nothing I am a better writer than many writers more famous than me. If it is possible to begin and possible to stop but impossible to complete, at least for me who does not believe in the possibility of completion and who does not believe that the world contains completion, only beginnings and stoppings, what is produced by all this writing? I produce nothing but fragments. I believe in nothing but fragments. Even the great sheaf of pages that I call The Proceedings is a fragment, an interminable fragment, uncompletable, and I would rather this is burned after my death than turned into a work by an editor or executor, no matter how well-intentioned. Will there come a day, perhaps a hundred years from now, when the fragment is recognised as a literary form in itself, perhaps the only literary form, the only form that can approach the truth, no matter that it limps in its approach. The smaller the fragment, then, the more perfectly it expresses its inability to be anything other than a fragment, but how shall these fragments be assembled and arranged? Fragments are best arranged in a fragmentary way. Just as dust accumulates throughout an unswept house, but more in some places than in others, such as in the space between an unclosed door and the wall against which it rests, so fragments naturally become lost within the drifts of which they are part. How shall they be found among all the other fragments in which in plain sight they are as good as lost? There is nothing lost about these lost writings. The writer and the reader are more lost than what is written, but only when they write and read. I write to be rid of myself. I write to be rid of thought. I write to be rid of what I have written but every fragment adds to this burden I write to put down. I sharpen my pencil again as the pendulum swings and add to the pile of shavings that is my more fitting legacy, the one that my executor will not hesitate to burn, should they happen to survive that long. I write as the birds begin to sing in the trees in the street below. I will not complete what I write. It is not possible to complete what I write. Whether I wish to complete what I write or not affects nothing, I will produce a fragment, but the question of whether I should strive for completion remains. I will be found where I am lost. Every opportunity is a trap, but I leap in regardless [...]


Inspired by the American Black Panther Party, the Polynesian Panthers were formed in 1971 to advocate revolutionary alternatives to trans-global capitalism and the racism, disenfranchisement and monoculturalism it saw as a corollary to this. The movement advocated non-violent resistance, Pacific empowerment, and an education programme aimed at changing the New Zealand's social landscape. It was given impetus in the mid-1970s by resistance to Muldoon's Dawn Raids. In this week's Book of the Week, The Platform: The Radical Legacy of the Pacific Panthers, Melani Anae shows how the movement is still relevant today. 
>>How the Polynesian Panthers gave rise to Pasifika activism
>>A history of the Polynesian Panthers
>>Shoulder to shoulder.
>>A personal discovery of the Panthers.
>>The Dawn Raids and its resistance. 
>>Sofia's story. 
>>"David Lange saved my life." 
>>45 years later. 
>>In solidarity with the Black Panthers
>>The Black Panthers World Tour
>>Get The Platform


I is Another (Septology III—V) by Jon Fosse          $38
Fosse continues his remarkable 'slow prose' project with an exploration of the two artists, Asle and Alse, doppelgängers or alternate versions of the same person, whose parallel lives intersect (at least in one direction!), leading the reader into philosophical and ethical considerations of great subtlety. 
"Fosse’s fusing of the commonplace and the existential, together with his dramatic forays into the past, make for a relentlessly consuming work: already Septology feels momentous." —Catherine Taylor, Guardian
"The reader of I is Another is both on the riverbank and in the water being carried forward, and around, by the great, shaping, and completely engrossing, flow of Fosse’s words. It’s a doubleness of view that is reflected in the characters, named Asle, who are both one and other, and through which we can see and feel the world, and ourselves, more clearly." —David Hayden, author of Darker with the Lights On
The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering nature in the modern world by Sue Stuart-Smith             $55
The garden has always been a place of peace and perseverance, of nurture and reward. A garden can provide a family's food, a child's playground, an adult's peaceful retreat. But around the world and throughout history, gardens have often meant something more profound. For Sue Stuart-Smith's grandfather, returning from the First World War weighing six stone, a year-long horticulture course became a life raft for recovering from the trauma. For prisoners in today's justice system, gardening can be a mental escape from captivity which offers, in a context when opportunity is scarce, the chance to take ownership of a project and build something positive up from seed. In The Well Gardened Mind, Stuart-Smith investigates the huge power of the garden and its little-acknowledged effects on health and wellbeing.
Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París (translated by Christina McSweeney)         $36
A thirty-two-year old man can’t get out of bed or leave his apartment. All he can do is recall his life so far, dissect it, write it, gathering all the memories around what would mark his existence forever: his mother’s departure in the summer of 1994, when he was only ten, so that she could join the Zapatista uprising that was shaking up the whole country. Her mysterious escape from one day to the next only worsens with his clumsy father’s secrecy, silence and awkwardness, a man unable to carry the responsibilities for his son and teenage daughter. This worsens with the boy’s erratic investigations to uncover the reasons for his mother’s decision to leave. All he can do is create an anguish-filled parallel world: he will unsuccessfully seek refuge in his origami obsession, or in his sensory deprivation tank in which he locks himself up to see if he can erase his existence. Finally, with the help of Rata, a young delinquent dating his sister, he will undertake a voyage of discovery to the darkest corners of his Mexico City, where he will meet the face of gratuitous cruelty, as well as the selfless kindness of strangers. 
We Will Work With You: Wellington Media Collective, 1978—1998 edited by Mark Derby, Jenny Rouse and Ian Wedde       $60
A fascinating and full illustrated record of the work of the group of designers and political activists committed to left-wing principles and politics. 
>>WMC [no relation].  
The Platform: The radical legacy of the Polynesian Panthers by Melani Anae         $15
Auckland's Polynesian Panther movement were modelled on the US Black Panther Party — but without guns. The Polynesian Panthers was founded in response to the racist treatment of Pacific Islanders in the era of the Dawn Raids. Central to the group was a three-point 'platform' of peaceful resistance against racism, Pacific empowerment and a liberating education aimed at changing the landscape of race relations. The Polynesian Panthers defined an emerging group of Pacific people whose legacy still resonates. 

Two Cities by Cynthia Zarin         $22
Zarin's deeply personal response to the contrasting cities of Venice and Rome  intimate something of the relationship between person and the cumulative culture of places with long histories embedded in art. 

Timeline: Science and technology by Peter Goes           $40
In his signature playful style, Peter Goes illustrates the most fascinating technologies, from the first tools to the most specialized IT, from medical breakthroughs to the creation of YouTube. He includes remarkable scientists and innovators and highlights lesser-known stories. A compelling history of technology from the Stone Age to the present day, from America to the Southern hemisphere and beyond. A companion volume to Timeline: A visual history. 
The House of the Happy Spirits: A children's book inspired by Hundertwasser by Géraldine Elschner and Lucie Vandevelde         $32
Children can rethink cities and discover ways of living with nature with this imaginative story of the creation of the Hundertwasser House in Vienna. 
Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek myths by Nathalie Haynes           $40
Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, Haynes puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the men. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.

The Dragon Ark by Curatoria Draconis            $48
With dragon numbers in rapid decline, time is running out to ensure the survival of the species. Curatoria Draconis, also known as the Dragon Protector, is on a mission to find the rarest dragon on Earth: the Chinese Celestial Dragon. Aboard the Dragon Ark, you'll travel all over the globe and see some of the most incredible dragons—care for Deep-Sea Dragons off the coast of New Zealand, journey into the Amazon Rainforest to spot plant-loving Parvula Dragons, and travel alongside the Ice Dragons in Antarctica. 

Brief and inspiring biographies paired with stunning full-page illustrations. 

A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire           $33
A reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Wild Swans' as the story of an Italian immigrant's coming-of-age in 1960s New York. From the author of Wicked and Mirror, Mirror.
Stuck Together: Recipes to share with the people you love by Sarah Tuck      $65
Positively delicious food from the  sensation behind
Plantopedia: The definitive guide to house plants by  Lauren Camilleri and Sophia Kaplan          $65
Definitive. 150 plant profiles and practical advice.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi       $20
In this sequel to the wildly popular Before the Coffee Gets Cold, four more customers avail themselves of the time-travelling offered by the Cafe Funiculi Funicula. 

The Madman's Library: The greatest curiosities of literature by Edward Brooke-Hitching          $53
Books written in blood and books that kill, books of the insane and books that hoaxed the globe, books invisible to the naked eye and books so long they could destroy the Universe, books worn into battle, books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered...
A Journey through Greek Myths by Marchella Ward and Sander Berg          $45
Travel around the Mediterranean is this beautifully illustrated book and learn about the myths associated with each place you visit. 

Scandinavian Green: Simple ways to eat vegetarian, every day by Trine Hahnemann           $55
Scandinavian and Scandinavian-inflected recipes for each season, including mains, breads, sweets, pantry staples and some special dishes for cooking outside.
Classic Paperbacks Memory Game by Richard Baker         $45
Match the jackets. Fun!
The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere, A biographical portrait by Vincent O'Sullivan            $45
Hotere invited O'Sullivan to write his life in 2005, and this nuanced and insightful portrait of one of Aotearoa's most important and interesting artists is the long-awaited and supremely fulfilling result. 

Saturday 17 October 2020


BOOKS @ VOLUME #200 (16.10.20)

Read our 200th newsletter! 

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 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Could he even write a review of a book he had read about someone writing about sentences that he in turn had read which were written by yet other people, some of whom, or, rather, some of which, he himself had read directly, if that is the word, that is to say not just in the book about sentences in which these sentences also appear and which he has also read? The question mark, when it finally arrived, seemed somehow out of place, so far did it trail the part of the sentence he had just written in which the matter of the question appeared early, all those clauses shoving the question mark to an awkward distance, already the thought that the sentence described was changing direction, as thoughts do, but the sentence was still obliged to display the mark that would make the first part of the sentence, and indeed the whole sentence thereby into a question, there was a debt to be paid after all, he was lucky to get off without interest. The separation of the question mark from the quested matter was not the only reservation he had about the sentence he had just written, he had other reservations, both about its structure and its content, in other words both about its grammar and its import, if that is the right word. One reservation was that he had chosen to write the sentence in the third person, a habit he had acquired, or an affectation that he had adopted, that depersonalised his reviews and made them easier to write and, he hoped, more enjoyable to read, certainly, he thought, less embarrassing for himself to read, or should that be re-read, not that he was particularly inclined to do such a thing. These reviews were also written in the past tense, for goodness sake. Could he write in the first person and in the present tense, he wondered, or was that a mode he contrarily reserved for fiction? Can I even write a review of a book I have read, he wrote as an experiment, about someone writing about sentences that he has read which were written by yet other people, some of whom, or, rather, some of which, I have read directly, if that is the word, that is to say not just in the book about sentences in which these sentences also appear and which I have also read?, he wrote, though I must say, he thought, that question mark is more problematic than ever. Also, would it not be ludicrous, he thought, to even attempt to write a review about a book about fine sentences, or exceptional sentences, or exemplary sentences or whatever, from William Shakespeare to Anne Boyer, including sentences from several of my favourite writers, though not perhaps the sentences of theirs that I would choose if I had been choosing, he thought, when my own sentences churn on, when in my own repertoire I have only commas and full stops, a continuation mark and a stopping mark, when those two marks for him are already too much for him to handle, accustomed as he had once made himself to the austerity of the full stop alone, you could write a whole book using only full stops, he thought, or he had once thought. He had wandered, and tried to return to the task in hand, or the book in hand, or to the thought in head, so to speak. Because the book was about sentences he found himself unable to write any sentences about it. If he wrote a review, he thought, he had no doubt that at least some of the readers of that review, if not all of the readers of that review, if there were any such readers, which seemed unlikely, would find his sentences fell short of their subject, or if they did not fall short they would quaver under their scrutiny, weaken and collapse, which is another sort of falling. His sentences would rather point than be pointed at. Thinking of writing would have to suffice. I would like to write, he thought of writing, that this book, Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon, is the sort of book that anyone interested in reading better, or, indeed, in writing better, which goes without saying, as writing is a subset of reading, if that goes without saying, though not everyone’s subset, he thought, and would have said had he been saying instead of thinking and writing, or, rather thinking and thinking of writing, Brian Dillon is good company in working out how text works when it works well, but, although he thought of writing this, as he had said, see, he does say though he said he was not saying, he did not write this as, by this time, his comma-infested sentences were almost unable to move in any direction even if not in a straight line, bring on the full stops, he thought. 

"Every writing worthy of its name wrestles with the Angel and, at best, comes out limping.” —Jean-François Lyotard